Save the Snake River Salmonby Editors
Champaign News-Gazette, May 10, 2000
Bill Clinton, Al Gore and the rest of the so-called environmentalists in power in Washington are dodging one of the biggest environmental issues of our time: the future of the splendid salmon that live and breed on the Lower Snake River of eastern Washington state and western Idaho.
The Snake's coho salmon have already gone extinct, and other salmon and steelhead species in the river are listed in the Endangered Species Act. Their downfall began about 35 years ago when the federal government began building hydroelectric dams on the Snake. There are now four dams on the river, all of which keep the salmon from naturally making their run to the Pacific. Instead, $3 billion has been spent on ludicrous programs, including hauling the fish in trucks for 140 miles to bypass the dams. Even so, the salmon stocks have plunged from annual averages of more than 100,000 adults before the dams to about 3,000 now.
Two agencies, the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service, are under orders to deliver a recovery plan to a federal court. The plan which makes the most sense, and which is building support in the Northwest, is to simply remove the earthern portions of the dams and allow the rivers to again flow freely.
That plan, however, is opposed by shippers who use the Snake to move goods cheaply from Lewiston, Idaho, 500 miles to the Pacific. Other foes include those who benefit from the inexpensive electricity the dams provide. But those problems are easily solved, certainly more easily solved than replacing a once-prolific fish species.
A secondary problem is that the extinction of the salmon would expose the government to the potential loss of billions of dollars in lawsuits by American Indian tribes that were guaranteed fishing privilges for all time in "usual and accustomed places" under treaties signed more than 100 years ago. Indians, however, would prefer the fish to the money.
Eight Illinois congressmen have signed a letter to President Clinton, urging him to consider the as a recovery option the removal of the Snake River dams. U.S. Reps. Tom Ewing, R-Pontiac, and David Phelps, D-Eldorado, were not among them. They should join their colleagues and several Midwest and national conservation groups in this effort, and should also support removal of the dams.
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