Biologist says ladders won’t save salmon

Posted: Friday, August 12, 2005

MCCALL, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho biologist who argued for a quarter century that fish ladders were good enough to prevent salmon from dying out now says four dams on the Snake River in Washington state should be removed to help the endangered fish.

Don Chapman, 74, wants to get rid of the Ice Harbor, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Lower Granite dams, located between the Idaho border and where the Snake River flows into the Columbia River.

Chapman for years worked as a consultant for electric utilities, arguing that man-made fish bypass systems on the dams such as ladders and barges were enough to keep salmon populations viable.

He now believes that warming of the Columbia River and its tributaries and changes in the Pacific Ocean that may be caused by global warming necessitate breaching of barriers to help fish migrate upstream.

Chapman says his change of heart has scientific and political origins: He believes President Bush’s salmon recovery plan is flawed. The plan characterizes dams as an insignificant factor in the survival of salmon.

‘‘It’s so contrary to logic and common sense that I feel offended,’’ Chapman said.

Some runs of salmon that swim up the Columbia River toward the Snake and its tributaries in Idaho have been listed under the federal Endangered Species Act since 1992.

In May, U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland, Ore., rejected the Bush administration’s plan for protecting salmon. Redden then ordered federal dam operators to spill water over the dams, at a cost of $67 million to Bonneville Power Administration ratepayers this summer, to help the fish.

Environmental groups and American Indian tribes who use salmon for ceremonial and subsistence purposes, say removal of the four Snake River dams is needed to help the fish recover.

Now that Chapman has switched sides in the debate, some fish scientists have perked up their ears.

‘‘When Don says it, you kind of stand up and take notice,’’ said Chuck Peven, fisheries program manager for the Chelan Public Utilities District in Washington, which operates dams on the Columbia River.

Still, neither Peven nor advocates of industries that rely on inland ports created by the dams in Lewiston and Clarkston, Wash. are ready to join Chapman.

The dams produce an average of 1,239 megawatts of power, enough to light Seattle, and have allowed barge shipping of grain and other goods from Lewiston to Portland since they were built, starting in 1962.

Al Georgi, the man who took over Chapman’s consulting business seven years ago, also believes that the complicated relationship between water, dams, fish and climate that influence the health of salmon populations must be studied before any dams are removed — regardless of what the man he calls a salmon ‘‘guru’’ thinks now.

‘‘It’s a nice story (Chapman’s change of heart), but there are a lot of linkages here that need to be examined thoroughly,’’ said Georgi, a fisheries consultant.

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