The latest meeting of Idaho Governor Brad Little’s Salmon Workgroup wrapped up on Tuesday, Oct. 27 with concrete discussions on draft language for policy recommendations due in December. All ten public comments made during the meeting highlighted the critical importance of considering the four lower Snake River dams and their effects on impeding the recovery of Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead. 

Also in October, the State of Idaho entered into two agreements that may facilitate bold action for Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead although these fish still continue to struggle upstream toward recovery. The first development involves Gov. Little working with the governors of Oregon, Montana and Washington on bringing salmon and steelhead back to abundance. The second is the signing of a strengthened, short-term extension of an accord between Idaho and federal agencies on guaranteed funding for fish recovery projects and scientific studies.

Four Governors’ Salmon Recovery Forum

After widespread pressure from across the region, the governors of four Northwest states (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana) agreed at the start of October to “define a future collaborative framework to analyze and discuss key issues related to salmon and steelhead with the purpose of increasing overall abundance.” Since 2017, the states have been working together to define quantitative and qualitative goals for salmon and steelhead abundance across the Columbia River Basin, and the factors that need to be considered in reaching these goals.

While the structure for this new process is still being worked out, the leaders of the four states recognize that salmon recovery will require bold action and discussions between many stakeholders in the region. The recent federal plan for dams on the Columbia and Snake River system will not recover the Northwest’s salmon and steelhead. This “Four Governors” group is encouraging news, but must develop into a leader’s forum that seriously and quickly considers all solutions that will recover wild fish to abundance, starting with breaching of the lower Snake River dams. By including Tribes and interests from each state, the region can find solutions that make all communities whole. We look forward to leadership from Governor Little as this forum develops, and hope Idaho’s congressional delegation will join and support its efforts.

A Better Fish Accord

Since 2008, the Columbia Basin Fish Accords have guided funds toward salmon recovery efforts across the Northwest. The Accords were meant to end the cycle of lawsuits around federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers by offering guaranteed funding to states and Tribes in exchange for agreeing not to sue the federal agencies that operate the dams. The State of Idaho signed on, compromising Idaho’s ability to advocate for its fish, which continue to spiral toward extinction. However, the Accords expired at the end of September, with the release of what’s known as a Record of Decision (ROD) on the federal dams.

Before the Accords expired, ICL and our partners advocated that the State not sign an agreement that compromises Idaho’s sovereignty. At Governor Brad Little’s Salmon Workgroup meeting in August, Executive Director and workgroup member Justin Hayes and others voiced their concerns about Idaho recommitting itself to similar restrictions if the Accord were extended or a new agreement signed.

These concerns appear to have been heard. Office of Species Conservation interim administrator Mike Edmondson informed the workgroup in September that while the state did sign an Accord extension, the latest version does not contain such strict limitations on state advocacy, and includes conditions whereby the State could sue the federal agencies. The extension is expected to last two years, allowing the workgroup to finish its work, and the State to factor its recommendations into future negotiations with federal agencies. Meanwhile, Idaho continues to receive guaranteed funding for fish recovery projects and scientific studies.