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Commentaries and editorials

No Dam Removal: A Welcome Signal

by Editors
Seattle Times - July 21, 2000

Putting a decision on removal of Snake River dams on hold - possibly forever - gives a welcome finality to arguments over the dams. The arguments were going nowhere.

President Clinton let it be known that any request to Congress to remove the dams is at last eight years away. In practical terms, that means never, unless a new president and an entirely new set of circumstances push dam removal back onto the public agenda.

Breaching the Snake River dams became a symbol for both salmon restoration and the drive to return parts of the Pacific Northwest back to pristine conditions. The sentiments were good, but the practicalities of dam breaching and the economic costs to the region simply made the idea better on paper than in reality.

Restoring salmon habitat in less-costly and less-dramatic ways has always been a better solution. The new federal approach will include the important but mundane jobs of getting creek banks and shorelines ready for salmon returns. A large salmon run this year - the highest count on the Columbia since records were started in 1938 - allows this decision to come outside an atmosphere of looming crisis over salmon runs.

Most people understand a single year's Columbia River run of salmon does not end the larger crisis over fish populations. Some runs of wild salmon remain dangerously close to extinction. But considerations of dam breaching should be done without relying on heated rhetoric and promises of fish returns that focus on only one aspect of the complicated ecosystems and economies of the Columbia and Snake rivers.

President Clinton has pushed the decision ahead to a future time when more-reasoned arguments based on new studies may be available.

It's also clear the president did Al Gore a favor by taking this hot topic off the table. Gore was caught between conflicting interests and would not say exactly what he would do as president about dam breaching. Republican candidate George W. Bush said he would not take the dams down. Gore always wants it both ways, to praise environmental efforts but not make the tough decisions that accompany them. Now, Gore doesn't have to say what he would do and he can continue to straddle the argument to his heart's content.

No Dam Removal: A Welcome Signal
Seattle Times Company, July 21, 2000

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