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Columbia River Dissenters Series
Tape 1, Side 1
7 May 1998
PF = Pat Ford
CH = Clark Hansen
OHS Inv.# 2701
Pat Ford was born in 1948 in Lincoln, Nebraska. At the age of three, his family moved to Idaho Falls, Idaho, where his father worked at a nuclear research site. Ford left Idaho to study English at Columbia University in New York City. In 1969, he returned to Idaho and began to work for the Idaho Conservation League. Ford became Executive Director of the Idaho Conservation League in 1979, where he focused on energy issues and public land and wilderness preservation. The designation of the 2.3 million acre Frank Church Wilderness in central Idaho was a high point of his early conservation work. In 1984, Ford left the Idaho Conservation League and spent the next six years as a writer and eventually Northwest Editor for High Country News. In 1990, Ford, along with conservationists, such as Ed Chaney and Lori Bodi, created Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition of state, regional and national conservation, fishing and business organizations focused on restoring salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest. Pat Ford is currently the Executive Director of Save Our Wild Salmon.
C.H.: This is an interview with Pat Ford at his home in Boise, Idaho. The interviewer for the Oregon Historical Society is Clark Hansen, the date is May 7th, 1998, and this is Tape 1, Side 1. I thought we might begin first by getting some background on you, your family, where you came from and how you ended up where you are today.
P.F.: Well, I was born in the Midwest and we moved to Idaho when I was, I think, three, to Idaho Falls.
C.H.: Where were you born?
P.F.: Lincoln, Nebraska. My father moved to Idaho to begin working at what is now the INEL nuclear testing, nuclear research site over on the desert near Idaho Falls.
C.H.: And you were born when?
P.F.: In 1948. We moved to Idaho when I was three, in 1951, and I grew up in Idaho Falls and have not, other than for college, been out of Idaho since.
C.H.: Where did you go to college?
P.F.: To Columbia University in New York City, and it was the experience of being in New York City that made me an Idahoan, decided me that this was really where I did want to live as opposed to a big place like that.
C.H.: What about that experience gave you that incentive?
P.F.: Well, it was just a big city, huge numbers of people, and it just made me realize that it's nice to have space and country and, you know, good air and good water and outdoors and so forth, and I didn't really appreciate that growing up here. I appreciated it once I spent four years away in New York City.
C.H.: What was your focus of study there?
C.H.: And did you have any idea of where you wanted your life to go at that point?
P.F.: No. No, not particularly. I didn't graduate; I left New York City, I sort of fled New York City, in a way, in 1969. I was about ten points short of graduation and never returned to school. And I came back here ...
C.H.: What caused you to leave so suddenly?
P.F.: Oh, it was a combination of I was just - my friends had left by that point, had graduated or whatever, and I wanted out of New York City, and I had no clue as to what I wanted to do or where to go, except back out to the West, and so it was just one of those decisions you make when you have no clue what you're doing but you know you aren't where you want to be. So I came back out here and bounced around a little bit: Salt Lake City, then to Pocatello, Idaho, and then back to Idaho Falls, where I lived with my folks for a while. It was in a period there of about six or seven years after college that I gradually got interested in conservation work, in the outdoors, and became, you know, somewhat committed to conservation sorts of things.
C.H.: What was your first activity or work in the conservation area?
P.F.: Well, the first one that was not - it was just sort of volunteer work as opposed to any formal thing, I was getting involved in - there were a lot of environmental impact statements coming out then from various national forests or public land management agencies in Idaho and elsewhere in the West relating to management plans for big chunks of public land, and I got interested in reading and commenting on those, just as an individual. And in 1975, I believe it was, I was asked to be on the Board of Directors of the Idaho Conservation League, which was at that time a two-year-old statewide organization that had been founded in 1973 to try to be a voice for statewide conservation at the Idaho legislature and work on statewide issues.
C.H.: Did they have any particular issues that they were pursuing?
P.F.: Energy was the main issue that they were working on that I was interested in at the time. There was a proposal to build a coal-fired power plant in Idaho, not too far from Boise, actually, although several sites were under consideration that Idaho Power Company wanted to build, and in the end it was not built, fortunately for Idaho. But that issue and working on it was one that really attracted me to that organization.
C.H.: Going back just a little bit, when you first moved out here you were in what community in Idaho, where you grew up?
P.F.: Idaho Falls.
C.H.: And that's part of the Snake River Basin?
P.F.: Idaho Falls is located right on the Snake River over in Eastern Idaho. It's not that far from Wyoming, and it's probably - it's just downstream of where the two main headwater forks of the Snake River, Henry's Fork and the South Fork of the Snake, come together. Idaho Falls is about, what, 20 miles downstream of where those two forks come together and form the main Snake River. So I grew up on the Snake River, although in an urban setting, suburban setting, as opposed to a farm or any other kind of setting.
C.H.: What kind of contact did you have with the Snake River as you were growing up?
P.F.: Crossing it a lot on roads and bridges and walking by it. I sometimes liked to go down there and walk, but I was by no means an outdoors person when I grew up. My family didn't fish or hunt. We camped a little bit, but very little. And so I didn't have a lot of contact with the outdoors in any formal sense other than being in it from time to time, or any great experience or sympathy or connection with it, until I came back from New York, or until in New York when I began to realize that Idaho is different. And then once I got back here, that gradually matured into an interest in trying to help keep Idaho Idaho; that was the phrase that was the slogan of the Idaho Conservation League. When I got on the Idaho Conservation League's board in 1975, that began about a ten-year period of active involvement with the Idaho Conservation League. That was my major entry into this kind of work. The course of it was that I joined the board in 1975, in 1977 I moved to Boise and joined the staff of the Idaho Conservation League, working on energy issues primarily, but doing a whole bunch of things, and as it turned out in 1979 I became Executive Director of the Idaho Conservation League, the boss, and I did that until mid-1984, when I was fairly burned out and I left to try to pursue writing for a living and as a - something I wanted to try.
C.H.: What kinds of issues did you address while you were executive director? What kinds of things did you work on, what kind of projects did you have?
P.F.: Well, we did a bunch of things, but probably three main big clumps of issues: One was public land preservation, wilderness, but also just trying to, you know, preserve or improve management of public lands. It was during the period that I worked there when I was executive director that the largest wilderness in the 48 states was created, the 2.3 million acre Frank Church Wilderness in central Idaho.
C.H.: What involvement did you have with that?
P.F.: I was sort of a foot soldier for the highly experienced group of older people that had worked on trying to make that happen for the decade before then, people like Ted Trueblood, Ernie Day, who had - Senator Frank Church was the main person responsible. He was then in the Senate from Idaho. And they had an organization that they had created called the River of No Return Wilderness Council that had developed the actual proposal for what the wilderness boundary should be and had been advocating it on and off since the early '70s. That organization met in the Idaho Conservation League office, and a few of us younger folks, myself and a couple other people, sort of became just the staff people whom those older folks advised, told us sort of what to do and we went and tried to do it. That issue heated up because in late '78 Senator Church decided indeed to move the legislation forward and to actually create the wilderness. After about eight years of hesitating as to when was the right time to do it, he decided to move ahead. So the entire process of doing so, congressional hearings, all of the organizing involved in that, and the people against the wilderness and the people for the wilderness and just the whole big public fight occurred in 1979, late '78, '79. So I hired a staff person who worked just on that, and of course I was deeply involved, too, as director and went to Washington D.C. from time to time, but most of the work was out here, trying to turn out people for public hearings and get public attention and build public support and just the standard stuff you do when you're trying to influence an issue.
C.H.: What was the nature of the opposition?
P.F.: Primarily logging focused. Elk City up in North Idaho, Boise Cascade here, some smaller logging companies and timber communities over in Eastern Idaho, Salmon, for instance. There was some other opposition, but it was primarily logging focused. And so it was my first big conservation fight and was sort of a standard one, and the end result was a significant victory.
C.H.: What do you attribute that victory to, since you were against such powerful commercial interests?
P.F.: Senator Church. The key thing was having someone with authority and power who was determined to get it done and to take the lead in making sure - and then he was able by virtue of his leadership to - you know, he put the onus on us, the conservation forces, to build public support that would allow him to achieve this goal, and so we did an awful lot of work to do that and were able to turn - we won all the hearings, we demonstrated majority public support for it, despite the opposition, in a way that allowed him to move forward and create it with the ability to say, "Most Idahoans want to do this." And of course we also built national support in addition to that in Idaho.
C.H.: What about Church? How was somebody like him able to get into the position he was in without paying his dues, so to speak, to these big corporations that have so much influence?
