The great salmon compromise
November 15, 2015 11:43 PM Subscribe
More than perhaps any creature, salmon epitomize modern wildlife management. We are willing to bend over backwards, to the point of comedy, to recover species we cherish: We captive-breed black-footed ferrets; we shoot barred owls to save spotted owls; we patiently teach whooping cranes to migrate behind aircraft. Yet coexistence occurs strictly on our terms — and there is always at least one term left non-negotiable. We spend millions on wildlife crossings over highways, yet would never close the highways themselves; we relocate imperiled trees to help them weather climate change without daring to retool our carbon-based economy. In the Columbia Basin, the dams, and their power, are the inviolable condition, the infrastructure that fish and managers must turn cartwheels to accommodate. We will give salmon everything, except what we don’t want to give.The great salmon compromise: High Country News' Ben Goldfarb explores the complicated legal and biological tradeoffs in federal and tribal salmon recovery efforts in the Columbia Basin.
In a sense, the “avoid jeopardy” standard is a legal manifestation of a condition called shifting baselines syndrome, the long-term ecological amnesia that causes each successive generation to accept its own degraded present. Sure, 2.3 million fish passed over the Bonneville Dam this year, but 16 million used to migrate up the Columbia annually; it is proof of our reduced standards — and the Endangered Species Act’s low bar — that we celebrate a fraction of historical runs. And shifting baselines have management implications. “What we have is a prevention of extinction policy, rather than a policy that achieves real recovery,” Rod Sando, former head of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, told me. “Recovery would mean managing dams in a different way” — with more spill, or by breaching them altogether.
This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments