In 1992, after five years of steelhead guiding on the Salmon River in Riggins, I obtained a river use permit from the outfitter I was working for and founded Rapid River Outfitters. I was able to work out an affordable deal primarily because our steelhead had just been listed as endangered and their future was very much in doubt.
At that time Cecil Andrus, an avid conservationist, was our governor. We all knew very well by that time that the hydro system on the lower Snake River was the biggest impediment to steelhead and salmon recovery in Idaho. But as Cecil stated at the time, “the science tells us that breaching the four lower Snake dams is the best chance to recover these fish, but we don’t have the political will to do it.”
Since then we have been through the “Salmon Wars” pitting fish advocates and conservationists like myself against the various power brokers that have benefited from the status quo. For lack of a better option, the tribes and conservation groups have resorted to the federal courts to help improve river conditions for the fish with the dams in place. This has resulted in a series of incremental tweaks to the hydro system that have barely allowed our fish to survive, let alone prosper.
Our river communities and other industries that benefit from anadromous fisheries in Idaho are hanging from a thread. Two years ago, appropriately enough at the Cecil Andrus Center in Boise, Congressman Simpson stood up and announced his intention to make salmon recovery absolutely happen in his lifetime, whatever it takes. His newly released plan has boldly included breaching of the lower four Snake River dams, while at the same time compensating the affected stakeholders and having a net positive effect on the Lewiston area economy. We in Idaho now have someone with the leadership and political will to follow the science and help bring our incredible anadromous fish back to abundance. At 68, and still rowing drift boats in the Salmon River, I may actually see it happen in my lifetime. Thank you Congressman Simpson.