You may come away from this thinking this writer hates the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration. That would not be true. I disagree with them, almost completely, and I believe that in breaching the four lower Snake River dams neither agency will be negatively affected. This blog is about the insanity of modern man and the hubris of modern man. This blog is about saving WILD salmon and steelhead not about getting excited about hatchery augmented runs; the salmon and steelhead we make in the hatcheries are akin to cattle and we have slaughterhouses for those unfortunate creatures.
I am not anti-commerce, but I am anti-stupid way of doing things and modern society when held collectively is a lazy son-of-a-bitch that demands everything be handed to it without said finger being lifted. I mean, Hell people, the Constitution only requires we count the humans every 10 years, yet we count salmon every year over every dam. Is that not insane in and of itself?
If, ultimately, I am successful with this blog and four lower Snake River dams are breached and the wild salmon and steelhead of the Snake River basin naturally recover as will happen (bank on it), neither the Corps of Engineers or especially the BPA will be out of business.
The Corps will never tire, nor run out of wonderful, natural streams in which some pinhead with a pocket protector decides should be dammed for electric power generation and water storage and the BPA at some point (I hope) will come to realize that ultimately they sell electricity and it really doesn't matter how that electricity is generated provided they can offer a competitive price for the electricity they sell. Hence, when I stand there as they breach those four dams, I don't expect anyone from the BPA to wish me dead, nor will I spend anytime gloating.
Pay attention here kiddies, because I am about to drop a whole lot of information on your brain and you need to absorb it and understand it. I'll break it up into two parts so as you come to understand just how insane our modern, lazy, society has become in the ongoing lip service to the salvation of salmon in the Columbia and Snake River basins.
For part one, you need to understand something, you actually need to go beyond understanding and accept it as gospel, dogma whatever, just know it is the baseline. Every fish in a hatchery, every fish attached to a hatchery doesn't do a thing to get the 13 stocks of endangered salmon and steelhead off the Endangered Species lists they occupy. Therefore, hatchery fish are irrelevant in every argument. Sure hatchery fish have played an incredibly important role in keeping the pinheads in Congress from doing the right thing because hatchery fish placate anglers and the public that pays more attention to the Jersey Shore and the Kardashians than it does anything that is actually important in life.
In order to construct the perfect propaganda, we must spend a lot of time on the ruse and hatchery fish are just that, a ruse. We truly are insane when it comes to all the things we do to protect hatchery fish. The thinking goes, we've spent billions on these things and the anglers are mum when these things come back in decent numbers (never numbers approaching historical wild runs, but as long as Joe Angler thinks he might hook one fish without an adipose fin he shuts his mouth and says we must be doing something right for salmon and steelhead). Public ignorance aside, we are insane.
Real quick, the life of a hatchery fish begins with a fish trap on a river where its parents were released as a smolt, parr, fry or fertilized egg. Said parents swim back, run into the weir and swim up the fish ladder into trap. We then net them, give them some antibiotics, take some measurements and then separate the females and males into separate concrete runways. Later, when we believe the females are ripe, a process that requires we get into the concrete runways and grab fish in an impromptu rodeo of sorts and after we have the fish in our hands we squeeze the females to see if she's ripe. If so, we toss her into a smaller pen of water and eventually she either takes a barbaric whack to the head by a wooden club or a more humane (yet akin to a slaughterhouse) machine that quickly shoots a metal bar into her brain killing her instantly. Now the fun begins. We flip dead female salmon over, cut her tail about 75 percent through and bleed her. Then we take her over and open her up with an instrument not unlike an envelope opener. Her eggs drop out into a collander in a bucket of water and then we take those bright red eggs over to another person holding a male salmon (let's call this fisheries biologist or fish culturist, a fluffer, because that's really what they have been lowered to in this exercise). The person now squeezes the male releasing his sperm onto the eggs from the dead female and then we mix. Then we add some chemicals to help harden the eggs and then we start loading the eggs into coolers for a ride in a truck to some hatchery that is generally not located where we trapped the fish.
