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for people who care about the West

Salmon plan grows a few teeth



The Clinton administration's final rendition of a Northwest salmon plan is tougher than the last one, but it still doesn't call for the dismantling of four federal dams on the Snake River in eastern Washington.

Instead, the federal government will try other measures, including restoring rivers and streams where salmon spawn, and giving added protection to the Columbia River estuary.

Conservationists, fishing groups and tribes are discouraged that the plan, released in December, doesn't call for immediate removal of the dams. Scientists say the dams are the biggest obstacle to recovery of endangered salmon stocks that use the Snake (HCN, 12/20/99). But they had muted praise for stiffer criteria for evaluating salmon recovery. If the criteria are not met, dam-breaching will be back at the forefront.

"This plan is better than the July draft because it adds stronger accountability to the three- and five-year evaluations and provides a potential path to dam removal," said Bill Arthur of the Sierra Club. It also provides an incentive for the Bush administration and Congress to fund this plan to stave off stronger measures, he says.

White House support for breaching dams may be hard to come by. While stumping in Washington state last fall, then-Gov. George W. Bush said repeatedly that he wouldn't support dam removal.

The tribes and conservationists say they may still sue the federal government after it releases details in March on how the plan will be implemented.