Seattle Times writer sticks to his salmon and dams story 10 years later

Ten years ago the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board came to the conclusion that the four lower Snake Dams in Washington needed to be breached to save Idaho’s salmon, protect Idaho’s water and save taxpayers money.

That position was controversial then and of course, remains controversial now. It did get a lot of attention and since then, dozens of newspapers followed suit, including the New York Times, saying breaching the dams was necessary to save Snake River salmon and steelhead.

But most people forget that while I and Susan Whaley were researching the issue for the editorial board in 1997, the Seattle Times did its own, similar investigation. It concluded at the time that breaching the dams in its state was not likely to garner the necessary support.

Lance Dickie, a columnist for the Puget Sound newspaper, did the research in 1997 along with Ross Anderson for its editorial board, which did not get much attention outside of Washington. Dickie wrote Nov. 30 that salmon advocates still have not made their case. Read his column.

Dickie’s read on the politics is spot on. The Seattle Times is the largest paper in the state where the dams are, after all. Both of its Democratic U.S. Senators oppose breaching.

They’re liberals and many of the people in Washington that support breaching go door-to-door, make get-out-the-vote phone calls and give money to them despite their position. Most environmentalists in Washington live in the Puget Sound and it is Puget Sound salmon they care about most, certainly not Idaho’s fish. That’s why salmon advocates thought they had to make the case recently that the future of the Puget Sound’s orcas, or killer whales, was tied to the future of Columbia and Snake River salmon .

The wide majority of fisheries biologists, including Washington State’s own, say breaching may be the only way to recover Snake River salmon and steelhead especially with the added effected of climate change. But the only sovereigns with the clout to carry the argument at the moment are the Indian tribes, which have a spiritual, cultural and economic tie to the fish.

They may decide this week what Dickie, Anderson and the Seattle Times editorial board decided in 1997, that breaching the four dams is “an improbable option.”