P.F.: Well, I know less about that than some other people. In general, he did pay his dues. He made many compromises on conservation issues, dams and fish being one of them. He supported a number of dams over that period of time that were built, dams that I'm now working to try to remove. But he was a conservationist himself, an outdoors person. He had that experience, and he was just, you know, a charismatic leader. He was a very strong, independent and effective person. Cecil Andrus is the other best example of that in Idaho's recent political history - someone who is very good and able therefore, because they are so skilled at politics, to take, quote, unquote, risky positions but do so in an effective way because they go out and sell those positions and so forth. Church did that in many ways with his positions on the Panama Canal and his foreign policy, his opposition to the Vietnam War, he did things that didn't seem likely for an Idaho Senator, but he did them. Now, he lost in 1980, a few months after the River of No Return Wilderness was created, and one of the issues in his reelection effort that was - you know, he'd been in the Senate for 24 years at that point; he lost to Steve Symms. One of the reasons he lost was probably the River of No Return thing. And so it wasn't like this was a cost-free effort to him. Eventually all of his positions caught up with him a bit in terms of where the Idaho electorate was. But he was just very capable and good and a very strong, determined leader on this particular issue. So I worked a lot on that. The second big issue I worked on in that period was energy-related issues. At that point Idaho was facing a number of - starting in about the mid-'70s through the early '80s Idaho was facing a number of significant decisions about its energy future that were basically parallel to ones being faced in the Northwest, Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) being the best example, in Oregon and Washington: Should we start building huge numbers of new either coal-fired or nuclear power plants for this presumed ever increasing rise in energy use we were going to have, or should we pay more attention to energy conservation, renewable energy sources and so forth? Idaho Power Company, which is Idaho's largest utility, was agitating from 1974 through 1980 to build big coal-fired power plants in Idaho, various versions of them. Utah Power & Light in Eastern Idaho was doing the same. And Idaho Conservation League was deeply involved in leading efforts opposing that and instead urging the State, both through the legislature and through the public utilities commission, to take a different energy path, hold off on big new plants that were going to raise rates astronomically and instead try energy conservation and some other things, and particularly don't buy into the notion that energy demand from the public was just going to rise exponentially, despite what it might cost or the costs in air quality or whatever. So Idaho Conservation League (ICL) did a lot of work on that issue, and of course that's the first connection I had to the Columbia-Snake system because the dams and the whole energy side of the way the Columbia-Snake operates. In general we, and the "we" was not just ICL, were successful in those years in stopping Idaho from getting on that bandwagon. Idaho did not have its own WPPSS; we avoided that. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission had a lot to do with those achievements, and Governor Andrus had a lot to do with them. But that was the second major issue I worked on. And then the third was just the Idaho legislature. Idaho Conservation League had a lobbyist, me or someone else, there every year, and we would work on whatever there was to work on. Sometimes it was energy, air quality, water quality - I mean, it was whatever -- land use planning, whatever was happening there, and it was usually bad things we were trying to stop as opposed to good things we were trying to achieve. But that was a big part of ICL's job in those years, too, was every year there was about a five-month commitment to the Idaho legislature and to being the conservation lobbying voice at that legislature. So those were the major things I worked on. I started to get into - it was towards the end of my tenure at ICL in 1983 and '84 that I started to significantly get interested in and spend time on salmon and steelhead restoration, which is what I now do. It was about that time that I met Ed Chaney, a few years earlier, actually, but through Ed and various others the - oh, I should back up. The other thing that happened in the early '80s that I was involved in regionally and that bears directly on what I do now in the Columbia was the passage of the Northwest Power Act in 1980, congressional legislation that - I assume you've heard all this before, but the general impetus behind the Power Act from people like Senator Jackson in Washington, Senator Church in Idaho, was to deal with the WPPSS debacle, to figure out a way of containing that mess that was threatening to really, you know, grotesquely increase power rates and so forth in the region. Through the efforts of conservation and fishing and other organizations and with the leadership of an out-of-region congressman, John Dingell of Michigan, the issue of Snake River and Columbia River salmon and steelhead was inserted into that whole bill, not because Senator Jackson and the regional delegation wanted it, but because that was sort of the price of the rest of the Congress allowing them to keep the Northwest special hydro deal and low power rates intact. Senator Church was again an influential person in that whole arena, and out of that work, which ICL played a subsidiary role at the national level but a fairly strong role at the Idaho level, out of the work of trying to get a decent Northwest Power Act passed that was about fish, not just energy, it was about restoring fish, not just preserving low electric rates, came the Northwest Power Act, which created the Northwest Power Planning Council with responsibility not just for energy planning, but for fish and wildlife planning and trying to put that on a, quote, “equitable basis with energy in the management of the Columbia-Snake hydro-system.” After that law was passed, a group formed regionally here in the Northwest to try to track its implementation and to ensure that the promise of the law, in terms of energy conservation, the promise from our point of view, energy conservation, renewable energy development, fish and wildlife restoration, would be fulfilled as it was implemented. That group was called the Northwest Conservation Act Coalition. It's now known as the Northwest Energy Coalition. I was its original secretary of its first board. A few people from conservation and low income and energy groups in Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington created it. Mark Ries was the instigator. He had been a staff person for Congressman Weaver of Oregon, who had been a key person in the actual passage of the Northwest Power Act. So Ries and a few others recruited me to be the Idahoan who helped create that entity. And we did create it and got it going in those early 1980s years for the purpose of trying to - it was primarily energy focused, and the primary purpose was to try to make the Northwest a national leader in energy conservation and renewable energy development as a way of keeping rates low, primarily for low income and the average consumer, not in - we didn't much care about keeping the rates low for aluminum companies and big consumers; they of course did, but our primary interest was in keeping Northwest power rates low for the average person and avoiding large new nuclear or coal-fired power generation, which would not only raise rates but have adverse environmental consequences.
C.H.: How well was this established throughout the rest of the Northwest?
P.F.: How well was what established?
C.H.: This particular coalition.
P.F.: Well, it was a pretty effective effort in those early years. You know, there was an awful lot of discussion and ferment in those years nationwide about soft energy paths and, you know, the whole choice that the nation faced on energy, and a key person in that nationally, but also in the creation of this organization in the Northwest was Ralph Cavenagh with the Natural Resource Defense Council. And through that work and working with the Power Council as it got going, the Northwest Power Council, working with Bonneville Power Administration - usually working on Bonneville Power Administration because they weren't wild about the whole new effort, they wanted to build power plants - working with individual utilities, I think Northwest Conservation Act Coalition had a lot of impact in helping the Northwest become a national leader in energy conservation programs and efforts and in renewable energy development. So I worked on that; that was sort of my first experience outside of Idaho at a broader regional level of working with other organizations like mine but in a Northwest context, not just Idaho. In those early years, in retrospect - my view now of the Northwest Power Council is that it is a failed institution. I wish it would go away. I wish it weren't there anymore because it's more in the way than it is anything else. And a key piece of that is that in its early years it failed and we who were pushing it from the private sector failed to really make it grapple with the fish and wildlife challenge, with the salmon recovery challenge. It pretended to help fish, but it never really did. And those who were working with it and pushing it, in retrospect, spent too much time, in my view, on the energy side of its work and not enough time on the fish side. There was a feeling in the conservation and fishing community that once that law had passed, the Northwest Power Act, because it had such fine words about fish in it - equitable treatment with energy, restore, preserve and protect - we thought that that had done it, that that was going to restore these fish. And it was because that law [NPA] had passed that the drive which began in the late '70s to add Snake and Columbia River salmon to the endangered species list stopped. Petitions were starting to be circulated in the late '70s to petition for a listing of Snake River salmon. When the Northwest Power Act passed, a deliberate decision was made by various conservation organizations not to pursue those listings.
C.H.: Could you explain more why that decision was made?
P.F.: Well, I wasn't a big party to those decisions. Chaney was more involved. But in general, the thought was that the threat of proposing listings of the fish was part of what got people like Senators Jackson and Church and others to agree to put what we thought were strong fish provisions in the Northwest Power Act, and once the Power Act passed with what we thought was going to be a solid effort to go restore the fish, I think the general thought was, "Well, let's not move ahead to do endangered species petitions because now we've got it, we've got the institutional body, the Northwest Power Planning Council, that will restore the fish, that will create the plan to do so. We've got the solution there; let's pursue that instead." As it turned out, the status quo captured the Northwest Power Planning Council on fish. The Power Council became in too many respects a political sinecure; old pols were appointed to it by the governors more than real good people were appointed - there were a few exceptions, but in general ...
C.H.: Who were the exceptions that you recall?
