The Elwha River in Washington was once home to the largest salmon in the continental United States. But when the Bureau of Reclamation built two dams in 1914 and 1927, 100-pound chinook were unable to make the downstream passage and disappeared. Now that the Clinton administration has allotted $111 million of its proposed 1997 budget to tear down the dams, environmentalists are ecstatic. "If this passes it will be a coup," says Jim Wilcox of Trout Unlimited, who has spent decades advocating dam removal.


The inclusion of the money in the budget was a victory for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who found resistance to the dam destruction minimal. Even a local pulp mill which buys electricity from the dams favored the move.


Washington's Republican Sen. Slade Gorton, however, disagreed, arguing for fish passages around the dams. Though that option would be cheaper, an environmental impact statement drafted last year by Olympic National Park says it wouldn't fully restore the salmon.


Gorton will have ample opportunity to voice his opposition to tearing down the dams. The 1997 proposal will not be debated until the 1996 budget is resolved.


* Bill Taylor,


HCN intern