Senator's Tack on Salmon:
Credit Idaho's Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Craig for tactical brilliance, if not for having scruples. With a slick, knife-like stroke last month, he killed an independent agency providing reliable scientific reports on survival rates for endangered salmon on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Craig's target was an obscure, 12-person federal office based in Portland, Ore., called the Fish Passage Center. The agency tracks migrating salmon in the Columbia River basin.
Craig inserted a provision in a Senate budget bill last month that 'zeroed out' the center by eliminating its $1.3 million budget.
Craig claims the center's work can be done by other agencies; he says he just wants to promote efficiency in government. Then he gets closer to the truth; the center, he also claims, concocts 'false science' to support arguments for spilling more water over four controversial dams on the lower Snake.
What really galls Craig, though, is the fact that the center's data and analysis have played a key role in an ongoing federal court fight over salmon and control of the river.
Federal Judge James Redden in Portland took the center's work into account this year when he ordered more water spilled from Snake River dams to increase salmon survival.
Utilities and agricultural industries generally oppose such measures as too costly in terms of actual benefits. Guess who provided the lion's share of Craig's contributions in his most recent election campaign? Utility firms, natch.
Craig's sneak attack was vindictiveness, pure and simple. And it only means that another way to provide the same data on fish survival must be found. The governors of Oregon and Washington and the states' fish and wildlife agencies strongly backed the center.
The Bonneville Power Administration and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council now have to decide how to parcel out the center's work. U.S. Reps. Norm Dicks (D-Belfair) and Adam Smith (D-Tacoma) this week joined a call for creating another independent group to assume the center's tasks.
The congressmen are right. If decisions about fish and river flows in the Columbia River system are to be based on sound science, a credible and reliable source of scientific data is essential. If the Fish Passage Center is doomed, then something very much like it should take its place.
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