Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to do one of my favorite things: speak up for something that doesn’t have a voice. In this case, it was Idaho’s endangered salmon and steelhead.
House Joint Memorial 2 attempts to prevent current and future generations of Idahoans from ever reintroducing Idaho’s native salmon and steelhead upstream of Hells Canyon on the Snake River. This memorial is part of a series of bills recently proposed by the Idaho Water Users Association. The bills are all peripherally related to the relicensing of the Hells Canyon Complex of dams. In addition to being unnecessary, the memorial is a slap in the face to Idaho’s native fish, the Snake River, and people who love healthy rivers and fish.
Below, you’ll find the testimony ICL provided at a legislative hearing on the memorial earlier this week. The memorial passed out of the committee on a party line vote, but not without the senators hearing-on the record-that the majority of Idahoans love native fish and wish the legislature would help these species instead of making their recovery even less likely.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.
My name is Marie Kellner, and I am the Idaho Conservation League’s Water Associate. ICL is Idaho’s oldest and largest non-profit natural resource conservation organization and I am here today on behalf of ICL’s approximately 25,000 supporters from across the state.
Part of ICL’s mission is to advocate on behalf of Idaho’s rivers and native fisheries and, in keeping with that mission, I ask you to vote No on HJM 2.
Idahoans love their native fish. Historically, salmon and steelhead thrived in rivers all the way up the Snake to Shoshone Falls.
My work has given me the opportunity to meet people from across southwestern Idaho who grew up fishing for salmon or steelhead on the Boise, Payette, Owyhee and Weiser rivers. Though the fishing stories they tell me come from a variety of people and multiple watersheds, they have consistencies: they are stories of camping along the banks of these rivers with their grandfathers, and hauling out Chinook that felt as big as themselves. Perhaps some of you even remember a time when those fish still called the rivers above Hells Canyon home?
The Hells Canyon Complex meant the end of those native fisheries on the Boise, Payette, Owyhee and Weiser, among others rivers. It goes without saying-but I’ll say it-that the HCC also meant that my generation didn’t and my daughter’s generation won’t grow up with the experiences of the generations before us. These fish sustained native people long before statehood and they are part of the classic Idaho lifestyle. Fishing is so integral to Idaho that Idahoans overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment for the right to fish only a handful of years ago.
And while it may seem impossible that those fish would ever inhabit those rivers again, this does not have to be an either/or decision. Instead of writing salmon and steelhead reintroduction off forever, and giving up on this unique aspect of Idaho’s heritage, ICL asks you to do the much harder work of engaging in the conversation of restoring Idaho’s salmon and steelhead in their native rivers above Hells Canyon while also maintaining our agricultural heritage, hydropower and other aspects of our economy. It will be difficult work, but it is not impossible. And the coexistence of fish, agriculture, hydropower and other industries more accurately reflects the desires of the majority of Idahoans.
Finally, I want to ensure you understand that ICL is supportive of responsible hydropower and our stance on this issue is not intended to derail the HCC relicensing. Rather, I am here today to remind you that management of Idaho’s native fisheries and water resources should reflect the interests of all Idahoans and, in its efforts to permanently keep salmon and steelhead from their native streams, this memorial ignores the voices of untold numbers of Idahoans.
In sum, the HCC can be relicensed without such a divisive memorial as the one before you, and I ask you to vote no on it. Thank you and I am happy to stand for questions.