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Commentaries and editorials

Seminar on Salmon and Fishing Issues
Lingers on Breaching

by Hilary Costa
Idaho Statesman, January 14, 2007

Ten years after The Idaho Statesman first backed the controversial idea of breaching four Lower Snake River dams in order to save Idaho's salmon species from extinction, debate on the issue continues to wage among conservationists and fishing enthusiasts alike. Now there are younger voices -- the next generation of caretakers for Idaho's rivers -- starting to take a stake in it, too.

"It's really important to me to pay attention and help out," said Kyle Letterlie, 17 and the president of the Boise Valley Woolly Buggers youth fly fishing association, which boasts 170 members. "I try to get my peers into it, that's for sure."

Letterlie was among the speakers who addressed topics on fishing and preservation of Idaho's salmon, steelhead and trout Saturday during an all-day seminar at Boise State University sponsored by local conservation groups Trout Unlimited and Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited.

A few hundred fishing enthusiasts gathered in BSU's Jordan Ball Room to learn all things fish-related, from fly-tying and casting techniques to what steps could be taken to bring Idaho's salmon levels back on track.

Salmon numbers have steadily declined since the construction of four dams on the Lower Snake River beginning in 1962, dipping close to extinction in the mid-1990s. Numbers temporarily spiked from 2001 to 2003 due to favorable ecological conditions in Northwest rivers and the Pacific Ocean, but they've taken another dive in the past couple years.

According to an ongoing study by the School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, only 37,636 chinook salmon passed through the Snake River's Lower Granite Dam in 2006, down from 46,015 in 1997 when the first editorials advocating dam breaching ran.

James Piotrowski, president of Trout Unlimited's Boise chapter, said that while there is no consensus among fishers on what steps to take next, all agree that the current situation is not tenable.

"We cannot have healthy rivers until we have rivers that function more naturally," Piotrowski said.

In a panel discussion revisiting the 1997 Statesman editorials on dam breaching, Tom Stuart of Idaho Rivers United said he had no doubt the four Lower Snake River dams would one day be breached.

"I only have two questions," Stuart said. "Will that occur before Idaho salmon go extinct? Or after?"

Conner Smith, 13, a seventh-grader at Boise's River Glen Junior High, joined Trout Unlimited Saturday afternoon. He's been fishing with his dad, Donald Smith, as long as he can remember, and "wanted to help out." Before heading into the panel discussion on breaching, he said he hopes to become more involved in fishing issues as he gets older.

Letterlie pledged the same. He'll keep talking to other teens as often as he can about cleaning up rivers and preserving fish habitat. Even though some friends shrug him off, he said he's gotten others hooked on the issues.

"I'm keeping the whole outdoor thing alive, even in the computer generation," he said.

Hilary Costa
Seminar on Salmon and Fishing Issues Lingers on Breaching
Idaho Statesman, January 14, 2007

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