Credit: OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP)

With the year-end release of a final decision on how to proceed toward saving wild Northwest salmon from extinction, the Clinton Administration left implementation of its long-awaited plan to the incoming Republicans. For years, researchers have struggled under a glare of media exposure to resolve a central issue: should four hydroelectric dams in Washington be removed to help save the fish? The conclusion is no, not yet, but a scientific divide remains over how close extinction is and over the potential effectiveness of various alternatives to dam removal that the plan recommends.

President George W. Bush campaigned strongly against decommissioning the dams, while pledging support for other protection efforts. Anti-dam activists haven't ruled out legal action, as both sides of the debate continue to assert that the "best science" supports them. For researchers, the salmon story provides a multifaceted study in the difficulties of...

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