Oversight hearing on Columbia/Snake River Salmon Recovery Issues

Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me to participate in this oversight hearing today. A better understanding of the important issues this subcommittee will address this morning is vital to many decisions that lie ahead for all policymakers in the Pacific Northwest.

In this regard, let me state for the record that I, like many Idahoans, was startled last week by the "spin" contained in some newspaper accounts about the recent release of a scientific report allegedly concluding that dam breaching was the only way to save salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers. After reviewing the report and discussing it with scientists associated with the development of the report, it is apparent that advocates of dam breaching and some media organizations, simply "jumped the gun."

The chief architects of the report readily acknowledge, indeed highlight, the inherent infirmities with the conclusions of the report. Will Stelle, Regional Director of the National Marine and Fisheries Service, stated just yesterday that -- "the level of uncertainty in the models used by the scientific panel is very high" -- "the conclusions contained in the report are in no way absolute; they are merely relative probabilities with wide gaps between what is known and what is not known."

These observations underscore the need for further research on matters such as the impact of marine mammal and avian predation on outgoing smelts, the impact of ocean conditions on the salmon, the impact of the release into the ocean of large numbers of hatchery fish along the West Coast, and continued research on hatcheries and genetic resources. Mr. Chairman, thanks to you, several of these issues will be addressed today by this Subcommittee.

To now say that the science on salmon recovery is settled, is to expose either a great ignorance of the complex science associated with salmon recovery or a political bias in favor of the "experiment" of breaching dams. In either case, considering the "tinder box" nature of the salmon debate in the Pacific Northwest, such a statement is destructive and irresponsible.

According to those who have been charged with the difficult task of determining the best science on salmon recovery, there simply is no credible scientific evidence at this time that removal of dams is the sure way to save the salmon. Until such time as the PATH scientists decide they have accumulated all the credible evidence available on this issue, we can not expect scientific conclusions contained in interim reports to be final on the issue of salmon recovery.

In the meantime, responsible parties should show restraint with rhetoric. No responsible person in the Pacific Northwest wants another "Spotted Owl" controversy. The wounds from that controversy, manifest in the form of deep mistrust -- both toward government and the environmental community -- have yet to fully heal. We all would do well by remaining mindful of that catastrophe.

Mr. Chairman, seeking information in forums such as this, where the public gets an opportunity to see for itself the current state of knowledge on specific salmon issues, is extremely helpful, and certainly goes a long way in helping to dispel mistrust.

I again, thank you for your efforts.