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The federal agency charged with recovering endangered salmon won't recommend dismantling dams - at least for now (HCN, 12/20/99: Unleashing the Snake). Will Stelle, regional director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, said recently that his agency wants to table the breaching debate for five to 10 years while it tries to boost salmon returns through other measures, such as improving habitat and reducing harvest. The service will deliver its long-anticipated biological opinion at the end of May.


"To make such a big decision without the information to say we are doing the right thing is challenging, to say the least," says agency spokeswoman Janet Sears.


The announcement angers people on both sides of the breaching debate.


Dam advocates want breaching removed from consideration for good. They say there is no reason to delay the decision because the Army Corps of Engineers concluded salmon can be saved without breaching.


"They are dodging the decision somehow, and from our perspective, if the Corps concluded they can save the salmon and keep the dams in the river, let's get on with it," says Frank Carroll, spokesman for Potlatch Corp.


Environmentalists and Indian tribes who want to remove the dams are also frustrated. They say the delay has more to do with upcoming elections in November than with scientific uncertainty.


"There is only one word to describe how the administration has been on this issue, and that is gutless," says Scott Bosse of Idaho Rivers United, who adds that delay will further hurt the region's salmon.


"In five to 10 years to 10 minutes from now, the outlook is still the same: The best biological option for the salmon is dam removal," says Samuel N. Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee.


Both environmentalists and the tribes say they plan to sue the Clinton administration if it delays on the dam decision.


Copyright © 2000 HCN and Eric Barker