So, we've got these eggs at the hatchery and we place them in incubators and soon we need to see which ones are viable. So we shock them, this isn't Frankenstein's monster, but we do take the eggs and pour them from one bucket of water into another and then we wait 24 hours. Then we run the eggs through a machine that sorts the live eggs and the dead eggs. The machine even tells us how many live and dead eggs we get with every tray of eggs. It can be thought of fascinating or you can think of it as I do, INSANE.
Eventually, these eggs hatch and then we get little salmon fry that grow into parr and now the big semi truck comes by the hatchery with the adipose fin clipping assembly line. Yes, we have automated the clipping of adipose fins in our hatchery salmon. We've divided the labor to its lowest common denominator and now only a couple people are required to clip the adipose fin off of literally millions of hatchery salmon and steelhead. I hear they use computers. Some day, I hear tell, they might even cut off the fins with laser beams.
Now we have identifiable hatchery fish for the anglers who won't complain about the near extinct wild salmon and steelhead. So we keep feeding these adipose fin challenged fish and then we drive them to the release point in most cases. Some are longer drives than others. We hook hatchery trucks up to various tubes and give these pet fish the amusement park ride of a lifetime (or so they might think at this point) into some stream we want them to come back to (preferably one where anglers can travel to in great numbers so there is a large portion of the attention paying public placated by the presence of adipose fin challenged fish).
Oh, the insanity isn't done folks, we's just beginning if I may fall into my mid-south vernacular for a moment.
These adipose fin challenged fish now float on down the stream hoping to find the ocean in a certain number of days. Instead, the lucky ones are sucked into a vacuum like device that sucks them from the reservoir we've created into a barge. It will take us two days to barge these fish from Lower Granite Reservoir to below Bonneville Dam and in the process we will have thoroughly screwed with the 40 percent of these smolts' ability to home in on their natal stream later in their lives.
Meanwhile, because it is important you not lose track of the actual fish that matter (THE WILD ONES). The wild salmon and steelhead are also making this journey and some of them are also being sucked up into the Corps of Engineers salmon and steelhead cruise line. Adipose fin intact and challenged fish alike are being eaten by various non-native predators like smallmouth bass and walleye and native predators like northern pikeminnow. Funny, though, the native predator is the only one of those fish with a BPA bounty on its head.
Some fish don't make the cruise and they get to go through the dam. Many take a trip through the turbines and die. Others go over the spillway, a better alternative than the turbine, but some of them die as well. All these fish arrive eventually in the lower Columbia River estuary where they are greeted by bird colonies that did not exist before the 1980s when the Corps started augmenting islands with dredged sand because the Port of Portland, et. al. wanted to continue to compete with naturally better ports in Tacoma and Seattle, Wash., and Vancouver, B.C.
Yes, Virginia we did create the problem of bird predation like salmon and steelhead never had to deal with before.
So, the Corps augmented East Sand Island in the 80s and Caspian terns said collectively, "we like the new digs." But vegetation took over and the Caspian terns moved upstream to another island and the Corps said, "they sure are eating a lot of salmon and steelhead smolts." So, the Corps moved them back to East Sand Island near Astoria, Ore., and Chinook, Wash., for those of you who are geographically challenged near the mouth of the Columbia River (upstream from the Cape of Disappointment, not too awful far from some really good fresh clam chowder at the marina in Ilwaco, Wash.) OK, so you know the place now.
