WALLA WALLA, Wash.-- Inquiring students from Whitman and Reed colleges want to know how much you value the salmon populations of the Pacific Northwest, and they're taking your answers and opinions in a survey that you can find here.

In a rare collaborative effort, the environmental economics classes of professors Jan Crouter at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., and Noel Netusil at Reed College in Portland, Ore., have undertaken a cooperative course project to study how the public values the restoration of Snake River salmon and steelhead runs. They have posted the survey on the World Wide Web and are seeking as many responses as possible (responses will be confidential) by Oct. 23. The students hope to have substantial input from the public by then, as they begin to analyze the factors that affect how much worth people place on the runs.

"The goal of the survey is to estimate the benefits associated with a program to restore salmon and steelhead runs on the Snake River," said Netusil. "Willingness to pay -- that is, how much people are individually and at an aggregate level willing to support salmon and steelhead restoration -- has important policy implications for the region."

On the educational side of the project, students are being exposed to real-world economic challenges, said Crouter. "The students are gaining hands-on experience with a technique used by economists to value environmental goods and services that are not sold in markets." Crouter said she hopes the project will "provide students at both campuses a chance to understand the issues from a broader perspective."

In July 2000, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service issued a draft of its plan to restore 12 threatened and endangered salmon populations in the Columbia River Basin. It caught the attention of Netusil and Crouter. "We thought it would be helpful to collaborate due to the local and regional consequences of some of the proposed programs," said Netusil.

Salmon and steelhead populations are important to the economy and the culture of the Pacific Northwest. On the Snake River, chinook salmon populations have fallen from an estimated 140,000 spawners per year in the 1960s to 3,000 today. Such declines signal dramatic changes for the region, affecting everything from commercial and sport-fishing to fulfilling treaty obligations with Pacific Northwest Indian tribes and ecosystem health.

Crouter is currently studying litigation and settlements of Native American water rights disputes in the U.S. West. Netusil is currently analyzing the effects of preserving open spaces in Portland, Ore. Both professors attended graduate school in economics at the University of Illinois.