Opening Statement by Senator Chafee
Subcommittee Hearing on Salmon Recovery October 8, 1998

I would like to thank my friend and colleague for calling for this morning's hearing on salmon recovery issues in the Colombia and Snake rivers. Even in the waning days of his Senate career, the Chairman is steadfastly pursuing answers to difficult questions that challenge our efforts to protect our natural resources. It is this tenaciousness that has led to some remarkable achievements during his Senate career, including enactment of the Unfunded Mandates legislation and the Safe Drinking Water reauthorization, and in authoring a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Endangered Species Act. We will miss him.

Salmon recovery in the Columbia River basin poses some of the greatest challenges that we face in protecting species. If we can save the salmon, we can save any species. Why is the challenge so great? There are several reasons. First, we waited too long in confronting the inevitable reality that these species were going extinct. The Snake River sockeye was not listed under the ESA until there were no more than 10 fish returning to the one remaining spawning ground in Redfish Lake.

Second, the natural life cycle of the salmon is so complicated. They migrate from freshwater to the ocean, traveling hundreds of miles between. They face a multitude of threats as they make this journey. Juveniles contend with competition from introduced species, serve as prey for other native species, and run through a series of eight dams; adults contend with ocean and in-river fishing; and returning spawners must again run the gauntlet of the dams, and facing degrading habitat conditions for breeding.

Third, the political and scientific complications in determining our next steps are so great. Our scientific knowledge of what is best for the salmon still has many gaps. The organizations responsible for coming up with the scientific knowledge, and making the decisions based on that knowledge, involve local governments, state governments, tribal governments, and numerous agencies within the Federal government. Many times, each one has a different view. Numerous industries are affected by these decisions. No one group has the answer, and only now are all the groups beginning to work together in finding the answer.

This morning's hearing will give us some insight into some of the issues that need to be addressed in recovering the salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers. The information that we derive from our witnesses will serve us well in Congress, and I am certain will serve Senator Kempthorne well in his future endeavors. Thank you.