Indian tribes make a billion dollar deal on salmon. Idaho's tribes did not participate



, ,



  1. Buffaloed Avatar

    From Rocky’s article it appears that the brainwashing has even affected the candidates. They all say that we need to improve habitat before dam breaching can be considered. From where I’m sitting right now the problem is not habitat. Idaho’s habitat cannot be improved because virtually all of the spawning habitat in the Salmon River drainage is pristine.

    Idaho is expecting 14,000 wild Chinook this year along with 85,000 hatchery fish. The 14,000 wild fish are the fish that are being discussed here not the hatchery fish. 14,000 is much fewer than the 1,000,000 wild fish in historical times and you can’t compare them to wolves or bison because many of them are from distinct populations with highly varying conditions so they are not interchangeable between each population or with hatchery fish. In other words Chinook are not generalists like wolves and bison.

    The dams need to be removed. They are an economic drain to the Northwest not a benefit. They will never pay for themselves even if you take the salmon out of the issue and that’s one thing that I won’t do.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I think more money has been spent to recover salmon than any other species (although little of the money is appropriated federal money).

    The money seems wasted because they won’t breach these unneeded navigation dams on the lower Snake River. Once again, like the bison, the notion of benefits versus costs just doesn’t register with these decision makers.

    The lowest cost solution is to breach the dams, but they keep pouring money into “salmon-saving” measures that barely help, if at all.

    Once again, the explanation is partly cultural. Lewiston, Idaho is determined to remain a seaport no matter how little the business comes up the river and despite other transportation alternatives.

  3. TPageCO Avatar

    It appears at first glance that the feds essentially bought off the lower basin tribes with $900M in funding. A “divide and conquer” strategy in advance of Redden’s decision, maybe?

    We’ve now got lots more money for work in the Pahsimeroi and the Lemhi, but if the fish don’t show up, what’s the point?

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I think you are right — divide and conquer.

    Some good will come of it even if the salmon don’t show up. Monies like this were used to buy out grazing leases in the Bear Valley Creek area adjacent to the Frank Church Wilderness (a salmon spawning area) back in about 2003.

    This was always good elk country, but now you can see elk out on the meadows in early and mid-summer in herds as large as Yellowstone.

    The Pahsimeroi and the Lemhi Rivers suffer from a lot of cattle abuse. It would be good for all wildlife to have them gone or at least away from the streams, especially in their headwaters.

  5. SmokyMtMan Avatar

    I am sure that breaching the dams is NOT the least expensive solution. Those dams provide 5% of the area’s electricity (over 3,000 megawatts). As a result of this ‘free’ electricity, the region enjoys electric costs 25% below the national average.

    How much will it cost to build the power generation plants to replace so much electricity? It costs billions and many years to build ONE plant. And how much carbon emissions will result from those new power plants? What happens to the price of electricity in the region as a result? It will rise substantially, of course.

    Then consider thew 125,000,000 bushells of grain that moves by barge down the river each year. That will now be moved the way it used to be moved before the dams: by truck or rail. Again, how much oil will that consume and what about those new emissions?

    It is estimated that the barge system generates $15 billion annually in international trade and over 40,000 jobs in the Portland/Vancouver area, alone. Without the dams to keep the river levels high and stable, the barge traffic will mostly vanish without the dams.

    How much is the fishing and recreation at the reservoirs worth? I don’t know these figures, but no doubt they are in the millions annually.

    How much will it cost to breach and remove the dams? Sounds very expensive to me. And what about the money already spent on the dams creation? By breaching, you are throwing that money away, too.

    I would like to see how someone can explain how it will be cheaper to breach the dams, than to leave them intact.

    The truth is that breaching the dams will cost far, far more that allowing the salmon to disappear.

    After all, that is what is happening here. I don’t like it, but I understand perfectly why the dams will never be breached.

