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Lewiston Morning Tribune: Washingtonians say they'd take salmon over the dams, poll finds

By ERIC BARKER of the Tribune

March 31, 20181freethesnake.cutout

Washington residents favor salmon over dams and wouldn't mind if their power bills increased modestly as a result of breaching, according to a poll paid for by groups pushing for removal of the four lower Snake River dams.

Fairbank, Maislin, Maulin, Metz & Associates surveyed 400 Washington residents, including 150 in eastern Washington, for the poll commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and American Rivers. When asked if they preferred saving wild Snake River salmon or the four dams in eastern Washington, with no mention of dam removal in the question, 60 percent of respondents favored salmon, 22 percent favored the dams and 19 percent said they didn't know.

In a similar questions, respondents who were told transportation on the lower Snake River has declined 70 percent in the past two decades, the dams produce just 4 percent of the electricity used in the state and that dams have reduced salmon runs, 53 percent said they support removing the dams, with 28 percent strongly in support and 22 percent somewhat supportive. Of those opposed to dam removal, 19 percent were strongly opposed and 13 percent somewhat opposed.

Respondents also said they would be willing to pay more for electricity if the dams were breached. When asked if they would be willing to pay $7 more per month for electricity in exchange for restored wild salmon runs and improved water quality via breaching, 63 percent said yes and 33 percent said no. Of those willing to pay more, 39 percent said they would be very willing and 24 percent said they were somewhat willing. Those who said no included 22 percent who were very unwilling and 11 percent who were somewhat unwilling.

If electricity where to increase just $1 a month, 74 percent said they would back breaching with 64 percent very willing and 11 percent somewhat willing. In contrast, 18 percent said they would be very unwilling to pay more and 5 percent said they would be somewhat unwilling.

When given a brief description of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers' bill that would keep the dams in place and "prevent any new measure for aiding wild salmon," 26 percent said they support her legislation and 62 percent said they oppose it.

"This poll confirms what we've known all along: Northwest residents are more than willing to do what it takes to save our region's wild salmon", said Todd True, senior attorney for Earthjustice at Seattle, in a news release. "Studies show we can affordably and efficiently replace the declining benefits of the lower Snake River dams without increasing electrical bills by much more than a dollar a month. The poll confirms that a large majority of people know salmon are worth this and more."

True is a lead attorney in a long-running lawsuit that the groups who funded the poll have waged against the federal government's strategy for balancing the needs of 13 protected stocks of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River basin and operation of the government's hydropower system on the Snake and Columbia Rivers. The groups support breaching Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams on the lower Snake River.

John Freemuth, a public policy professor at Boise State University who specializes in public land and resource management policy in the West, said polls such as this can often serve as a jumping-off point that allows people to talk differently about controversial issues. He cited a poll on attitudes held by Idahoans about wolves prior to their reintroduction in central Idaho in the mid 1990s. The survey conducted by the University of Calgary in 1989 showed 53.3 percent of respondents favored what was then still just a plan to reintroduce wolves to the state. Freemuth said the surprising findings helped change the debate about wolves.

"I think it did show people that people were a little beyond just the myth of the wolf as evil. It created a space for people to talk more about how to manage them," he said. " I think polls can do that. It's what people do with the information that matters."

A summary of the poll results and questions is available at https://bit.ly/2GXnrVI.

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