P.F.: Dan Evans was, I think, its first chair from Washington. Roy Hemmingway, who now of course works for Governor Kitzhaber, was an appointee on that body early on. There were a couple good Idahoans on it early on because Governor Evans, who succeeded Governor Andrus, appointed them. But the Montana nominees were always worthless, and over time the Idaho nominees got worthless, too, and the Washington and Oregon nominees didn't get great. And so it became a very turgid body that ended up doing some decent things with energy, but on fish it did very little, and it basically decided to reach an accommodation where it did not challenge the hydro system's status quo: Bonneville Power Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers won the internal struggle with the Power Council, and the Power Council said, "Okay, you guys are too powerful, we're not going to challenge you on fish," and indeed never did. And to this day hasn't and never intends to, and in my view it's a body that ought to vanish.
C.H.: Do you know anything about the struggle that might have gone on within the Northwest Power Planning Council to make it - I mean, with people like Evans and Hemmingway there, to make it an effective organization? And ... P.F.: Oh, not much. I mean, my suspicion, which I assume is generally accurate but I don't know any of the details, is that primarily those good folks focused on getting the energy ship on the right track, trying to deal with the WPPSS debacle, trying to get Bonneville ...
[End of Tape 1, Side 1]
Tape 1, Side 2
7 May 1998
C.H.: This is an interview with Pat Ford. This is Tape 1, Side 2. Go ahead.
P.F.: I think the good people on the Power Council focused primarily on trying to change the mind set of utilities and the energy industry and insiders towards paying serious attention to energy conservation, renewable development, and getting away from that disastrous path of just build, build, build. And to some extent they were successful in that, but I think they did not pay very much attention to fish, nor were they pushed enough by the people who should have been the fish advocates - conservation groups, fishing groups, et cetera - to do that. I think part of it was at the time we did not realize, nor did those good people, the kind of change that was going to be necessary to restore these fish. We thought it might be able to be done with what we now call tinkering with the system: a little more water in the river, and you know, fish technologies at the dams, passage technologies and so forth, and we didn't fully understand that restoring upriver Columbia Basin salmon, including Snake River salmon - by upriver I mean above Bonneville Dam, dam-affected fish, basically, in the Columbia River - that restoring those fish was going to take reversing some of the course of dam building that had been done - I mean serious change as opposed to just engineering our way through the problem, which is what the Corps of Engineers indeed has decided to do and still wants to try to do, putting fish in barges and trucks, taking them out of the river, that whole failed strategy that still is the way that the federal government tries to, quote, “save fish.” So we didn't understand, nor did we articulate, that to restore these fish took significant change in the hydro system, not just changes at the margins. And the Power Council, taking the line of least resistance, focusing on energy, quickly became a body that accepted the status quo and tried to tinker at the edges, a little more water for fish and so forth, rather than really structurally get in there and say, "Hey, we're going to have to do something much bigger if we want to restore these fish." It was also masked a bit by the fact that in the mid-80s we had a number of very high water years, and that resulted in a good uptake in fish runs coming back to these upriver states or upriver drainages. Because of the high water, fish do better in the current so-called river. So it looked like there might be some recovery from the very disastrous declines that had started to be seen in the drier years of the late '70s. So anyway, that was all happening in the early '80s, and the year before I left the Idaho Conservation League I started - I tried to begin within ICL and get funding for what I called a salmon and steelhead project. I sort of had an instinctive understanding, which I can elaborate on in a minute, of the importance of that issue, not just for fish but all its ramifications, and I thought ICL should be involved in it. It was at the same time, I should add, that Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited was created, Mitch Sanchotena’s organization that you'll talk with, from a very different perspective: sport fishermen, “redneck fishermen,” as Mitch says - he's very clear that's their constituency, as opposed to environmentalists, which was who I was working with. So I tried to begin within the organization a project where we would - you know, the notion was to go out and raise money and hire a staff person who'd begin to work on restoring those fish. There was a recognition in my head at the time, and it was clear in Chaney's head as well, that the Power Act wasn't working, or that we had to put more pressure on that whole new institution to make it work. And so I wanted to try to do that through my organization. It didn't ever come together because I was on the way out of my organization at the time, due basically to personal burn-out, and the vision of what needed to be done was mine, and it wasn't within the - when I left, there wasn't anyone else in the organization that really understood what I thought I was trying to do with that project.
C.H.: Was there resistance to the idea?
P.F.: There wasn't resistance, it just didn't have a champion and someone who understood it or had the passion for it that I was starting to feel. So in retrospect it was dumb of me to try to foist on an organization I was leaving a project that only I really had a notion of what it could be or the passion for. But so be it. But that is the first time I can sort of look at myself and say - I mean, the earlier work, Northwest Conservation Act Coalition and so forth, the Frank Church Wilderness, was about fish, it was on my mind, it was part of what I was doing, but it was that 1983-84 attempt to create that project with ICL when I first started to really see the centrality of this issue, not just to Idaho but to the region of the fish issue, and not just the centrality to fish but to energy, water, the whole culture and society of the region. But anyway, I left ICL in mid-84, burned out from the work, and wanted to see if I could become a writer. And I spent the next six years on and off, with a few stops and hiatuses and other things, writing - primarily doing all non-fiction, primarily conservation. I tried to write about what I knew. I did a lot of free-lancing for High Country News and eventually joined their staff as their Northwest editor and did a lot of writing on conservation issues for them, including fish, salmon and steelhead issues. Sometime in - I can't remember the exact timing of things - sometime in 1990, in that period, maybe it was late '89, I can't remember - Oregon Trout, Bill Bakke, filed the Endangered Species Act petitions for Snake River sockeye, Snake River salmon, chinook salmon. I was not really a big party to it, but I heard through Ed there was a lot of discussion and controversy within the conservation community about filing those petitions. Excuse me, I'm wrong about that. Bakke filed petitions for Snake River chinook salmon. It was the Shoshone Bannock Tribe in Eastern Idaho that filed the petition for Snake River sockeye salmon. I remember conversations with Ed Chaney where he would say, "Is this a good thing? Should we file these petitions? Should we not? Should we try to keep working with the Power Council?" And Ed eventually concluded that - I remember him saying at times on the phone or to me, "The Power Council has proved that it will not solve this problem. We put faith in it, we were wrong. We now have to go a different path and invoke the Endangered Species Act." There was worry about doing that because of the spotted owl experience, just, you know, knowing this was a big thing, what does it mean, where will it take us, but Bakke was going to do it, anyway. I mean, Bill was not the kind of person who takes advice from cautious folks. So that whole ferment, that effort plus other things, including a scientific review that came out at the time, a paper called Pacific Salmon at the Crossroads, put on the front burner to the region, but also to the conservation community, we have a Columbia Basin salmon crisis. Of course, it didn't just happen, lots of people had seen it coming and watched it, but that's really what blew up the issue at the start of this decade.
C.H.: Was the concern about putting it under the Endangered Species Act, filing for endangered species status, was that, it might get tied up legally and - what was your concern about doing it that way?
P.F.: Well, it wasn't so much my concern as just a generalized conservation concern in the conservation community in the region. I probably just watched it all happen, as opposed to having my own personal thoughts. I can't quite remember what my personal thoughts were.
C.H.: Were there other options?
P.F.: Well, that was sort of why - the concerns were, and they were legitimate concerns, that invocation of the Endangered Species Act would not help much, because that law is a somewhat blunt instrument, especially for aquatic species - there's never been a fish come off the endangered species list; it's a very hard law to apply to fish as opposed to terrestrials, for various reasons. Second, that it would create a political firestorm like the spotted owl one that would, you know, be really tough to deal with out there in the real world of people like Slade Gorton and Mark Hatfield and all those kinds of folks. You know, it just was uncertain where it would head. Everyone knew it was big water that this was headed into, and it is big water; I think that's been proven. But I think - the conclusion Chaney reached, and I generally just would follow Ed's lead in those days, I viewed him as the person who knew a lot about this and I was prepared to accept what he thought made sense, was that this was necessary because we weren't going to save these fish through the existing institutional channels. Additional pressure had to be applied. The bad guys - you know, Bonneville and the Corps - had to get more heat because they simply weren't going to change things without heat.
C.H.: Why was it so hard to apply the Endangered Species Act to aquatic animals?
P.F.: Well, because - particularly to migratory aquatic animals because they move so widely that it's really - it's not like a discrete population in a specific place that you can sort of say, "Oh, okay, here's the plan that will save them, and it applies here," and so forth. Those fish are affected by so many factors so widely because they move, their life cycle is so large and so ...
C.H.: You're speaking of the anadromous fish?
