Salmon win in this dam legal battle
fact that some environmental groups won't be happy until every
dam is removed from every salmon stream and river in the West.
Whether that's practical is, for them, not a concern.
They simply don't seem to be willing to accept any
alternatives. For them, it's an all-or-nothing proposition.
That leaves government agencies, utilities and other
interested groups such as Indian tribes to find practical ways
to return the region's salmon runs to health without benefit
of those environmental groups' help.
That's what makes so remarkable the recently announced
agreement between the Indian tribes and the federal government
for operating the Columbia River hydropower system. The deal
calls for spending about $90 million a year for hatchery and
habitat improvements during the next decade while leaving the
dams in place.
This agreement is both practical and represents a huge step
toward returning the fisheries to health.
Members of the region's Indian tribes laud the agreement.
"This is the best thing to happen to the salmon is a long
time," Fidelia Andy, chair of the Fish and Wildlife Committee
of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council, said in a recent Capital
For too long, the need to rebuild western salmon runs has been
volleyed between courtrooms and Congress. While the lawyers
argued, the fate of the fish was locked in legal limbo. As a
result, many of the efforts to protect the fish could best be
described as too little, too late.
Now the tribes are working with the government in an all-out
effort to make progress in this important area.
"When people move from courtroom adversaries to rebuilding
partnerships that recognize co-management, then I think we're
on the right track," said Ron Suppah of the Confederated
Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Central
In the meantime, Earthjustice, which thrives on courtroom
battles, is holding out for removing the four dams on the
Snake River, no matter what the consequences are for the
"While increased spill and flow and Snake River dam removal
are not silver bullets, they are a necessary part of a larger
plan," Earthjustice said in a press release quoting Bill
Shake, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assistant
regional director. "This deal defies decades of salmon science
that say salmon recovery in the Columbia and Snake River Basin
is not possible with habitat and hatchery programs alone."
While that's certainly his opinion and the opinion of
Earthjustice, it is not the opinion of four Indian tribes and
three federal agencies that agreed to this comprehensive
effort to return the salmon runs to health.
The agreement is good news for the region's farmers, which
have been threatened by the prospect of losing the low-cost
electricity and water for irrigation that the dams provide.
The river system is also an important mode of transportation
for getting crops to market.
"We hope this agreement ends the unproductive debate on dam
breaching and gets down to solving real, on-the-ground
problems for fish," Glenn Vanselow, executive director of the
Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, said in the Capital
His comment is right on the mark. The more time and money that
are devoted to lawyers and lawsuits, the less time and money
goes to helping the salmon.
The recently announced agreements need to make it through a
legal review next month, but the cooperative effort is in
itself a giant leap forward for the tribes, the federal
agencies and, most importantly, the salmon runs that have
suffered for years while lawyers continued their efforts to
torpedo the Snake River dams in court.
The legal war is not over, but this battle has been won. If
the judge allows this comprehensive agreement to proceed, the
salmon will be the ultimate winners.