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Save Our Wild Salmon

April 13, 2019

Eric Baker

Boise Energy Salmon Conference 2019Organizers hope to bring diverse participants to the table in Boise later this month for discussion

A conference on salmon recovery to be held at Boise State University April 23 is taking the WWCD — What would Cece Do? — approach to tackling the difficult issues surrounding the plight of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Snake and Columbia river basins.

John Freemuth, the Cecil D. Andrus Chair for Environment and Public Lands at the BSU Andrus Center for Public Policy, said the conference will use a problem-solving tactic the center’s late namesake deployed during his four terms as Idaho governor and a stint as the U.S. Secretary of Interior.

“We are trying to use his approach and get everyone in the room and see if they can move the ball,” Freemuth said.  To that end, organizers of the one-day conference titled “Energy, Salmon, Agriculture and Community: Can We Come Together?” have invited key players involved in managing energy, water, agriculture and fisheries in the Columbia Basin to participate. Idaho Gov. Brad Little will make opening remarks, Congressman Mike Simpson will speak at noon and Elliot Mainzer, head of the Bonneville Power Administration, will make closing remarks.

In between, the conference will feature two sessions each of panel discussions titled “Salmon and Energy”and “Agriculture and Communities” moderated by Marc Johnson, Andrus’ former chief of staff and a founder of the Gallatin Group, a public relations firm; and Amanda Peacher of Boise State Public Radio.

Panelists include Mainzer; Jamie Pinkham, a Nez Perce Tribal member and executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission; McCoy Oatman, vice chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee; Sam Mace of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition; Riggins resident Roy Akins, chairman of the Idaho River Community Alliance; Darrel Anderson, CEO of Idaho Power; Lewiston rafting outfitter Dustin Aherin; Merrill Beyeler, a rancher and former Idaho legislator from the Lemhi Valley; and Sam White, chief operating officer of Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative.

Freemuth said the discussions will hit on a couple of hot topics. First, they will look at the changing energy markets and how that is affecting BPA’s ability to sell power produced at federal dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Much of the funds used to improve fish habitat come from the agency and ultimately from ratepayers. The financial problems experienced by the BPA are expected to lead to a reduction in the agency’s fish and wildlife program.

Next, the discussions will focus on how declining salmon and steelhead runs and the efforts to reverse the trend affect communities that depend on both fishing and agriculture.

The dams, which are blamed for much of the decline of Snake River salmon and steelhead stocks, not only produce a significant amount of power used by Northwest residents and businesses, but they also make it more efficient for many farmers to get the crops to overseas markets through barging to downriver ports.

Freemuth said the conference isn’t built around the Snake River dam breaching many salmon and steelhead advocates say is needed to recover the runs. But he said the topic won’t be avoided.  “We know dams are part of the conversation, but this is not a breach-the-dams conference,” he said. “That will come up, but that is not the fundamental purpose.”

There will be time for audience members to submit questions to the speakers, and a white paper will be authored following the conference that summarizes the event and discussion.

The conference will run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the BSU Student Union Building. The cost to attend is $75; or $25 for students.

A complete agenda with a full list of speakers and panelists is available at http://bit.ly/2P4IWIe.

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