Oregon Governor’s Dam Removal Call Highlights Politics Over Science

Credit: NOAA News May 14 2015
  • February 18, 2020

Governor Kate Brown is calling for removal of the Snake river dams, saying that is the most certain way to boost salmon and steelhead recovery. What she has done, instead, is demonstrate to all but the most ardent true believers, is that when it comes to orca and salmon recovery, politics trumps science. 

So what do the scientists have to say? NOAA is a leading federal agency on fisheries issues. They say that removing the dams is not the issue:

In2014, our supplemental Biological Opinion re-examined the issues [of dam removal], including consequences for Southern Resident killer whales. Neither opinion, nor the recovery plans NOAA Fisheries has developed for individual salmon species and stocks, concluded that breaching the dams is necessary for recovery of Snake River salmon or Southern Resident killer whales. The biological opinions concluded that hatchery production of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake systems more than offsets any losses of salmon from the killer whale prey base caused by the dams.

NOAA also reported that an “independent science body advising on these issues notes that the Columbia and Snake rivers may now produce more juvenile salmon than they did prior to dams and development.”

The $16 billion invested in fish passage through Snake and Columbia river dams has been very successful and new technologies emerge that will likely make even more improvements. That may come as a bit of surprise to members of the public who have been reading news and online reports supportive of dam removal. But, Governor Brown has a staff whose job in part is, or ought to be, to protect the Governor from embarrassingly false statements. They have failed her. 

There are things that should be done to help recover salmon and Southern Resident orcas. We’ve identified what we understand to be the best solutions emerging from the best science. As other thoughtful people have noted, calls for “solutions” that are not reflective of reality are distractions from real solutions. There are those, Governor Brown now among them, who see in the salmon and orca crisis an opportunity to pursue political advantages and agendas that have little to no bearing on salmon or orca recovery. We believe that science should and ultimately will prevail.