Twelve bishops representing 1.5 million Catholics in the northwest United States and Canada have declared that the Columbia River, the longest river in North or South America flowing into the Pacific Ocean, is threatened with environmental degradation.

In an 18-page pastoral letter, "The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good," published late in February, the 12 bishops said that the river had been irresponsibly dammed, polluted and over-fished.

They called on all people of good will to "work together to develop and implement an integrated spiritual, social and ecological vision for our watershed home, a vision that promotes justice for people and stewardship of creation."

The bishops suggested a number of ways to improve care for the river, but they stopped short of endorsing calls by radical environmentalists to tear down dams. They recommended an end to logging practices that harm the environment, suggested giving preferential loans to farmers who followed environmental protection measures, and called for restrictions on motorboats and all terrain vehicles.

The pastoral letter is the first written by Catholic bishops in two countries on a matter of social and political significance.

The letter was the result of three years' research of Columbia's ecosystem by a committee of bishops headed by Bishop William Skylstad of the diocese of Spokane, Washington. "We'd like people to reflect on how the river is a gift," he told ENI. "And we think churches can be a good catalyst for helping people recognize we're all responsible for it together."

The Columbia River has one of the biggest drainage basins on the continent and serves an ecosystem of 259,000 square miles (650,000 square kilometers). The Columbia ...

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