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Salmon Policy: Fish or Cut Dams

by Editorial Board
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 23, 2005

For the Seattle area as well as the rest of the Northwest, a federal ruling on salmon issues serves as another reminder that we have to get our acts together on genuinely protecting fish.

When it comes to enforcing the Endangered Species Act, the decisions of politicians, federal agencies and local communities really are matters of life and death. Hard choices have to be faced, as a federal appeals court panel did earlier this week.

On Tuesday, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges upheld a lower court order to spill water at Columbia River system dams to protect young chinook salmon migrating downstream. The panel gave the Bush administration an expedited schedule for a full appeal, but the judges suggested the federal government is unlikely to win.

We question the value of further appeals. The federal position, even during the Clinton administration, has been clearly inadequate. More court hearings are unlikely to lead to any other conclusion.

The real answer would seem to lie in developing fish-protection plans that meet legal standards rather than political mandates for protecting dams over the environment, Northwest cultural life and fish-dependent communities' economic futures. To be sure, the administration has reasons to want to appeal, including concerns about an estimated $67 million in hydropower revenue lost when water is sent around electricity-generating turbines to protect salmon. With the issue tied up in court, it's hard not to use all options for appeal.

For the Puget Sound region, draft salmon protection plans developed by community groups are moving forward, eventually toward a review by federal officials. If progress can continue in a cooperative spirit, the Puget Sound region and federal officials can hope to pull off the difficult trick of accommodating local growth while helping fish recover. The challenge will be eased if cooperation avoids any need for continual court reviews.

Editorial Board
Salmon Policy: Fish or Cut Dams
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 23, 2005

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