P.F.: Right, particularly migratory fish. And the Endangered Species Act has problems for any animal, of course, as we've seen. I mean, conservationists have for, what, ten years been saying the fundamental flaw of the Act is that it focuses on single species as opposed to ecosystems. What you have to do to save creatures is save habitat, but the Endangered Species Act focuses on saving the creatures, not on saving the habitat, and so it's an indirect kind of a law. That's particularly obviously true for fish: to save fish you have to save watersheds. You can't just sort of create healthy fish somehow without dealing with an entire ecosystem and watershed. And the law is not tailored to develop watershed based strategies that necessarily cut across species. And so it's a problem for terrestrials, as well, but it's particularly a problem for aquatics because you can't - you know, you have to deal in saving aquatic species with the aquatic ecosystem, and for salmon it happens to be an aquatic ecosystem embracing the ocean in addition to rivers. So it's a hard law to apply successfully to fish. [Interruption]
C.H.: ... to create a national anadromous fish conservation area act or whatever. Is this something that you're talking about would be trying to create those kinds of habitats that are necessary for preserving the species, aiming towards the habitats rather than the species themselves?
P.F.: Well, yes, but my current focus is not on a big new law that would create a new system of anadromous fish habitats; it's more on the specific actions by the administration and Congress to recreate habitats by removing some dams or substantially modifying some dams, and if that could be done in the context of a new system of salmon and steelhead reserves or sanctuaries or refuges or whatever you want to call them, that would be great. We need something like that kind of a system, but the current focus of at least the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition community is not on creating such a system. It's on focusing on a couple specific places where we need a re-creation of habitat and trying very directly to recreate that habitat. So we continue to employ the Endangered Species Act as a lever, but we have found out that it's not delivering, any more than the Northwest Power Act did, it is not in and of itself delivering restoration of the fish, although in retrospect it was absolutely the right thing to do to file those petitions. It should have been done before 1990, and Bakke was right and Chaney was right. So that ferment was occurring, and Bakke moving ahead and the Shoshone Bannocks moving ahead to file those petitions, and everyone knew that that would create lots of controversy and interest and activity. And around the same time the Pacific Salmon at the Crossroads report came out. I don't know if you've heard about that report in your interviews to date; it might make sense for you to think about interviewing one of the three scientists that authored that.
C.H.: Who are they?
P.F.: Willa Nelson, who used to be in Portland and I assume is still around there somewhere, Jim Lichatowich, who is a scientist who lives in Sequim, Washington and is a member of the Power Council's official scientific advisory body called the Independent Scientific Advisory Board. Jim Lichatowich is a very wise man, and Jack Williams, who actually lives in Eagle, Idaho, probably somewhere near Chaney, but I don't know where. He and his wife Cindy, at the time he wrote the paper, lived in D.C., but he now lives in Eagle. He worked for the Bureau of Land Management at the time and may still, but he's a senior biologist, they wrote a paper, authored a paper that came out - I think it was in late '89; it may have been in 1990 - called "Pacific Salmon at the Crossroads." And it was the first attempt to categorize the - across the entire region how many salmon stocks were gone already, endangered - not in terms of being on the list, but just by biological criteria - endangered or threatened, at risk, and how many were healthy. And it was a very sobering paper because it concluded that literally - that probably about a hundred stocks were already extinct - for instance, ones that the whole Hells Canyon dam complex blocked in the 1960s, '70s, ones that Grand Coulee Dam had blocked, those kinds of - but also that - I think it was 214 existing stocks of fish in the Columbia Basin and over the Northwest generally of salmon and steelhead were endangered or threatened or at risk of extinction. And it really spotlighted to the conservation community, to the fishing community, to some extent to the public political community, the extent of this crisis, region-wide. So two things happened in my life at that time that led me to where I'm at now. One was that in my writing side I was then on the staff of High Country News as their Northwest editor, and I spent many months editing a special issue of High Country News that was called "Salmon at the Crossroads," I believe - I cadged the title of the scientific paper. And it was an entire issue of the newspaper, an expanded entire issue, I can't remember how many pages it was - I may have only one copy lying around here somewhere - that was about that whole crisis, and so a bunch of writers - I wrote some of it myself and then worked with a bunch of writers to try to talk about this overall crisis, the Indian side of it, the Puget Sound side of it, the Columbia side of it, just the whole of what this crisis was and what it meant. And so I put an awful lot of time into that effort, writing, editing, thinking, reading about this crisis and trying to put it in a package for readers out there. And I think it was a pretty successful issue of the newspaper; it taught me a lot, leave aside what other people got out of it. The second thing that was happening was that Ed Chaney, under the pressure of this emerging information, but also out of the political - on the political side of things, knowing that big seas were coming with these endangered species petitions that Bakke had filed, Chaney made - Chaney commenced I think his second or third effort, I can't remember - I mean, you'll have his interview - to try to create a regional coalition of fishing folks to stop fighting with each other, fishing conservation, commercial, sports, et cetera, and work together to try to deal, to try to get something done.
C.H.: What was the nature of the fighting that was going on between the groups?
P.F.: Well, allocation issues, harvest issues, sports fighting commercials, you know, tribes fighting - I mean, all the harvesters fighting each other over who gets the fish instead of working together to restore fish - a standard tension that still exists and will go on forever. You know, Ed from time to time would tell me that he'd tried, you know, this same thing years before and it had failed, to get a coalition together. So he led an effort, a conference was organized by him and some others, I worked with him at that time, first for no money and then for pay, a conference in Hood River was organized, "There's this crisis, what are we going to do about it?" blah blah blah. Out of all of that came an intention to create an organization, a coalition. The meeting that actually created the coalition was held up in Leavenworth, Washington at Harriet Bullitt's retreat or cabin at Icicle Creek. This was just as the Bullitt family was starting the Bullitt Foundation, which is now a major giver to conservation groups in the region. So Harriet or Emary Bundy on her staff, I can't remember, volunteered the use of her complex, and the organizing meeting of Save Our Wild Salmon (SOS) was held there. Chaney was there, Bakke, Lori Bodi, various people from conservation organizations, fishing organizations, et cetera, and we had a two-day long meeting that I was present at to try to thrash through, well, what will we do and so forth. Out of that meeting came the decision to create the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. The name was in - there was some floating about what the actual name of the thing was for a while, but that's its current name. And Ed Chaney was the first executive director. I can't remember if I had a title, but I was going to work for it. And then a fellow who was not at the meeting but sort of surfaced as a possible potential employee, Tim Stearns in Seattle, became the other initial employee. He is now my boss. He is now the executive director of SOS. (Note: As I now edit this - August 1998 - I have replaced him and am now the Executive Director of SOS) Over time what has happened is that I became - I followed Ed as executive director. Then I transitioned out of that and - you know, the executive director position is passed around a lot. So I faced at that time a decision as to whether I was going to keep writing or go back full time into conservation activism on an issue that I thought was the most important conservation and political and public issue in the Northwest, and I decided to abandon writing and go back into this work. I figured at the time it was a ten-year commitment, and it's going to be at least that.
C.H.: This was in what year, then?
P.F.: 1990, '91. I can't exactly remember the timing. I think probably '91 was when the actual organization was started. I made this decision personally for complex reasons, and they are the reasons why I can - the reasons that in my view this issue, restoration of upriver Columbia salmon and steelhead, is the keystone not only in conservation but public issue facing the Northwest as a whole. And the reason I think it's the single most important public and conservation issue is that it touches and embraces so much of the life of people and institutions in this region. Part of this is just instinctive, it's just an instinctive understanding I have, but part of it can be articulated. One part of course is the fish themselves. These are incredibly compelling creatures, and if you spend any time watching them or fishing for them or in their presence you get hooked. The more you learn about them and the communities that they once supported, the economies they once supported, the cultural value they have, to tribes but also to the white settlers, us, they are an animal species of centrality to humans in a way that other animal species are not. And they're a sort of symbol, by virtue of this huge circle of their lives, for - well, let me come back to that. Then there's the energy connection. Obviously what happens with these fish in the Columbia Basin is just, you know, integrally and inextricably connected with the Northwest's energy future, which affects everyone in this region, regardless of whether they live in the Columbia Basin or not. Then there's the water connection, the whole issue of managing the water of the Snake and Columbia Basins - for farming, for navigation, for recreation, for fish and wildlife, for whatever purpose - again is integrally bound up with these fish, and you cannot move ahead and restore these fish or let them go extinct without at the same time determining the water management future of this entire basin. Then there's the cultural connection, which gets to the government issue. It has a lot to do with the tribes. I mean, this is the issue that dealing with it or not dealing with it, success or failure in dealing with it, is the test for the federal government and the state governments and for the Northwest community as a whole, of how in the future we deal with or don't deal with the existence of the sovereign nations that were here before us and their future. You know, this is the testing point of whether 50 years from now Indian tribes, Indian nations, and the white institutions and people of the Northwest are working and living together or not. It's not the only issue that will test that, but it's the key one that will. Then there's just the whole political side of it. Restoring Columbia Basin and Snake River Basin salmon requires a political creativity and a kind of political jurisdictional cooperation that has never been achieved in this region, or perhaps nationally before involving four states - actually more than that because of Alaska.
