Saving salmon to feed orcas?
Editorial: Capital Press October 9, 2020
Three federal agencies made a logical decision last week when
they signed a new operations plan for the 14 dams on the
Columbia and Snake rivers.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and the
Bonneville Power Administration will manage the rivers under the
ďWe believe our decision carefully balances the regionís needs
for clean, reliable energy, supports the economic vitality of
the communities that depend on the rivers, and includes durable
actions that offset impacts on fish and wildlife affected by the
Columbia River System,Ē said John Hairston, the BPAís acting
The new plan is the product of four years of study of the river
system with a special focus on the four lower Snake River dams.
A federal judge ordered the study as part of an environmental
Environmentalists have filed lawsuits and pushed to have the
four dams taken out in a bid to help the endangered native-run
salmon in the Snake River.
But the irony of their arguments runs as deep as the Columbia
River. Among the reasons they give for wanting the dams removed
is to increase the number of native-run salmon ó so orcas can
Itís one thing to argue that native-run salmon are special and
should be saved at any cost, including the demolition of dams
that provide electricity, irrigation water, river transportation
and recreation to the region.
But itís another thing entirely to argue that those same fish
that are so precious are needed ó for orcas to eat.
We should back up a bit.
Environmental groups have long argued that, for the sake of the
salmon, the dams on the lower Snake River need to go. With the
exception of politicians courting the environmental vote, most
people in the region have opposed the idea.
A couple of years ago, the environmentalists and their political
friends decided to amp up the argument by saying the dams were
in some way hurting the orcas, whose numbers have fallen off.
Thatís beside the fact that most of the orcas donít go near the
Columbia River. Most spend their time either in the Puget Sound
or Canadian and Alaska waters. A few do go as far south as
The problems with the number of the orcas coincided with
Washington stateís 1989 decision to cut in half hatchery
production of chinook salmon ó the species orcas prefer. After
that, the Puget Sound orca population dropped from 98 in 1995 to
73 now. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife mentioned the
chinook cutback in a white paper prepared for the legislature.
In our opinion, the lag time is likely attributable to the fact
the chinook salmon spend 3 to 4 years in the ocean before
returning to spawn.
Last year the Washington Legislature saw the light and ordered
state hatcheries to increase chinook salmon production in the
Puget Sound area.
In light of the facts, the idea that Puget Sound orcas would
greatly benefit from Columbia River and Snake River salmon is,
to be polite, a stretch.
Environmentalists also donít count hatchery-raised chinook in
their game plan, in spite of the fact that they remain the best
hope for helping the orca population.
Yet the environmentalists cling to the idea of taking out dams.
As long as thatís the case, we can expect more lawsuits and less
logic from them.
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