Guest Opinions

No more excuses: Idaho’s leaders must act to get our fish runs back

A wild Idaho fish is netted and then quickly released in the Salmon River north of Riggins.
A wild Idaho fish is netted and then quickly released in the Salmon River north of Riggins. AP

Dear Gov. Little, Reps. Simpson and Fulcher, and Sens. Risch and Crapo:

On April 23 you or your staffers will be attending a symposium on the future of Idaho’s salmon and energy. The event will bring together people from the three Northwest states our salmon spend time in: representatives from energy and agriculture industries, tribes, guides and outfitters, and conservationists. The panelists are a good mix of these interests – a fair representation of people on all sides of the salmon issue, and I commend the Andrus Center for a balanced approach.

However, events like these can suffer from realistic constraints – time limitations, over-talkative panelists, political correctness, or people simply not feeling comfortable saying what they truly want to say in front of political and ideological opponents – that result in important messages to VIP attendees getting buried in all the other conversations and rhetoric.

You will hear from a lot of people – good people with important interests, to be sure, but not all of them Idahoans. Many might have vested interests and agendas that may not be shared by your constituents. So this open letter serves as a candid opportunity for you all to hear directly from a large constituency of people you represent: the Idaho sportsman community.

We want our fish back. We are angry that Idaho has for years resigned itself to the failed federal recovery plans. If 2019’s chinook run projections hold, only 470 fish will be harvestable on the entire Clearwater River, and only 1,430 for the entire Salmon River system. There won’t be a season on the Upper Snake this year. If this is what success looks like, then Idahoans want something else.

We want our fish back. We can’t keep pointing back to the couple of good years in the early 2000s as an indicator of success. Our river communities cannot rely on two decent years of fish returns out of every 30 years. That kind of volatility is not attractive to new business or convincing anglers to invest in expensive salmon/steelhead fishing equipment.

Guess whether citizens of Riggins, Orofino, Kamiah, White Bird, Lewiston, Stanley, Salmon or Challis would throw roses or cabbage at the politician who says to a crowd that we are going to continue doing the same thing – stick with the federal recovery plan and you’ll get another good two years somewhere in the next 30 years! Now, telling those folks that you see that the recovery efforts have failed, and that it is time for a new plan that works for Idaho? That would get you more than roses. You’d be called a hero.

We want our fish back. At the symposium you will hear from some folks from Washington about orcas. This may sound callous, but we don’t care about orcas. This is Idaho. We want our fish back for Idaho. The orcas will benefit secondarily. Bring back our fish for Idaho, her communities, her own interests.

We want our fish back. It’s time for a new plan. Time for leadership. Time to protect the investment made with all that habitat restoration - which still has no fish in it – with a new direction. Time to do something hard, but worthwhile.

We love to bash the federal government here in Idaho, especially when we can point to its shortcomings. Well, the feds have unequivocally failed to bring our fish back, so where is the outrage? Almost $17 billion has been spent of Bonneville Power Administration ratepayer dollars and taxpayer dollars to “recover our fish.” All that money spent and no fish for Idaho.

We want our fish back. Our Central Idaho ranchers and landowners are taking it on the chin living under the restrictions of ESA regulations imposed by our abysmal salmon/steelhead returns. Might be, they’d like to see fish returned, too. Not only to lift the regulations, but to improve their property values by living so close to a viable fishing economy, maybe even catchable fish swimming up their back 40 again. The unease of perpetual ESA regulations isn’t something they want to bear.

This problem is complex but not insurmountable. Among the three states with Columbia River fish, Idaho bears the highest cost of regulations and the worst fish returns, and everything killing our fish is downstream. We clearly have the short end of the stick. If Idaho won’t stand up to say enough is enough, who will? It won’t be the states that still have fish.

Idahoans support you. Make a ruckus. Put your flag in the sand. We are there with you.

We want our fish back.

Brian Brooks is the executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, Idaho’s oldest and largest coalition of sportsman organizations. He lives in Boise and hunts and fishes all over the state.