“I will continue to root for heresy preached by the nonprofessional . . . th[e] hardest of all games to win.” Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin

I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1991 from New York City. I wasn’t expecting Ecotopia, but I looked for a cleaner better world for me and my family. I didn’t think much about salmon; in the back of my mind I expected to be able to take my children salmon fishing. I didn’t know much about salmon and their power as a symbol in the Pacific Northwest.

As soon as I arrived, I found myself involved in a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund to change operations at the dams and reservoirs comprising the Federal Columbia River Power System. I represented a group of industries taking the position that the Sierra Club, allied with commercial salmon harvest interests, was making unreasonable demands that had almost nothing to do with improving the lot of salmon, and more to do with other agendas.

The facts concerning dams and salmon are complex and controversial. Nearly forty years ago, the writer of Salmon of the Pacific Northwest: Fish vs. Dams wrote that “[o]n this issue many emotional conflicts have been waged, political campaigns fought, and much blood, sweat and tears expended”.1 That has been true for me. This book documents my sometimes bitter personal experience spending six years collecting the facts on dams and salmon, and seeing them consistently disregarded by every agency with authority for improving the lot of salmon.

People may be skeptical about the views in this book because I acquired some of them while representing corporations with an economic interest in continued hydropower operations. But no one paid me to write this book. It represents my personal beliefs. I brought no prejudice to the salmon problem, other than a prejudice in favor of the scientific method, and a prejudice in favor of the rule of law. I think that real science is based on data you can measure, and real law is specific and clear rules, not vague and general statements that let bureaucrats do whatever they want.

After reviewing the facts, the book provides a case study in how the law of salmon recovery has failed because of a wholesale refusal to enforce it. Citizens attempting to get the federal government to obey any sort of environmental law have little chance of success. Many judges will not apply the plain language of the law to overturn a government decision that is endorsed by politically-potent elements of society. Doctrines invented by the courts have disenfranchised those who would seek to impose scientific rationality and economic sense into environmental decisionmaking, contrary to the plain language and intent of the statutes the courts are supposed to be enforcing. The courts seem to justify all this in the belief that they are serving larger social goals of protecting the environment. Only by fighting battles over and over in the courts, just as environmentalists did, can citizens hope to reshape the body of law back to a more rational, fact-based approach to review of government decisions concerning the environment.

I think I care about the environment more than most people I know. A true environmentalist takes a global perspective to environmental problems, and looks at the environmental costs and benefits of all alternatives. From that perspective, hydropower has enormous advantages over most other forms of energy generation. Once one can see that dam removal is not necessary or sufficient to achieve healthy runs of salmon in the Pacific Northwest, it becomes clear that the best choice is to continue to generate electricity with dams and bring large salmon runs back to the rivers.

We can do it, because technology has given us the tools needed to improve salmon populations. As Gregg Easterbrook has emphasized, “[t]echnology has always created as many problems as it has solved; surely it will continue to create many problems in the future. It’s just that the environment is one area where technology has finished a phase of creating problems and now enters a phase of solving them”.2 But the only way we are going to move to that phase is if the ideas in this book become more widely accepted, because those in charge of salmon recovery are pursuing an anti-technological approach that cannot succeed.

There are many parties to thank for assisting in the production of this work. Many people provided helpful comments, particularly Bill Rudolph, the only reporter in the entire Pacific Northwest who seems to perceive the Great Salmon Hoax. A former commercial fisherman, he supplied me with many of the more interesting facts in this book. Other reviewers, principally present or former federal employees, wished to remain anonymous, a sad commentary on the ground yet to be covered in this struggle. Any mistakes are, of course, entirely my own.


A. Netboy, Salmon of the Pacific Northwest: Fish vs. Dams vi (Binfords & Mort Portland 1958)

2 G. Easterbrook, A Moment on the Earth 266-67 (Viking 1995).

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