Opinion: Tide may be turning for West Coast salmon

"As the little hand on the extinction clock for salmon on the West Coast ticks toward zero hour -- 2017, according to fisheries biologists -- battle-weary parties in the almost 20-year-old dispute over how to rescue the fish now agree on one thing. With fish counts bumping historic lows, the entire West Coast salmon fishing industry shut down in 2006 to preserve dwindling stocks, and the price of wild salmon soaring to $30 a pound, the human contest over the salmon's survival has reached its endgame.

Despite important victories in court for advocates of salmon recovery, fish counts on these rivers have continued to fall. But in June, there were signs that the tide of the battle may be shifting. Setting a deadline of this July, U.S. District Judge James A. Redden gave the federal government one last chance to produce a recovery plan that would meet its legal responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act. Struggling to contain his ire, Redden told reporters that the government's previous three efforts -- two put forth by the Clinton administration, one by the Bush administration -- to rescue salmon had been 'made sick' by political quarreling.

As it turned out, the hysteria, whipped up by such politicians as Sens. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), over Redden's order to release water amounted to silliness. Juvenile fish counts soared in the late summer and fall of 2006, increasing year over year by 40%, and the power agency ended up saving money, thanks to heavy spring runoff.

A week and a half ago, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Craig's measure 'was arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law.' The panel of judges ordered the power agency to restore the Fish Passage Center.

Then Wednesday, the Department of the Interior surprised both sides of the salmon wars when it announced that Warren Buffett's Portland-based PacifiCorp, owner of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, would have to install $470 million worth of fish-friendly apparatus as a condition of its license renewal to operate the dams. Because PacifiCorp's only other option is dam removal, estimated to cost $100 million less than the improvements, the decision means that the four dams, in all likelihood, will be destroyed. Short-term, PacifiCorp will lose an estimated $27 million a year in ratepayer receipts. Long-term, a healthy salmon fishery will produce billions of dollars in revenue for coastal communities."

Get the Story:
Paul VanDevelder: The tide may be turning for salmon (The Los Angeles Times 2/4)

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