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Save Our Wild Salmon

salmonBy Jerry Painter
July 22, 2020

After about a year of regular meetings, officials say Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s work group on salmon and steelhead recovery is moving into a new phase of drafting policy recommendations as it works toward a
December deadline.

“What I told the group is that the governor is very impressed with how far they’ve come along in the year that they’ve been put together,”
said Stan Eaton, policy director and counsel for Little. “They’ve had
to balance two competing forces. One being that these collaboratives
take time to develop relationships, to develop trust, to be able to get
out any sort of recommendations. The competing issue is that everybody
recognizes that salmon and steelhead runs are declining and time is of
the essence. ... It’s been challenging, but I think they’ve done quite

The work group has been tasked to collaborate on understanding the
problem and coming up with recommendations to restore salmon and
steelhead populations that have fallen in the recent decade to less
than 25 percent of average. This year’s returning numbers to Idaho have
also been dismal to the point of canceling spring salmon fishing

“Work group members dug deeper to discuss areas where we agree and
where we don’t. We have a lot of momentum around policies that will do
much for Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead, but there’s still a long
way to go,” said Justin Hayes, work group member and the Idaho
Conservation League’s executive director.

The work group has separated into four sub-groups to consider habitat,
harvests, hatcheries, and hydropower. Group members have been studying
the issues and working on consensus recommendations to submit to the
governor by year’s end.

“They’re kind of in that transitioning phase,” Eaton said. “Over the
last year, it has been information overload. They kind of have to
recognize when they have to put down the paper, turn off the internet
and start writing, because they could be learning about this issue
because it is so complex, for the next 10 years and still not have a
full grasp on it.”

Eaton said policy recommendations agreed upon by the work group will
get the governor’s backing. One idea that lacks consensus is breaching
the dams on the lower Snake River.

“I’m 100 percent confident that they’re going to send us
recommendations that the governor will agree with that we can act on,”
he said.

“Early on the governor said he was not interested in a recommendation
dealing with (dam) breach because he knew there would not be any
consensus,” Eaton said. “We know that that lack of consensus still

Eaton said budgeting may be an issue and some recommendations, such as
fixes that are downstream and out of Idaho, may be out of the state’s

Stakeholders in the meetings took time to hear input from the public on
salmon and steelhead recovery issues. Several comments were from
business people directly affected by a lack of fish.

“Last summer, my wife and I bought this (rafting) business and quickly
became aware of how severe the dwindling fishing opportunities are that
were part of our permits for the outfitting business,” Matt Rigsby,
owner of Kookaburra Rafting in Salmon, told the work group. “Where the
salmon runs were once legendary and the water boiled with the countless
numbers of salmon and steelhead, most of the young people here haven’t
even seen a single wild-caught salmon. What was once the backbone of
our community is quickly turning into a legend because of the dams
downstream of us that is out of our control and we hope that we all can
work together to eliminate these dams and let nature start to heal the

“What has become quite clear to me at this point is that salmon and
steelhead need a river,” Idaho Adventures of Salmon owner Kristin Troy,
said. “And as a society, we need to address an antiquated power system
in dire need of an overhaul at the very same time that the survival of
salmon and steelhead is at stake. Timing is everything, and this is our
greatest opportunity to end our paralysis and reimagine a system that
we ourselves built. We have been high centered on this for way, way,
too long.”

The work group is scheduled to meet next on Aug. 26 and 27 via Zoom

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