[End of Tape 1, Side 2]
Tape 2, Side 1
7 May 1998
C.H.: This is an interview with Pat Ford at his home in Boise, Idaho. The interviewer for the Oregon Historical Society is Clark Hansen. The date is 5-7-98, and this is Tape 2, Side 1. Go ahead.
P.F.: So to me restoration of these fish is also the primary political and institutional challenge facing this region as we deal with how institutions, of government at various levels and community institutions and people's own institutions, work together or not to resolve issues, to deal with creating a future that - you know, a durable future, which gets to the whole wider arena. As a conservationist, I have a gut feeling that we are destroying our planet and need to figure out a way of living sustainably on it, and that it is not simply our planet, but God's planet and belongs to lots of other forms of life in addition to us that we need to make room for and allow to continue their courses of life. Salmon is one of those. In my view, the primary practical task that will determine more than any other single task whether we in the Northwest figure out how to live sustainably in this place we live in, in a way that other life can continue to live is restoration of Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead. If we can restore those fish, we will have taken a giant step forward; because it was so hard to do, we will have taken a giant step forward to figuring out institutional ways, spiritual ways, ways of living that allow us to achieve sustainable, durable life in this region over the long term.
C.H.: So you see this as possibly a model, then, for solving problems elsewhere, then?
P.F.: Yeah, except I wouldn't say "model." To me it's more concrete than model. It's the single biggest test case. You know, I could be wrong about that; it's not the only thing going on out there in the world, of course, but I think it's the single biggest test case of whether we will succeed or not in creating a sustainable way of human life in this particular corner of the planet that makes room for the rest of life out there - in part that is because it is such a difficult problem. If you restore these fish, you have gone a long way towards restoring - or making room for all sorts of other aquatic species up and down the system. You've created new institutions that allow you to work, allow various levels of government and community to work together on other similar issues. And then there's just the broader cultural or public component. This issue is, I think - more and more it's become clear, and this is the current focus, the choice here is to remove some dams or lose these upriver stocks of fish. That's a pretty stock choice. It's a very difficult choice for a region that has been so committed to the good reasons of dam building and management of the system in the past, but that's the choice we face.
C.H.: Is it the only choice?
P.F.: Well, it's not the only one, but I think for the upriver stock, certainly for the Snake River stocks of fish, but also for a lot of the upriver ones on the Columbia, for instance, above Hanford Reach and so forth, unless there are substantial changes, up to and including removal of dams, in the federal hydro system, those stocks simply will not be there.
C.H.: Are there substantial changes that could be accomplished, major drawdowns, a change in the fish ladders allowing for the fish to come down, the juvenile fish to come downstream, are there things like that, or really is dam removal the only way of accomplishing that?
P.F.: Well, my sense is that for the Snake River stocks that removing the four lower Snake dams, or at least two of them - but if you remove two you may as well remove all four; they're not worth much if you remove - they're not worth much now, but if you remove two of them, you're not - the other two become pretty worthless.
C.H.: Why is that?
P.F.: Well, because the power production from those specific dams is not a major factor region-wide. The navigation, the inland navigation that they create all the way to Lewiston, if you remove one of them, you've removed that navigation. You know, the Lewiston port is not there. The seaport, the so-called seaport, is not there with one of those dams gone, in addition to all four. And biologically, it appears that the surest way to restore the fish is to remove all four, to admit that all four were a mistake and simply remove them. The region can do without them.
C.H.: And drawdowns won't accomplish that?
P.F.: Well, they may, but it's less certain. And drawdowns, which involve substantial structural modification of the dams, are more expensive than simple removal.
C.H.: Why is that?
P.F.: Well, because retirement of the - I'm just talking about the Lower Snake dams now; the Columbia is a different matter. But the Lower Snake dams, retirement of those dams, or removal, involves not any changes on the concrete of the dams. It simply involves removing the earthen section of each of the four dams. The river then flows around the concrete, which remains in place. But to operate the dams at a much lower level, i.e., drawdown - it's the old - what was called the Idaho Plan. Governor Andrus proposed seasonal drawdowns up to 40 feet deep during fish migration, and then you'd refill the dams and they could keep operating the rest of the months of the year - because that requires so much construction and change of the concrete, that's more expensive than taking out dirt. So structurally modifying dams is more expensive in the Lower Snake than simply retiring them, mothballing them, if you will, by taking out the earthen section. You'd still have the concrete there, and indeed you could rebuild the dams again by simply returning the earthen section back. So in that case, both the surest way to restore the fish and the cheapest way to do it is to simply retire the dams or mothball them, rather than try to do major structural changes to them that allow the dams to still operate some months but not others. So that's the Snake. In the Columbia, I think the jury is still out, from our point of view, on whether dams need to be removed as opposed to just substantial structural changes, and the key down there is John Day Dam, which is the longest reservoir and the most destructive. What most Save Our Wild Salmon members believe is that while removing that dam would be the best thing for all sorts of stocks of fish that migrate through that reach, that a major structural change, drawing it down to spillway crest, which would be about a 40-foot reduction, but you'd still be able to operate the dam, albeit at a lesser level, for power production and potentially for navigation. That would help fish a great deal, all sorts of stocks of fish, from the Snake, from the upper Columbia, from the Umatilla, from the Yakima - I mean, it would have major benefits for all kinds of fish stocks - but would still leave John Day Dam, albeit at a lesser level of performance, for other uses in place. And at the moment, we are not looking - "we" being the fishing and conservation community - at trying to make other than continuing technical improvements and trying to either remove or substantially change the other Columbia Dams: McNary, The Dalles and Bonneville. Work needs to be done on them, but we're not focused on trying to remove them or substantially reduce their non-fish performance.
C.H.: And why is that?
P.F.: John Day seems to be the one that's most damaging to fish, for obvious reasons. It's the longest, fattest reservoir of the four on the Columbia. It's also the last one built on the Columbia. Our effort is not to remove all of the dams and restore the Northwest to pre-white-man days. Our effort is to try to restore some fish in the real world. And so we recognize the value of dams for other purposes. They don't help fish, but they have other purposes, and just in the real world, we believe the job that we face now, and we'll let people 50 years from now decide what their job is, is to focus on getting the system back towards what it used to be, not to what it used to be but towards what it used to be, so that fish can survive and we can have the benefits of fish, economic, cultural and so forth, while still having substantial benefit of the hydro system for non fish purposes.
C.H.: As far as the drawdowns go, and you were talking about a 40-foot drawdown on the John Day, this is primarily during one period of time, isn't it, from April to June? So wouldn't it still be a very effective dam during the rest of the year?
P.F.: Well, that would involve whether you decide to draw it down - if you decide to draw it down to spillway crest and then try to refill it and operate it at a higher level in some months, that's substantially more expensive than simply a year-round drawdown to spillway crest, where it's operating the entire year at that level. So that's an economic trade-off issue. We tend to favor year-round, permanent drawdown to operation at spillway crest, and the reason is that while most fish migrate through that reservoir in a three-month period, there is migration through that reservoir happening year-round by fish, not as many, but nevertheless it's happening year-round, by both juveniles and adults, and that the benefits of recreating the main stem habitat - one of the major reasons to draw down John Day is in addition to speeding up the migratory path for fish that come through that stretch, you are also recreating in that stretch, with a spillway crest drawdown, you're recreating about 40 miles of main stem spawning habitat, similar to the current Hanford Reach, in the back end of the reservoir. And that's a significant benefit. So it's not just for migrating fish through the system, you're recreating a whole big section of spawning habitat in the river itself for fish that could spawn there. And that's a substantial benefit. If you look at the Hanford Reach fish as a model, that's the only healthy wild stock above Bonneville Dam, and the reason seems to be they have a free flowing stretch of river with a regulated but still relatively natural flow regime in place.
C.H.: Is that flow coming from Grand Coulee?
P.F.: Out of Grand Coulee and through the mid-Columbia dams, but it's legally regulated so that it approximates natural conditions during the spawning period of those fish.
C.H.: And you feel that approximating natural downstream flows is the best way to improve the fish routes?
