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Get Rural Development with Salmon Recovery

by Bert Bowler
Opinion, Lewiston Tribune, January 4, 2004

The press reported on the first Idaho Rural Summit in Coeur d'Alene, where several participants emphasized the need to educate rural leaders on resource issues. Some also suggested the state needs "to sell the idea of rural development to folks who still hope the mill will reopen or the mine will start hiring again."

I would submit that a large chunk of rural Idaho needs to look carefully at the economic benefits that sustained runs of salmon and steelhead could bring to the state each year. Unlike timber, which has a rotation time of 80 to 150 years to reach maturity, salmon and steelhead can be caught in three to five years.

Studies by Boise economist Don Reading estimated the value of recreational salmon fishing to Idaho during 2001 was about $90 million. River communities like Lewiston, Orofino, Kamiah, Kooskia, White Bird and Riggins were the major beneficiaries of the salmon fishery, but off-river towns like Grangeville, McCall and Cascade also profited. In Riggins, anglers spent $10.1 million, which represented 23 percent of the total sale of all goods in that town during 2001.

Likewise, a 1996 study by the same author showed that the 1992-1993 steelhead fishery in Idaho was responsible for over $90 million in expenditures.

Salmon and steelhead hatcheries are currently driving the fisheries that are supporting the states economic boon. But wild fish recovery is a major component to allowing maximum flexibility in harvest for hatchery fish, as well as providing long-term assurances for viability of the hatchery program.

Unfortunately, Idaho's wild salmon and steelhead runs aren't doing all that well. That doesn't bode well for fisheries in communities like Salmon, Challis and Stanley that are not able to enjoy salmon fisheries on hatchery stocks largely because of low returns of wild fish to the upper Salmon River.

Long-term sustained runs of wild fish to Idaho will require effective recovery measures. The best available science supports removal of the four lower Snake River dams as the most effective restoration method.

Dam removal can offer other substantial economic benefits to Idahoans by eliminating the need for flow augmentation from the upper Snake River and Dworshak Reservoir. The Bureau of Reclamation attempts to move 427,000 acre-feet of water from above Brownlee Dam toward the ocean annually. Dworshak is drafted most every year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to supply nearly 1.5 million acre-feet of cool water to assist seaward-migrating smolts.

Southern Idaho agriculture would welcome an end to the use of irrigation water for salmon recovery. Northern Idaho businesses would also welcome the economic benefits of keeping Dworshak Reservoir full during the peak recreation season, rather than facing an 80-foot drawdown each summer.

A University of Idaho study found that Dworshak drawdown can result in $4.5 million a year in lost sales. Sens. Mike Crapo and Larry Craig are working on securing $1 million from the corps budget for Orofino and Clearwater County to mitigate drafting Dworshak.

But rather than making a onetime appropriation to compensate for the loss of valued recreation in the Orofino area, Idaho's congressional delegation should promote a permanent fix to the summer drafts in Dworshak by supporting lower Snake dam removal.

Rural Idahoans -- including county commissioners, city leaders and chamber folks -- should take a hard look at the economic opportunities sustained annual runs of salmon and steelhead could bring to their towns. Also, the state of Idaho should lead the effort in promoting the actions that offer the best opportunity for recovering wild Snake River salmon and steelhead, and the economic opportunities they would bring.

Bert Bowler of Boise, joined Idaho Rivers United after a 30-year career with the Idaho Dept. of Fish & Game.
Get Rural Development with Salmon Recovery
Lewiston Tribune, January 4, 2004

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