News from the Front #89:

Halloween Special:  Draft Biological Opinion on Columbia and Snake River Dam Operations is all Tricks and No Treats

The National Marine Fisheries Service chose Halloween to release its new draft biological opinion on Columbia and Snake River Dam operations, 727 pages long, together with another 818 pages of “comprehensive analysis”.  The release date was uniquely appropriate, given the ghosts, goblins and zombies that haunt these pages. 


The biggest ghost is the ghost of natural mortality.  As more and more data are gathered, it is now clear beyond doubt that most of the young salmon and steelhead migrating down lengthy rivers on the West Coast die before they ever reach the sea, whether there are dams in the rivers or not.  Indeed, it appears we can actually measure higher system survival through eight Columbia and Snake River dams than has been measured in natural, undammed rivers.   On the most basic level, then, there is probably no legal basis for forcing electric ratepayers to pay the billions in tribute extracted by fish worshippers to fund their cult.  So the Service whistles through the dark, candidly admitting that “no attempt is made to distinguish natural mortality from other sources” and hoping no one objects.  And the Service continues to present mortality estimates that blame dams for killing every fish that dies in the river, virtually ensuring that federal judges will continue their war against the dams.  The judges cannot bring themselves to approve federal operations that they think kill most of the fish in the river, and the Service and its attorneys cannot bring themselves to tell the judges they are wrong. 


The biggest zombie that stalks the pages of these documents is the theory that we can manufacture additional salmon and steelhead by releasing water from storage reservoirs in Canada, Montana and Idaho to increase river flows.  Back when I began working in this field, we already knew, to quote a 1993 environmental impact statement, that “only 5 of 117 tests of linear correlation of migration timing to flow quantity had a significant positive relationship”.  Fifteen years and hundreds of studies later, science still cannot demonstrate any significant relationship between river flow and salmon survival.  But the theory will not die, because witch doctors bring the undead to life through computer modeling.  Many have worked to drive stakes through the heart of these fraudulent models, but the witch doctors respond with ever more sophisticated frauds.  This time around, the fraud is particularly diabolical, as the zombie spirit now lives within a “COMPASS” model that is so complicated that none of those ostensibly providing adult supervision in this area can or ever will take the time to figure it out. 


No Halloween celebration would be complete without a blood-curdling sacrifice, and the sacrificial animals in this biological opinion are steelhead.   The pagan high priests of the fish cult, who abhor technology (other than the technology they use themselves to kill fish for fun and profit), continue to advance their campaign to shut down the program to transport juvenile salmon and steelhead around the dams and natural predators.  The Service actually admits that this will reduce adult returns of steelhead by about 2% (the true figure is even higher), but it has long been more important to the Service to appease the pagans than to make science-based decisions.  One might suppose that the Northwest Steelheaders Association and other sportsfishing groups would protest, but the dark spirits of environmentalist attorneys long ago possessed the souls of all the Northwest sportfishing groups—with the possible exception of the Coastal Conservation Association, the battle for whose soul is now underway.


Once again, citizens of the Pacific Northwest are to be tricked into paying higher electricity rates and slowly dismantling the dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.  As scientific resource management is replaced by superstition and fear of technology, fewer and fewer are left to tell the truth about dams and salmon.  By all appearances, the U.S. Department of Justice is trying to lose every case brought against the dams, and the economic interests that depend on the dams have given up the fight.  This is the season of destruction indeed.


 © James Buchal, October 31, 2007

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