Idahoans set record straight with letter to Rep. Hastings

A contingent of Idaho residents wrote Congressman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., last week expressing their concern that a recent letter the congressman penned grossly exaggerated the state of salmon and steelhead recovery efforts in the Columbia and Snake rivers.

“If you think salmon are being restored, please consider coming to Idaho and telling that to fishermen and fishing businesses, who continue to struggle season after season as salmon returns stumble and even slip,” the Idahoans wrote. “Moreover, your letter glosses past the fact that salmon recovery is about wild fish, and wild fish returns are at a fraction of what’s needed for recovery.”

The Idaho letter was signed by Idaho Rivers United Executive Director Bill Sedivy, Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited Board President Bill Boyer, fisheries biologist Bert Bowler, fisherman and Boise dentist Steve Bruce, and fishing guides and rural Idaho business owners Chris Swersey and Gary Lane.

Hastings wrote the outgoing administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Jane Lubchenco, on Feb. 4 to express that NOAA’s recent initiation of regional stakeholder interviews regarding salmon and steelhead weren’t necessary because endangered fish populations have rebounded. But the opposite is true, the Idahoans wrote.

The official forecast for this year’s wild spring/summer chinook return to the Columbia River mouth destined for the Snake River Basin is only 18,900, and about 60 percent, or 11,000 fish, will reach Lower Granite Dam, they pointed out. The 2012 wild run crossing Lower Granite was 21,000; 2011 was 22,000; and 2010 was 26,000.

“These are very small numbers compared with the 2 million salmon that returned to Idaho historically, and are far below the 80,000 wild chinook estimated to be needed to remove the species from listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA),” they wrote.

The forecasted numbers don’t bode well for the 2013 fishing season because accompanying hatchery numbers will be low and because of protective harvest regulations for the small wild return. For hatchery-raised salmon—those that are legally fishable—only 24,000 chinook are projected this year compared to 59,000 in 2012, 67,000 in 2011 and 97,000 in 2010.

“It’s disappointing to hear an elected official of your distinguished stature defend a Biological Opinion that was unequivocally declared illegal by a federal judge — and in fact urge NOAA to ‘redouble this Administration’s commitment and focus’ to do the same,” they wrote. “The $200,000 to $300,000 NOAA plans to spend to carry out its stakeholder assessment pales in comparison with the more than $13 billion spent on measures that have failed to recover Columbia and Snake River salmon. A new direction is needed for our fishing families and businesses, and that’s what NOAA has proposed.”

Idahoans have learned that collaboration can be a very effective means of resolving longstanding natural resources issues, and the letter signers said they hope Hastings will reconsider his position.