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Scotsman.com News - International - Tribes' fresh hope on salmon river

Tribes' fresh hope on salmon river


FOUR Native American tribes have won a key victory in their battle over dams that have blocked salmon getting up a major river in California for decades.

Federal agencies this week demanded that six dams on the Klamath river, in northern California, be demolished or have fish ladders put in place so that migrating salmon can reach their old spawning grounds.

The company that owns the dams, Pacificorp, was owned by ScottishPower until it was sold last year and members of the tribes had visited Edinburgh to protest over the dams' effects.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and other national wildlife agencies presented their demands during negotiations for PacifiCorp's application to renew its operating licence for the dams.

The action comes as a result of plummeting salmon stocks which have seen species including coho, chinook and steelhead placed on the endangered species list in the US and a threatened cancellation of the commercial fishing season around the river's mouth in the Pacific after a third poor salmon run in as many years.

The Yurok, Karuk, Hupa and Klamath tribes, which travelled to Scotland in 2004 and again last summer to lobby ScottishPower's annual meeting on the dam issue, say they have been denied their salmon harvest on 350 miles of traditional breeding grounds by the construction of the six dams.

An estimated 1.2 million salmon are thought to have made the journey upriver every year.

A federal energy commission will rule on the licence to operate the dams next year, after ongoing talks with the tribes, farmers and Pacificorp.

Three of the highest dams could be demolished, and fish ladders installed on three lower dams. Salmon have not migrated to the upper Klamath basin since the first dam was built in 1917.

Removal of the dams as recommended would cost Pacificorp's new owners, MidAmerican, which is owned by the billionaire investor Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, hundreds of millions of pounds.

ScottishPower sold Pacificorp in May last year for 5.4 billion, angering the tribes who had been in negotiations with the company over a river clean-up ahead of a licensing review. ScottishPower had bought the firm for 5.8 billion in 1999.

A spokesman for the tribes, Craig Tucker, said: "Dam removal is one piece of the puzzle, but it's a big piece. There's no way you can conclude that the 151 megawatts [of electricity] those dams produce are more valuable to society than salmon."

A spokeswoman for Pacificorp said the company now believes a settlement can be reached on the new demands.

"We think the settlement process is a better way to go," said Dave Kvamme. "You can get creative. You can take risks."




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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