A new poll finds most Northwest residents agree improving streamside habitat is the most important factor in determining the future of salmon runs. But there’s no majority consensus in the region when it comes to removing dams to help save the iconic fish.
Those are some of the results from a recent survey of 1,200 Washington, Oregon and Idaho residents. The poll was conducted by the non-partisan Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall research firm for EarthFix and its partnership of public TV and radio stations in the three states.
The poll, which was conducted in November and released this week, asked Northwest residents to choose from a menu of options that best identify the most important factors in determining the future of salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest.
Fifty-eight percent chose “improving habitat for the migratory fish along rivers and streams.” Each of the other nine options -– including building more hatcheries, managing predatory animals, reducing fishing, and removing dams — were selected by fewer than 20 percent of Northwest respondents.
The survey also posed a pair of questions about dam removal:
The first question gave the choice between two statements:
“We should remove dams to protect salmon and other fish…” drew agreement from 19 percent of those surveyed.
“We should keep dams to produce hydropower, promote economic development and offer recreation opportunities… ” was agreed to by 38 percent of the poll’s respondents.
The options “neither” and “don’t know” drew a combined 43 percent agreement.
The other survey question on dam removal focused on the four structures on the Lower Snake River in southeast Washington state. It gave three options –- one in favor of taking out dams, another in opposition, and a third choice for those who want to consider dam removal if it can be done without hurting the economy or significantly increasing electricity rates.
That third option proved the most popular, drawing agreement from 34 percent, slightly more than the 31 percent who said removing the Lower Snake dams is an extreme solution and far more than the 8 percent who said the dams need to be removed today to save salmon species.
Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, said the survey results underscore the position of her association. It represents business and trade interests that favor keeping the dams.
“Clearly, the public does not support removing the Snake River dams, and appreciates the difference between these modern facilities and the antique, out-dated dams that have been removed recently,” she said in a statement.
Amy Baird, spokeswoman for Save Our Wild Salmon, said she was encouraged by the results. That, she said, is because they don’t indicate that people are staunchly opposed to dam removal. Baird pointed to the larger number of people who want to consider dam removal on the Lower Snake than those who flatly oppose it.
“The poll reinforces why a new approach to salmon restoration is so important,” said Baird, whose group represents a coalition that supports dam removal on the Lower Snake River. “By bringing stakeholders together at a collaborative solutions table and discussing the science and economics in restoring wild salmon, we can create a new approach that works for everyone involved.”
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