This editorial was published by the Idaho Press of Nampa.
Salmon and steelhead are a precious resource in Idaho, vital to our culture and to the heritage of Northwest tribes.
For decades, preserving Idaho’s dwindling salmon population has been pitted against the human interests of creating energy and transporting goods. Despite investing $17 billion in salmon recovery over 30 years, the number of wild spring chinook salmon returning to spawn in Idaho is just a fraction of historic levels.
Clearly, our efforts aren’t working well enough.
There is a delicate balance between human interests and the needs of salmon, but we should all agree it’s time to start aggressively pursuing forward-thinking solutions before it’s too late.
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson this month presented a bold vision with that goal in mind. He proposes to remove four lower Snake River dams and infuse affected communities and industries with billions of dollars to help them transition.
If the proposal becomes legislation, it would be tied in with a massive federal infrastructure package coming down the pike, the Lewiston Tribune reported. Under Simpson’s plan, phased dam removal would start in 2030.
There’s no simple solution here. Dams that create barriers for fish also create livelihoods for people. Residents, farmers and other industries rely on the hydropower and the transportation routes that the dams provide. These communities are understandably worried by the proposed removal of their economic foundation. The four dams are all located in Washington, but their utility ripples into surrounding states including Idaho and Oregon.
Another complication is dams aren’t the only obstacle salmon face on their 900-mile journey to the Pacific Ocean. Warming rivers and poor ocean conditions also diminish their chance of survival. However, many fisheries scientists see removing dams as a path to boost their survival rates.
Simpson didn’t set out to propose removing dams. He thought there must be another way. He and his staff for three years researched the issue and held 300 meetings with stakeholders.
“In the end, we realized there is no viable path that can allow us to keep the dams in place,” Simpson said in a video announcing his proposal. “... I am certain that if we do not take this course of action, we are condemning Idaho salmon to extinction.”
Simpson is taking a political risk with this plan — something far too many elected officials are unwilling to do. For that, and for his sense of urgency to save Idaho salmon before it’s too late, we applaud him. This is a bold step and the most comprehensive plan on the salmon issue we’ve seen from an elected official. We don’t have time to delay.