This begins a series of reviews of a book “THE GREAT SAL MON HOAX” researched and written some 20 years ago by a lawyer who spent 6 years on legal cases dealing with salmon of the Columbia River. James Buchal’s work stands out in providing an illuminating view of how the salmon of the Columbia River were made into a mythological “Golden Goose” for myriad special interest groups.
Understanding the salmon of the Pacific Northwest it seems can be helped by the well-known catchphrase “follow the money.” Though Buchal’s book tells all about the crisis and controversy of Columbia River Salmon this blog is mostly not about bad news as we work to demonstrate affordable immediate solutions to the crisis that Columbia Salmon and many other ocean fish face. We simply BRING BACK THE FISH.
The dams of the Columbia the first few which were constructed and put into operation in the 1930’s have long been the focus of attention regarding the salmon of the Columbia.
Buchal notes that the cost of salmon protection and enhancement efforts at the time he wrote the book had totaled more than $3 billion dollars. Today the cost has skyrocketed even higher with annual costs to feed the Golden Goose nearing $700 million.
The Bonneville Power Administration said it incurred $682.4 million in total fish and wildlife costs during fiscal year 2013, a total derived in great part by the need to buy and sell power and operate dams with the goal of improving salmon and steelhead passage up and down the federal Columbia/Snake River hydro system.
That total is about par with the previous two years, but well below totals from 2006 to 2010 when BPA estimated that “total costs of fish and wildlife actions” per year ranged from $716 million to $876 million. During those years foregone revenue costs and power purchases dominated the ledger, ranging from $383 million to $566 million.
His preface starts with the following comments.
“I will continue to root for heresy preached by the nonprofessional . . . the hardest of all games to win.” Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin
I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1991 from New York City. I wasn’t expecting Ecotopia, but I looked for a cleaner better world for me and my family. I didn’t think much about salmon; in the back of my mind I expected to be able to take my children salmon fishing.
As soon as I arrived, I found myself involved in a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund to change operations at the dams and reservoirs comprising the Federal Columbia River Power System.
This book documents my sometimes bitter personal experience spending six years collecting the facts on dams and salmon, and seeing them consistently disregarded by every agency with authority for improving the lot of salmon.
Buchal carefully documents with extensive references, as a good lawyer must do, the story of the salmon of the Columbia River. His point of view that a great hoax has and is being promoted with regard to these salmon is well supported. One example (of many) reveals how facts have been run roughshod into myths here in the west.
Take for example the massive expansion of “native” fishing that resulted from the construction of a fishing tram built by and in support of a local cannery.
“Some historical accounts have claimed that during the heavy fishing season at Celilo Falls, the population swelled from 100 to 3,000.5
A fishwheel operator in The Dalles, however, reported that “prior to about 1936, Celilo Falls had an Indian population in the fishing season of some 30 or 40 families that lived there permanently or came from the reservations to fish”.6
Most of the fishing spots at the Falls were inaccessible because of swift waters, but once the fishwheel company (which also purchased salmon caught by the tribes) began to string overhead cables for access, “in less than ten years Celilo had developed from a few Indian fishermen to an estimated 1,000 Indians coming to fish there during the fall season”.7 “
Today the political debate over the dams of the dams of the Columbia River and its salmon continue unabated. However new scientific developments show that indeed the greatest threat to salmon comes to them out at sea on their ocean pastures where they put on 95% of their body weight before swimming back to rivers and streams to spawn.
The collapse of their ocean pastures closely parallels the declines some attribute to the great dams of the Columbia which has fooled many into believing the crisis of salmon is some “usual suspects”, dams, avaricious fishermen, sea lions, just about anything and anyone other than ourselves and our families. But with this years record high runs of Columbia salmon coming home following the restoration of their most critical ocean nursery pasture in the summer of 2012 we now know the problem facing the Columbia salmon and how to restore them to historic high abundance. Read more on how We Can Bring Back Fish Everywhere.
You can read the book “The Great Salmon Hoax” online – here’s Buchal’s Table of Contents (just reading the chapter titles is an education in itself)