Thursday, July 9, 2020
Rescuing Salmon-‘It’s Time to Do Something New’
Continuing the status quo concerning the Snake and Columbia rivers is not an option, Kevin Lewis said.
Saturday, May 25, 2019


Kevin Lewis has advocated for salmon recovery for nearly half the lifespan of the 27-year-old Idaho Rivers United.

But it’s likely he has never been as encouraged as he is now, even as he prepares to retire as the organization’s executive director.

Lewis and fellow members of Idaho Rivers United and other conservation organizations, such as the Endangered Species Coalition, have found new hope after hearing Congressman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) state his desire to live long enough to see salmon runs recover.

Fish ladders have helped to some extent.

Simpson and others are beginning to acknowledge that they might be in favor of breaching the status quo, Lewis said. “And I am, too!”

Lewis addressed nearly 75 members of the public Thursday morning at a breakfast of bagels, fruit and muffins sponsored by IRU at Whiskey Jacques.

He recounted some of IRU’s work, including keeping dams off Idaho’s Payette River and helping provide the most stringent protection in the nation for the Owyhee River with legislation that designated 517,000 acres of Owyhee Canyonlands as wilderness and put 316 miles of rivers under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

But, mostly, he talked about the fight to save the salmon.

Since 2008, Lewis said, Idaho has left most of its salmon policy to the federal government, and salmon are no better off for it. Despite $16 billion in spending on salmon recovery over the past 30 years, salmon and steelhead runs continue to collapse.

 Since the last of the four dams downriver of Idaho was completed in 1975, runs sporting tens of thousands of wild fish have declined to mere dozens.

“It’s time to do something new,” he said.

Lewis noted that the first thing Gov. Brad Little said at the Idaho Environmental Forum in January was that human-caused climate change is real.

“You could hear a gasp in the room,” Lewis said.

Little added that, when he was a kid, he hauled bales of hay through the snow. Now, he’s dragging them through mud.

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson reiterated the belief that human-caused climate change was real during a recent conference on saving salmon in Boise.

He also joked that anyone carrying matches or lighters should pass them to authorities as a security measure to prevent heads from bursting into flames as he broke out of the well-worn Republican grooves, according to Nathanael Johnson, a reporter for Grist.

Simpson gave a heartfelt speech recounting a trip to a spawning creek in the Sawtooth Mountains where only one salmon made the 900-mile trip back from the Pacific Ocean to create a bed and lay its eggs.

“These are the most incredible creatures I think that God’s created. It’s a cycle God has created. We shouldn’t mess with it,” he added, according to Johnson.

Simpson told attendees he wanted to see Idaho’s mountain lakes full of salmon again, even if it meant tearing down the dams his fellow politicians in Idaho have defended for decades.

What might be lost with the removal of dams could be replaced by new types of nuclear reactors being designed by Idaho National Lab, he offered. But more action will be needed, as well, he said, including regulating fishing in the Pacific Ocean and ensuring good water quality in Washington and Idaho’s rivers.

Simpson is the first political leader in years to state that dramatic changes need to occur to prevent the extinction of Idaho’s anadromous fish.

 “In reality, this is nothing new for Mike Simpson—he’s a salmon guy,” said Lewis.

There are more reasons to press for salmon recovery than beefing up Idaho’s fishing industry.

Saving salmon in Idaho could help save an endangered Pacific orca whale that feeds on chinook salmon.

Saving salmon also makes sense from an economic point of view, said Lewis.

Shipping on the Snake river has dropped more than 50 percent in the last 20 years. And the four lower Snake River dams are losing $100 million a year as they try unsuccessfully to rescue salmon.

This has driven electric rates up, taking BPA from selling the region’s cheapest electricity to the most expensive. If it loses customers to cheaper renewables, it be unable to maintain and upgrade its dams and power lines.

California, which used to import a lot of electricity produced by dams on the Snake, is already relying on solar power for that electricity, instead.

“If they keep doing business as usual, they will go broke,” Lewis said.

Lewis urged those in the audience to urge the governor and other leaders to make Idaho the leader for salmon and steelhead.

“It’s pretty clear these dams are not a benefit to Idaho,” he said. “If anything, we need to redouble our efforts and keep bugging our congressmen.”




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