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Commentaries and editorials

Salmon vs. Terns

by Evan Merrell
The Idaho Statesman, December 22, 2003

Much fuss is made about destroying four expensive dams that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed on Snake River in order for salmon and steelhead to pass more freely. But little attention is paid to the effect of two small islands that the Corps of Engineers constructed near the mouth of Columbia River inadvertently. Beginning about 1980, they dumped sand dredged from the shipping channel and thereby created propagation sites for Caspian terns. These two islands provide several acres of nesting space with abundant food and freedom from predators. Thus the Columbia River mouth has a huge population of Caspian terns where only a few had been naturally, and each year these terns consume many millions of salmon and steelhead smolts.

Destruction of four big concrete dams would cost a lot and would have serious economic impact, but gradual alteration of these two islands of sand could be quite cheap and would return the Caspian tern population to natural levels. No huge efforts. Merely smear a bit of each island down to tide level each winter until they become tidal sandbars. We humans have inadvertently caused a serious imbalance of nature to our detriment and we can remove that imbalance with little effort.

Evan Merrell, Boise
Salmon vs. Terns
The Idaho Statesman, December 22, 2003

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