If you don’t think rivers are beautiful, you must at least like money

By Maxwell Schaffner, IRU Intern

Working in the field of environmental conservation naturally attracts individuals with a passion for the aesthetics and values that are found in nature. Idealism and the pursuit of altruistic feelings toward our natural environment abound. 

It becomes easy to argue for the protection of wild lands, forests—and in the case of Idaho Rivers United—native waterways and aquatic life simply because it is the right thing to do. When it comes to the question of why it is important to protect Idaho’s rivers, the answer seems obvious; rivers are important, rugged, historical and beautiful. 

However, a question looms above this seemingly natural response to the question of why Idaho’s rivers need protection: what if I don’t think rivers are beautiful? It is a bit of a shock to hear that not every person in the worlds shares the same passion and drive for protection of scenic waterways that we have, but the world is rarely so kind as to make opinions ubiquitous.

This contrast of opinions may seem like an impediment to the ongoing goal of river protection and conservation, but it actually allows for the development of economic arguments in support of river restoration, namely the return of spawning salmon to the Snake River. 

Even the individual least swayed by the argument that rivers are worth protecting for their own sake should recognize and support the economically founded argument that bringing salmon back to the Snake River will save taxpayer dollars, create jobs, and increase the overall economic health of communities connected to the Snake River. 

  • For every dollar that taxpayers spend to maintain dams, only 15 cents is returned in benefits.
  • For every $3 invested in dam removal $4 are returned in benefits.
  • More than $550 million is spent each year in attempts to restore salmon through unnatural means such as transportation by truck.
  • This same amount of money could be generated in revenue if salmon were to return to the Snake River.
  • This economic data is emboldened by Judge Michael Simon’s May 2016 ruling that the government must write an environmental impact statement regarding salmon and dam removal.

The specifics of the economic arguments are not nearly as important to the discussion of dam removal as the realization that numerous equally well researched and viable arguments exist for the removal of the four lower Snake River dams and the return of salmon spawns to Idaho.

Effective change is not created through a single viewpoint. The intricacies of river restoration and dam removal are natural outgrowths of the complexity of river systems and the areas that they affect. 

Waterways, streams, creeks and rivers are connected to the fields of biology, economics, history, anthropology and politics, and consequently compel individuals of various backgrounds and fields of study to form opinions regarding waterways and their various potential uses. The key to river restoration is harnessing these various viewpoints, agreeing on reasonable and beneficial solutions, and finding common ground in the health of Idaho’s future, economic or otherwise.