Statement for Senator Conrad Burns
Drinking Water, Fisheries, and Wildlife Subcommittee
Snake River Salmon Recovery
October 8, 1998

Thank you Mr. Chairman for the opportunity to address the committee today. It's my pleasure to be here.

Due to my previous visits to this committee, I am sure most realize why Montana has an interest in the problems facing salmon in the Pacific Northwest. It becomes more evident when you look at the current methods used to address the symptoms of the salmon problem. Montanans suffer when water flows are needed downstream to help these weak populations. Our water is taken and our reservoirs are depleted. The end result is that our native fish species are placed in jeopardy, our recreational activities are curtailed and our tourism industry suffers.

One end result of these draw downs is that we shifted the burden to another fish population, the Montana Bull Trout. As a result, we have had to begin protecting this population under the Endangered Species Act. It is in the best interest of every Montanan, and every person living in the Pacific Northwest, to help salmon populations recover to a sustainable level that will not necessitate passing on harms to other sectors of the environment. It is time we address the problem rather than the symptoms.

Addressing the real problem is harder than many have led us to believe in the past. The finger has consistently been pointed at dams, logging, and other ways of western life. Attacks on these sectors of the economy have proven that they are not the root of the problem. We have found that the problems facing our nation's salmon fisheries are more varied than this and are becoming more critical every year.

This should lead us to realize that past efforts to combat the reduction in our fish populations have sometimes been based more on emotion and quick conclusions than on good, sound science. We are finding out that many of our past reactions to all of the problems facing our environment, including the declining numbers of salmon, have actually made the problem worse or have missed the root of the problem all together.

I believe that it is imperative to continue working towards finding workable solutions to the salmon problem, while understanding that dams and power generation are not enemy number one. Recent strides in technology have enabled us to put turbines into use that negate the impact power generation activities have on the salmon population. Additionally, other mitigation techniques continue to reduce the impact that dam placement has on fish populations.

Even more importantly, recent research and observation of our salmon populations suggest that power generation may actually have a rather small role in the overall challenge facing these populations. Heavy fishing, predation by other species, and other factors deserve equal attention as we look for ways to restore native salmon populations.

I urge this committee to encourage the pursuit of good science and a multi~ faceted recovery approach that will address each of the challenges to our salmon without vilifying a specific one without due research. I hope that this effort will address the heart of the problem and allow the burden of restoring the salmon population to be shared more equally among all of the actors involved in creating the current situation. I remind you that the citizens of Montana are the ones who finish the summer with no water in their reservoirs for their own needs, and are faced with a severely declining local fish population, because Montana is absorbing the cost of the current policy based on reacting to the problem rather than finding a solution to the problem.

Mr. Chairman, once again I would like to thank you for this opportunity to express the concerns of my fellow Montanans.