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River Of No Return Symbol Of Frustration Efforts To Preserve The Northwest’s Signature Fish Have Been Costly, Largely Unsuccessful

Congress decided 16 years ago that Columbia Basin salmon are as important as cheap electricity, irrigated farmland and a navigable river from the Pacific Ocean to Idaho.

We’ve been pouring money into rebuilding the Columbia and Snake river salmon runs ever since.

The tab so far: Nearly $3 billion.

And some salmon runs are closer to extinction than ever.

We’ve spent millions on hatcheries that don’t save our most-endangered fish. Millions on dueling scientific studies. Millions on a thicket of bureaucracy.

The public pays the bills. But there are so many agencies involved in salmon recovery, tracking how the money is spent is almost impossible. Accountability is scarce.

The people working to save the fish are among the most frustrated.

“I hate to see money poured down a rathole,” says a biologist. “If it’s a legitimate effort to save fish in the Columbia, fine. But this is a crime… I can’t tell what we are trying to achieve.”

The spending is driven by the power of the Endangered Species Act and remorse over the disappearance of the salmon from many of our rivers and streams.

How could we spend so much for so long and get so little in return?

Please see the special report, River of No Return, in today’s newspaper. The series runs through Tuesday.

See Section H

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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