the film


Commentaries and editorials

Use Facts, Not Fear,
to Save Columbia River Salmon

by Ben Long
Flathead Beacon, May 26, 2022

The current champion for salmon in the Snake River is Congressman Mike Simpson,
who is about as conservative as they come

Congressman Mike Simpson has been talking to people throughout the northwest and in Washington, D.C. about the salmon crisis, and he says he's determined to do what he can to solve it. It is sad to see the Flathead Electric Co-op, Kalispell and Whitefish Chambers of Commerce fall into a trap of misinformation on the topic of saving Columbia Basin salmon from extinction. It's an important topic that deserves better.

Instead, Lorraine Clarno and Erica Wirtala are repeating falsehoods that exploit fear. I know they probably don't mean to.

Their recent column is interesting in what it leaves out. They never even mention why people like Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, are pushing to breach the four dams: those dams are expensive, outdated and are pushing several runs of salmon and steelhead to extinction.

The people of Montana have insisted our native trout -- bull trout and cutthroat -- be conserved and wisely used for the long run. Our fly-fishing industry is an enormous economic driver statewide. Imagine if some out-of-state entity said "No! Our interests are more important! Montana's fish must go extinct. Tough luck."

Montanans wouldn't stand for that. So, I understand where Rep. Simpson is coming from.

Clarno and Wirtala write about hypothetical "societal harms" of dam removal, but speak nothing of the concrete societal harms of extinction. Consider the Nez Perce people, whose ancient way of life and treaty rights are tied to salmon. Isn't their society also worthy of consideration? Or do we just say "tough luck" to them too?

We can have both salmon in the Columbia and reliable and affordable electricity. Indeed we must. The current champion for salmon and the Snake River is Congressman Mike Simpson. Simpson is about as conservative as they come and supports growing the economy of our region. That's why Idahoans keep reelecting him.

I've lived all my adult life in Kalispell but grew up in Idaho, not far from the Snake River. I used to swim and fish at the dams now under scrutiny. My family owns a Palouse farm and ships crops overseas via Portland. So I understand what is at stake. Every day of my life I have flicked on a switch and received electricity from the Columbia Basin power grid. None of us should take that for granted.

But neither should we take for granted God's miracles that are the chinook salmon, sockeye salmon and the steelhead trout. These magnificent ocean-run fish have fed human beings for tens of thousands of years and can feed people for centuries more, if we don't push them to extinction.

The recent misinformation from the hydropower industry vastly overstates the generating capacity of the four dams on the Snake. Remember, they are just four of about 30 dams on the Columbia system. They generate about 4 percent of the electricity in the Columbia grid. The talk about life-threatening blackouts is irresponsible fear-mongering. We have other sources of electricity to replace the modicum of power generated by the four Snake River dams: conservation, rapidly advancing battery storage for wind and solar, adapting flow regimes at other dams.

Plus, the industry numbers totally dismiss the enormous costs of running those four aging dams, which are money-losing dinosaurs. Ratepayers have poured billions of dollars into salmon recovery that is doomed to fail if the salmon don't get what they really need -- a better functioning river between their spawning streams and the ocean.

But everything those dams do, we humans can do some other way. But the salmon need a river to survive. Without that, they will go extinct on our watch.

As a longtime Flathead Electric Co-op member, I expect the Co-op to look out for the interests of northwestern Montana and seek practical solutions. But not spread fear and misinformation. I encourage the Co-op and the chambers of commerce to do more homework, listen to Congressman Simpson, and chart a more responsible course.

Ben Long, Kalispell
Use Facts, Not Fear, to Save Columbia River Salmon
Flathead Beacon, May 26, 2022

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