New Book Levels Playing Field
Wheat Life, May 2002
'Those Snake River Dams'
The literary playing field, long the favored stomping grounds of the publicity-savvy environmentalists, has for a long time been tilted in their favor and has had a profound influence on how the American public views any matter concerning the environment. Now, with the publication of a new book on the four dams in the Lower Snake River in Washington state -- which, in the name of enhancing a diminished salmon run, are threatened with breaching -- the field has been significantly leveled and a more objective opinion on the four dams is possible.
That is the opinion of Earl Roberge, a veteran writer and photographer based in Walla Walla, who recently launched his latest book, titled 'Those Snake River Dams', as an impassioned defense of the dams and the benefits they have brought to the Northwest.
"If someone is beating your brains out in a fight," he observes, "it's only good sense to observe what tactic he is using, and, if it's ethical, adapt those tactics to your own defense -- or offense." Starting in the 1970s, the environmental movement has relied strongly on the weapon of well made, beautifully illustrated large books, all touting the beauties of an unspoiled environment to capture the imagination of the American public. Their effort has been largely successful, as a spate of environmental regulations will attest.
Roberge strongly affirms he is an environmentalist -- but not rabidly so -- pointing out that he lives in an urban forest, practically all of which he has himself planted.
"Environmentalism," he says, "is like a vegetable stew. A pinch of salt adds savor, but dump two pounds of it in there and you have an inedible, even poisonous mess. So it is with some aspects of the environmental movement which, it its overly zealous application of the Endangered Species Act, has actually become a law whose implementation forces regulations onto people which seriously restrict their constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It doesn't have to be so. A common-sense application of that law can result in a health environment, and people able to enjoy it."
Those Snake River Dams is a comprehensive history of the Lower Snake River Corridor. It traces its formation as the result of a cataclysmic Ice Age flood, and it's early Indian inhabitants, whose way of life was drastically altered by the coming of the white man. The Gold Rush, followed by the settlement of the country by white men, the Wheat Fleet, and the efforts of the pioneers who wrested an empire from the wilderness are carefully chronicled. The efforts to tame the Snake ("The Accursed Mad River" of the voyageurs), and the 100-year struggle of Lewiston to become an inland seaport make for fascinating reading. Throughout the entire narrative, the story of the magnificent Pacific salmon is expertly threaded. Although the author has earnestly sought objectivity, it is very evident that he feels the overwhelming weight of evidence make it necessary for him to strongly defend the developments of a century and a half.
"The benefits of the dams," he says, "inexpensive power, affordable transportation, irrigation, recreation -- even an unplanned but substantial flood control -- are so strong that they would override benefits which breaching would allegedly bring."
He makes a very good case, pointing out that in 2001 and 2002, the Snake is experiencing the heaviest fish runs since records have been kept, and this while the dams were producing vitally needed electrical energy. He also notes that demands to beach the dams have noticeably decreased in the face of massive fish runs and a tight power supply.
"There is nothing like a period of enforced darkness," he writes, "to bring on enlightenment."
Another strong point is his observation that the Fraser River in British Columbia, which is very similar to the Columbia, has been experiencing an almost identical decline in fish runs, even though there are no dams on the Fraser. The dams, he admits, are definitely one factor in the decline of the fish runs, but compared to other causes -- over fishing, predation, biological changes, pollution -- a relatively minor one, and the only one with positive results.
It's undeniably a handsome book, with high-quality workmanship and photography that is widely acclaimed as superb. It's a big, coffee-table type book, 178 pages, ten and a half by thirteen inches, and weighing almost four pounds.
"The beautiful pictures sell the book," says the author, "but the meat is in the text."
Gray Fox Press
764 Bryant Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362
List price $39.95
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