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Commentaries and editorials

Simpson Displays Leadership;
Brandt Should Try It

by Roy Akins
Lewiston Tribune, March 17, 2021

Adult counts of wild Chinook and Steelhead returning to Idaho (source: Idaho Fish & Game) A few weeks ago, I spoke out in support of Rep. Mike Simpson's bold new plan for the Northwest. I wrote about the inextricable link between my community of Riggins and our salmon and steelhead. I spoke about spending my lifetime listening and learning to what our wheat farmers require, what our power needs for the future are and what the tribes have lost as part of their culture.

Last week, the Idaho County commissioners sent a letter to Simpson opposing his plan to restore Idaho's salmon and steelhead and invest in new energy and transportation infrastructure. The county commissioners claim that the representative is out of touch with Idaho.

True leadership is hard. Seeing a problem and stepping out to attempt to address it often means isolating yourself -- purposefully putting your name on the line knowing the tribal groupthink of those behind you will sight in their scopes on an exposed target. Simpson is showing true leadership by fighting for a better future for Idahoans with this Northwest in Transition concept.

I had hoped that other leaders, designated as such by elected office, would, at the very least, respond to Simpson's proposal by learning what it is he knows and why such an audacious plan was conceived.

I had hoped that if they listened before speaking out, they might speak accurately to their constituents about the plight of Idaho's salmon and steelhead and the current benefits and drawbacks of the lower Snake River dams without inflammatory rhetoric, but with the scrutiny deserved of a federal system costing -- not producing -- tens of billions of dollars.

Unfortunately, recent comments and letters produced have spread misinformation on the subject, which could have been avoided with a simple phone call to Simpson's office. If we are serious about saving our fish, then we've also got to be honest with ourselves and Idahoans. Our fish and our communities that rely on fish deserve that much.

Commissioner Skip Brandt: You represent my region of Idaho County. I beg that you start acting like you're in touch with us. You've acknowledged that Riggins is solely reliant on sport fishing. Yet, in the same breath, you tell us to quit fishing.

It should be a simple ask of a public servant, of which I am myself, to be in touch with his community. But I am dismayed that I have to ask for you to stop advocating against my community. You "acknowledge the benefits of recreational fishing and generally support salmon recovery efforts but these should not be a priority over people."

I ask, Commissioner Brandt, can you separate the people of Riggins from fish?

It is apparent you have not taken the time to understand that the largest contributor of mortality for Idaho's fish is on their outward journey to the Pacific Ocean, where half of our fish are wiped out by the dams, slackwater predators and overall stress. It may benefit you to also understand that sportfishing has minor impacts to wild Endangered Species Act-listed stocks. We take only hatchery-origin fish, and those fish play no role in recovering and eventual delisting of an endangered species.

We have to retain wild fish genetics to perpetuate hatchery stocks in the future. So the way of the wild fish goes the way of the hatchery fish.

My outfitting business brought more than 700 people to Riggins during the fall and winter. Women with Bait brings in more than 1,000 women and charges Idaho County's economy during the winter months. That is 1,700 people from just two outfitters.

During the height of the steelhead season, our hotels were full and I sent my clients to Grangeville to find open rooms. Riggins is a disproportionate economic powerhouse to the county. Even with some of the lowest returns on record, we have our fish to thank.

Idaho County commissioners and others who have spoken out against Simpson's proposal may not know Bonneville Power Administration is careening into massive debt it admits it can't reverse.

The commissioners may not know shipping through the dams has decreased substantially and taxpayers are footing the bill to keep it up. I hope they recognize that we will have spent $34 billion on fish recovery efforts in 20 years -- the same price as Simpson's proposal. The congressman's plan would pay off in the long run for all of us, not just the few who benefit from today's system.

I still have hope. The front of my drift boat is open to learn more about this complex issue and why a very large investment is needed to address multiple crises and make Idaho a better place for everyone.

The door is also open to scrutinize Simpson's proposal. We cannot afford to close doors. Our fish and our communities deserve that.

Roy Akins is a Riggins City councilor, owner of Rapid River Outfitters and chairman of the Riggins Chapter of Idaho River Community Alliance.
Simpson Displays Leadership; Brandt Should Try It
Lewiston Tribune, March 17, 2021

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