On Tuesday, April 23, the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University will bring together policymakers, experts, stakeholders and concerned citizens to discuss ideas and solutions to two crises facing the northwest region – salmon and steelhead extinction, and energy policy.

It’s clear that Idaho’s iconic fish populations are collapsing despite the hard work of many local communities, ranchers and others to save them. Although efforts have kept Idaho’s iconic fish from going completely extinct, salmon and steelhead populations are nowhere near recovery levels.

The result isn’t simply less fish for Idaho anglers and recreationists. Towns and businesses that rely on these fish for recreation and tourism have been hurt economically. Water from Idaho irrigators, farm owners and other users has been called for to help flush fish past dams, straining their resources. If we lose salmon and steelhead, not only will these species perish, an integral part of Idaho’s history, culture, economy and outdoors life will also disappear.

At the same time, the northwest region’s energy system faces pressure from market forces and technological changes that challenge the longevity of current programs. Keeping decades-old infrastructure running without looking at more cost-effective alternatives to maintain a reliable and affordable energy supply is short-sighted. 

Working with farmers needs to be a priority. I fear that if the dams stay, Idaho’s fish will go extinct. But if we work together, I believe that we can find a way — other than relying on barges on the Snake River — to get grain to market economically and efficiently. By working together we can identify and support strategic investments that ensure that the grain currently shipped downstream on barges can be moved just as economically and efficiently by rail. Together we can all get what we need. If we keep fighting, we are all going to lose.

The region has a unique opportunity to reshape the energy system, the transportation system, save taxpayers and electricity ratepayers money, and divert savings to other uses. And yes, save Idaho’s fish.

These are tough issues that require bold action now in order to avoid Idaho’s salmon and steelhead from completely dying out, and to avoid relying on an energy system that strain’s local, regional and federal budgets. The current situation is not working. Our fish are spiraling toward extinction. The Idaho Conservation League knows that bold action is needed now, or Idaho will lose our salmon and steelhead within a generation.

Regional leaders — like Rep. Mike Simpson and Gov. Brad Little — and representatives from rural communities that depend on fishing for the economy, farmers, utilities and environmentalists will all gather at the Andrus Center conference. The question is, will folks come together to find an “Idaho-style solution”? Will a gathering of folks that traditionally view each other with caution find a means of setting their differences aside and focus on creating a path that saves fish while also keeping communities and interests whole? Can Idahoans take a leading role in saving Idaho fish and ensuring a rational, cost-effective energy system, and a modern and efficient means of ensuring that agricultural interests are kept whole?

We look forward to hearing, discussing, sharing ideas and solutions at the Andrus Center’s Environmental Conference.

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