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Idaho's Salmon Workgroup finalizing recommendations to save salmon and steelhead populations

Posted at 10:08 PM, Dec 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-07 12:17:29-05

IDAHO — For over a year and a half, the Salmon Workgroup, comprised of representatives from the fish industry, conservation, and other stakeholders, has met to draft recommendations on how they can recover the salmon and steelhead population and present those recommendations to Governor Brad Little on Dec. 15.

“Despite having some good runs we are still in an extinction trajectory, and we are getting down to the red line here, these last few years have been incredibly scary,” said Brian Brooks, Idaho Wildlife Federation Executive Director & Salmon Workgroup member.

If absolutely nothing is done, he said that data shows the salmon and steelhead populations in our region will be extinct within the next 20 years, which will have a significant ecological and economic impact.

“Just a couple of years ago we had the shutdown of just the Clearwater steelhead fishing season, we were able to measure the impact, and they lost $8.9 million a month in that region just on that one fish alone,” said Brooks.

The recommendations the group is finalizing address the impact of the four H's: hatcheries, hydro system management, harvest, and habitat.

The group received thousands of public comments from Idahoans with the majority concerning the dams.

"The water behind these dams is too warm for the salmon to survive. In the era these dams were built, we didn’t have renewable energy like solar and wind. Now we do. These dams are aging," said Julie Sheen in the public comment form.

"The fish did fine before we meddled in their habitat. It can go back to the way it was. Free-flowing rivers. The Snake River Dams are the problem for these fish.," said another comment in the forum made by Scott Schnebly.

"They are responsible for over 50 percent of fish mortality when our fish are migrating from Idaho out to the ocean," said Brooks. "That’s half of our fish gone because of the hydro system,”

However, since the dams on the Lower Snake River are not located in the state of Idaho, they cannot address that concern. That means the recommendations won't be sufficient enough to be a recovery plan.

“These recommendations constitute a list of actions of which we find consensus, and we believe if implemented they will help fish in some way, but we also recognize this will not get us to the healthy and harvestable levels that Idaho needs, and that’s because so much of what is killing Idaho’s fish is outside of the state.”

He said that it is a step in the right direction, but it will take a regional effort to save the salmon and steelhead, which is already in the works.

In October, the four governors of Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho agreed to work together and develop a way to restore the Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead.

You can submit your comments to the group up until Dec. 14. To do so, click here.

Their next meeting is on Dec. 15 via zoom.