Ecological risk assessment is usually defined as the process that evaluates the likelihood that adverse ecological effects are occurring, or may occur, as a result of exposure to one or more stressors. The basic concept, while straightforward, is difficult to apply. Applications of risk assessment to the Pacific Northwest salmonid problem would be difficult politically, but could be accomplished technically. Defining what is at risk is the first and most difficult step, and must be resolved within the political decision-making framework or the results of the risk assessment will be of limited utility. A major benefit of the risk assessment process might be to force analysis of what is really imporatnt to the public, rather than what is important to scientists and natural resources managers.