In Our View: Protecting Nature

Twin milestones illustrate importance of Endangered Species Act

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Two chronologically significant events regarding the Endangered Species Act are occurring in May. They might escape the attention of many Washingtonians, but because the people of the Pacific Northwest place such a high value on protecting natural treasures, these milestones are worth examining in detail:This month, the legend of Lonesome Larry is 20 years old. Back in 1992, a solitary sockeye salmon was counted at Redfish Lake in Idaho. This was newsworthy because Larry was believed to be the only sockeye to maneuver that year 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean, up the Columbia and Snake rivers to the lake in the Sawtooth Mountains. In his legendary name was emblazoned a message: Preserving salmon runs to Redfish Lake and elsewhere is a mission of great urgency.

That effort is making progress, according to Don Brunell, whose column appears on The Columbian's Business page. In his May 8 column, Brunell cited statistics from the Idaho Fish and Game Department showing that 1,070 ESA-protected sockeye returning to Redfish Lake last year. Also, more than 27,000 fall chinook were counted by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission above the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake.

Although the debate about breaching the four dams on the lower Snake seems to have cooled in recent years, we have no doubt that it will continue intermittently for a long time. The Columbian opposes breaching the dams because of the economic catastrophe that would be inflicted on the region, particularly in the fields of power generation and agriculture. Also, efforts to make Larry not so Lonesome are succeeding, as statistics show.

Still, the national vigilance to protect endangered and threatened species must be maintained, as demonstrated by this month's second chronological milestone for the ESA:

Friday was national Endangered Species Day and "never have our endangered salmon faced such a critical tipping point as they do right now," according to Portland-based Save Our Wild Salmon. The organization calls for "a new approach to salmon policy on the Columbia-Snake, one that involves those most affected by salmon and the decisions being made about their survival. Many people have a stake in the fate of these fish, including tribes, farmers, fisherman, energy producers and users, and others." In other words, all of us.

Save Our Wild Salmon on May 11 emphasized the value of increasing spills at dams, citing progress at other rivers such as the White Salmon and Elwha. If that solution includes removing obsolete dams where upgrades to meet federal standards are more costly than demolition, then fine. We agree. But for the four productive and economically vital dams on the lower Snake, we stop short of supporting removal.

Save Our Wild Salmon is absolutely correct in advocating "collaborative, science-driven processes" that "rigorously vet and test the new spill data, along with other measures that may work wonders for our iconic and endangered salmon."

We remain confident that economic and environmental goals can be reached simultaneously.