  6. Linda Hunter Avatar

    Ralph someone wrote that they used to use the Salmon river for boat traffic before the dams and that is correct Steamboats used to make their way up the river, and past Lewiston in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. They used pulleys and winches to crank the boats through the rapids. We do have boats now that can go up a wild river even with the modern restrictions of the coast guard. In the old days if a boat sprung a plank or hit a rock they fixed it and went on. Now if a boat touches a rock they have to have a coast guard inquiry, and the insurance companies get involved. There are new technologies in boat design, such as the Safeboat which the coast guard uses which is a foam hull which can go anywhere in a few inches of water. The shipping traffic would have to change, but it would seem that 9 million would go a long way if it were put to that use. It may be because the human mind is very resistant to change and many people who work a job for a long time get real tunnel vision. They also feel like no one understands their problems and are just trying to take a living away from them. Maybe that is how wildlife hatred begins in some cases. Personally I would like to see the dams come out, or at least looked at creatively. I still believe that the fish ladders could be made to emulate natural streams. I have looked into this problem when I used to go up and down the Snake on a regular basis and the fish ladders are just a series of concrete squares . . biologists I have asked about it said they were designed by the dam engineers. (No pun intended.) As far as I could find out so far, a natural stream bypass has not be tested in any meaningful way. Has anyone else heard of this?
    – – – – –

    Linda, the big problem with these dams isn’t so much the fish ladders for fish migrating back from the ocean; it is the migration of the smolts downstream to the ocean. The smolts don’t swim. They drift downstream. When they reach a reservoir pool, the current slows greatly. Meanwhile their internal organs are developing to live in saltwater. They don’t have a large window of time to reach the ocean.

    The result of the dams is many smolts die before they reach the Pacific Ocean. Ralph

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I think Buffaloed can answer these questions if he happens to be online.

    I do know this. The four dams don’t generate nearly the hydropower that they could, and they aren’t big enough to generate 3000 megawatts at maximum generation. Were you thinking about the Grand Coulee Dam?

    The reason they don’t generate very much is because they are primarily navigation dams. Every time a vessel passes through the locks, a large amount of water that could generate electricity is lost.

    There was a good article about the misperception that these dams are big hydropower producers. It was about a year ago, and I will post it if I can find it.

  8. chuck Avatar

    If anyone has ever seen the program “sagebush sailors”
    Its all about the use of tug and barges on the Columbia River before the dams where in place. So it can be done. It seems to me that BPA had made lots of promises before the dams were built that were suppose to help the fish and it seems that they have not kept up on their end of the deal.

  9. SmokyMtMan Avatar


    I should have stated that the 4 dams “have a combined generation capability of 3,033 megawatts.” I don’t have any first-hand data to prove what the actual electricity generation is on an annual basis.

    However, I stand behind the assertion that replacing that electricity with new power generation plants will cost in the billions.

    Would be great it if you could post that article, if you can locate it.

    “The Corp of Engineers’ study estimated that 4 million tons of commodities currently barged on the river would be shifted to other modes of transportation, such as trucks.”

    Evidently, it seems apparent that the barge traffic will not be able to navigate the river if the dams are breached.

    I just found this: “These dams generate 1,022 average megawatts (aMW) of energy per year or 12 percent of BPA’s annual hydro energy –an amount of emission-free electricity equivalent to that used by a city the size of Seattle in a year.”

    There are too many economic interests aligned against the salmon. With the U.S. slipping into a recession and inflation taking off, energy prices going through the roof, I personally find it impossible to believe that the dams will ever come down.

    What about the water storage the dams provide? I don’t ever hear that discussed, but it would seem like a vital component of this issue.

    Well, I would prefer to see the dams removed, but we have 77,000 dams in the U.S. and we have only breached 400 lately.

    The economic price of keeping the salmon species viable is simply too high for those in charge of this decision.

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks for finding the data SmokyMtMan.

    These dams are not storage reservoirs — not for irrigation. They are navigation and hydropower dams.

