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Re: NFC: Fw: RiverCurrents for the Week of December 22, 2000

I just wanted to weigh in on the Snake River dam removal proposal.

For five years I lived within a couple of miles of the confluence of the 
Snake and Columbia rivers in the state of Washington.  While I am no 
scientist, I thought it might be helpful to provide a few first-hand 
observations (and maybe a few personal opinions along the way! ;).

An avid fisherman and duck hunter, I spent many hours along the shores of 
both streams.  I gained a lot of respect for the size of these great rivers 
and the volume of water that flows out of the Rocky Mountains, through the 
Great Basin, and finally to the Pacific Ocean.

I am afraid that I have to admit that I do not know whether removing the 
Snake River dams would help the salmon; it may or it may not.  I would 
propose that nobody knows for sure.  It's a gamble.

It is absolutely certain that removing the dams would do the following:

Destroy a certain percentage of the area's power production.
Destroy the ability of commodity barges to negotiate the river as far 
upstream as Lewiston, Idaho, thus increasing the cost of transportation for 
agricultural producers in the area (and potentially the price of food on our 
Destroy the recreational facility (boating, water-skiing and fishing) that 
is now in place in the form of slack-water pools above the dams.
Destroy waterfowl habitat.
Compromise the ability of farmers to obtain irrigation water.  This is a 
desert.  Without irrigation there is little or no agriculture.
Create at least a one-time release (per dam) of a tremendous amount of silt 
that has been deposited behind the dams for all these years.  This silt has 
the potential to compromise the survival of a number of native species, 
including sturgeon, steelhead and a variety of cyprinids, suckers and 

I don't doubt that the dams probably deserve some of the blame for the
plight of the Snake River salmon population.  By the way, there is a strong 
tendency on the part of certain parties to refer to these populations as 
species.  This is not correct terminology.  Chinook salmon represent a 
single species, whether they spawn in Alaska or Oregon.  It's very possible 
that there are genetic differences between some populations, but they are 
not separate species.

A number of 'non-dam' factors exist that are seldom, if ever, mentioned in 
dominant information sources.  One of these is the over-population of marine 
mammals.  Sea lions and seals love to dine on fresh salmon.  They have 
learned when the fish migrate, and wait at the mouths of rivers for the 
spawning runs to materialize.  Then they gorge themselves on the fish as 
they congregate.  Scientists have observed sea lions grabbing salmon, 
shaking the eggs out of them, then discarding the now-dead fish in favor of 
the more flavorful eggs.  Once the eggs are eaten, the animal moves on to 
the next fish, and the process is repeated.  It takes a lot of salmon eggs 
to fill up a sea lion.  Completely protected by federal law, there is 
nothing that can be done to alleviate the slaughter.

Another strike against the salmon is in the form of fish-eating terns that 
have shown up on the Columbia and lower Snake river in ever-increasing 
numbers.  I recently read an account of 40,000 of these birds being captured 
and moved back to the ocean.  Now that's efficient.  I wonder how many days 
it took the birds to fly back upriver.  These birds, somewhat like 
kingfishers, dive into the water from high in the air in pursuit of 'eatin' 
size' fish.  Salmon smolts fit the bill (no pun intended) quite nicely.

Now this one is very politically incorrect, and I don't doubt that some will 
be angered that I even bring this up, but it's a tragedy that should be 
alleviated.  I invite you to drive along the Columbia river during the 
Chinook salmon run.  Any free-flowing section between the dams that exist on 
the lower Columbia is quite literally laced with a large number of gill 
nets.  These are placed by American Indians, who are allowed to catch enough 
salmon each year for 'ceremonial' purposes.

If you ever see the gamut these fish have to run to just get past the 
gillnets, you'll wonder that ANY survive to spawn further upstream.

The sad fact is that most of the fish thus killed are smoked and sold for 
food (and profit).  I know this because I talked to a distributor of this 
product, who boasted that his salmon were Columbia River fish that he 
purchased from Native American fishermen.  So much for 'ceremonial 

Before I could agree that the dams should be removed, I would need the 

1.  Explain to me why the Columbia River salmon population is doing 
relatively well, despite the fact that they have to negotiate 4 major dams 
on the Columbia in order to reach their spawning ground.

2.  Limit Native Americans to the aforementioned 'ceremonial' needs, and 
limit take methods to those that allow most of the fish to migrate freely.

3.  Make a real and concerted effort to control predation from marine 
mammals.  It's time the population of these wonderful but overly abundant 
creatures was brought within the bounds of the environment's capacity.

4.  Likewise control the population of fish-eating terns in a permanent and 
efficient manner.

Failing, or perhaps in addition to, all of that, another alternative exists 
- the construction of a side-stream to carry perhaps 20% of the Snake 
river's water around the dams.  This would be an expensive alternative to 
dam removal, but probably no more than the cost of the dam removal itself.

In closing, I'll just say that any objective, comprehensive review of the 
facts surrounding the Snake River Chinook salmon population must come to the 
conclusion that there are a number of factors that contribute to the low 
population that we see at this time.  I would like to point out that last 
season was a banner year for salmon returning to Idaho's Clearwater River (a 
tributary of the Snake), by far the best run in recent memory.  I hope this 
is a sign that the fish are coming back.

Whoa!  I'd better stop before I fill up someone's server completely.  I 
apologize for the length of this, but I've needed to get this out of my 
system for a long time!



>River News for the Week of December 22, 2000
>SNAKE RIVER DAMS: National environmental leaders were encouraged this
>week to see that the Clinton Administration's final plan to save
>endangered Columbia Basin salmon will keep alive the option of removing
>four dams on the Lower Snake River. It does so by creating a framework
>which provides that Congress may be asked as soon as three years from now
>to authorize dam removal, if near-term measures fail to meet the plan's
>new performance standards for wild salmon recovery.
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