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Bush Pushes Northwest
Into Unthinkable Corner

by Patrick McGann
Lewiston Tribune, December 3, 2004

The second punch of a one-two combination delivered Tuesday to salmon and steelhead recovery was a haymaker. Flat out, the Bush administration will not consider removing federal dams even it means extinction.

That is a radical departure from every administration since Nixon. We are now contemplating the unthinkable.

All this apocalyptic talk may strike some as odd considering Columbia Basin steelhead and salmon are on such a roll lately. But these fish are highly cyclic because of fluctuating ocean temperature trends.

Not so long ago, there were so many fish that population swings were hard to notice. Now, with total fish populations a fraction of their historic levels, the cycles are more extreme and more frequent. The lower the population levels, the more volatile the cycles are. Investors would say salmon have a high beta curve.

Sooner, not later, we'll see another salmon and steelhead crash.

During this up-cycle, federal, state and local governments, dozens of tribes and organizations, and thousands of volunteers have been working hard to maximize the positive effects of those favorable ocean conditions.

But the Bush administration plans to dismantle protections on 80 percent of habitat previously deemed critical to the restoration of salmon and steelhead.

That is bad for the Northwest and dangerous for Idaho and eastern Washington.

The Bush administration's plan to put dams first and fish last relies on a strategy of tinkering, the plan of choice for the beaver-boys in the Corps of Engineers. They'll retrofit the dams with a whole new array of doodads and gizmos and whatchamacallits.

And they'll work great because fish are really easy to manage when they are plentiful. Then the great gyres will bring us warm oceans and -- crash.

The Bush administration seems determined that when that happens, we upstreamers will find ourselves caught between the impossible and the unthinkable: Are Easterners and Californians more willing to save our subsidized dams? Or more willing to prevent extinction?

Take a flying guess.

From the upstream standpoint, it would seem the better strategy -- the one the Bush administration is abandoning -- would be preventing it from getting to that point.

Patrick McGann
Bush Pushes Northwest Into Unthinkable Corner
Lewiston Tribune, December 3, 2004

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