P.F.: Right. In general the scientific principle that we believe makes sense, and scientists have increasingly confirmed it - for instance, the Independent Scientific Advisory Board, on which Jim Lichatowich serves, is what they call "the normative river." We tend to call it "natural river," but it's to examine what the system was like before and not to recreate it, but to move towards those conditions, so that we stop technological fixes, like trying to take the fish out of the river, barging them, trucking them, all that stuff that won't work, and instead we follow the scientific principle of trying to move towards the conditions under which the fish evolved, knowing that we can't get there fully, nor probably should we, but moving in that direction if we want to restore them. We do want to restore them, so moving in that direction requires, in our view, not removing all dams or modifying all dams, but focusing on key dams or complexes of dams and removing some and modifying some to recreate better conditions. And we have a model in the sense that before the Lower Snake dams were in place and before John Day was in place, there were still dams on the system, this is the '50s, early '60s - we also had fishable populations of these fish - granted, less than we had before white settlement, but nevertheless fishable populations, non-endangered populations, viable populations coming into Idaho, into the Umatilla, et cetera. And so that's another reason to think about removing or modifying those particular dams; we have recent historical evidence that those were the straws that broke the camel's back, if you will, in terms of these fish stocks. So that's why we're focused on the Lower Snake dams in terms of the Snake River populations and on John Day Dam in terms of both the Snake and a whole series of upriver Columbia populations. We think those two actions taken together - and of course the dams are not the only factor affecting these fish, other things have to happen as well, but those two actions taken together will restore - are the step that can restore significant viability to upriver Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead.
C.H.: If you had the permanent drawdown of the John Day Dam, would there be barge traffic going up and down that part?
P.F.: That's an uncertainty that has to be answered. The answer is there could be, but it would probably have to be with barges designed differently than the current system. Before John Day Dam was in place, there was commercial barge traffic up to the Tri-cities. So it's possible. The current barges were constructed to work with the reservoir system in place now, and so their draft, the amount of channel they need under them, may be too big if John Day is in its last 40 miles sort of back down to where the old river was. So the barge system may have to reconstruct itself, smaller barges with less draft, in order to continue navigation up to the Tri-cities. That's uncertain yet because the studies haven't been done, but that's the - so commercial barge traffic could continue to the Tri-cities, it could continue to Lewiston, but of course we believe that the Lower Snake dams should go, too, so - but it may be that there will have to be money invested to change what commercial navigation means in terms of the actual physical nature of the barges.
C.H.: At some point maybe you could comment on the costs of making these changes and who should pay for them - for instance, if the barges have to change in their design, would those companies be compensated by the federal government, and things like that?
P.F.: In general, the position of Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition members is that: (a) we can afford to do all this, and (b) that mitigation to affected river users should be a part of the package, so that both regional ratepayers through Bonneville and national taxpayers through appropriations are paying the costs not simply of removing or changing these structures, but also of the mitigation to keep affected river users whole or as close to whole as possible. That's our general position, is that the navigation entities would not have to pay for this themselves, that they would receive mitigation for it. As far as the costs go, all the estimations are at a preliminary stage, especially for John Day because there hasn't been - thanks to Senator Gorton there's a prohibition on studying John Day to the depth that would be required to come up with precise numbers. So the Lower Snake estimations are much more precise than the John Day estimations.
C.H.: Why is there a prohibition on study?
P.F.: Because Senator Gorton doesn't want any of these dams removed, and he attached a rider to an appropriations bill three years ago saying to the Corps of Engineers, "You can't study John Day." I mean, you know, he just did it. And we're trying to get that rider repealed, but for the moment it is not repealed. The best cost estimates to date - and there are two categories of them; one is just the cost estimates to actually do this work on the dams, remove them, or in the John Day case draw it down to spillway crest; then there's the broader category of the total costs, including mitigation of the fish and wildlife measures. In terms of the dams themselves, the best - the Army Corps' current estimate is that retiring the four Lower Snake dams, just the work to do that, plus mitigation to affected users, would cost between $500 million and $800 million. That's removing the earthen sections, various other work you have to do to stabilize the banks, and so forth: Five hundred to eight hundred million for all four dams. The Corps' much less reliable estimate on John Day, because they simply haven't done detailed work, is that a spillway crest drawdown would cost about one billion dollars to execute, and it costs more because you're having to structurally change concrete and so forth at the dam. So that's the cost just of the - you know, of those operations. You still have to do other things at other dams, and you still have to spend other money for fish and wildlife and for fish up and down the system. The estimates of those, the best estimates are that a Lower Snake dam removal only, within the wider context of doing other things for fish as required by law, would be about $1.9 billion over a ten-year period, roughly 1998 to 2008, 2009. If you put John Day on top of that, in other words, if you remove the Lower Snake dams and draw John Day down to spillway crest, that bill, that total amount comes to about $2.7 billion. They're also looking at other options, in other words, status quo options. The cost ranges for continuing the status quo, i.e., barging of fish but trying to do it by tripling its success, which is the minimum that has to happen to restore runs, the cost estimates of that range from $1.3 billion to $5.4 billion, over that same period. The range is so high because at the low end you're just continuing current operations, which aren't restoring the fish, and at the high end you're trying to do massive changes that somehow make barging the fish work: more water in the system, which requires buying it from Idaho farmers or whoever, major structural, new engineering gizmos and schemes at the dams that cost a lot of money. And so, you know, that's the ballpark realm of costs.
C.H.: When you're looking at the people who are opposing these changes, do you think that they would be more inclined to go for the major structural changes so it would have less impact on them?
P.F.: Well, they might, but then the issue becomes do Northwest ratepayers, Bonneville Power customers, want to pay more to keep dams in place, with substantially less certainty that it will actually restore fish, as opposed to pay less to retire dams with much higher reliability that you will restore fish? It is our view that it will cost more to - it will certainly cost more to have the fish go extinct, simply in a dollar sense, than to save them, because of the treaty claims that will be made. If the fish go extinct, the tribes - they're very careful now not to quantify it because they don't want to put a dollar value on their fish - but if the fish go extinct, the tribes will have a treaty abrogation claim on simple dollars alone that would dwarf the numbers I'm talking about. It will be - you know, our estimate is it will start at six-and-a-half billion and go up from there.
C.H.: My understanding on the treaty was that they were allowed a certain percent, like a half - the Boldt decision was a half of the catch. But if the catch just keeps on getting smaller and smaller, they're still allowed only a half. Is that a breaking of the treaty, or is it just ...
P.F.: Well, yes. The treaty is currently not being - the treaties, there are several of them, are currently not being honored by the United States, and the tribes point that out repeatedly. They have so far forborne from going to court, saying, "We want you, a judge, to find that these treaties are being abrogated, and we want you to order dams to be taken out or the federal government to compensate us." They're not going to invoke that big club lightly, but the tribes will say now directly the treaties are not being honored, and that's obvious that they're not being honored. The tribes had the treaty right to fish at their usual and accustomed places for fish, and they are not now able, up and down the system, to fish at their usual and accustomed places for fish because there are no fish to fish for, or there are so few that, you know, they cannot take fish in the way that culturally supports them, both for food, but also for ceremonial purposes. So I think it's straightforward that the treaties aren't being honored - just like the Endangered Species Act is not being honored, just like the Northwest Power Act is not being honored. The laws are being routinely violated by the federal government and by those dams every day. The issue is, you know, how do you get the laws to be enforced.
C.H.: So the people that are saying that the extinction of the salmon is just the cost we have to pay to have cheap energy and things like that, this is really not plausible because of the treaty rights situation?
P.F.: In our view it's not. There is a huge cost, higher than the cost of saving them, attached to letting them go extinct. Politicians might not understand that, but I think it's true. [Interruption]
C.H.: You were just saying on the phone there that there was 150, maybe, to 200 major dams on the Columbia.
P.F.: Right. In the Columbia Basin, including the Snake.
C.H.: How is that calculated? How do they know?
P.F.: Oh, well, there's a list. I mean, where the dams are is known, and so there's just a list that can be consulted, public dams and private dams. And that number sounds about right to me, just knowing Idaho. There are a whole lot of major dams in this state. There must be 25 major dams on the main stem Snake River, just in Idaho, and then of course dams on tributaries that are fairly big dams, is probably at least another 20: the Boise River, the Weiser River, the Clearwater River, blah blah blah. So I'm thinking there are probably about 50 major dams just in Idaho, and of course Idaho is in the Columbia Basin, and then if you start looking at Washington and Oregon, it's going to be more. So that sounds about right to me, and that's not counting small - you know, those are major dams as opposed to little irrigation diversion dams or whatever. So there's a lot of dams in this drainage. That's part of the reason why the watershed is ill. So where was I? The costs. So I think some leaders understand this, but others either don't or willfully don't want to understand it, that it is not cost free to say, "Well, gee, they're gone. We just have to accept it." That is not the way it works. You can't abrogate treaties without economic cost, quite apart from the cultural and political and civil costs, and so it's going to cost more to let the fish go extinct than to save them.
C.H.: But some people speculate that you could just offer the various Native American groups so many millions ...
