Salmon Solution Neededby Sam Mace
Spokesman Review, December 19, 2006
Leadership coupled with sincerity of parties could yield economic boon
The debate over how we restore Snake River salmon is not going away. If we want to recover Northwest salmon and steelhead to healthy, harvestable levels, meet our legal obligations to Native American tribes and allow fishermen as well as farmers to continue earning livelihoods, we must begin looking at workable options immediately.
In other Western river basins, fishermen and farmers are coming together to resolve contentious battles that have been waged for decades. Northwest leaders need to show leadership and bring together commercial and sport fishermen, tribes, river communities, ports, wheat growers, utilities and other interests to look at solutions. And they must be sincere enough about salmon recovery to keep all options on the table - including removal of the four lower Snake River dams.
The vast majority of fish experts agree that any successful recovery effort must include removing the dams. The Snake River basin encompasses the best and by far the largest healthy salmon habitat remaining in the lower 48 states. In Idaho alone, there are more than 5,500 river miles of excellent spawning grounds.
But today, there are few salmon. Since the four lower Snake River dams were built between 1960 and 1975, wild salmon have faced a near-impossible journey back to their home streams. Despite billions of dollars spent on barging and trucking fish around the dams, our Inland Northwest salmon remain at great risk of extinction. This year, wild spring chinook again suffered low returns, while only three lonely sockeye returned to Idaho.
Science says dam removal is the most effective way to recover salmon. Shippers, farmers and other interests have raised concerns over whether we can affordably replace the benefits provided by the dams: 140 miles of barge transportation and a small percentage of our region's power.
Northwest Energy Coalition, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and other groups recently released "Revenue Stream," an economic analysis based on studies by the federal government and independent economists that compares the costs and benefits of keeping the four lower Snake River dams with removing them and restoring wild salmon.
"Revenue Stream" shows that removing the four lower Snake River dams likely would save taxpayers from $12 million to $2 billion over 10 years and $2 billion to $5 billion over 20 years. The resulting boost in salmon runs could provide the Northwest between $4 billion and $7 billion in commercial, sport, recreation and tourism revenue over 10 years.
Restoring salmon and renewing the Northwest fishing economies would provide a sizable economic boon to our region. But dam removal can't happen on the backs of wheat farmers, shippers and industries also important to our region's economy. We must develop a detailed plan to fund and implement investments in rail and other transportation upgrades, clean energy and conservation alternatives and modernized irrigation equipment.
With appropriate planning, restoring the lower Snake River could reap enormous benefits for farm and rural communities while allowing fishing towns - and our irreplaceable wild salmon - to thrive as well.
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