Fish Passage Center Survives Political Execution Attempt
The Fish Passage Center was set up more than 30 years ago to provide a reliable and objective measure of the number of fish traveling around and over dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers. After the Center’s figures were cited by a federal judge in the summer of 2005 as a basis for ordering more water be released to aid fish survival, then-U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) retaliated by slipping a nasty little paragraph into the committee report accompanying an appropriation bill.
The reason the Fish Passage Center acquired enemies in high places is simple. Its work was costing a powerful special interest some serious money. Craig moved to cut off the Center’s funding by slipping in report language that is not part of the bill itself but is a device by which Congress earmarks special projects. Claiming Craig’s language had the force of law, Bonneville Power gleefully made arrangements to outsource the Fish Passage Center functions to a contractor.
“We are here to do math. Math can’t hurt you.”
PEER has been defending scientists since our earliest days but, unlike our usual cases where an individual scientist is targeted for reprisal, here we had an entire staff of scientists being offed through a backroom legislative maneuver. Michele DeHart, manager of the Fish Passage Center since 1984 called PEER and we went to work.
On March 17, 2006, the very day the Fish Passage Center was scheduled to shut its doors forever, a petition filed by PEER and our allies in this fight found traction. At 5 pm, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered the Bonneville Power Administration to continue its funding and support for the Fish Passage Center.
Then in January 2007, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the attempt to end the independent Fish Passage Center was illegal. The court ordered Bonneville Power Administration to continue funding and support for the Fish Passage Center for the foreseeable future.
In addition to the freedom to report honest science, the public also has an interest in receiving accurate information, particularly about an environmental hotspot like the rivers of the Pacific Northwest.
The flat earth approach to science does not bode well for the management of fish resources in the Columbia.
Rod Sando, former Executive Director of Columbia Basin Fish &Wildlife Authority
Representing Michele and her colleagues was a distinct honor and we cannot imagine a better use of our time.