We can’t give up in fight to save Idaho’s salmon

Visitors to the 10th annual Sawtooth Salmon Festival watch chinook salmon spawning in the Salmon River near Stanley. (photo by Greg Stahl)

By Bill Sedivy, Executive Director

IRU’s Sawtooth Salmon Festival this past August, our 10th annual, was incredible.

From an organizational perspective, Outreach Coordinator Jeff Cole did an outstanding job organizing the event in cooperation with the Stanley-Sawtooth Chamber of Commerce. The turnout was great, I saw many old friends, and the weather was near perfect — at least on Saturday.

But salmon provided the highlights.

As part of this festival’s educational focus we conduct tours to the Salmon River, where, luckily, we always seem to find at least a couple of wild, spring chinook doing their spawning work in the stream of their birth.

This year, dozens of fish mesmerized tour attendees.

On the spawning redds at Buckhorn Bar, female chinook used their tails and long, slender bodies to dig nesting depressions in river’s gravel bed. Occasionally, in an explosion of activity, I’d see large, four-year-old males chase a juvenile male away from the redds.

During a tour to Redfish Lake Creek I stood with 40 other people, hoping to see my first glimpse of an Idaho sockeye where they belong — in a stream, heading to their spawning grounds in Redfish Lake.

We weren’t disappointed. As if on queue, in the middle of a Fish and Game biologist’s talk, four scarlet sockeye swam tentatively up the creek. Perhaps they were hoping to escape the notice of the resident osprey overhead.

I know similar scenes have played out annually in the Sawtooth Basin for millennia. Still, every year at festival time the spawning chinook — and this year the sockeye — move me and inspire me to continue working to put our government on a path toward restoring wild salmon to self-sustaining levels.

In mid-September the Obama administration dealt our campaign a tough-to-swallow procedural blow when it announced the government will continue to embrace a Bush-era roadmap for salmon recovery. By accepting that plan, which actually calls for reductions in some sockeye and chinook recovery measures, our fish are threatened anew, and prospects for restoration are weakened.

That decision was disappointing. However, like the salmon I saw near Stanley this summer, IRU salmon advocates and our allies are a determined bunch. We won’t give up until we reach our goal — the implementation of a scientifically credible salmon recovery plan. And we don’t think such a plan can be created without calling for removal of four obsolete dams on the lower Snake River.

Getting there won’t be easy. We’ll need a favorable ruling in the coming months from federal Judge James Redden. We’ll need to convince members of Congress to engage in the issue. The effort will take time, money and energy.

But seeing spawning salmon again this summer reminded me that Idaho’s fish will bounce back if we give them half a chance. And seeing them again in that incredible natural setting reminded me why IRU’s salmon work is so important.

I’m not giving up on the fight to save Idaho’s wild chinook and our sockeye from extinction. Neither is IRU. I hope you won’t, either.