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Snake River Basin: Clean or Not?

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As an op-ed piece in the Oregonian would tell it, or rather, would quote the Endangered Species Coalition as telling it, the Snake River basin is at a crossroads. It is one of 10 spots in the U.S. that could be turned into a haven for threatened or endangered species in case of climate change emergency, which we are in, says this Jan. 14 editorial. Or it could stay as is, which is not in bad shape, but could be a lot better, the coalition stated in its Jan. 1 report. In other words, there is room for redemption. But at a cost. “The potential for the Snake River Basin ecosystem to serve as a climate change haven highlights the need to remove four federal dams on the lower Snake River to ensure the survival of the basin’s imperiled salmon and steelhead,” the coalition says in the report, “It’s Getting Hot in Here: Top 10 Places to Save for Endangered Species in a Warming World.” Now another river expert has weighed in with a counterpunch. “Full reporting would have described the tremendous effort already underway to protect and sustain the fish and wildlife species of the Snake Basin, while maintaining the clean power and many other values the Snake River provides,” wrote guest columnist Terry Flores, the executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, an industry conservation and lobbying group, in a Jan. 27 rebuttal. “The real story of sustainability is how communities, states and tribes are together supporting the enormous environmental and economic benefits this river basin, and the neighboring Columbia River Basin, provide to the Northwest. In many ways, the rivers themselves sustain this region.” He goes on to detail the $100 million dollars annually that state and tribal governments receive and are putting mostly toward habitat protection and restoration projects in the Snake and Columbia basins, a 10-year investment of more than $1 billion. Rather than remove the dams, Flores continues, systemic improvements have been made, with fish slides installed on the eight federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers that allow young salmon to swim back to the ocean. The result, he said, is clean energy. “The Columbia and Snake basins deserve to be at the top of a list as an example of how salmon, the economy, and our quality of life can co-exist and prosper in sustainable ways.” The coalition’s report does not necessarily disagree. It just says that the Snake River basin could do better. A dam-free basin could serve as a refuge for salmon and steelhead fleeing other rivers that are warming faster, the report said. Ideally, “the basin could also be a highly valued refuge for dozens of other threatened and endangered species.” The coalition’s report points out that removing the Snake River’s four dams “would restore more than 140 miles of free-flowing habitat that are spawning grounds for threatened Snake River fall Chinook salmon and would open up the remaining 70 percent of potential habitat that scientists describe as a ‘Noah’s Ark’ for salmon” and virtually eliminate the need for habitat restoration at all. More information: Endangered Species CoalitionIt's Getting Hot Out ThereNorthwest River Partners

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