Judge Redden tells feds to fix damage to salmon from dams or else

The federal judge pressing the government to remedy the damage Columbia River dams wreak on protected salmon warned Wednesday of “very harsh” consequences if federal agencies fail to find a solution.

This is from the story in the Oregonian by Michael Milstein on the federal judge’s views on the biological opinion that is emerging from the federal government on their latest plan (their 6th “BO”) to save the salmon protected by the endangered species act. We can do better’ for fish, judge says. Columbia salmon: A federal judge promises “very harsh” measures if a solution is not found The previous five haven’t done well.

Rocky Barker has a story on Redden’s warning too today. Get serious about salmon, judge says. Redden tells federal officials he can drain water if they don’t look at all the ways to save fish. Idaho Statesman. He has followed the issue for many years and has a blog entry on it. Redden still holds out hope region can bring him legal salmon plan.

For those who haven’t following this issue, this is the other long-standing wildlife controversy in Idaho (the first being wolves). Unlike the wolves, there is real money at stake here, not a couple million, but billions.

Despite the higher economic stakes, the salmon issue too bristles with cultural hostility.

The upstream water users (those in Idaho and Montana upstream from the 4 lower Snake River dams that so devastate the salmon runs) have profound economic interest in having those dams breached. Nevertheless, a fair number of them support the dams. For example, at a public hearing about ten years ago in Idaho Falls (way upstream in Idaho irrigation country) a long line stood outside waiting to testify. One in our party engaged some irrigators and spoke of economic benefits to them of doing away with the 4 little used navigation dams on the lower Snake in addition to saving the salmon. They told us, “we hate you so much, we don’t care what it means to us.”

From then on I started to write about how you can identify a “Western issue.” It’s an issue where one or both sides are willing to take a big loss for themselves to make sure the other side doesn’t get anything.

Steelhead trout (basically sea run rainbow trout) are more resilient than salmon, and still provide a great economic benefit to Central Idaho.

Photo. Steelhead fishing on the Salmon River.






  1. Buffaloed Avatar

    The four lower Snake River dams will NEVER pay for themselves.

    Ed Chaney tore apart the rigged, 1999 economic analysis of dam breaching done by the Corp of Engineers in this report:

    Short version:
    Long Version:

    In short, he makes it very clear that the Corps underplayed benefits and overplayed costs to dam removal. Guess who was involved in making sure that happened? Wide Stance Guy. In other words, even if salmon and steelhead issues weren’t involved with these dams it would still be cheaper to remove them entirely than to operate them. Add into the equation the salmon and steelhead issues then there is an even more clear-cut case to remove them.

  2. Chuck Avatar

    Whats funny is they say that if you remove the dams that it ends barge traffic, not true, they use to run tug and barges on the Columbia before there were any dams. There was a program on PBS one time called “Sagebush Sailors”, it was all about running tug and barges on the Columbia before there wree dams. Very interesting program.

  3. Buffaloed Avatar

    Even if you did end barge traffic there are still the railroads and highways. Most of the cargo consists of wheat. How does the wheat from eastern Idaho get to port? Hmmmmm…. maybe the railroads?

    There is only one dam that provides irrigation for 13 users. Those users could be subsidized so that they could pump water rather than put it in canals very easily. What is the main crop of those areas though? Dryland wheat which doesn’t require irrigation.

    The region’s power supply is very heavily weighted towards hydropower that peaks during spring runoff when the need is low because it is getting warmer and air conditioners or furnaces are not needed. That means there is a surplus of power during those times and the surplus, in previous years, is given to Canada. There is also power sold to the aluminum smelters at below market prices. During the “power crisis” of 2000 the smelters sold the power back to the system and shut down the smelters, paid the workers and still made profit. That water should have been used for fish passage but it was run through turbines instead. Don’t forget that the “power crisis” was manufactured by Enron.

  4. Chuck Avatar

    This is a very complex problem, there are many reasons the salmon run is in decline. I grew up on the Oregon coast at the mouth of the Columbia river. You have sea lions, commericial fisherman, terns, dams, climate conditions, sportfishermen. I use to go to all of the national marine fisheries meeting there in Astoria. Am sure there are things I left out. Its a big big problem that should have fixed long ago, but still nothing. Lets hope the problem gets fixed before some of the runs go extinct.

  5. Buffaloed Avatar

    Chuck, I agree that many of the issues you bring up are a problem but I think that sea lions and terns would not be nearly as effective at capturing salmon if it were not for the dams. Bonneville Dam, since it is the lowest dam in the system, has problems with sea lions primarily because the salmon have to spend so much time looking for the ladders and become more vulnerable to them. The terns, cormorants and other avian predators have two things going for them, the island (which I think would not be there under natural conditions) provides them with a predator-free nesting place and the dams disorient and weaken the fish so that they are easy to catch when they pass through them. Yes, the terns and cormorants eat a bunch of fish, as evidenced by the large number of PIT tags found on the nesting island, but would they eat that many fish and would it matter if we hadn’t changed the system so drastically in their favor?

    An IDFG commissioned study for the 2001 fishing season in Idaho indicated that it generated $46 million. 2001 was a very good year but it was limited to just a few areas around hatchery runs. Think of how much revenue could be produced if runs were fully recovered to fishable levels around the entire Salmon and Clearwater drainage.

    Idaho has some of the best salmon habitat around, there just aren’t any fish to use it.

  6. Chuck Avatar

    The last national marine fisherie meeting I attended was probably in 1995, at that time NMF acknowledged there were usually around 6000 sea lions that hung out in the lower columbia river, say from the mouth to Longview. You figure if the sea lions only ate 1 salmon a day, that adds up to a lot of salmon. I am not taking anything away from what the dams kill, what the commericial fisherman kill and so on….you get the picture. Some people would say that number is rediculous, but I believe it as I was always out there fishing. Its kinda like where do you begin and what is going to be sacrificed. I just know its a big tough one, but they need to start somewhere.

  7. Buffaloed Avatar

    Start by removing the 4 lower Snake dams.

  8. sal Avatar

    Lest we forget that the majority of the power generated by the dams is for the benefit of aluminum manufacture (Kaiser et al in Washington State, or so it was when I argued and submitted comment in 1995 or so.

    On top of that, in the Jan. 2000 issue of the peer reviewed journal “Fisheries” there was a tale-tale article on the importance of salmon in the upland streams. They were identified as a keystone specie since the majority of phosphates and nitrates needed by the upland ecosystems is ocean derived and transported to these places, like central Idaho, by spawning salmon and by no other means.

    In that study, it was indicated that the majority of the flora, fauna, and microbial species that sustain nutrient base levels for everything from algae and trees to grizzly bears, rely on the nutrients transported to the region by salmon.

    It is probably, in my opinion, the reason the forests cannot ward off biological attack by bark beetles and rust etc., due to the fact that the forests, in general, have been starved of the nutrients they require to repel such invasions…

    We have caused the forests to have deficiencies equivalent to HIV/AIDS by eliminating the salmon numbers that historically fed them.

    That was the gist of my comments to the BPA and the large panel that came to hear public comment in Idaho Falls that day in early 2000.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan