Well-known Biologist Reverses
by Alyson Oˆºten
BOISE -- Dam breaching is a complicated and divisive issue, and each side has its own set of experts. watch Alyson Oˆºten's Report
For 25 years, Don Chapman has opposed breaching the dams on the Snake River to bring back salmon populations. He has recently had a change of opinion and now favor breaching to save the fish.
But recently one of the established scientific specialists switched sides.
For nearly 25 years, biologist Don Chapman was in the small minority, one of few scientists, he says, who did not oppose dams along the Snake River. He contended fish ladders and barges were enough to transport migrating fish around the barriers.
He was a well-respected consultant for electric companies, which rely on hydropower generated through the dams.
After spending a quarter of a century on one side of this divisive issue, Chapman has changed his mind.
"My position now is, let's get those dams out of there," Chapman said. ’ÄúAs you know there are probably three dozen different stocks of Chinook salmon alone in the Snake River basin, and I thought we could lose maybe a few of those, limp along as we had been, but with the advent of global warming I don't think that's possible anymore."
Chapman says the temperature of the river is slowly rising and the four dams need to be breached to help fish swim up stream, a controversial reversal of opinion.
"I know there are a lot of people who are 180 degrees from me on this breaching issue," Chapman said.
One of those people is Norm Semanko with the Idaho Water Users Association.
"Well, I’Äôm not going to get into a scientific debate with anyone. What I will tell you is - there are adverse economic impacts, billions of dollars of costs to the region, thousands of people put out of work, and when you see the tens of thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of fish that are coming back to the Pacific Northwest, it's very difficult to understand how you can talk about ripping out dams," said Semanko.
Fish advocates claim dams like Lower Granite are killing salmon.
Semanko says current fish returns are well above the ten year average.
Local conservationists disagree, saying those numbers don't hold true for endangered salmon in Idaho, some of which of are on the verge of extinction.
But, Semanko says dam breaching is simply not up for negotiation.
"The dams are not going happen, the president doesn't support that, the Congress doesn't support that, and it's simply not going to happen," said Semanko.
"You’Äôve got to read, you've got to think, you've got to go where the data lead," said Chapman.
"And where does that lead?" asked NewsChannel 7.
"It leads to breaching right now, for me," Chapman. "I’Äôm telling people what I think and what society does with that is up to them."
Chapman sold his consulting business several years ago, but remains active in the scientific and social debates surrounding Snake River dams.
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