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Idaho Governor Brad Little’s workgroup on salmon and steelhead recovery transitioned to a new phase July 8-9 as members began drafting policy recommendations. They also focused on continuing deeper discussions on specific fish recovery topics and listening to public comments.

Sam Eaton, Policy Director and Counsel for Gov. Little, opened the meeting and observed that given the various interests represented in the workgroup, the governor’s office was impressed with the group’s progress and encouraged that members would deliver policy recommendations by December.

Originally scheduled to meet in Riggins for two days, members met virtually once more. In a departure from past meetings, this session, the 10th for the workgroup, did not have outside experts presenting technical information. Instead, workgroup discussions continued digging deeper within the frame of four sub-groups, each tackling one of the four H’s: habitat, harvests, hatcheries, and hydropower (dams), plus a set of smaller topics. These four “H’s” plus ocean conditions and predators all impede Idaho’s salmon and steelhead from returning to Idaho.

“Workgroup members dug deeper to discuss areas where we agree and where we don’t. We have a lot of momentum around policies that will do much for Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead, but there’s still a long way to go,” said Justin Hayes, workgroup member and the Idaho Conservation League’s executive director. “I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to have cooperative discussions on the bold actions needed within each of the 4 H’s to truly recover Idaho’s fish and the communities that depend on them.”

Nine people, many whose livelihoods are threatened by dismal fish returns to Idaho, spoke virtually to workgroup members during the public comment period. Selected comments:

Danielle (Dani) and Kyle Jones, owners of Jones Sportfishing along the Clearwater River and residents of Deary: “Thriving salmon and steelhead populations are absolutely vital to the health of the rural communities that lie along some of Idaho’s most iconic rivers. Our timber, mining, and other natural resource jobs have all but disappeared, leaving us to survive on a vibrant tourism industry that is dependent on salmon and steelhead as its primary draw. Idaho’s river towns are dying and the families that live there are real. Just like most in the farming and ranching community, we are not looking to become wealthy, but to provide our children with a distinctly Idaho upbringing that hopefully gives them the choice to follow in our footsteps.”

Matt Rigsby, owner Kookaburra Rafting in Salmon: “Last summer, my wife and I bought this business and quickly became aware of how severe the dwindling fishing opportunities are that were part of our permits for the outfitting business. Where the salmon runs were once legendary and the water boiled with the countless numbers of salmon and steelhead, most of the young people here haven’t even seen a single wild-caught salmon. What was once the backbone of our community is quickly turning into a legend because of the dams downstream of us that is out of our control and we hope that we all can work together to eliminate these dams and let nature start to heal the wounds.”

Kristin Troy, owner Idaho Adventures in Salmon and general manager of the Middle Fork Lodge in the Frank Church Wilderness: “What has become quite clear to me at this point is that salmon and steelhead need a river. And as a society, we need to address an antiquated power system in dire need of an overhaul at the very same time that the survival of salmon and steelhead is at stake. Timing is everything, and this is our greatest opportunity to end our paralysis and reimagine a system that we ourselves built. We have been high centered on this for way, way, too long.”

The workgroup also accepts written comments via an online form and email: species@osc.idaho.gov.

The next meeting has been scheduled for Aug. 26-27 via Zoom webinar after workgroup recommendations have been further refined by member sub-groups. The August meeting is also likely to feature a discussion on breaching the lower Snake River dams, as many workgroup members expressed their desire for such a conversation. Other meeting dates have not yet been set.

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