December 05, 2001 11:00 pm

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has blended environmental needs with economic needs in deciding that the four dams on the lower Snake River should not be breached. The corps concluded this week that modifying the dams to improve fish passage, not breaching, is the best route to take.

Two years ago the dams were a significant issue people were either for em or against them. Even scientific opinion was divided on whether breaching was the only solution to improving fish runs. The only common ground, it seemed, was that something needed to be done to enhance the migration of salmon and steelhead.

The Corps of Engineers, in issuing its decision, took the middle ground. Modifying the dams is more cost effective and has a minimal economic impact, said Nola Conway, the corps spokeswoman in Walla Walla.

Environmental groups wont be happy with the decision. But the fact is that the dams provide a substantial amount of electricity and irrigation water and help make the river navigable for barges. Breaching the dams would have had a severe impact on the economy of the Inland Northwest.

The dams are an obstacle to fish. It doesnt take a biologist to figure that out. Modifications are necessary. But removal of the dams would result in irreparable damage to the regions economy. The corps made the right decision by taking all factors into account.


And speaking of finding workable solutions, the Oregon Cattlemens Association is to be commended for seeking out and talking to Roy Elicker, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlifes new deputy director, about comments he made about cattlemen 10 years ago while working for the National Wildlife Federation.

The cattlemen were deservedly upset when they learned that in 1991 Elicker, who was serving as counsel for the Northwest region of the NWF, outlined in a meeting what was needed to win at all costs against cattle ranchers. The comments were reported in a book published in 1995.

Bob Skinner, newly elected president of the Oregon Cattlemen, took the right step in meeting with ODFW Director Lindsay Ball and Elicker to determine if Elicker still has the same views he shared in his advocacy role with the Wildlife Federation. Skinner and Bill Moore, the cattlemens wildlife committee chairman, received assurances from Ball and Elicker that ODFW does not have a political agenda. Elicker maintained that the statements he made as an advocate for NWF in no way represent my personal views regarding ranchers or grazing issues. Ball assured the cattlemen he is committed to making sure ODFW delivers its services within its statutory limitations and that it will not function as an environmental advocacy group.

Skinner said the cattlemen will be keeping a close eye on ODFW, and thats how it should be. He and Moore faced the issue head-on, ODFW responded, and Skinner said its important to turn this into a positive for all natural resource industries and ODFW.