BOISE – Via Zoom webinar May 27-28, members of Idaho Governor Brad Little’s salmon workgroup dived into detailed discussions on all the factors that impact Idaho’s salmon and steelhead: habitat, harvests, hatcheries and hydropower (dams). These four “H’s,” ocean conditions and predators all impede Idaho’s salmon and steelhead from returning to Idaho.
Since the last workgroup meeting in April, members were divided into smaller sub-groups to tackle each of the four H’s. At the May meeting, each sub-group presented their specific, detailed findings and possible recommendations on salmon recovery policies to the entire workgroup. All members generally agreed that the information provided was a productive start to fine-tuning policy recommendations, which are due to Gov. Little by the end of this year.
“This work is urgent. This is shaping up to be another disastrous year for salmon and steelhead and for all Idahoans,” said Justin Hayes, the Idaho Conservation League’s executive director and a workgroup member. “Idaho fish return numbers look really horrible so far and they’re likely to be just as bad or worse than last year’s.”
He added, “I’m encouraged by real progress and agreement among workgroup members. We’ve agreed that our mission is to seek to restore wild salmon and steelhead to real abundance. We’ve also agreed to look broadly at all of the causes of decline, and that we need to work on issues within Idaho and also outside of our state. I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to have cooperative discussions to keep working to find agreement on the bold actions needed to recover salmon and steelhead and Idaho communities.”
Nine people went on Zoom to comment publicly in front of the workgroup, including several residents of Salmon and outfitters and guides. All supported bold solutions to recover Idaho’s fish. Selected comments:
Seth Tonsmeire, an outfitter and cattle rancher from Salmon, said, “Over the years we’ve watched salmon come and spawn on our property. It’s pretty amazing…I urge Gov. Little and the working group to work toward a bold solution to do what it takes to bring these fish back and bring them to our rivers. And, to work with the other governors downstream to bring these fish back.”
Kelsey Helfrich, a 4th generation outfitter who lives in Salmon, said, “These fish are so valuable to the whole Pacific Northwest. Fish are the lifeblood of this region…I grew up with these fish knowing what they had to go through, everything to survive out in the ocean, and everything else. Seeing their numbers dwindle has been heartbreaking to me…”
Colby Blair, an outfitter who runs the Salmon River, said, “I think we need to as a group — not just as fishermen, but as farmers and users of water and land — need to come together and represent ourselves and represent how these issues affect us so we’re not seeing economic downturns in the fishing industry like we’re seeing.”
This meeting also included technical presentations on spilling water over dams, the nutrients Idaho fish provide to local ecosystems, and areas that have been blocked from fish access. The next meeting has been scheduled for July 8-9 in Riggins. It remains to be determined whether this will be an in-person and/or virtual meeting. Other meetings have yet to be scheduled.
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.