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The Human Side of Salmon Recovery

by Debra Smith
Lewiston Tribune, May 14(?), 2000

Rally makes the case for the importance of fish in small town economies

RIGGINS -- A group of about a dozen Riggins business owners and others rallied at City Park on the Salmon River Friday to "put a human face on salmon recovery."

The group -- largely members of Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited -- posed in front of the Salmon River with banners. They are hoping to send a message to Gov. Dirk Kempthorne that breaching the lower Snake River dams will mean more salmon dollars and jobs for small, riverside towns like Riggins.

"We want to bring the governor's attention to salmon means dollars. Saving salmon means saving people in a community like Riggins," said Scott Bosse of Idaho Rivers United. "We want to put a human face on salmon recovery."

The rally came on the opening day of the first salmon season on the Little Salmon River in three years. A bumper crop of chinook returning to Idaho triggered the sport season this spring.

Abundant spring flows helped flush the salmon to sea when they were young, and improved ocean conditions contributed to the large return.

An Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation report released last year said a restored salmon fishery would mean a $72 million boost each year to the state economy and 2,100 full-time jobs.

About 700 of those jobs would be in small, riverside towns like Riggins, Bosse said. For Vicki and Tom Anderson, those figures hit close to home.

The Andersons own Salmon River Motel in Riggins, and Vicki Anderson said a good salmon season makes a big difference.

"The bottom line is the salmon season makes a $12,000 difference for our business," she said.

Tom Anderson said "there is no industry whatsoever" in Riggins and more than half the community's income is based on the fishing season.

A short season several years ago brought nearly $1 million to the town, according to ISSU president Tony Bradberry.

Those rallying said they don't want the increased number of salmon to make people think the problem is solved and the dams can stay.

The swell in salmon numbers is "Mother Nature taking care of her fish" and not a product of human efforts, said Mitch Sanchotena, executive director of Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited.

"We as fishermen wish mankind could take the credit for those fish," Sanchotena said. "But mankind has done nothing to restore the fish."

Of the 30,000 fish expected to return to the river this year, about 4,300 are wild salmon -- around 1,000 more than last year. Bosse said that number is holding the fish population steady, not recovering it.

"We feel a lot of people might get the wrong idea about the fishery," said Gary Lane, owner of Wapiti River Guides. "People think, 'What's the problem?' But these are hatchery fish and they give people the impression that everything is OK."

Since hatchery fish need the genetically stronger wild salmon to flourish, in the long run breaching the dams is the only way to ensure healthy runs of wild salmon every season, Bosse said.

"While there will probably be a season next year, the future looks dim beyond that. This is still the fifth worst season in Idaho's history."

Just down the road from Riggins, fishing on the Little Salmon River isn't too hot, according to anglers. But opinions about the dam are.

Joe Rohrbacher of Emmett said he isn't sure breaching the dams is the solution. "Everyone would like to see the salmon come back, but I don't know if that's the answer.

What about the hardships of the people?

"They'll probably never get those dams out anyway."

Rohrbacher said he's worried about silt flowing down the river if the dams are removed, the impact on farmers who may have difficulty shipping grain, people losing jobs and higher electricity prices.

Janeen Eggebrecht of Riggins said she's concerned about dwindling salmon, but isn't sure if taking out the dams might not cause other problems. She'd like to see a stream bypass built around the dams instead.

"It's one of those things that you don't know the outcome until you do it," she said of removing the dams.

Although Kempthorne opposes removing the dams, ISSU officials have invited Kempthorne to Riggins for a fishing excursion.

No word yet on whether he'll come.

Debra Smith
The Human Side of Salmon Recovery
Lewiston Tribune, May 14(?), 2000

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