Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Supporting Good Science

by Senator Larry Craig

There has been quite a bit of discussion around Idaho and the Northwest lately regarding my efforts to redirect funding for the Fish Passage Center (FPC) to other entities in the region. Much of this criticism contends that I am placing dams above salmon, “silencing science” or “killing the messenger” that brought bad news about salmon recovery efforts.

These catchy phrases may sound good or look good in the local paper, but they aren’t advancing the debate about salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest. Rather than silencing science or killing the messenger, I am providing a greater ability for unbiased, objective science to be heard in the recovery debate. I do not believe we have to sacrifice salmon for dams or vice-versa; we can have both and should be working in that direction.

It’s important to note that the functions of the FPC will not cease. Rather, these functions will be transferred to a different entity or entities, which the Bonneville Power Administration and Northwest Power and Conservation Council will choose.

The FPC had put itself in the position in recent years where many in the Northwest felt it was beginning to take sides in the recovery debate. In doing so, the FPC began to undermine its own credibility. Advocacy has its place in this issue, but BPA’s ratepayers shouldn’t be expected to fund it. Make no mistake; the scientific data will continue to be collected, analyzed and disseminated to the region, just not by the FPC.

Contrary to some claims, this is not a conflict between states, between the region’s salmon and Idaho’s water. While the dams in question may be in Washington, Idaho gets roughly 20 percent of its electricity from BPA. If those dams are breached, their generating capacity must be replaced, and would probably be replaced by generators that burn fossil fuels. There is no question these would impact the environment in a way many salmon advocates would not want.

We must also consider what will happen to the state and regional economy if we are eventually forced to flush our water downstream for experimental spills. The science is not conclusive that increased spill increases salmon survival, but it is clear that spills threaten recreation opportunities behind the dams, as several tribes have pointed out.

This is a regional challenge, and a regional solution must be found.

Debating FPC funding is essentially anchored in the past. The Energy and Water appropriations bill for FY 2006 has been passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President. It is law. So the discussion must now move to the future.

Where do we go from here? First, all the interested parties need to take a deep breath, abandon the polarizing rhetoric, and come together to find solutions to the salmon recovery issues facing the Northwest. If we are to reach a solution with which all can live, we need the broadest array of interests to participate in the give-and-take in good faith. Throwing grenades at each other might look good in the headlines, but it solves nothing.

Second, we need to begin addressing the areas of salmon recovery that we know the least about. We know quite a lot about salmon and their lives in the river systems. However, once they navigate the rivers of the Northwest and make it to the ocean, scientific knowledge is woefully inadequate. Salmon spend a majority of their lives in the ocean, but that’s the part of their lifecycle that is the most unknown. How do ocean conditions affect salmon? How many are harvested or otherwise die before they reach maturity and return to spawn in our rivers?

These questions underscore a huge gap in our collective knowledge of salmon and steelhead, and we are only just beginning to nibble at the edges of it. Therefore, until we fill this gap, any policy formed to boost fish recovery will be incomplete, and quite possibly, counterproductive.

I will continue to work in the Senate for solutions that all parties can accept. The United States found a way to put a man on the moon through ingenuity and a can-do spirit. I believe we can find a way for dams and salmon to coexist that does not sacrifice one for the other. To do so, we need to come together and build toward success, rather than tear each other down.


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