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Abundant Fish? It's Not Likely

by Editors
Corvalis Gazette-Times, January 15, 2005

Our governor will have to figure out whose side he's on in the salmon debate. Does he want electric power and a vibrant, expanding economy, or does he want "abundant" salmon?

In his opening speech to the Legislature Monday, Ted Kulongoski said he wanted both.

"The Columbia River hydro system is an asset to Oregon and the greatest source of electricity in the region," he said, "It provides many Oregonians with competitively priced power that is critical to our economy."

He's right about that.

"But abundant salmon is also critical to our economy and our Native tribes," he continued, and here he was just making things up. Having electricity to power your furnace when it's freezing outside that's critical. Having enough juice to power Northwest industry, on which millions of jobs depend, that's critical. How many salmon swim in the Columbia is not in the same class.

"It is wrong to assume that we have to sacrifice salmon for power," Kulongoski asserted. "We can have stable and predictable electric power and plentiful salmon."

We can?

There is no getting around the fact that dams on the Columbia and its tributaries are one of the causes of the decline of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest. The dams were built for a reason mainly power and flood control, but also navigation and irrigation. And operating them for maximum salmon survival often conflicts with operating them for these other reasons.

But the dams are not the only problem for salmon, or perhaps even the main one. In a 2003 paper published in the Renewable Resources Journal, Robert Lackey of Corvallis, a senior fisheries biologist with the federal government and a professor at Oregon State University, argued that salmon probably can't be restored to their historical abundance unless something is done about what he called the "core drivers" that determine what happens in this region where salmon are concerned.

These drivers, he wrote, are the "economic rules of the game" including the drive for economic efficiency; the increasing scarcity and competition for natural resources, especially water; the population increase in this region; and individual and collective lifestyle choices.

We might be able to reverse the lifestyle choices of many people, even though we live in in SUV Nation and it would be hard, but we're not going to alter the imperatives of the economy. Nor are we likely to stem population growth that may have up to 100 million people living in the region between Eugene and Seattle by 2100.

The governor complained that the federal administration now was working to assure merely the "survival" of Northwest salmon rather than "recovery" to abundance. But given the facts and trends of economic life, that seems like the more attainable and therefore more reasonable goal.

Related Pages:
22 Sockeye Return by Jennifer Sandmann, Seattle Times 9/1/4
Chasing an Illusion? by Robert T. Lackey, U.S. EPA, 9/7/0

Abundant Fish? It's Not Likely
Corvalis Gazette-Times, January 15, 2005

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