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Confusion Reigns Over Salmon Plan First Of Eight Hearings Focuses On Need For Action

Competing strategies for saving threatened and endangered Snake River salmon have led to confusion, the National Marine Fisheries Service has been told.

Calls for quick action, scientific data and a plan that works dominated testimony Monday at the first of eight scheduled public hearings on the U.S. Commerce Department agency’s salmon-recovery plan.

The proposal needlessly calls for more study and continues to rely too heavily on barging fish around dams, said Jim Baker of the Sierra Club’s Northwest salmon campaign.

Baker was among those expressing support for an alternative proposal written by the Northwest Power Planning Council, which is charged with balancing the region’s energy needs with environmental concerns.

The lack of evidence as to which salmon strategy is likely to benefit fish the most has polarized public attitudes, said James Weddell, manager of the Port of Whitman County.

“I feel somewhat like I wear the black hat in this because I am not convinced the drawdown is the answer or that the science is clear,” Weddell said.

Several people said drawing down the reservoir behind Idaho’s Dworshak Dam - reducing the water level to help flush young fish downstream - is bad for business.

Orofino, Idaho, boat mechanic Jim Montgomery said his boss told him last week that his job is in jeopardy.

“I don’t mind losing my job if this stuff works, but this isn’t working,” he said.

About 200 people turned out for the hearing.

Snake River sockeye salmon were listed as endangered in 1991 and the spring-summer and fall runs of chinook salmon were listed as threatened in 1992 under the Endangered Species Act.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed saving salmon by making sweeping changes in hydroelectric dam operations, hatcheries, harvest and habitat.