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5 PLANNING FOR PERMANENT CONTROL The New Deal Legacy of Northwest Fishery Policy T he New Deal in the Columbia Basin conditioned federal hydroelectric planners to manage fish as portable, temporary obstructions . Dams would eliminate the fish from watersheds dedicated to power production. The survivors would then be transferred to other waters where they could not impede public power’s upriver march. Experimental fish relocation at Grand Coulee Dam on the upper Columbia River in the late 1930s would cast a long environmental shadow. Postwar anadromous fish–conservation policy extended Coulee’s engineering solution to the entire Northwest. The federal campaign to hydroelectrify the Snake Basin after World War II sacrificed upriver anadromous fish runs for economic growth by applying Depression-era experiments first tried at Grand Coulee. Federalizing the Columbia Basin’s hydroelectric potential destroyed half of the world’s richest salmon and steelhead trout fishery. New Deal public power policy sacrificed the entire population of these sea-run fish that spawned above Grand Coulee Dam. The dam closed forever one thousand miles of the upper Columbia Basin’s watery web. Wild fish that had inhabited its waters for ten millennia simply disappeared during their five-year life course, to be replaced by domesticated salmon bred in new hatcheries on undammed rivers below Coulee. Interior secretary Harold Ickes decided to employ destitute Americans and stimulate the regional economy by closing the upper Columbia watershed to migratory fish. LateinOctober1938,federalengineersdirectedtheirarmyof hourlylaborers to pour the last tons of concrete into Grand Coulee. The new dam now closed the upper Columbia River watershed in northeastern Washington, eastern British Columbia, and northwestern Montana. John C. Veatch, Fish Commission of Oregon (FCO) chairman, shared with Interior secretary 81 Ickes his state’s concerns about the fate of the Columbia’s anadromous fishery. Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) principally inhabited the upper Columbia Basin. Smaller numbers of other salmon races ascended into the watershed’s higher-elevation reaches: bluebacks or sockeyes (O. nerka) swam the farthest; chums (O. keta) concentrated in lower reaches; silvers (O. kisutch) usually preferred middle-elevation waters. The steelhead trout’s range encompassed nearly every reach of the Columbia and Snake basins (Salmo gairdnerii).1 Oregon worked cooperatively with the state of Washington to regulate fishing in the lower Columbia, which formed their common boundary. But, as Veatch wrote Ickes, “Since the fishery as a whole is composed of and depends for its continuance upon individual runs from the various tributaries of the Columbia river, we are equally as interested in the preservation of migratory fishes in tributaries of the Columbia river in British Columbia, Washington, or Idaho, as in those tributaries within the state of Oregon.” Oregon respected Washington’s sovereign power to negotiate with the United States over the biological crisis caused by a dam wholly within its territory . Nevertheless, FCO informed the Interior Department, “as a moral andlegalresponsibilityitisourdutytopreserve,protectandperpetuatesuch migratory fishes, not only for the present but for the future as well.”2 Ickes wielded enormous power over the Pacific Northwest during the Depression. His department oversaw the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency building Grand Coulee. The secretary also directed the New Deal’s Public Works Administration, which actually spent the emergency federal relief money Congress appropriated for the project. One of the New Deal’s most aggressive proconsuls, as well as a self-described “Progressive conservationist ,”Ickeswasdrivingmenhard,inWashingtonStateandinWashington, D.C., to complete Coulee Dam. Finished, the dam would operate like the giant mainspring of an ambitious federal scheme to harness cheap hydroelectricity to irrigate deserts. Ickes and Coulee’s Reclamation planners envisioned using public power not only to irrigate new farms but also to employ dislocated workers and to diversify the inland Northwest’s predominantly agricultural economy by attracting new industries. New Dealers believed abundant hydropower also promised social reform. By alleviating rural poverty and boosting living standards for people accustomed to manual toil, cheap electricity would give the poor a new sense of mastery over their environments . Public-power enthusiasts dreamed of a Northwest more economicallysecureandsociallyegalitarian .Sincedecidinghowtouseelectricity 82 PLANNING FOR PERMANENT CONTROL as a public resource required community decision making, Ickes and his advisers hoped the Columbia Basin project would spark a new civic spirit.3 John Veatch of the Fish Commission of Oregon also wielded power, though he could not command water to run across arid lands or spin turbines . Instead, FCO decided when and how the four species of salmon and the sea-run steelhead trout that traversed the Columbia Basin lived...


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