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U.S. Agency Suggests Breaching Four Dams

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, December 17, 1999

The Fish and Wildlife Service's unexpected move
comes while other federal agencies study
how best to help Snake River salmon

Breaking ranks with other federal agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today will recommend breaching four dams on the lower Snake River as the best way to aid salmon and other wildlife.

The agency's unexpected action comes as the region considers how to restore dwindling salmon and steelhead trout runs in the Columbia River Basin.

As part of that effort, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today will release preliminary results of a four-year, $20 million study that weighs the costs and benefits of dam breaching and three other alternatives. Corps officials have said their draft report does not make a recommendation on the alternatives.

A spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service said her agency's recommendation was advisory only. It does not consider the economic and social effects of breaching Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams, Joan Jewett said.

"We ended up with a preliminary recommendation that the natural river alternative provides the most benefit for fish and wildlife resources," Jewett said. "We aren't saying this should be the final decision. The purpose of all these documents being released is to start regional soul-searching."

Still, the Fish and Wildlife Service's draft report marks the first time a federal agency has called breaching the dams the best way to restore threatened and endangered Snake River fish populations. The nine federal agencies responsible for Northwest salmon recovery programs have at least publicly tried to present a unified position on what the region should do.

Salmon runs in the Columbia Basin have declined from an estimated 10 million to 16 million in the 1800s to about 1 million today, most of which are hatchery fish. Twelve salmon and steelhead stocks are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Biologists cite a combination of causes for the decline, including poor ocean conditions, overfishing, bad hatchery practices and loss of salmon habitat to dams, overgrazing, logging and urban development.

The Fish and Wildlife Service recommendation is based on an analysis of all existing scientific research, Jewett said. The analysis was required under federal law. Other agencies are not required to follow the recommendation, but they must consider it, Jewett said.

The Corps of Engineers' draft environmental impact study looks at four options:

Also today, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency in charge of salmon recovery, will release a report that examines other factors that affect salmon in the Columbia Basin, including habitat restoration, hatcheries and sport and commercial fishing.

Environmentalists cheered the conclusions of the fisheries service and Fish and Wildlife Service reports.

"These documents conclude the science clearly supports dam breaching," said Scott Faber, senior director of public policy for American Rivers in Washington, D.C. "This should silence those who say dam removal is unnecessary or will paralyze the economy of the Northwest."

Jonathan Brinckman
U.S. Agency Suggests Breaching Four Dams
The Oregonian, December 17, 1999

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