Bypassing Dams Best Chance for Regaining Harvestable Salmon

The Associated Press

Copyright 1999 by The New York Times

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Senator Craig's comments accurately reflect the quandry that public decision makers are increasingly confronted with. As our public policies attempt to reflect the views of more of the public, those views are going to increasingly be in conflict. Questions such as "how much is a run of salmon actually worth?" are bregging for answers that don't exist today. Unfortunately, neither does any mechanism for providing those answers.

It's also interesting to note that decision makers are starting to acknowledge the fact that environmental factors and natural cycles might out weigh the impacts of anthropogenic factors like dams and water diversions. 

Boise, Idaho -- An association of fish biologists in Idaho has overwhelmingly affirmed the need to bypass four lower Snake River dams to restore wild salmon and steelhead runs. 

The Idaho Chapter of the American Fisheries Society voted 184-16 to approve a resolution to that effect, the group's president-elect, Ted Koch, said Friday. 

The measure says that "if Americans wish to see harvestable runs of wild salmon and steelhead restored to the Snake River basin in the foreseeable future, then the lower four Snake River dams must be bypassed soon," he said. 

"Even the most skeptical among us agreed that at a minimum, removing the dams would help salmon and steelhead greatly." 

The chapter is not advocating their removal, Koch said -- such decisions are up to policymakers. The chapter membership represents a broad range of biologists from federal, state and tribal governments whose agencies were advised of the

Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Craig said the scientists are looking for an ideal system geared completely to fish recovery. 

"That's not my job, to create a perfect world," Craig said. "My job is to balance all the interests with the fish interests, to make sure Idaho saves its fish, maintains its slackwater, its irrigated economy and its hydro base." 

Koch, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, said the chapter is not advocating dam breaching. Its goal is to clarify scientific opinions about restoring harvestable levels of fish that existed before those dams went in during the 1960s and 70s. 

"The point is it's about as clear as it's going to be and it's up to our political leaders to decide what the next step is," he said. 

And if they say "'Thank you for the information; we're not going to bypass the dams because they're too important economically or socially,' that's just fine for the chapter," Koch said. "We have no opinion on those issues." 

He said the chief evidence for the chapter's conclusion is this: Fish that negotiate just four lower Columbia dams return at rates several times those of Idaho-bound fish that must also cross the four Snake dams. 

"The public, I think, is perhaps looking for a guarantee and I've heard some of our political leaders say there's no guarantee -- and that's correct," Koch said. 

"But there never will be a guarantee. Science is not capable of offering a guarantee." 

Craig noted that some scientists say removing the dams is not the complete answer -- that ocean conditions have changed and are not as ideal for the migrations as before.  

The chapter's position is based on what the members know about salmon survival, the current status of the fish runs and the potential effects of management options, Koch said. 

June 27, 1999

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company 


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