Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dam Nation! America's Rivers in Crisis

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dam Nation! America's Rivers in Crisis

Article excerpt

Inside Passage By Richard Manning Island Press 210 pp., $24.95

There's nothing more depressing than taking a trip with an environmentalist. At least that's what my wife tells me. To the keen-eyed environmentalist, that stunning range of golden hills is not an awesome display of nature's beauty; it's an impoverished, livestock-ravaged ecosystem devoid of native wildlife and dominated by exotic weeds.

Traveling with veteran journalist Richard Manning is much the same experience. Throughout these loosely knit essays, the reader catches glimpses of the majestic natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, running from Oregon up to Alaska. But mostly, Manning forces the reader to look at the region's underbelly, and it's rarely a pretty sight.

Depleted rivers, overcut forests, lost native cultures, burgeoning suburbs - Manning describes these familiar stories well, using interviews with an assortment of crusty fishermen, tribal leaders, and activists to spice up his pointed narrative.

"Inside Passage," though, travels beyond the boundaries of traditional environmental non-fiction. In an essay called "Dam Nation," Manning journeys to the Columbia River, where millions of adult salmon once roiled the waters on their way from the Pacific Ocean to the streams of their birth in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Manning tells us how overfishing, logging, grazing and - most importantly - federal dam-building decimated the wild runs to the point where today most of us wouldn't know a wild fish if it swam into our bathtub. At most restaurants, we sink our teeth into salmon raised on fish farms.

Manning also gives the sad salmon saga some important context. The drive to tame the Columbia, as with so many other rivers in this country, was not fueled by large industrialists bent on making money, though they certainly made out in the end. Rather, the thrust came from progressives, such as Franklin Roosevelt and singer Woody Guthrie, who saw the construction of dams as a way to pull the country's working class out of the economic doldrums and to create a just and orderly society. …

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