BOISE – Due to COVID-19 and Idaho Governor Brad Little’s stay-at-home order, members of his salmon workgroup met via Zoom webinar April 28 and 29. At the end of the session, facilitators noted the lack of opposition to detailed discussion of any topic going forward, including hydropower or dams, to recover Idaho’s fish.
Workgroup members broadly agreed that all the Hs (habitat, harvests, hatcheries, and hydropower) need to be addressed in their policy recommendations. This included ideas on how to make the Snake River safer for migrating fish, such as minimizing fish encounters with powerhouses at hydroelectric projects, modifying bridges and culverts to open up new spawning habitat, securing additional sources of water for hatcheries, and strategically changing downstream harvest practices.
This was the eighth meeting overall. By the next meeting in late May, facilitators hope to lay out specific next steps and organize members into subgroups to work on specific details in order to meet the timeline for developing policy recommendations to Gov. Little by the end of this year.
Highlights of Tuesday’s session included David Doeringsfield, the general manager of the Port of Lewiston, discussing an open letter sent in late Feb. to the four governors of Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Washington that he co-signed with leaders of regional electric utilities and conservation groups.
They ask the four governors and the region’s congressional delegation “to further support and help advance a solutions-based conversation.” The letter reads in part,
“With your patience and support, we would like to continue and grow solutions-oriented conversations around enhancing the many values of the Columbia and Snake Rivers. We are committed to working together to find sustainable solutions for fish and wildlife, tribal treaty and trust resources, electricity, food production, transportation and recreation. Durable resolution of these issues will provide long-term value and certainty for the Northwest regional economy and its communities.
Along these lines we have identified the following shared goals we think will allow for solutions to this multifaceted challenge:
Abundant and harvestable fish originating in the Columbia River Basin are recovered.
The regional economy is enhanced, including the farming, transportation, fishing, recreation, port, and tribal enterprises in the Columbia Basin.
The identity and cultural values of the Columbia Basin tribes are honored and federal treaty and trust responsibilities are fulfilled.
Electric system reliability, affordability and decarbonization are bolstered for communities in the region.”
Justin Hayes, ICL’s executive director said, “I’m very encouraged and supportive of the Port of Lewiston, regional utilities and others asking our elected leaders to support and move forward with a real solution that will bring back Idaho’s fish. I agree wholeheartedly with the shared goals they outlined and hope Salmon Workgroup members will come together to take bold action to find solutions for salmon and steelhead and Idaho communities.”
Also on Tuesday, about a half-dozen people, including several river guides and outfitters and two North Junior High School students, made public comments to stress the importance of workgroup members finding solutions to recover Idaho’s fish. Selected comments follow at the end of this release. The workgroup also accepts written comments via an online form and email: email@example.com.
Meetings have been scheduled for at least two more workgroup sessions this year: May 27-28 in Boise, and July 8-9 in Riggins. It remains to be determined whether these will be in-person or virtual meetings.
Selected public comments on April 28, 2020:
Amy Rawn: “I want my children to know an Idaho with lively and robust salmon populations, one where rivers and streams without these fish would seem like a preposterous reality. I hope that they will recognize the stocky jaw and black gums of a chinook salmon and the vivid red flesh of a spawning sockeye, and dip their toes in a Redfish Lake that lives up to its namesake.
We are at a turning point where we have the opportunity to decide what kind of future we walk towards. Restoring healthy and abundant fish runs in Idaho will require bold action and a deliberate pivot from the status quo of the last several decades. Our unique cold water refuges offer our fish a fighting chance that they are not afforded in other places. I believe it is possible to create large-scale policy changes that are collaborative in nature, rooted in science and meet the needs of diverse stakeholders. We have the opportunity to build a new sustainable energy system that ensures the longevity of our vital salmon and steelhead.”
Lauren McCullough: “I’m a resident of Idaho and I’m a local river guide. And I’m speaking to you today to just encourage the Governor’s workgroup to take bold action to save wild salmon and steelhead. Significant changes need to be made to Idaho’s energy system to have a sustainable wild fish population. This workgroup has the ability to make those changes and make sure that stakeholders like Idaho farmers are not left behind.
I am not originally from Idaho, I grew up in the Midwest. I chose to live in Idaho, build a life here, and to pursue work as a river guide because of the community and the environment that Idaho has to offer. Wild salmon and steelhead are an essential part of that environment, our economy, and the culture of our state. The choices we make to support these wild fish populations also support the health of our communities. We want healthy, clean river systems; we want strong, productive rural communities.”
ICL is working to save Idaho’s salmon and steelhead. Idaho’s iconic fish populations are spiraling toward extinction despite the hard work of many local communities. If Idaho loses salmon and steelhead, not only will these species perish, an integral part of Idaho’s history, culture, economy and outdoors life will also disappear. Bold action is needed now to develop solutions together that will keep communities whole and not leave Idahoans behind.