Guest Opinions

What the dams provide can be replaced. Idaho’s wild fish would be gone forever.

Washington governor questioned about the need for Snake River dams

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers grills Gov. Inslee about the push to remove the lower Snake River dams.
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Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers grills Gov. Inslee about the push to remove the lower Snake River dams.

Marci Green’s editorial representing the wheat growers inspired this writing. She’s right, the debate on the Snake River dams has run its course, and here’s the bottom line: If we want healthy, sustainable levels of Snake River salmon, steelhead and lamprey, we must plan for removal of the four lower Snake River dams. The sooner we accept this reality, the sooner we can dig in and work together to find solutions.

But this much is clear and inescapable: If you are unwilling to accept removal of the dams, then you are in favor salmon extinction, and all of the ramifications and costs that come with it: extinction of Southern Resident killer whales; continued wasted taxpayer and ratepayer money; and the loss of cultural, economic and ecological benefits that the fish and the free-flowing river provide.

Notably, what Marci described as a “tenuous” link between orca survival and the dams (and salmon) is anything but. Orcas are utterly dependent on Snake River salmon for survival. “Tenuous” describes the future of our salmon, steelhead and lamprey.

I respect Marci’s right and commitment to support her constituents. And fairness dictates that she do the same relative to the other stakeholders affected by the dammed lower Snake, including the Native Americans; sport and commercial anglers; outfitters and guides; hotel and motel owners; restaurateurs; tackle shop owners; boat retailers and repair people; whitewater recreationists; and others. In fact, one of the most important messages we heard at the recent Andrus Center conference was this: We will not solve this problem unless all stakeholder needs are met.

This is a solid starting point, but it means that all stakeholders must come to the table with a genuine commitment to address Congressman Simpson’s “What if” question and Gov. Brad Little’s commitment to “breach the status quo.” Simpson and Little have taken that proverbial first step to recovery: accepting that we have a problem. The fish are at high risk of extinction, and dam removal is the best option for recovery. What we need now, and quickly, is a collective commitment to use our technology, ingenuity and creativity to “keep the region whole” under a dam removal scenario. The science and empirical data are clear. All of the 1,600-plus dam removal projects undertaken in this country have been successful.

If we do not have the strength and decency to respect each other and work together, we will lose the fish and all that they provide. We have before us an unbelievable opportunity to restore an essential piece of our culture, a piece that will add to our health, happiness and prosperity. If we let our differences prevail, then shame on us. What good is our “intelligence” if we lack the heart, courage and foresight to seize this opportunity? The key is to focus on what the dams provide rather than the dams themselves – realizing that what they provide can be replaced, while what the river and the fish provide cannot be.

David Cannamela, of Boise, is a hunter, fisherman, gardener and advocate for the restoration and protection of native landscapes and species.

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