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Salmon Outscore Dams

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, February 11, 2000

Those testifying in favor or breaching outnumber the other side at hearing

It was anything but a slam dunk for those opposed to breaching the four lower Snake River dams.

Despite an aggressive advertising campaign against breaching, most who testified Thursday at a public meeting on salmon and steelhead recovery said they supported removing the dams to save the fish.

The day-long hearing at Clarkston's Lewis-Clark Convention Center, sponsored by several federal agencies, focused on proposed efforts to recover the threatened and endangered Snake River fish.

During the afternoon session, about two-thirds of those who testified favored removing the dams. But each of the dozen or so politicians who spoke at both sessions opposed breaching.

Breaching supporters told a panel of federal officials that saving the fish is more important than any economic hardship the region may suffer from losing the dams. But they also said fish can fuel the region's economic engine.

"This is deeper than economics," said Kirk Barnum, a fishing guide from Riggins. "It's about keeping one of the Earth's creatures from extinction."

Several fishing guides, members of the Nez Perce Tribe and Palouse residents attended the meeting and tipped the scales in favor of breaching.

Tribal members stressed the important role salmon play in their culture and said treaty rights that promise them the right to fish must be honored.

"The Nez Perce people will not accept extinction as the inevitable price of progress," said James Holt, a member of the tribe's executive committee.

Vania Bybee, a 17-year-old tribal member, told officials she wants the fish saved for future generations.

"I'm hoping when I have children there will be fish to catch," she said.

Those opposed to breaching insist the dams are not the reason for the sharp declines in salmon and steelhead.

Instead, they say most of the blame lies with predators, commercial and tribal fishing and poor ocean conditions. They also are worried about the economic hardships a loss of barge transportation would cause.

Larry Lodge, a employee of Potlatch Corp., said there is too much uncertainty in the science that supports breaching and complained biologists who back it as a recovery alternative rely on terms like "maybe," "we believe" and "we think."

"To tell you the truth, those really aren't good enough for us," he said.

He and others want a moratorium on fishing before the dams are removed.

"If you take out those dams it's damn foolish."

Electrician Phil Hughes said computer models -- known as the Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses -- that indicate breaching is the surest way to recover the threatened and endangered fish do not prove breaching the dams will work.

"You haven't proven anything because it's a hypothesis," he said.

Many speakers in favor of removing the dams called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to include mitigation alternatives in the final environmental impact statement.

Tom Stuart of Idaho Rivers United said the region needs and deserves investment in its highway system. He suggested U.S. Highway 12 to the west be expanded to four lanes.

The corps is considering four alternatives to save the fish. Environmentalists, Indian tribes and many scientists say breaching is the only alternative that will work. Those opposed to breaching want the practice of barging juvenile fish past the dams to continue along with improvements to fish passage systems.

Other federal agencies are coordinating efforts to address the so called four H's -- habitat, harvest, hatcheries and hydropower -- in a document know as the All-H's paper.

Brig. Gen. Carl A. Strock, the corps' northwestern division engineer, estimated 1,500 people showed up for Thursday's meeting despite a hearing room that held just 450

"We were not ready for that many people," he said.

Strock extended the afternoon session by a half hour to make up for time devoted to politicians at the beginning of the meeting.

"This is really a hearing for the people," he said.

Only 62 of the 153 people who signed up to speak during the afternoon session were able to testify. Another 91 people recorded their testimony in another room to be entered into the public record at a later date.

By 4 p.m., the registration line for the evening session already had formed.

The second session opened to a packed house with Clarkston police officers and Asotin County Sheriff's deputies restricting access after the meeting room filled to capacity.

At 10:30 p.m., the room was still half full and federal officials planned to keep going as long people remained.

"I'll stay in this room until I've heard everybody speak who wants to speak to me," said Strock.

Eric Barker
Salmon Outscore Dams
Lewiston Tribune, February 11, 2000

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