If You Like Dams,
by Patrick McGann
When salmon habitat is functioning halfway properly there is no hatchery in the world and nowhere near enough tax money to match natural production, fish for fish. And there is no factory fish contrived that match a wild fish for health, vigor and survivability on its way back upstream.
It is just common sense to work hard to make natural habitat as productive as practical and to emphasize natural over hatchery production whenever it can be viable. But what happens when habitat is so broken that fixing it would require ungodly social, cultural and economic disruption to an entire region?
Here at the confluence of the Snake and the Clearwater, we are a long way from a fire being fanned by two reasonable but differing points of view, each driven by necessity. It won't be long before we see the growing glow on clear, dark nights.
In 2001, U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan of Eugene, Ore., ruled that federal fishery managers must include hatchery fish with wild fish in their assessment of fish runs for the purpose of complying with the Endangered Species Act.
Last month, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed an environmental group's appeal of that ruling, effectively delisting Oregon coastal coho from the ESA and spawning a rash of new and threatened lawsuits involving other species in other areas.
The ruling was limited both geographically and biologically to the coast. But it applies to fish gene pools so polluted with past hatchery/wild interaction the two are now genetically indistinguishable, and that is an issue throughout the Columbia system. Sooner or later, this will be a major issue upstream where we have the mother of all habitat issues -- dams.
In the current issue of Science, a group of prominent fishery biologists throws down the gauntlet on this ruling. They are making the argument that natural production itself, regardless of the genetic end product, is the goal of the ESA, and that hatchery production harms wild production, even when hatchery fish are genetically indistinguishable from wild.
That is just a long way of saying it's either dams or hatcheries.
Even if dams become less efficient at generating power and irrigating fields, their operations must be improved to help salmon and steelhead. And the same with hatcheries. As the hatcheries go, so go the dams. -- P.M.
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