"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or, perhaps, both." James Madison

"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened." Winston Churchill

People who depend on natural resources for their livelihood need to wake up. As long as there are no salmon in the rivers, environmentalists will raise public concern. The public wants salmon in the rivers, and politicians will do whatever gives them media attention for “saving salmon”.

The fishery agencies on which the politicians rely will never solve the problem without external pressure. There are not going to be any salmon in the rivers if we commercially harvest them in destructive mixed-stock fisheries. Particularly given the shad explosion and other natural factors working against salmon, the Columbia River salmon are not going to be the most abundant stocks in the Pacific Ocean, and cannot withstand current fishery management practices in the ocean.

More generally, our society itself is threatened by the decline of science and law. Unless people understand what science is (or should be), and what law is (or should be), governance on natural resource issues will tend to decay. So will democracy itself. As one philosopher has written, “there are fairly good reasons to link the birth of modern democratic theory and the growth of modern science. Karl Popper, among others, made the connection perspicuous, recalling his argument in The Open Society and Its Enemies that one of the best senses of ‘reason’ and ‘reasonableness’ [is] openness to criticism,’ a mark of both science and democracy”.1

Right now, both science and democracy are dead in the area of salmon recovery, as a $500 million program has been put into effect over the objections of scientists by unelected administrators, operating beyond the control of any law. Relying on dogma rather than data, they have generated a salmon recovery program that is both a farce and a tragedy.

The Need to Educate the Urban Majority

Urban people have no realistic concept of farming or other natural-resource-based industries. Early romantic images of these occupations (Charlotte's Web (farming) or Snow White (mining)) are beginning to succumb to the anti-business blight spread by the media. A significant portion of the river of salmon recovery money is diverted into “public education” programs that spread propaganda and misinformation. Now farmers are perceived as agribusinesses spreading poison on the land, and the miners as leaching toxic wastes into the streams.

Most urban dwellers seem to live in blissful ignorance that they, too, have an impact on the environment. Fellow human beings are out there working every day to meet their needs in ways that minimize their impact on the environment.

As more and more of the Northwest’s population concentrates in cities, including more and more immigrants from urbanized states like California, the voice of these rural citizens becomes more and more diluted. The disenfranchised include the fishermen as well as the farmers. Irene Martin, an Episcopal priest who ministers to a fishing community in Cathlamet, Washington, warns:

“The shift in terminology from such words as fishing, farming and logging to ‘extractive industries’ carries a negative moral weight, which in turn justifies turning over of resources to the morally superior nonextractive users. The latent function of such thinking is, however, colonialist in nature. It is a classic case of urban exploitation of the rural hinterland. In this case, the hinterland is no longer permitted to export its raw materials, its wealth, to urban areas for processing as it could in previous eras. Rather, rural sources of income in the form of trees, fish and land are transformed into a means of recreation for tourists. Is there not a disturbing echo here of how the original frontier was created, by means of a land grab from the aboriginal inhabitants of North America?”2

As the power and regulatory reach of government grows larger and larger, the urban majority exercises more and more control over the lives and livelihoods of rural communities. The urban majority is quite happy to destroy these communities merely to create the impression of protecting the environment, and has no concept of the damage caused.

Urban dwellers do not really put themselves in the place of rural folk. When an animal threatens their safety in the city—like a pit bull—they do not hesitate to regulate it out of existence, or put it to death summarily. Yet the attitude towards animals “in the wild” is completely different.

Attitudes toward use of federal land are changing rapidly, even as the government acquires more and more land from sellers in depressed rural economies. Fishery agencies have gotten the Bonneville Power Administration to buy land in Eastern Oregon so as to take over the water rights for flow augmentation, and such land purchases are on the rise.

When urbanites advocate zero harvest of trees on federal land, advocacy of no hunting on federal land is probably not far behind. It brings to mind the game parks of medieval England, where the peasants could only walk through, and might be put to death for poaching. Only now the park is not maintained for the pleasure of the King, but for the pleasure of the urban majority, which would be offended by the rude signs of people making their livelihood from the land.

Urban dwellers seem to live in a fantasy world where, because there are no wild animals around, they can imagine themselves as joint and co-equal participants in the world. If people are not to be given dominion over animals, who is? Are the animals to be given dominion over us? It is not as if the people and the animals can live in any peaceful state of natural harmony. Without control of animal populations, people in remote areas cannot let their children play in the yard without fear of cougar or bear attacks. There is a reason that the settlers killed the wolves. Unless hunting is allowed, domestic agriculture might be plagued by ravenous deer populations.

And while the urban majority is quick to push ranchers and farmers to dedicate irrigation water for fish, one will not find a similar willingness to relinquish urban water supplies. The Bull Run watershed on Mount Hood used to support nearly half of the salmon runs in the Sandy River (a tributary of the Columbia). The City of Portland’s dam eliminated all that habitat; the City has recently refused to release water that fishery officials claimed would benefit anadromous fish below the dam.3 Urban centers do not hesitate to export their garbage and even sewage sludge to the East side of the Cascade Mountains, a rapidly-growing practice which one writer has called a “growth industry in Oregon and Washington”.4

Perhaps we need to change the name environmentalist. We are all environmentalists now. All of us want to minimize our injury to the environment, and preserve more of it to enrich our lives. Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, declared in 1907 that "conservation is the wise use of resources". But over time, "conservation" has come to mean not using resources at all rather than using them wisely. Many groups are working to promote an ethic that recognizes that human beings must use resources, and virtue lies in avoiding unnecessary harm to the environment.5

Yet such proponents of "wise use" are portrayed as radical fringe groups, even as environmentalists privately worry that they express mainstream values. And government public relations machines propagate the myth that those who advocate dam removal offer the “environmental perspective” while those who advocate passage improvements at the dams offer the “industry/power-generation perspective”.6 By labeling those who would improve the dams as anti-environmental, the government continues to propagate the Great Salmon Hoax.

The essential creed of environmentalists is that preservation of the environment must be accomplished as an end in itself, irrespective of the costs to human lives. Those who stand in the way are "timber junkies" or "pigs at the trough". Andy Kerr, an environmental activist, brags that “history [is] being rewritten not by resource-sucking East Side whiners”, “but by people like himself and other West Side suburbanites with money and education and subscriptions to Audubon magazine”.7 Resource-sucking West Siders cannot seem to see their effects on natural resources through their own, higher levels of consumption.


N. Maull, “Science under Scrutiny”, Harvard Magazine 25-27 (Mar.-April 1997).

2 I. Martin, Legacy and Testament: The Story of the Columbia River Gillnetters 118.

3 G. Orcutt, Letter to the Editor, The Oregonian, Nov. 16, 1996.

4 B. Harden, A River Lost 194.

5 See, e.g., R. Arnold, Ecology Wars: Environmentalism As If People Mattered (The Free Enterprise Press 1987).

6 These quotes are from a Northwest Power Planning Council press release, reprinted in “Surface bypass versus breaching”, The Northwest Salmon Recovery Report, March 7, 1997, at 5.

7 Reported in B. Harden, A River Lost 41.

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