P.F.: Well, they could try. I don't think that the tribes will settle for - I mean, the tribes are not going to ask for economic compensation until the fish are extinct. The tribes are going to make every effort to restore the fish, because this is not an economic resource for them, it's a cultural and spiritual resource. But once the fish are extinct, the tribes have shown themselves to be pretty hard-headed, and they will seek compensation, and I think the minimum claim is going to be $6.5 billion.
[End of Tape 2, Side 1]
Tape 2, Side 2
7 May 1998
C.H.: This is an interview with Pat Ford. This is Tape 2, Side 2. So you were saying these are the reasons, then, that you've devoted this time of your life.
P.F.: Yeah, and some of it was conscious to me back in '91, some of it was just instinctive, but that was the decision I made, and I knew at the time it was probably about a ten-year commitment, and it may be somewhat longer than that. I just think this is the - I mean, I'm a conservationist; that's what I try to do with my talents, to the extent I have them, and in my view this is the seminal and core conservation issue facing the Northwest, in addition to being perhaps the core political and civil challenge facing the Northwest, as well. We'll see what happens. When Save Our Wild Salmon was created in 1991 I was working for Ed Chaney. It has been, and no doubt will continue to be, a somewhat rocky road of having the organizations that SOS represents working together.
C.H.: Why is that?
P.F.: Well, because they have differing views of this resource, and they fight each other - a number of them fight each other on allocation issues, the harvest issues: how many fish should be caught, where should they be caught, who should catch them. Within SOS you have on the one hand a group like Oregon Trout, Bill Bakke's former organization, that believes that harvest should generally cease by tribes, commercials and sport fishermen, until we have wild runs restored. You have other organizations, like Salmon For All, representing commercial fishermen, gill-netters, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association, representing commercial fishermen in the ocean, Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited in Idaho, another sport fishing organization, who believe that harvest should not cease and that to the extent we can continue to harvest fish we should do so, and indeed they make the strong case that if we stop harvest, we're going to lose the fish because we will lose a big piece of the constituency for saving them, namely, the harvesters. It's not just a conservation issue, it's a - you'll just lose a lot of the people that are going to be the political reasons that the fish get saved because they will no longer be out there fishing and so their interest will fade away.
C.H.: Is that what you personally feel?
P.F.: Well, I see both sides, and my job is not to take sides in that allocation issue. My job is to work on what those groups all agree on, which is fixing the dam issues on the Columbia and restoring habitats - obviously in the case of the dams migratory habitats, but also upriver habitats in terms, you know, forest practices. The things that draw the SOS community of groups together are basically habitat, restoration and protection issues, with a big sub-piece of that being migratory habitats that then relate to federal Columbia River power system, the dam system. SOS members tend to disagree, at varying levels of sharpness and with - it's not just an us-them, it's not a simple two-sided thing; there are five or six sides - tend to disagree or have differing views on harvest issues, and to some extent on hatchery or production issues. Those are important issues; I'm not saying they're not important, but the job of SOS is not to try to resolve every disagreement. From the beginning of the coalition those tensions have been there and we recognize them, and from the beginning the Coalition's job was to focus on what our members agree on, which is the need to restore habitats, be they in the mountains of central Idaho, affected by cows or logging, be they in the Umatilla Basin, affected by water withdrawals, or be they in the main stem Snake and Columbia, affected by big dams and reservoirs - to restore habitats while the groups continue to fight, cooperate, jockey, do whatever on the harvest and hatchery issues. And so SOS - you know, that's my job is to focus on what the members agree I am to work on, and I deliberately do not think much about either what I think or what they should think about the other issues. That's their job; not mine.
C.H.: So you're avoiding the harvesting issues, then, to be able to accomplish the other goals?
P.F.: Correct. Save Our Wild Salmon does not - our members don't avoid the harvest issues; they actively work on them in different ways and sometimes against each other.
C.H.: But your coalition of all those groups is avoiding that issue?
P.F.: Our coalition works on what our members agree on, and we don't avoid it; in other words, if reporters ask me, I don't say, "Oh, I'm avoiding that issue," I say, "Our members disagree on harvest. I'll give you the names of three of them if you want to go talk to them about this specific thing, and you'll hear their differing views." So I don't believe we avoid it. I think Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition staff, our resources go to what our members agree on, and our members do their own work on the allocation and hatchery issues.
C.H.: What are the issues regarding hatcheries?
P.F.: Well, whether they should exist, whether they should exist at the same level they do now. Do hatcheries harm wild populations of fish? What are the interactions between hatchery fish and wild fish? You know, all of that stuff. You know, should specific hatcheries keep operating or be restricted? Should hatchery practices be changed to have more naturalness to them, or should they simply end? There are all sorts of permutations of feeling on those issues among SOS members, and the Coalition serves the role of sharing information and of debating them in a civilized fashion. In other words, we talk about harvest and hatchery issues, but it's basically trying to debate, narrow disagreements, make explicit what the disagreements are, and then move on. Our job is not to arrive at a position. Our job is to help those ongoing debates occur in a useful and constructive fashion, knowing that there is debate. Whereas on the habitat issues, there is far less debate. There's some debate about tactics, but there's not a great deal of debate about what we should do. There's general agreement we need to restore and protect habitats from the headwaters to the ocean and everything in between. So I think I'm sort of roughly at the end. Save Our Wild Salmon evolved. Ed Chaney was director for a couple of years, I followed him as director. It became clear that this coalition couldn't be directed from Boise because so much of it is located in Oregon and Washington, that's where most of the groups in SOS are is in those states. So I stepped out of being director and a fellow named Mike Rosotto replaced me in Seattle. Tim Stearns, who was working with Ed and I at the start, eventually became the executive director in Seattle, and he is currently the executive director. My job has evolved to be focused on the Snake-Columbia dams, the hydro system, and trying to fix that problem, and over time the position of the SOS members has evolved to become one of facing up to the challenge that we need to remove a few of those dams and modify John Day, and that is the big fight, and it is a big fight, that consumes my professional life and will no doubt do so for the next three years or so.
C.H.: When you look at your group compared to other groups, how do you feel you stand ideologically? Are you considered more radical, more conservative, in the middle? I'm thinking in terms of other environmental groups that aren't a part of your organization or Native American groups or the scientific community, with whatever?
P.F.: Well, it's hard to characterize. SOS, Save Our Wild Salmon, is not an environmental group. We're a coalition, which is different than a group, and the coalition represents conservation groups, fishing groups, fishing business groups. So the media generally calls us an environmental group, but we're not. A coalition operates differently than groups do. Our general job is to serve our members, our member groups. In Idaho that's Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited, Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Wildlife Federation - the list goes on, and the other states. And so it's primarily their job to take positions. It's primarily our job to serve them where their positions agree with each other.
C.H.: And how are you doing that?
P.F.: Well, for instance, with the federal hydro system, most of our members now agree, in all three states, including our national members like Sierra Club, et cetera, that we need to retire or remove these four Lower Snake dams. I'll just focus on that for a minute. Not all of SOS's members agree with that, but most do. Therefore, part of my job as a staff person is to work with those groups that support that to achieve that goal and to support them by fund raising, by helping with organizing, media, political contact, all the things you do to achieve that goal.
C.H.: And what do you do with the people in your group that are opposed to removing the four lower dams?
P.F.: We try to provide them service on things that they care about, too, as well as over time most of them are heading towards endorsing the same position. I mean, there's a rolling realization happening here in our coalition, as well as out in the scientific community, as well as in the general public that watches and pays attention that this is the choice, these four dams or Snake River salmon go extinct.
C.H.: Are the decisions made by consensus or by majority, or how do you ...
P.F.: There's a Board of Directors of Save Our Wild Salmon. It has 15 people on it, and we have 47 member groups, so the board doesn't represent every member group, but it's a good strong sample of the diversity of our coalition, and it deliberately includes commercial fishing groups, sport fishing groups, conservation groups, fishing business groups. That board makes the decisions for SOS. Generally speaking SOS doesn't so much make policy pronouncements itself as simply support the positions of a majority of its members - support in the sense of providing staff and money and that kind of assistance. But we do occasionally make policy statements as a coalition, and when we do it's our board that decides what those will be. They tend to be on big ticket items. We don't have a policy for every little salmon issue out there, and that's by design. That's for our members to decide those things in their state, in their region, in their watershed or whatever. That's not our job. I'm just trying to think of an example. For instance, Save Our Wild Salmon has taken policy positions opposing Senator Gorton's - when Senator Gorton got his prohibition on even studying whether John Day Dam should be drawn down, as a coalition we opposed that, on behalf of all of our members. That's an example where our board was confident enough that all 47 groups would agree that we took that policy position. On the Lower Snake dams, for instance, most of our members believe those dams should be removed. The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition board recently voted to undertake a major campaign over the next two to three years to achieve that objective, which will involve raising money, putting staff time into it and working with those groups to achieve it. Basically the board voted to support taking out the dams, but it's not so much that we voted to make it a policy position that we go out and tell the public; we voted to support the efforts of the clear majority and the growing majority of our groups to achieve that by putting our resources into helping them. So whether that means SOS itself will come out and say the dams should be removed - you know, that's a decision we'll have to make, but that's much less important, in my view, than the decision already taken to support that effort. We don't need more spokes people. What we need is, you know, organizing and supporting the media, political, public, scientific activities that will achieve that objective, and that's the campaign that I am the interim director of is putting that effort together.
