BOISE – Members of Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s salmon workgroup met for two days over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. They heard directly from the public at the State Capitol Building in Boise on Friday, Jan. 17. Workgroup members also met all day Saturday with what started as a standing room-only crowd at the University of Idaho Water Center.
The Friday evening session at the beginning of a holiday weekend brought about 80 people to the Lincoln Auditorium. Nearly 30 Idahoans voiced their support for efforts to recover Idaho’s salmon and steelhead. The workgroup also accepts written comments via an online form.
“It’s very clear from their comments that Idahoans care immensely about our salmon and steelhead,” said Justin Hayes, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League. “If our fish go extinct, it would be irreversible and disastrous not just ecologically, but also for Idaho’s culture, economy and history. The shockwaves would be felt throughout the region.”
In Saturday’s session, workgroup members continued discussions on how to keep moving forward to deliver policy recommendations to Gov. Little later this year. They also learned about the effects of ocean conditions and harvests on Idaho salmon and steelhead, and about the habitat and trends for fish in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Many members expressed their view that recovery of Idaho’s fish, not just removal from the endangered species list, is a goal. People are looking for real abundance; harvestable runs that contribute to Idaho’s culture, economy and support a healthy ecosystem.
The workgroup heard from Brian Burke of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center about his research on ocean conditions and how they affect Idaho’s fish. ICL’s Hayes asked about record-breaking and healthy fish runs in Alaska and California. The takeaway for Hayes was when people hear ocean conditions are bad, they should remember it’s the impact of ocean conditions on particular groups of fish and not a global statement, and recognize that there are many things that happen in freshwater that affect how fish survive in the ocean.
ICL’s Hayes added, “It’s critically important to hear about and discuss all the 4 Hs (hatcheries, harvest, hydropower or dams, and habitat) and ocean conditions and predators when we consider our policy recommendations. We also need to keep in mind the specific factors that matter for Idaho’s fish. Let’s set aside our differences and work together to build consensus on immediate and mid- to long-term solutions to truly bring back Idaho’s fish in abundance.”
The workgroup is scheduled to meet at least three more times this year: March 5 in Boise, April TBD in Lewiston, and July 8 to 9 in Riggins.
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.