In 2008, Idaho signed an agreement with the Bonneville Power Administration known as the Fish Accords. The gist of it is that Idaho agreed not to challenge the federal government’s endangered salmon and steelhead recovery efforts for at least ten years. In exchange, BPA committed resources to support recovery efforts throughout the Columbia River Basin, and Idaho received money for restoration and recovery projects all over the state.

The Fish Accords are a rare instance when Idaho gave up its independent voice in deference to the federal government.

The accords expire September 30 of this year, and while many of the Idaho-based projects supported by Fish Accords funds have been successful, the basin-wide recovery efforts have not. Idaho salmon and steelhead are worse off, not better, than they were ten years ago.

Idaho has been in extensive negotiations with the BPA regarding next steps for the Fish Accords. The negotiations are neither public nor transparent, and while we anticipate a new agreement could be signed any day, we don’t know for sure. We also don’t know all the terms being considered. But we do know that Idaho is once again being asked give up its independent voice by not challenging the federal recovery plan.

Simultaneously, the federal agencies tasked with recovering our endangered fish are once again drawing up a new recovery plan at the direction of a federal judge – the third federal judge in a row to find the federal recovery plan unacceptable. That newest version of the plan is not due until after the next Fish Accords agreement will be struck.

About now, you may be asking yourself: Wait. How can Idaho sign an agreement committing not to challenge a federal recovery plan that isn’t even written yet? Not to mention, WHY would Idaho do this. Especially since the prior ones have not worked.

We’ve been asking ourselves the same questions. And we’re not alone. ICL and several allies have joined forces on this issue. Idaho upheld its end of the 2008 bargain, but our fish have not gotten the same return on investment. We’ve met with the governor’s office, relevant state and federal agencies, and other stakeholders imploring the governor not to sign the same deal as last time.

We are concerned that the governor may sign an agreement that commits his successor to not challenge what has traditionally been a failed federal management plan. So we’ve asked him not to do that.

“To prevent extinction, Idaho’s next governor may have to: challenge federal agencies in public, advocate stronger federal action in hydro or harvest management downstream, insist that public funds be spent more wisely and effectively than federal agencies are doing now, or go to court,” ICL, along with Idaho Rivers United and the Idaho Chapter of the Sierra Club, wrote earlier this month in a letter to Governor Otter  cc’d to our federal delegation.

Notably, it’s not just that we think it would be bad for fish if Gov. Otter were to do this. It’s also that it shouldn’t be his call to make. As noted by The Lewiston Tribune’s Marty Trillhaase, Otter leaves office on January 1, 2019. His successor inherits the Accord that Otter signs during this lame duck period.

The very existence of these fish should not be a partisan issue, and it is unfathomable that either of our gubernatorial front runners wants to see these iconic species go extinct on his or her watch. As you see them on the campaign trail this year, I encourage you to ask the candidates what their plans are to save our fish.

Meanwhile, salmon and steelhead are on a frightening path to extinction. We implore Gov. Otter to stand up to the BPA and the federal government, letting them know they have not done enough to help bring our species back from the brink, and that he cannot in good conscience agree to another round of failed policies.