Well, the Corps moved those birds back to East Sand Island and they were joined by cormorants (think fish-eating bird that always orders the seafood buffet) and various other fish eating birds until East Sand Island becomes the lifetime climax trip of any birder seeking a big year and then the Corps says, we've got to move these birds. Well, let's at least move half of the Caspian terns to California or southern Oregon (I take it the Corps has a small capacity for the understanding of the travel capabilities of animals born with wings). So, now we are moving half the Caspian terns, all the while we each year (and it pains me that I know this minutia) count how many salmon smolts and steelhead smolts these various birds eat. Meanwhile, sea lions are also eating these smolts, but more importantly later we will focus on 75 California sea lions who have gotten in line at the Bonneville Dam all-you-can-eat Salmon/Steelhead buffet. We also encourage people with boats in the lower Columbia to waste near $4 per gallon gas as they drive toward any bird that even bears the slightest resemblance to a bird about to dine on a fish. We have people in boats driving like bats out of hell at birds on the water. If that's not insane, I don't know what is. If you don't agree that is insane, yo, check yourself...into a mental institution...no, seriously, you need help. But we aren't done exploring the bowels of the diseased human mind. Oh no, we've really just begun and quite frankly, I've skipped a lot of stuff. I skipped juvenile salmon acclimation facilities. I've skipped the ins and outs of paying anglers to kill off the native predators while we leave alone the non-native sportfish that eat smolts just the same as the pikeminnow do. Editor's note: When writing of the insanity, it is important that I from time to time start new paragraphs. Moving on...
So the adipose challenged and the adipose finned fish finally make it to the sea where oddly enough we know very little about them. A rather convenient (if you ask me) black hole in the knowledge of a fish that we can generally predict its bowel movements in three to seven years. Especially convenient when you consider another item I left out earlier, the fact that we stick various electronics inside these fish. These fish have more electronics in them than some Best Buy stores. Believe me when I tell you that some day, some percentage of these fish say 5 to 10 percent will have some version of an iPhone or iPad inside them and you will be able to do more than just see how many crossed a dam and view photos from Bonneville on your own iPhone or iPad but you will have apps that let you track specific fish. We will likely place live-streaming cameras on these fish and you can experience 99 percent of them die off before they come back to the Columbia and Snake. Yes, it will be 99 percent or more because we ain't ever gonna engineer a better natural environment for wild salmon and steelhead than the one they require (psst.. Corps, BPA, the answer there is a free flowing river, I know, that question trips you guys up every time doesn't it?) and we cannot engineer a better fish through our hatcheries. Moving on...
Is this too much information for you? You are free to go back to the non-attentive public that incorrectly and ignorantly thinks a hatchery fish are the same as a wild fish. Go ahead, no one's really paying attention to anything that matters these days in any field anyway. Go back to the herd, life's more fun there anyway. Just don't look in the mirror if you do get any of this stuff.
So, let's assume we know nothing about these fish at sea, totally untrue, but it's a convenient lie to tell ourselves and let's go forward to when they come back to the river. And there are those damn 75 California sea lions enjoying the $5.95 all you can eat buffet at the fish ladder at Bonneville Dam. Well, we have to kill them, don't we? OK, let's kill them, but also harass them, too. That way, the non-serious environmentalists out there won't be on our backs for killing the sea lions eating the salmon and steelhead. Look for Endangered Species Death Match on pay-per-view, Blu-Ray and DVD. Can I stop now? Do you see we are insane? Oh, I see, I haven't given you an alternative.
Remove the four lower Snake River dams and voila (I'm sorry, that's French), our wild stocks of Snake River salmon and steelhead magically recover on their own (I know this doesn't play into the hands of the control freak inside so many humans). Why do I say this, well it is simple. In order for our WILD salmon and steelhead stocks in the Snake River basin to be SUSTAINABLE we need a 2-6 percent returning adults from the smolts that left for the oceans in the years before, which oddly enough is occurring downstream of the lower Snake River dams. (Pause for a moment, reflect on what was just said, now continue absorbing).
