Riggins Discovers Who
by Marty Trillhaase
Come to fishing-dependent communities such as Riggins and see why rural Idaho takes such a dim view of both government and the conservation community.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Idaho Rivers United are running to lawyers and trashing these fishing economies in the process.
Under threat of suit from IRU and other conservation groups, Fish and Game closed the steelhead fishing season, effective Dec. 7. That will work less of a hardship on the Lewiston area - where the fishing activity tends to taper off at this time of year - as it does in places such as Riggins, where the heavier fishing extends into the spring.
At issue is a federal permit allowing anglers to inadvertently injure and kill an incidental number of wild steelhead. For eight years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries has been too busy to renew Idaho's permit.
NOAA's negligence gave IRU and some of its colleagues - including Friends of the Clearwater, the Conservation Angler, Snake River Water Keeper and the Wild Fish Conservancy - the opening to signal their intent to sue.
Says Fish and Game: With no permit, Idaho would lose hands down and pay IRU's attorneys $50,000 to $100,000 for the privilege.
Now if you're an outfitter sitting in a Riggins coffee shop wondering how you're going to make that boat payment without a fishing season, you might ask why Idaho Fish and Game has been so complacent about getting that permit renewed.
Why, you might also ask, didn't members of Idaho's congressional delegation put pressure on the federal bureaucracy - especially during the past two years when President Donald Trump has been returning GOP congressional telephone calls?
Where was Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter during all this time? Before he signed a new set of fish accords with the federal dam community - thereby foregoing the option of filing a lawsuit - why didn't Otter first insist that NOAA fisheries renew the incidental take permit?
And if you're the owner of a Riggins restaurant worried about filling empty tables this winter and spring, you might recall how IRU has used you and your neighbors as rural props to advocate breaching the four lower Snake River dams.
Here's an example: In a 2011 press release, IRU cited:
Now it's time for the blame game.
Fish and Game says fish advocates negotiated in bad faith.
IRU points the finger at NOAA and Fish and Game.
You'll find no winners here.
The fishing communities lose but so does the cause of Idaho's wild fish - which just lost an important politically ally.
Perhaps Stites fisherman Butch Suor summed it up best when he told the Tribune's Eric Barker: "It's just unbelievable. They've only had nine years and now they left the window open for the greenies to get in."