C.H.: When costs are determined in saving the salmon, and the costs of doing these various things that you've been talking about, should subsidies to the various groups that are using the energy be considered in terms of the overall cost of this effort?
P.F.: Yeah, they should. Part of what we do is attempt to quantify and publicize the fact that those subsidies exist, that they are part of the cost of killing the fish, and it's not so much part of what SOS does, but a number of our member groups are actively engaged in trying to reduce or eliminate those subsidies - to, for instance, irrigators or the navigation system. It's a simple fact that the port of Lewiston, the so-called 400 mile inland seaport, costs the nation a whole lot more than it's worth. That is a subsidized enterprise, that port, by national taxpayers and what is gotten out of it is a relatively modest economic benefit to the area of Lewiston, but the overall national subsidy is far greater than the benefit. That's just a simple fact. And part of the job of our members and our coalition is to point that out, and thus to point out that saving these fish may actually save money, not simply cost money, but also save money by eliminating some of that ongoing subsidy that the nation and ratepayers in this region now provide to these very specific localities.
C.H.: What about BPA's lower rates for aluminum companies and things like that?
P.F.: Well, yes, we have failed to make a dent in those, but we have pointed out since we began, and so have many of our member groups, that the large industrial customers of Bonneville, which receive subsidized rates and the tab for that is paid both by fish and by other ratepayers. And we spent a lot of time in 1995 and '96 trying to prevent Bonneville from signing new long-term power sales contracts with the direct service industries that would lock in those very low subsidized rates. We failed. Senator Hatfield prevailed and Bonneville prevailed, and Hazel O'Leary backed down at the last minute and let BPA sign the contracts. But we continue to - for instance, some of our groups have a lawsuit ongoing to try to overturn that decision, and we continue to try to point out that that is both bad for fish, but also bad for everyone else in the region and that the cost of saving these fish should be apportioned equally among all classes of Bonneville ratepayers. And at the moment the DSI's (Direct Service Industries) are going to get off - to the extent that we end up spending the $1.9 billion or whatever I talked about, if those DSI contracts remain in place the DSI's won't pay very much of that money; the rest of us will. That's stupid. But they've gotten their deal.
C.H.: How would you characterize the BPA and the Corps and their involvement in these issues?
P.F.: Well, it's destructive. I guess, you know, I have a personal view; it's not directed at the people in those institutions, it's directed at the institutions themselves. There are some good people in the institutions, but institutionally they are the major institutional entities that are responsible for killing these fish and continue to be responsible and continue to avoid their legal obligations to restore them. The Army Corps operates the dams. The Army Corps wants to continue to operate them as they do now. They want to try to get the fish out of the river and into barges and trucks and engineer their way towards extinction. That's what is now happening, they're engineering the fish towards extinction. They want to continue that. And Bonneville is driven largely simply by short-term economic cost issues and cares - institutionally cares next to nothing for fish. Never has, in my view, never will. The solution to restoring these fish has to come from outside of those two agencies; it will never come from inside them.
C.H.: Do you have an idea in mind as to what that coalition or group or agency should be, that would implement these ...
P.F.: Well, it's a combination of the courts, the administration and the congress that eventually has to say, "Here's what will be done to Bonneville and the Corps," and enforce it. Part of our - SOS itself does not litigate, but many of our members do, and we're active in courts on many levels, seeking to compel the federal agencies to comply with the laws that they are violating, and we will continue to be active in the courts via Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Northwest Power Act and National Environmental Policy Act lawsuits, trying to compel them to obey the laws that they are not obeying.
C.H.: Why are you not involved in litigation?
P.F.: Because that's something that our member groups do, and SOS is a coalition; we cannot litigate on behalf of 47 member groups. That's not how litigation works. And so since many of our member groups have attorneys or engage attorneys, they're the appropriate entities to make those individual choices about what suits to litigate.
C.H.: Do you think the courts are a proper arena for determining public policy?
P.F.: Well, they're one of the arenas we have. They're obviously proper. There can be improper lawsuits or stupid lawsuits filed. There can certainly be delaying lawsuits filed.
C.H.: But there's a lot of criticism about judicial activism and the courts determining public policy instead of political institutions.
P.F.: Well, the purpose of our lawsuits is to force the political institutions to comply with the law. We're not trying to change the law; we're trying to get - the outlaws here are Bonneville and the Corps. They're the ones who are not complying with the law, and our lawsuits would not be happening if they would simply comply with the law. If they would move ahead to restore Snake River and Columbia River salmon, we would not be filing lawsuits.
C.H.: What's happened, because the courts have said, "You will do such-and-such," and then it hasn't happened. Why hasn't it happened?
P.F.: Well, because this is - again, you know, law is a blunt instrument, ESA (Endangered Species Act), but other laws as well, to deal with a problem this complex. And so the courts alone are not going to deliver success here. They're a key part of delivering success, but they alone cannot deliver it, and that's because - I mean, it's just sort of the way history works. There's a real world out there that at times courts can overpower, but those times are not often, and in general what courts can do, just like any other institution, is move that real world in steps rather than - you know. And so the courts have moved - the court action of SOS members and of tribes and of states over the last seven years has moved the system, not to restore the fish yet, but it has moved Bonneville and the Corps further than they would have moved without that action. It won't produce the final overall solution, but in concert with political activity and work with the administration and on the administration and on the governors and so forth, that is obviously our hope, that it will produce that.
C.H.: Do you have any allies in the public arena, public officials that you're working with or that are helping to ...
P.F.: Yeah, we have some. It's a somewhat mixed bag, but some members of Congress and some governors are committed to restoring these fish. Others say they're committed but aren't, and others say they're not committed and have no intention of caring about these fish. And we work with them all trying to move our friends to be more friendly, trying to move neutrals to be friends, and trying to neutralize what we consider as political enemies, and will continue to do that. The examples of people that are helpful to us in high office ... [Interruption] ... you know, Congressman DeFazio, Congresswoman Furse, Senator Murray, although I've got a fairly jaundiced view of her lately. Governors, Governor Kitzhaber. Aren't too many friends in Idaho and Montana. And then in general part of our effort is it's clear that these fish will not be restored if we leave the job entirely to the Northwest congressional delegation and Northwest politicians. We have to find champions in the nation, in Alaska and in the courts. You know, institutionally the Northwest is not going to save these fish; given the current institutions and the political inertia there's going to have be pressure applied from outside the region, as well. And so that's a part of our effort is to build that pressure.
C.H.: Are you optimistic?
P.F.: Well, I am in a long-term sense, simply because I believe it will become clear as time goes on that it will cost more to delay and drive these fish into extinction than to restore them, and out in the real world I think that will become clearer over time. I can't tell you how long it will take, and I'm not optimistic about the level of political courage or political unity that now exists in the region, and I think it will probably get worse before it gets better. Taking out dams is an enormous step and one with very high inertias against doing it, political, economic and otherwise. The efforts of those who oppose it are going to get much more intense as opposed to less intense. But I guess I'm optimistic because I think there is a momentum in the fish themselves, in the stakes. There certainly is and will always be until the fish are gone entirely a strong public support in this region for restoring these fish. That support is getting stronger, not weaker, and I think it will continue to be strong and firm as opposed to getting weak. I also think the fish will not go extinct easily. You know, many of the opponents just wish it would happen, real soon. It's not going to happen real soon. These fish are very tough. It will happen, they will go extinct, but it isn't going to happen before - you know, it ain't going to happen tomorrow or in two years or five. It will probably take, some scientists say 25 years. That's a lot of time for the powers that be to continue to avoid obeying the law and dealing with the problem, and a whole lot more money will be wasted over time by avoiding it. So in a long-run sense I'm fairly optimistic.
C.H.: Is there anything else you'd like to say that would be important? I know there's so much that we could talk about, but ...
P.F.: No. Not that I can think of. In general, I'm convinced and I believe it will become clear to the people of the region as they look at this, and in the long run I have a democratic faith, small "d" democratic faith, that the people will decide this, not their timid leaders - that we can have restored salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin, a sound, reliable, affordable energy system without a few dams, a good, strong system for multiple use of water resources.
[End of Tape 2, Side 2 and interview]