Shawn Vestal: The Scientific Consensus on Dam Breaking Runs Broad and Deep, Like it or Not


If it’s spring, the swallows must be back in San Juan Capistrano and Todd Myers must be spouting nonsense about salmon recovery.

Myers is paid by the Washington Policy Center to provide factual statements for conservative politicians to cut and paste into press releases. They call it “research”. He presents himself as an expert in “free market environmental policy” and calls the real experts in salmon science “activists” and “radicals”.

He has written about our recent record snowpack in terms of climate change policy – because in the realm of free market environmental policy the continued existence of snow is seen as a pungent retort to the evidence irrefutable of global warming.

For two years in a row, he has peddled a completely made-up statistic about pandemic restrictions, claiming that for every two people who died in Washington from COVID-19, one died from pandemic restrictions. It’s a patently baseless claim, even by Myers’ standards, and it left state and local epidemiologists baffled and frustrated when I twice asked them to revisit his claim to try to determine whether there was a legitimate basis.

And his continuing line about the effects of the lower four dams of the Snake River on salmon recovery – basically that salmon runs are fine and those who tell you otherwise are liars – is so unreliable that people who collect data he selects have published public disavowals of his work.

Yet from there it swims, swimming upstream against the tide of science, making headlines at WPC events, redirecting its cherries, and taking up space in newspapers — including this one. At every step, he acts as if the massive scientific consensus on dam breaking doesn’t exist, and insists that only activists are selling you a hysterical narrative about dam removal because, as he oddly put it wrote in her most recent post, it’s “sexy.” ”

Just to be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with working for a political organization, or being an activist, or a politician, or having a different view on dams than almost all scientists in the field have. I don’t think there is anything wrong with opposing the breaking of a dam.

My purpose today is to encourage you, the fact-conscious reader – whether you love dams or hate them, whether you love or hate salmon, whether you are left or right, liberal or conservative – to understand the depth of consensus among scientists on the issue.

Here is a short, far from complete list, illustrating this point:

• In 1998, a federal study involving 30 scientists, called the Hypothesis Testing and Analysis Plan, concluded that dam failure was the surest way to restore declining salmon species. As four fisheries scientists wrote in a 2020 Idaho State Journal op-ed, “This option has the highest certainty of success and the lowest risk of failure. PATH reported its findings in 1998, and over the past 20 years, independent scientists and scientific review boards have consistently reaffirmed PATH’s findings.

• In 1999, 200 fisheries scientists sent a letter to President Bill Clinton, asking for the dam to be removed if necessary to save salmon runs, which they said “cannot be salvaged under current river conditions”.

• In 2000, a survey by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association concluded that rupture offered “more certainty” of recovery than other methods.

• In 2017, the Fish Passage Center, a government-funded nonprofit group that studies salmon in the Columbia Basin, produced a study estimating that removing the dam would increase salmon stocks two to three times.

• In 2018, 32 salmon scientists in the Pacific Northwest and six scientists who study killer whales wrote an open letter to Governor Jay Inslee, calling for the removal of dams to help restore salmon runs.

• In 2019, ECONorthwest, an economic consultancy, produced a cost-benefit analysis concluding that “the benefits of removal outweigh the costs, and therefore society would likely be better off without the dams”. This study looked at a wide range of issues, not just salmon recovery, including transportation, irrigation, recreation, barges and others.

(On the issue of salmon recovery, the ECONorthwest report notes that there are differences of opinion as to the extent to which removing dams would help restore salmon migrations, but it points out that very many Expensive efforts were made to offset the effects of the dams, without success. He concluded, controversially, that the benefits of removing the dams – in economic terms – “would eclipse the costs the public would incur in removing the dams” .)

Last year, 68 North West fisheries scientists issued a public call for the removal of dams, in a detailed report that compiled a wide range of scientific arguments, including pointing out just how far we really are below a sustainable replacement rate for returning salmon. on the snake.

“When all existing credible scientific evidence is considered, it is clear that removal of the four lower Snake River dams, with adequate discharge at the remaining lower Columbia River dams, is necessary to restore salmon populations. of the Snake River,” they wrote.

There is no similar list of scientists arguing on the other side.

Maybe all those scientists are wrong, and the guy paid to poke fun at environmentalists is right. Maybe Myers is the Galileo of salmon science, and all salmon scientists are the inquisition.

But let’s not hold our breath.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or


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