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Feds suggest fish get a lift around dams

Salmon - The proposal disappoints Native American tribes and environmentalists who want the dams removed

September 26, 2006 MICHAEL MILSTEIN, The Oregonian

The federal government Monday proposed trucking salmon past dams to the upper Klamath River rather than breaching the dams or installing fish ladders so the fish can make it there on their own.

The proposal by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission frustrated Native American tribes and environmentalists who are pushing for removal of the dams that have long blocked the fish from reaching the upper river.

Klamath salmon have taken on a high profile this year because their low numbers triggered a closure of part of the West Coast salmon fishery.

The proposal came in a draft response to an application by PacifiCorp for a new 50-year license to continue operating the dams. It is not a final word, but suggests the federal agency does not favor removing the dams that generate electricity for Pacific Power.

However, operating behind the scenes is a set of confidential negotiations between Pacific Power, tribes, fishermen and conservationists. Those negotiations could completely up-end FERC's process if the talks result in agreement to remove the dams.

Troy Fletcher, of the Yurok Tribe, said that both sides in the case may negotiate and agree on a new solution that does not involve the judge. If they do, he said, they could bring their solution to the judge for his blessing.

Still, Monday's news came as a blow for Native Americans who depend on Klamath salmon.

"We're very disappointed," Fletcher said. Dam removal, "has been our position since day one."

But PacifiCorp officials argue it makes more sense to catch salmon and haul them in trucks past the dams to see if they can survive in the upper river before making major investments in fish ladders or dam breaching.

The environmental analysis, required by the National Environmental Policy Act, does not look at removing all four dams. That's an alternative favored by Native tribes, commercial fishermen and conservation groups, and formally recommended by NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency in charge of restoring threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.

Peter Sleeth of The Oregonian staff and The Associated Press contributed to this story. Michael Milstein: 503-294-7689; michaelmilstein@news.oregonian.com

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