    It is hard to suppose they will be breached with energy prices the way they are. Nevetheless, I think it is possible.

  11. SmokyMtMan Avatar

    Oh, they are not storage reservoirs……well, that explains why no one mentions that during the discussion of this issue!

    Thanks for that piece of info.

    I disagree, Ralph, I don’t think their removal is possible.

    But let’s hope your are right!

  12. Linda Hunter Avatar

    Ralph you are right about the smolts or fingerlings whatever you want to call them . . here where I live they open the dams as far as they can when the smolts are in the water so they can free flow the water as much as possible . . it makes windsurfing more fun for a while. I really would like to see all these rivers free flowing again, but I am an eternal optimist and always try and look for answers that can really happen in my lifetime. Like I just ran into a woman who is working at Bonneville Dam with the sea lion problem and we were discussing it. She said that they put up a device like prison bars over the entrance to the fish ladders that keep the sea lions out but let the salmon in. I asked her why they can’t put prison bars up down-river a ways. . of course, it is because of river navigation but a society that has locks could figure out a way to do this I am sure. There are pictures around here of the river before the dam and the river was beautiful . . and deadly as well. This year, with our huge snow-pack and continued accumulation, including today, will be interesting if the weather turns warm suddenly and we get those warm chinook winds.

  13. Buffaloed Avatar

    SmokyMtMan I take issue with your claims.

    Here is information from the perspective of an economist:

    The sources you provide are by no means unbiased. BPA and Northwest River Partners are both extremely biased with regard to this issue.

    First, the 3033 megawatts is the CABABILITY not how much they actually produce throughout the year which is more like 1200 megawatts on average or 300 megawatts per dam.

    Second, the dams DO NOT provide flood control.

    Third, there is very little irrigation provided.

    Fourth, the costs of maintaining the barging system are the burden of the ratepayer not the barging industry.

    And to clarify a point that I made on another post about this….. Bush wanted to take credit for increased runs of fall Chinook so he gets to take blame for the miserable condition our wild stocks are in too. There is no technological fix short of breaching the 4 lower Snake dams. Dams that will never pay for themselves and have cost many fishermen their livelihoods if you want to put it in those terms. The power could be easily replaced and the grain could go to market the same way that other producers send it to market without subsidizing it with salmon.

  14. SmokyMtMan Avatar


    Thanks for your post and info. I don’t have time to respond right now to your post, but I will very soon. Looking forward to checking out those links you provided, as well.


  15. Linda Hunter Avatar

    Buffaloed . . it is just the Snake river dams which do not provide flood control or all dams? If this is the case I sure have gotten wrong information on that issue.

  16. Buffaloed Avatar

    It depends on the dam and the river and the size of the flood.

    In the case of the four Lower Snake River dams no. They weren’t built for storage or flood control. They are called “run-of-the-river” dams. They just aren’t high enough because they were intended primarily for barging. Power generation was an afterthought and much of the power generated during this time of the year (during spring runoff) is surplus power which is sold to the aluminum smelters at extremely reduced cost. When electricity is at it’s peak demand, during the cold of winter and the heat of summer, these dams can’t provide it because they are situated in the wrong place for storage and the flows are low. Essentially these dams sustain two heavily subsidized industries, the barging and aluminum industries.

    Remember back to the “power crisis” in 2000? You know the one where Enron and Bush/Cheney screwed everyone? The aluminum industry, who had the reduced fees for the electricity we so graciously generated off the backs of salmon and ratepayer dollars, sold it back to us at greatly inflated rates and made more money than they could have making aluminum. It’s nice to get screwed with your own government subsidies isn’t it?

  17. mikarooni Avatar

    While I agree with the sentiments above, I also believe that we need to not get focused on preaching to the converted and lose sight of the need to hold these tribes accountable for taking what is, for lack of any appropriate euphemism, a massive bribe. Every time a bunch of people is willing to sell out like this it just empowers the corruption all that much more.


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.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan