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Cutthroat Trout
credit: Kriscotta

Dam Busters

It's no secret that politicians and bureaucrats like to celebrate new construction projects. We've all seen newspaper photos of our public servants posed with shovels in their hands or oversized scissors. Less common is the official who celebrates a destructive act. But that's what happened last week when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent out a press release announcing plans to tear down several dams across the country.

At present some 75,000 dams span America's rivers and tributaries. Once emblems of industrial zeal and agricultural prowess, these dams are now often considered harmful, even deadly. And fish have suffered the worst. The reason is simple: If a dam blocks a stream, it also affects the fish in that stream. Perhaps the dam puts a wall between the fish and parts of its habitat. Perhaps the dam prohibits access to where the fish spawns.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will spend almost a million dollars this year on projects to remove or retrofit dams and other man-made obstructions. For example, the Swepsonville Dam in North Carolina will be breached or removed, while impassable culverts on the Little Susitna River in Alaska will be replaced. The fish expected to benefit from these and similar efforts include species of salmon, shad, herring, and sturgeon.

By the end of the year, it's estimated that the Fish and Wildlife Service and its various conservation partners will have restored more than 1,000 miles of fish habitat. Combined with last year's 1,000 miles and the 1,000 miles projected for next year, it's no wonder the folks in Washington want to spread the news.