Salmon Numbers Wane
by Jim Fisher
In trying to figure out what led four Indian tribes - excluding this region's Nez Perce Tribe - to abandon their positions on the needs of Columbia and Snake river salmon, the best question might be what changed before their conversions.
It wasn't science. Nothing happened within the scientific community to drive tribes that had opposed the Bush administration's salmon restoration plan to retreat from their legal battle against that plan, and the rivers' dams.
Money, however, did change. In exchange for the agreement from the Warm Springs, Umatilla and Yakama tribes to drop their legal action, and for the Colville Tribe to join them, federal agencies agreed to give the tribes $900 million.
That money is intended to be spent on the tribes' fish and wildlife programs, but not all on promoting dwindling salmon runs. Much of the money will be spent on other species.
Meanwhile, people who get their electrical power from the Bonneville Power Administration will pick up most of the tab, in the form of higher power rates.
"Our cost structure will be higher than if we didn't have this agreement," concedes BPA Administrator Steve Wright.
Another thing that hasn't changed is the question before U.S. District Judge James Redden. Redden, who has bluntly criticized and rejected two earlier administration plans for balancing endangered or threatened salmon runs with operations of Snake and Columbia river dams, is awaiting another version to be submitted to him by May 5.
Most of the tribal plaintiffs may be gone from the suit, but the state of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe remain allied with environmental groups in Redden's courtroom.
However this plays out, there is now one sure constant in the Northwest's protracted salmon dispute: Taxpayers and ratepayers will pay dearly for many years, even more than they have in the past, in the name of rescuing salmon runs from extinction.
If the money they pay does help prevent that exinction, it may have been worth it. If it does not, the amount will set a record for government waste that will be hard to top.
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