It's Time to Breach
by Jared Pfliger
Among outdoor enthusiasts, the Pacific Northwest is known for its iconic salmon and steelhead that once thrived in the waters of the Columbia River Basin. At the turn of the 19th century approximately 10 to 16 million wild salmon and steelhead would return to the streams, rivers and tributaries of this basin spawning the next generation. Today, they number in the tens of thousands when returning to the Snake River in Idaho, the largest tributary to the Columbia River.
The population decline has taken a toll on the region's heritage and outdoor recreation communities. The economic impact of recreational fishing surpasses $5.6 billion supporting approximately 42,000 jobs. If all stakeholders would work together, imagine the economic benefit and cultural resurgence this region would experience if we return to the wild salmon and steelhead populations of the past.
Many are aware of the challenges that exist for wild salmon and steelhead. They range from changing climate conditions, to land development, to hydroelectric dams which act as physical barriers to returning populations that need the basin's cool, clean moving waters to successfully spawn. While dam breaching can be a politically contentious topic it has shown tremendous success in restoring salmon runs.
This problem is not new. Over the past several decades approximately $16 billion has been spent to accomplish this goal with little success. The good news is, national and state leaders are looking for new solutions.
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho understands. He has gone so far as to say, "I am going to stay alive long enough to see the salmon return to healthy populations in Idaho." This bold statement is welcome news to the recreational outdoors industry, environmental interests and for restoring the cultural significance of these species. Simpson has positioned himself as a powerful and pragmatic ally who is motivated to see a plan put into place which restores salmon populations.
Interest in tackling this issue is also on Idaho Gov. Brad Little's mind who created a work group tasked with bringing interests together. Rep. Simpson's and Gov. Little's interest in solving this issue is great news. We look forward to supporting all parties. We believe all options -- including dam breaching -- must be on the table to have a comprehensive solution.
We must start the conversation now on restoring wild salmon and steelhead populations. If not, we will never restore this region's iconic species before they are lost to history.
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