Deadline for Salmon - and Government
by Paul VanDevelder
High Country News, March 29, 2009
WHAT IT MEANS: 2017 is the long-projected extinction date for salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers. The problem is clear: Four dams on Idaho's lower Snake River block fish migration. Biologists, some Indian tribes and conservationists want them removed. But aluminum smelters, irrigators and barge operators depend on the cheap hydropower, water and transportation the dams produce.
Amid the lawsuits, it's easy to forget that salmon, not humans, are the keystone species in the Northwest. More than 500 species depend on salmon. Remove the fish, and the ecosystem collapses.
Ever since the Clinton administration, the federal government has stalled on salmon recovery. Elected officials capitulated to political interests at the expense of science. The Bush administration claimed the dams were untouchable because they were permanent - like volcanoes. But U.S. District Judge James Redden of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon in Portland has had enough. In early March hearings, he told the feds to consider dam removal in their plans to save the fish. It's the last resort - but 2017 is just around the corner.
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