OPENING STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE GORDON H. SMITH
THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON DRINKING WATER, FISHERIES AND WILDLIFE
October 8, 1998

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your conducting this oversight hearing on scientific and engineering issues relating to salmon recovery on the Columbia and Snake River system. Given the upcoming 1999 decision on long-term dam operations, the issues before us today are quite timely.

The Columbia River system truly is the lifeblood of the Northwest. The Basin drains approximately 259,000 square miles, and encompasses two countries and seven states in its approximately 1,200 miles to the Pacific Ocean.

In this century, we have harnessed the River for a variety of human activities and benefits, including navigation, water supply, power supply, and flood control. At the time many of the great public works projects in the Basin were constructed, fish and wildlife impacts were fully not considered. We are now struggling with the best way to mitigate these impacts while still meeting human needs. The consequences of these decisions could affect the livelihoods of most Northwest residents.

Today we will hear testimony on scientific and engineering issues concerning harvest, hatcheries and hydropower -- three of the four key "H's" of salmon management. Making improvements in each of these areas is essential for salmon recovery. There is no single action that, in and of itself, will recover some of the listed salmon stocks in the Northwest.

I am concerned, however, that a myriad of actions are being required throughout the Northwest in the name of salmon recovery without a recovery plan, an agreement as to what is going to constitute recovery for the various listed species, or adequate monitoring and evaluation to determine the real value of the specific action. Often, there is no defensible biological - justification given for the action being required. Unfortunately, under the current Endangered Species Act, the regulatory agencies don't have to provide such a justification.

As the region attempts to grapple with these issues, we will have to use the best science available to provide a biological basis for the actions under consideration. Certain models are being developed through the PATH process to evaluate the various options for long-term river operations currently being studied by the Army Corps of Engineers. I'm concerned that recent media reports and interest groups have mischaracterized the current status of this process, and also the certainty of any of the conclusions the PATH scientists will eventually be able to draw. It is incumbent on the National Marine Fisheries Service and other federal agencies to ensure that this analytical tool is accurately characterized, and that its findings are not prematurely assumed.

I look forward to hearing from the witnesses here today on these issues of such vital importance to the region.