Kitzhaber, Babbitt Agree:
by Michael Milstein
Snake River - A regional plan including removal of four dams
is the only way to save the Northwest runs, they say
Time has run out for the Northwest's salmon.
Former Gov. John Kitzhaber and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt delivered that grim message on Friday in Portland in a kind of final plea for the region to consider removing four hydroelectric dams on the Snake River.
They said two options remain as the Northwest's signature fish fade toward extinction: Stand back and watch the fish disappear, or rip out the four hydroelectric dams on the Snake River that block their recovery and do it soon.
President Bush stood on one of those dams three years ago and said it would never come down, that salmon could recover anyway.
Federal agencies responsible for salmon recovery, along with shippers, farmers and others, issued pre-emptive press releases before speeches by Kitzhaber and Babbitt warning that breaching the dams is not a cure-all. Many troubled salmon species do not rely on the Snake, they said, and breaching may not even help those that do.
But the two former politicians known for their conservation mind-sets told the Portland City Club on Friday that the federal government's restoration plans for salmon have proved useless and that the $8 billion dedicated to propping up salmon since 1978 has done little good.
Besides, the money is going to dry up as the nation tires of paying for recovery efforts that do not work, they said.
"We're going to lose the money, we're going to lose the salmon, and we're going to lose the resources to construct an alternative," said Babbitt, a friend of Kitzhaber's who now serves as a land-use consultant and director of the World Wildlife Fund.
They said the region has a narrow window of time before the money disappears to chart a new course that considers breaching.
The money, which mainly comes from the Bonneville Power Administration, includes revenue lost when hydroelectric turbines do not run at full power as a way to protect salmon.
Instead of putting the funds toward salmon recovery work that fails, the region could use the money to prepare for life without the dams that block migrating salmon, Babbitt said.
Barges now move crops down the river, thanks to the dams. Money instead could go to pay for better railroads to transport the crops and to protect farmers from increased costs, Babbitt said.
The money also could pay for conservation and renewable energy sources to make up for electricity generated by the dams, he said.
Federal agencies argued in return that the power would be extremely expensive to replace and could lead to more pollution and greenhouse gases.
Kitzhaber has long argued for a serious discussion of breaching. But Friday he went a step further, saying he supports breaching if it's done as part of a regional plan that also addresses the economic needs of farmers and others.
Leaving the dams alone is not a simple choice, he said, because the government then must go to great expense to offset the damage they do to salmon.
"We have to stop deluding ourselves into thinking that our choices will be easier and cheaper if we just leave the dams alone," the former governor said.
The trouble, he said, is that there is no clear direction on what to do for salmon, that the government has failed to make the political and financial commitments that would help salmon overcome the dams. And the inaction dooms the fish to continue its death spiral, he added.
"We are deciding by not deciding," Kitzhaber said. "Deciding by not deciding has become a default position, which allows us to avoid confronting many of the challenges that face us today."
Babbitt warned of "restlessness in Congress" that soon could cut back the flow of money for salmon. "That will be a death sentence for Snake River salmon," he said. "The game will be over."
Hatcheries may continue adding fish into the rivers of the Northwest, he said, but without fish that survive on their own in the wild, the region's rivers will become no more than a "third-rate fish farm."
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