New York Times promotes Great Salmon Hoax

Published April 1, 2002

On February 14. the editors of the New York Times threw their full weight against efforts to restore sanity to natural resource management in the West … and they told a lot of whoppers in the process.

An unsigned editorial titled simply “Fish Wars” opens by declaring, “the collapse of the once-great salmon runs of the Pacific Northwest ranks high among the ecological blunders committed in the name of progress.”

Ignorant, or simply lying?

Given that salmon runs this season were among the highest ever counted, this statement ranks near the top of the factual blunders in the editorial–if blunders they be.

While most of the running salmon were hatchery fish, that has been the case for decades. But the Times has no use for hatchery fish, because “since hatchery fish can be raised and added to a river at will, the whole problem of declining species magically disappears–along with all the annoying steps that have to be taken to protect their habitat.”

While ordinary folks might think the Endangered Species Act is about species, the Times editors find a meaning in the statute far beyond its mere provisions. To them, the Act “speaks to the human condition as well: When an entire species is sufficiently threatened to require protection, it usually means that the same ecosystem will eventually fail the humans who depend on it as well.”

Once again, the editors demonstrate astounding ignorance or mendaciousness, for there is not a single “entire [salmon] species” that is in the slightest danger of extinction whatsoever. There are across the United States thousands upon thousands of runs of chinook, coho, sockeye, and steelhead salmon–four “entire species.” Only a few runs are in danger of extinction, at the edges of the species’ range.

The idea that an ecosystem will “fail the humans” as soon as an endangered species is declared is silly. The Times editors must know better, for where they live, fish and wildlife are not merely endangered, they are gone. Fish do not run at all in the creeks of Manhattan Island anymore, since they have all been paved over, but the humans seem to be doing just fine.

Science says salmon are safe

Moreover, the Endangered Species Act listings in the Pacific Northwest are palpably fraudulent. For example, after listing some 38 runs of salmon in Idaho as an “Evolutionarily Significant Unit” called “threatened Snake River spring/summer chinook” salmon, federal biologists subsequently conducted sophisticated population viability studies that showed virtually no risk of extinction over the hundred-year study period. But the runs remain listed, perhaps because the science is too complicated for even the Region’s fish managers to understand, much less the Times’ editors.

The Times warns darkly that “the most troubling development is the looming offensive against legal protection for 24 coastal salmon runs,” another factual error ranking high among its blunders in this editorial. The “looming offensive” concerns listed fish all over the Pacific Northwest, not just on its coast.

The Times slams the “right-wing Pacific Legal Foundation” (has the Times ever seen a “left-wing” foundation?) for denying “the government’s obligation under the Endangered Species Act to manage ecosystems in ways that ensure the survival of wild fish.” But Congress never anointed the federal government with authority, much less an obligation, to “manage ecosystems,” though its bureaucrats reach further and further toward that end. The Times’ vision of “managing ecosystems” is the classic Leftist vision of government without limit.

There are no “wild” salmon

Moreover, one cannot say there are any “wild fish” (or at least wild salmon) at all in the Pacific Northwest, unless you do what the National Marine Fisheries Service does, and deem the hatchery fish “wild” as soon as they escape into the wild and reproduce.

Salmon are a species whose long-term survival strategy involves colonizing new habitat, so they stray all over the place, interbreeding at will. There are probably no “wild” salmon without hatchery ancestors, and certainly no hatchery salmon without “wild” ancestors. That’s why the Justice Department had to admit, in the federal district court case assailed by the Times, that the listed “wild” and unlisted hatchery fish were genetically identical.

The Times also takes a swipe at the recent National Academy of Sciences report suggesting there was no scientific evidence to support cutting off water to Klamath Basin farmers, calling the report “bad news for these threatened fish.”

Had the Times editors bothered to read the report, or deigned to tell the truth about it, they would have concluded the most plausible interpretation of the report, at least insofar as salmon are concerned, is that it is good news. The report slammed the idiotic decision to release huge amounts of warm water down the Klamath River–warm water that can be lethal to salmon.

As always, Leftist fulmination about the Endangered Species Act isn’t about fish, it’s about control over land. The Times is sure “the Klamath water crisis has been in the making for more than 100 years, ever since the federal government decided to subsidize a farming economy in an arid area where none belonged.”

In fact, the decision to loan money to the farmers to build a water project–a loan since repaid–was made less than 100 years ago. And the area is only “arid” in the sense that rainfall is low. Before and after development it contained substantial wetlands, not unlike the ones that were filled in back East to provide space for the Times and its readers. We don’t see the editors volunteering to “save the New York City metropolitan area” by leaving it, though they are sure we must “save the [Klamath] basin” by throwing out the farmers.

When an establishment paper like the Times tells this many whoppers, it’s almost enough to make one believe in a conspiracy to engage in what the Wall Street Journal has called “rural cleansing.”

James Buchal is an environmental attorney in Portland, Oregon, and author of The Great Salmon Hoax, by Iconoclast Publishing Co.