BOISE, Idaho — Governor Little put together a group of 20 different stakeholders with diverse backgrounds with the idea that they would come together to provide solutions to the dwindling salmon and steelhead returns in Idaho.
This group has finished their year-and-a-half-long process of learning about the issues salmon and steelhead face, listening to public comments and coming up with recommendations to deliver to Governor Little.
"We saw project sites, we saw habitat restoration, we went to dams, we went to hatcheries and we went to tribal fisheries," said Katherine Himes, the group facilitator from the University of Idaho. "I believe that there are somewhere between 25 and 30 recommendations. It was also important for the workgroup to include a record of their work of all of the topics they discussed that did not make it."
The workgroup would not elaborate on specific policy recommendations because they want to deliver them to the Governor first.
However, we did learn one of the most controversial topics for salmon recovery, the idea of breaching four dams on the lower Snake River, did not get a consensus.
But the group came up with many other recommendations by coming together despite different backgrounds to look for common ground to bring the salmon back while keeping community and local interests whole.
"It's important to me that we have a vibrant agricultural economy in Idaho," said Justin Hayes of the Idaho Conservation League. "I think when I say that in a meeting with Ag, it is very important because they hear it from me and when they say they want to restore these fish to true abundance for the ecological and economic role helps build common ground."
Hayes told us the experience of having people on opposite sides of an issue come together was essential, and so were the public comments the group heard.
Hayes looks at the end of this stage of the salmon workgroup as the beginning, not the end.
"Hearing from hundreds of people from all across the state was just really powerful, and I think that moved the workgroup forward," said Hayes.
But for salmon and steelhead to return, it will also take a regional approach because the salmon travel from the ocean up the Columbia River before they make it back to Idaho.
A new effort involving Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho has been created, and Katherine Himes believes the recommendations the workgroup delivers to Governor Little will give Idaho a voice moving forward.
"I think this report is going to be really helpful for Governor Little as he engages with those other governors," said Himes.