New Risks for Salmonby Editors
New York Times, December 6, 2004
The Bush administration has dropped any pretense of providing serious long-term protection for endangered salmon species in the Pacific Northwest. Last Tuesday, the administration proposed to roll back restrictions on commercial development across millions of acres in California north to the Canadian border that had been designated four years ago as "critical habitat" essential to salmon recovery. The next day, the administration ruled out demolishing four dams on the lower Snake River - even as a last resort to save the fish.
Both announcements represented departures from the Clinton's administration's more robust approach to salmon recovery. Both also reflected the degree to which the administration is prepared to contort science and common sense to slide out from under its obligations under the Endangered Species Act to ensure long-term recovery of the fish instead of merely slowing their rate of decline.
Earlier this year, for instance, the administration proposed to count millions of hatchery-raised fish as wild fish - a bit of mathematical casuistry that would instantly make wild populations seem healthier than they are, undercut the need to keep wild salmon on the endangered species list and give the green light to federal agencies to drop protections against logging, homebuilding and other forms of commercial development.
But this was nowhere near as preposterous as its argument, in the dam ruling last week, that the dams were immutable parts of the landscape, like a mountain, and thus beyond the reach of the Endangered Species Act and "beyond the present discretion" of the government to remove them.
The administration offers endless justifications for its proposals, chiefly the insupportable claim that both dam removal and habitat protection would exact an unacceptable economic price. It also promises mitigating measures, including technological fixes to help the fish over and around the dams, and more "focused" habitat protection, albeit in a much smaller area than the fish's historical range. But clearly the administration's heart isn't in it. The underlying message here is that commercial interests come first, salmon second, even if history suggests that the two can comfortably coexist.
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