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Commentaries and editorials

Dams or Fish? Idahoans Choose Fish

by Bill Sedivy
Idaho Statesman, February 3, 2006

Idaho's political leadership just got new instructions. A new poll shows voters would support removing
four lower Snake River dams to save salmon, provided people and communities are protected.

On Jan. 6, Boise State University released its 17th Annual Public Policy Survey. Although some attitudes and opinions revealed by the poll received considerable press coverage, other important trends have not been reported.

For example, the statewide survey found that Idahoans will support removal of four lower Snake River dams to restore endangered salmon and steelhead -- if policymakers find ways to replace economic benefits from those dams.

According to the survey, support for removing the dams in eastern Washington is strong and growing:

Surprised? We shouldn't be.

Idahoans understand that wild salmon and steelhead runs are vital to our way of life and the economies of towns such as Riggins, Orofino and Salmon.

Idahoans know that without salmon (and nutrients they bring home from the Pacific), wild places we love will change forever. They understand that salmon are the ecological cornerstones of places such as the Frank Church Wilderness, the Selway-Bitterroot, the Boulder-White Clouds, Stanley Basin and Hells Canyon.

Idahoans know a vast majority of scientists agree dam removal is the best and perhaps only way to restore Idaho's salmon. They know scientists opposed to dam removal are part of a small, radical minority, or are pressured by authorities above.

And Idahoans know current salmon recovery efforts have failed.

Wild spring/summer chinook -- Idaho's bread-and-butter fish -- have declined annually since 2001 and are headed toward extinction. Only six sockeye salmon returned to Redfish Lake last year.

At the same time, the BSU survey shows that people want to make sure people and communities are protected if dams are removed. Dam removal supporters, including the 3,000 members of Idaho Rivers United, agree.

Plans leading to the removal of the four dams must replace lost power and barge transportation. They need to eliminate the use of southern Idaho water to aid salmon migrations and redevelop communities such as Lewiston.

Science shows that the most lethal factors affecting Idaho's salmon and steelhead are the four lower Snake dams. If we're going to save salmon, discussion about dam removal must change -- away from questioning whether it's necessary, to an inclusive, people-centered dialogue about how to keep Northwesterners whole when those obsolete dams come down.

That's why the Boise State survey results are important.

Right now, Idaho's politicians are out of step on this issue. Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, Sen. Larry Craig and Rep. Butch Otter continue to back failed and illegal federal policies, refusing to consider dam removal options. They go out of their way to confuse and control science, and they deny continued salmon declines.

Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson better understand the realities about salmon and dams but have thus far been reluctant to provide leadership toward the solution -- dam removal legislation containing strong measures to protect people and communities while taking Idaho water off the table.

Why have Idaho's elected leaders taken this position' Because up to now, they thought Idahoans rejected dam removal. The BSU poll says otherwise.

With thoughtful leadership, Idahoans can have salmon and low-cost electricity. We can have salmon and healthy economies. We can have salmon, productive farms and keep more Idaho water in Idaho. However, it's impossible to keep both Idaho salmon and the four lower Snake dams. If we want to reverse salmon/steelhead extinction, we must remove those four dams. Done properly, Idahoans will support elected leaders who lead us along that path.

Bill Sedivy is executive director of Idaho Rivers United, a statewide river conservation organization based in Boise.
Dams or Fish? Idahoans Choose Fish
Idaho Statesman, February 3, 2006

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