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Commentaries and editorials

Record Salmon Run Proves
the Dams aren't the Problem

by Michael F. Howard
Reader's View - Michael F. Howard,
The Idaho Statesman, August 14, 2001

Readers View by Micheal Howard The Idaho Statesman (Rocky Barker, Pete Zimowsky, etc.) was quick to seize the opportunity to inform us all that this was the largest run of returning adult salmon since the four lower Snake River dams were built (The Statesman has made no secret of the fact that they wholeheartedly support breaching dams as the best salmon recovery option).

The fact of the matter is, this year's salmon return was the largest ever recorded since accurate record-keeping was started in 1938. The four lower Snake dams were built more than 20 years later.

So how critical is this little chronological snafu? Let's put it this way; when Benjamin Franklin proclaimed, "Half the truth is often a great lie," he could have very easily been referring to this little fibber.

The very fact that the numbers of this year's salmon run exceeded more than 20 other salmon runs that happened back before the Snake River dams were built is strong evidence that current salmon recovery methods can work, in spite of the dams. Idaho has continued to enjoy excellent steelhead fishing throughout the years, and whenever Mother Nature gives us a boost with optimum prevailing weather and ocean conditions, our salmon numbers rise dramatically.

I believe this is a strong indication that with continued vigilance and innovation, the future for our salmon and steelhead will only get brighter.

That's exactly the opposite conclusion that one might be inclined to draw when the sequence of these events gets distorted just a little, the way The Statesman has been presenting them.

When facts are muddled (intentionally or not) by the media, whose job it is to report the news accurately and without bias, it becomes increasingly more difficult for the rest of us to draw intelligent conclusions to complex issues like salmon recovery and dam breaching. That kind of opportunistic journalism can be as detrimental to our salmon recovery efforts as it is to our power bills (just one of those four lower Snake dams would supply half the state of Idaho with its residential electricity).

(bluefish notes that the four lower Snake River dams provide Idaho with about 0.175% of it electricity. See Electricity in Idaho and the Northwest. The power from these dams is mostly used in Washington State.)

Apparently, it's not the first time the breachmeisters have used a little unsubstantiated spin to support their "down with the dams" philosophy. A few years back, we were dubiously informed that "those" dams weren't even necessary, that there was an excess of cheap electricity (or fossil/nuclear fuel to make it with) that we could purchase from California, Canada or elsewhere. Really? I guess someone forgot to inform California.

The impact those dams have on salmon is a matter of perspective. If they were naturally occurring barriers, like a series of falls, biologists would be extolling their virtues as nature's way of culling the weak and sick, ensuring that only the strongest survive to pass on the best genes. There's strong evidence that we are inadvertently creating a super race of salmonids because successive generations of surviving adult fish are passing on superior genetic characteristics to their offspring to help ensure better adaptation to the hurdles the dams represent. (Conversely, gillnets are systematically decreasing the average size of our anadromous fish because they cull only the largest fish from the gene pool.)

The salmon recovery equation is a delicate balancing act with a myriad of variables to consider. With the talent and resources The Idaho Statesman has it its disposal, few local agencies are in a better position to promote responsible recovery methods like this newspaper.

However, it's time The Statesman realized that the clean, inexpensive hydroelectricity that this region enjoys is no less valuable to our environment, our economy and our quality of life than our magnificent anadromous salmonids.

Related Links:
Biological Opinion - Federal Salmon Plan
Electricity in Idaho and the Northwest

Michael F. Howard, of Boise, is an avid salmon/steelhead fisherman.
Record Salmon Run Proves the Dams aren't the Problem
The Idaho Statesman, August 14, 2001

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