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Panel: Efforts to save salmon not enough

Some $3 billion a year is spent in the Pacific Northwest to restore salmon runs


Some $3 billion a year is spent in the Pacific Northwest to restore salmon runs, according to some rough guesses. On Wednesday, members of a panel said most of that activity isn't doing much good.

"What will it take to restore Northwest salmon" was the theme of a panel during the 41st annual meeting of the Oregon chapter of the American Fisheries Society at Oregon State University.

Of the nine speakers, including retired professor Ben Stout of Albany, each had a different prescription for what should be done so that there are still wild salmon and steelhead runs in 2100.

Robert T. Lackey, a biologist with the Environmental Protection Agency and OSU, who organized the panel, said the take-away line from the discussion was that whatever is now being done isn't working.

Among the suggestions for other approaches was one by Guido Rahr, of the Wild Salmon Center in Portland, who called for establishing selected river basins as salmon sanctuaries and spending all available dollars there.

Among other things, he said, money spent on the Columbia might be better spent on coastal rivers where the chance of success is greater.

Stout suggested that more attention be paid to the study of ocean conditions that influence the abundance of salmon.

Others called for taking harvest pressure off wild fish, educating school children to live with the environment, giving more influence in fish preservation programs to local landowners, and using a "triage" system on rivers by designating the Columbia for power production and taking the dams out in others.

The panel included non-biologists. One was James Buchal, a Portland lawyer and author, who among other things advocated abolishing federal laws related to salmon, limiting the fish harvest and then letting the fish take care of themselves.

Brent Steel, a political scientist at OSU, said salmon recovery was an example of "symbolic politics," which he described as a "situation where policy makers may appear that they are solving a problem, yet in fact little if any effective action is taking place."

"One can make a strong case that the politics of wild salmon in western North America fits a symbolic politics perspective," he wrote in an abstract of his talk.

Lackey said that while the $3 billion figure is thrown around, no one really knows how much is spent on salmon recovery in the Northwest.

The cost includes direct spending by the Bonneville Power Administration, the cost of electricity not produced or sold, as well as salmon-related activities of state and local governments.

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