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Hope and Wishful Thinking

by Staff
The Daily Astorian, August 7, 2000

Latest plan is just an effort to get Democrats off the hook

The Clinton administration's draft recovery plan for Columbia and Snake river salmon is a disappointing half-start filled with obvious pussyfooting around the explosive issue of making substantial changes in the dam/reservoir system.

It is a plan that heavily relies on hope and wishful thinking, a plan pandering to the surprising coalitions that oppose meaningful recovery efforts while hardly paying lip service to overwhelming scientific and public opinion in favor of bypassing the four federal dams on the Snake.

(Warrenton's City Commission has joined Astoria City Council in voicing support for bypassing the dams for salmon.)

It's difficult to view the draft plan as much more than a transparent effort to get Vice President Al Gore and Northwest congressional Democrats off the hook with the organized labor interests that fear change as a threat to union jobs at aluminum smelters and other firms dependent on subsidized hydropower.

Taking dam bypass off the menu of options for as long as eight years sets up a situation in which everything else has to go just right if endangered and threatened salmon are to survive. The real world seldom comes through with a best-case scenario on anything. As now written, this plan doesn't even do what it should to maximize chances for that happy but unlikely result, substituting stop-gap measures like targeted fisheries and tributary restoration for substantive recovery efforts on the main stem of the river.

It does little to force compliance with the Clean Water Act, U.S. treaties or the Endangered Species Act, while taking a needless shot at the already mauled fishing industry by freezing salmon harvest levels at or below current levels. "Below" isn't defined.

All this leaves longtime salmon advocates on the lower Columbia feeling betrayed - and feeling that salmon are being betrayed, too.

In an interview last week, Steve Fick and Bruce Buckmaster of Salmon For All pointed out that hatchery salmon which sustain Astoria's small surviving fishing fleet are the key element in a mitigation bargain dictated by the federal government when dams were put in. If 450,000 coho return to the river this year, "they are a remnant of that promise trying to be kept," Buckmaster said.

It is particularly galling for lower Columbia people that the plan calls for additional harvest restrictions for fishermen when the dams themselves "harvest" 42 to 88 percent of migrating juvenile salmon. "Turn those turbines over and turn them into fish wheels, and it would be called harvest," Buckmaster added with heavy irony.

In light of a recent study that suggests loss of salmon runs has cost 75,000 jobs on the West Coast, Fick said "we've paid our dues."

But Salmon For All and other surviving representatives of our area's once-great fishing heritage remain the most positive and forceful allies salmon have. Though they would clearly and quickly benefit if Snake River salmon were declared extinct - a step that would loosen harvest restrictions - that isn't acceptable to men like Buckmaster and Fick.

The salmon of the Columbia and Snake are vitally important in their own right in ways that we're only starting to suspect, transferring vast amounts of nutrients from the ocean into the streams and forests of the interior.

Salmon are the connection, the wiring that brings energy to our land and keeps it in balance. We can't afford to walk away from them. Extinction cannot be an option.

Hope and Wishful Thinking
The Daily Astorian, August 7, 2000

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