Even if it hasn’t been published, every newspaper in Idaho has an obituary for Idaho’s salmon somewhere in its files. Stop the presses and don’t close the lid on the coffin yet.
If Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson and his Northwest allies get their way, the gills of these fish may yet continue to draw life from Idaho’s rivers. Redfish Lake may yet have a chance to see its namesake species come home again in great numbers.
Simpson is a salmon convert. He signaled his conversion in 2019. This month he posted a video on his website to announce a sweeping regional plan to revive salmon runs by removing four dams on the lower Snake River and paying to mitigate the economic harm that removal would inflict on dam-dependent communities and industries.
The plan’s price tag is $33 billion. Its target date for removal of Lower Granite Dam is 2030, with Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor to be breached soon after.
Biologists, commissions and courts have concluded repeatedly that the best chance for restoring the Northwest’s runs of anadromous fish is to break with the dams and reinvigorate a free-flowing stretch of the Snake River.
Until Simpson came out with his detailed outline, every rewritten salmon restoration plan, every salmon recovery committee and every federal rejection of dam removal seemed like threads being woven into a shroud for the species.
Who in Idaho can forget Lonesome Larry, the only sockeye that made it back to Redfish Lake in 1992?
In 1997, this newspaper published an editorial on the fish titled “R.I.P.” Their numbers had dwindled despite habitat restoration, hatchery breeding and barging.
One lawsuit after another over 30 years seemed to succeed only in ensuring that the salmon’s demise would be slow and excruciating to watch.
It seemed certain that salmon were going down, the victims of humans’ insatiable appetite for electrical power and indifference to nature and the magnificent creatures that make the journey from Idaho to the ocean and back again.
Simpson’s plan attempts to bring together long-warring factions using carrots and sticks. It may be a long shot, but it may be the Northwest salmon’s only shot at survival.
Simpson surprised people before by successfully shepherding a bill through Congress that created three new Idaho wilderness areas in 2015. It took him 15 years to get the bill approved.
His plan for salmon is bigger and more complex. Its chances for passage are slimmer because it needs the support of other Northwest lawmakers.
To date, the plan is only a plan. Legislation hasn’t been written.
Salmon don’t have options. As Simpson succinctly puts it, “They need a river.”
What Simpson needs now is the unstinting support of Idahoans for his quest to put salmon on the brink of survival.
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