By Pat Ford, the Idaho Conservation League’s former executive director.

The beat goes on to salmon extinction in Idaho and northeast Oregon.  New evidence is constant.  A few Snake River sockeye salmon are reaching Redfish Lake this year in trucks – so that some of the very hot water in their 860-mile inland migration will be avoided by a few of the already few sockeye returning.  Columbia Riverkeeper released underwater video of sockeye, some perhaps bound for Idaho, succumbing to heat death in a Columbia tributary before even reaching the Snake.  The Nez Perce Tribal fisheries staff reports that 42% of the Snake River’s spring/summer Chinook salmon populations now average 50 or fewer spawning fish annually.  On current trend 77% will average 50 or fewer spawners five years from now.

At our hands, extinction in the wild of these cornucopian creatures, the highest and farthest-inland group of salmon and steelhead on earth, is just ahead.  I hold on to the progress for their rescue that Mike Simpson has sparked since February, with the same thought for the salmon:  hold on.

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For good reasons, most attention to Congressman Simpson’s Columbia Basin Initiative has focused on its contents. But, five months in, I think its character matters more.

Viewed by Northwest members of Congress, the Columbia-Snake salmon/dams tangle[1] is a snarling beast with claws and teeth.  Even as the beast further tears the Northwest apart, it warns any leader thinking of taking it on to keep clear or lose a lot of skin.  Mike Simpson, a Republican from eastern Idaho, is the first Northwest member of Congress to take the beast on in 41 years.  The character of his action best illuminates the choice now posed to Senators Murray, Cantwell, Wyden, Merkley, Crapo and Tester; the Biden Administration; Governor Inslee; and Northwest citizens:  to join, or not, a legislative effort in the U.S. Congress to rescue and restore salmon.

Others’ lists, including Mr. Simpson’s own, will differ.  I find eight main characteristics in his initiative, which overlap:  experienced legislative leadership; commitment to Snake River salmon and steelhead; facing science and acting forthrightly on it; political courage; an approach to the many engaged parties that significantly benefits and sharply challenges each one; making opportunities out of problems; an opening to bi-partisan action; and partnership with Northwest tribes.  Here I expand on five of these, ending with the most politically meaningful:  the partnership Northwest tribes and Mike Simpson are building.

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[1] The “salmon/dams tangle” is my shorthand for the many-sided heavy scrum on the lower Columbia and lower Snake Rivers.  Salmon, dams, tribes, water, farming, fishing, energy, shipping, power (in the political sense), communities, and human-caused climate change are its terms for me.  Add, subtract, or re-order as you think sensible.