Pretending to Save Wild Salmonby Pat Ford, Salmon Advocate
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - January 18, 2002
In early December, the Army Corps of Engineers announced its recommendation against Lower Snake River dam removal, opting instead for what it calls "system improvements" to help the endangered salmon of the Snake River.
The announcement triggered several stories pronouncing dam removal "dead."
This is not true, for one large and several smaller reasons.
We who support Lower Snake River dam removal do not consider it a goal. It is a means to the goal of restoring wild salmon and the communities that depend upon them. If other measures do the job, we will happily pronounce dam removal dead ourselves.
But there's the rub. For other measures to work, they have to be tried.
They have to be funded and implemented to have any effect. This is not happening.
In 2001, the federal government massively failed to implement its new, non-dam-removal salmon plan adopted in December 2000. The plan's flow targets and spill guidelines in the Columbia and Snake were not achieved on a single day of the 2001 salmon migration.
The tributary and estuary habitat objectives in the plan were not implemented. Ditto the hatchery reform measures.
Meanwhile, Congress assured continued failure to implement it in 2002. The cost of the new plan is around $800 million annually, roughly double the level of recent salmon funding.
But the administration did not ask for more money, and Congress did not provide it. About $400 million was appropriated, nearly all for the same old "system improvements" that have failed to recover salmon for the past two decades. The new measures in the new plan were not funded and consequently, will not be implemented in 2002.
In 2003, the federal government will conduct its first official check-in as to whether its new salmon plan is working. The way things are going so far, the new plan won't even have been tried by 2003, much less show any success.
As for dam removal, it continues at a steady pace, and continues to prove a cost-effective and practical means to restore salmon and river-based economies.
In 2001, Goldsborough Dam near Shelton was removed to restore 14 miles of salmon-spawning habitat. On Oregon's Rogue River, federal agencies, farmers, conservationists and elected leaders reached agreement to remove Savage Rapids Dam to restore salmon habitat. Congress continues building the fund to remove the two Elwha River dams; removal is scheduled to start in less than three years. In Maine, salmon and salmon jobs continue to return to the Kennebec River since removal of Edwards Dam in 1999. As more removals occur, techniques for handling issues like economic transition are being perfected.
As a matter of treaty, law and public demand, we believe Snake and Columbia salmon must be restored. In 20 years, the federal government has spent some $3 billion of taxpayer and ratepayer money pretending to restore them. This pretense is bad business, bad politics and a grave moral insult to those who will inherit the Northwest that is now in our care. But the pretense continues.
Last July, Rep. Jim McDermott introduced the Salmon Planning Act in Congress; HR 2573 now has 54 co-sponsors. It authorizes completion of studies needed to prepare for Lower Snake dam removal. He cited as one reason for the bill his suspicion that the federal government would not really implement its new plan unless pressure was applied. He was right.
Other Northwest members of Congress should join McDermott to help end this foolish and wasteful game of "let's pretend."
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