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Salmon are Important

by Anne Pasley-Stuart
Idaho Statesman, November 18, 2006

Judi Danielson, an Idaho appointee to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, sent a disturbing message about Idaho's representation on salmon recovery. I know Ms. Danielson well and have great respect for her work in other venues. But her over-the-top rhetoric, published in a Reader's View of Nov. 9, is irresponsible.

I'm troubled with Ms. Danielson's view that salmon aren't important for Idaho people. She says that only four of the Columbia Basin's 13 ESA-listed salmon runs originate in the Snake River - which means she's focused elsewhere, and isn't worried about Idaho's four species. But our salmon runs are the ones that should matter most. She is wrong to understate and question their value. Salmon from Idaho's rivers are allowed to survive at rates only 20 to 50 percent as high as Oregon's and Washington's. Which state is she representing?

She states that salmon populations are "trending up." Not true for Idaho's spring/summer chinook, steelhead or sockeye, which have declined steadily since 2001 and are now at precarious levels. With runs back to the low levels of the 1990s, and three sockeye returning this year, she's incorrect.

This situation is particularly troubling in view of Idaho's vacant salmon habitat. We have wonderful habitat, offering 70 percent of the region's salmon recovery potential. Idaho salmon offer the region's best chance to restore salmon heritage, and Idahoans don't want to lose the opportunity available in the Selway-Bitterroot, Eagle Cap, Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, and vast roadless areas of Central Idaho. Salmon habitat of this quality and quantity isn't found elsewhere.

Idaho was once the mother lode of salmon fishing, producing over half the chinook and steelhead in the entire Columbia Basin, and thousands of jobs. That should happen again, bringing new economic activity to every county and riverside town. I'm startled that Ms. Danielson discounts those jobs, families and towns.

The 440 dams in the Columbia Basin vary widely in value and importance. Ms. Danielson misrepresents the energy contributions of the four dams in question. They produce an average 1,000 megawatts annually, but since flows vary seasonally, generate only 800 MW of "firm" power. In a typical January (when energy demand is high), these four low-value dams produce only 1 percent (400 MW) of the region's power pool, an amount easily replaced. The council's Power Plan identifies 3,000 MW of cost-effective power available from conservation, 5,000 MW more in wind energy, plus much more in new generation recently online.

Ms. Danielson knows this.

It's irresponsible to say that the four unnecessary dams don't harm Idaho salmon, or that removing them (and keeping affected people whole) wouldn't help.

Ms. Danielson knows that many dams are being retired, in common-sense action to restore salmon runs. Near Washington's Olympic National Park, the big Elwha and Glines Canyon dams will be removed, and on the White Salmon River, Condit dam will come out. Several dams near Portland will be retired, and on the Rogue, the removal of Savage Rapids dam will revive salmon there. On the Klamath, moves are afoot to remove several dams, securing water for inland farmers while protecting fishing jobs from California to Puget Sound.

Idahoans do not believe that the impact of the four Lower Snake dams is negligible for our salmon. And it's rude to denigrate scientists in Northwest states, tribes and federal agencies who say that removing them is a key part of any Snake River salmon plan.

Idaho salmon are going extinct - under a government policy that says it's OK. Idaho citizens don't want that, or more rhetoric defending this irresponsible policy.

Perhaps it's time for Gov.-elect Otter to revitalize Idaho's role on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, demand equal treatment for Idaho, and start 2007 with new appointees.

Judi Danielson offered an Reader's View opinion Nov. 9, "Breaching dams will not save salmon runs." She used erroneous information in several cases. She claims, "There is a fair amount of anecdotal unscientific rhetoric circulating among some special-interest groups, but that cannot be the basis for a major decision like breaching the dams."

Then she contributes to the anecdotal unscientific rhetoric:

"Of the average 1,200-day lifespan of the salmon, only about 100 to 150 days are spent in freshwater in Idaho, Oregon and Washington." After several years of service on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, she should know better. Idaho spring/summer chinook spend roughly 210 days as embryos and hatchlings in the gravel, then another 330 to 360 days as fry and pre-smolts before they move seaward. Only chum salmon, found in the lower Columbia River, spend as little time as 100 to 150 days.

"... in this decade, we've had runs larger than any since recording began in 1938." She conveniently fails to note that the runs of spring chinook salmon and steelhead returning to Idaho consist of 80 percent hatchery fish. Wild runs to Snake River tributaries in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington are severely depressed from the period before the lower Snake dams were completed. Ms. Danielson knows this, but glosses over it. Perhaps she wants the public to believe, with her special interests, that a fish is a fish is a fish, and that several dozen identified genetically distinct wild runs are just like hatchery fish.

"Per-dam survival of juvenile spring chinook now averages around 98 percent." A news release dated July 13, 2006, from Danielson's own council, summarizes NMFS data presented to the council. It shows survival in 2006 from Lower Granite Dam to Bonneville Dam as 58 percent for spring chinook, an average survival per project of about 92 percent, not 98 percent. Survival for steelhead has been much lower; 37 percent from Lower Granite to Bonneville Dam, or about 87 percent per project. These figures do not encompass all dam-related losses, either.

Ms. Danielson and I agree on only one item: Anecdotal unscientific rhetoric from special-interest groups does not help inform the public. She might want to take another look at her own misleading statements.

Related Sites:
Adult Salmon Return Comparison - compares current year to last year and the ten year average.
Adult Salmon Passage at Lower Granite Dam Yearly Adult Counts 1975 - Present

Anne Pasley-Stuart, a Boise Democrat, is a member of the Idaho House of Representatives.
Salmon are Important
Idaho Statesman, November 18, 2006

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