Also, as a bonus, when you consider the arguments for the dams staying put, you have to realize that A) the power these dams do create mostly happens when the power grid is full (runoff), B) these dams are not designed to provide flood control and in fact there is so much sediment now backed up behind Lower Granite Dam that the Corps of Engineers will have to spend millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars to dredge until the year 2074 to ensure that downtown Lewiston doesn't become the western United States' example of the Ninth Ward of N'awlins during Katrina, C) the irrigation provided by these (quite frankly ugly reservoirs) can still be provided from a free flowing river after breaching with the simple application of longer irrigation pipe (also only 13 farmers actually use these reservoirs to irrigate, so, for the love of God, if this is your hang up, 13 farmers or a return to a salmon economy COME ON!?! Wake up!) and one of my favorites D) the dams provide for the Port of Lewiston, which has been so successful that it has lost 50 percent of its business since the early 1990s, but the Corps just OK'd an expansion of it so Butch and the good ole boys (that'd be the Republican Ranching community that have the time to waste in the Idaho Legislature and Governor seat that require federal payments [yours and my tax dollars] each year to keep their archaic operations solvent so they can complain about that same damn federal government and all its encroachments) can make good on their promise to the dinosaurs of energy (big oil) that they can use this inland port to unload some incredibly huge megaloads for use at the tar sands in Alberta friggin' Canada. So, let's look at the idea of a megaload, obviously no engineer was smart enough to build these parts in smaller increments that could be assembled later on site, so Idahoans and those mouth breathers over in Montana have to endure long waits and the safety hazards and maintenance hazards of the ever-present presence of loads that are far too large for our river canyon dependent roads.
I'm not even done with the insanity yet, that's the sad part. Anyway, chew on all that for awhile, because it just doesn't sit well with me, but then again, I'm sane. How about you?
Do I sound angry? I hope not, I mean, yes, it is maddening to look at all the crap we are willing to do and juxtapose it with what actually would work and ask the question WHY DON'T WE JUST DO THAT? But, I'm not angry, that will come when wild salmon and steelhead do become extinct from the Snake River Basin in the next 10-20 years without action.
My plainest message to the BPA and the Corps of Engineers and every pinhead who buys into the idea that somehow, someway we can craft a better river system than the one we were greeted with when my great, great, great, great uncle Clark accompanied Lewis in these here parts is simple breach the dams, the world won't end and you guys can get back to a life where you don't constantly have to live a lie where you pay lip service to salmon salvation when you have no intention of actually achieving because you know just as I know that in doing so means some major federal concrete works have to be breached.
I mean, there is a reason the phrase "you can't have your cake and eat it too," is an idiom and there is a reason that the last person of note who said "let them eat cake," was beheaded. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this stuff out, it doesn't even take an army engineer or a federal government electric power marketer to figure this out. We cannot have our WILD salmon and steelhead and demand that our primary source of electric power come from the four hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River. It is that simple. You can talk about the merits of increased spill until you are blue in the face and I will simply remind you that the better numbers still are less than half of what we need and quite frankly aren't all coming from the only numbers that ultimately matter (unless your name is George W. Bush or some other pinhead who wanted to count hatchery fish with wild fish and call it good) and the only numbers that matter are the WILD fish and they ain't recovering people. Kid yourself all you want, until those dams come down and we give WILD salmon and steelhead their proper habitat back, we might as well kiss them goodbye. Comprende?
Oh, in case you haven't gotten it yet, THE ONLY FISH THAT MATTER ARE THE WILD SALMON AND STEELHEAD, pay no attention to those hatchery fish that are weakening the gene pools of wild fish anywhere where someone thinks supplementation is going to work, not to mention these man-made fish with the adipose fin amputation also compete with the wild fish for food, so chew on that as well.
Oh, you wanted me to say something about Judge Redden's recent remarks. I agree with what he said, wish he didn't say it, not because he doesn't have the right to say it but because of the typical misunderstanding of judges in America and this misunderstanding juxtaposed with the judge's very good comments allows the typical elected official from Eastern Washington to wax unpoetic about how the fix was in about some worthless dams in his neck of the woods. But power to you Judge Redden, at least you are sane. Welcome to the club, I think that makes five or six of us.