Save the wild salmon!
[Excerpt from a 1994 essay]
The Lords of Yesterday* have been choking the life out of the Columbia River for well over a century. With the death of the wild salmon, the river will breathe its last.
The Department of the Interior's History and Development of Columbia River Fisheries sums up the salmon's demise with dispassionate candor:
"The fish...have been decimated by the development of commercial fisheries, the deleterious effects of the various industries which have developed in the basin and the direct loss of spawning areas.... The problem...can be solved only by coordinated planning and adequate fish protection at projects which interfere with proper conditions."
These hollow, unheeded words were written in 1940. Fifty-four years later, we're still waiting for coordinated planning and adequate protection. It ain't gonna happen.
Billions of dollars are being spent to create the illusion of concern, but the Bad Guys brandish the heavy hardware in this battle, just as they have since the days when fish wheels wreaked their havoc. The sooner the salmon are dead and buried, the sooner the Lords of Yesterday can get back to business as usual. It's as simple as that.
Congressional delegations notorious for supporting the monied few over the masses are up to their old tricks. Leading the pack is Oregon's senior U.S. Senator, Mark O. Hatfield, promulgator of the pitifully punchless 1991 Salmon Summit.
He argues it's better to do nothing than to attempt something not all fish biologists agree on, something never before tried. We'd still be living in caves if we applied this to our every endeavor.
Hatfield's fellow Republican from Oregon, U.S. Senator Bob Packwood, is his usual charming self on the subject: The wild salmon can go to hell.
In 1990, campaigning before wheat growers, Packwood stated, "Preserving wild runs of salmon on the Columbia and Snake rivers should not be done at the cost of power production, irrigation and barge movements."
He went on to say, "Some species may have to be allowed to disappear if the costs to preserve them are too high for mankind to bear," and "Charles Darwin's theory of evolution assumed a perpetual cycle of emergence and destruction of species."
So, the river is dead. If you're typical, you shrug and say, "So what?" The Columbia Gorge is as scenic as ever. Sure, there are those ugly clear-cuts creeping down from the higher elevations and sometimes you can't see the view for the smog from pulp mills and aluminum smelters. But if you own a boat, you can still find a beach to spread out on. And you can still swim.
You can. I won't. Not after talking with a Yakama Indian who gave up fishing because of the deformities he was seeing. Sometimes when he cut open a salmon, flesh dropped from the bones as if the fish were cooked.
"Cooked" is the proper term. For decades, radioactive waste has oozed from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, joining forces with industrial effluvia behind downriver dams to raise the river's temperature beyond tolerable levels. At times, the water is too warm to support certain forms of life.
Juvenile salmon are especially susceptible.
*University of Colorado law professor Charles Wilkinson’s phrase for the timber, mining and grazing interests that have controlled our western public lands for the past 150 years.
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