2017 Year in Review

Fighting for river protections can sometimes feel like an upstream paddle. It’s easy to lose sight of the long-range vision and difference we’re making while working hard for small victories along the way.

For that reason and more, compiling an annual review of our year’s challenges and accomplishments offers a much-needed window for reflection and an opportunity to plan for work ahead. 

It’s important to remember that the mission to protect and restore our rivers and native fish requires short-term focus with long-term commitment. And it depends wholly on you and your involvement and your willingness to talk with your friends, family and neighbors about why Idaho's rivers are special.

Please keep in mind as you read that the challenges listed here are ones that you as an IRU supporter faced—and in many cases won. And while this review is about work undertaken in 2017, there are numerous challenges in the year ahead. Please support us as we work to build on this record of success.

More than 400,000 seek free-flowing lower Snake River

For the past 20 years restoration of Idaho’s endangered wild salmon has been IRU’s highest organizational priority, and we created significant momentum in early 2017 for Idaho’s native anadromous fish. Working with allies in Idaho and throughout the Pacific Northwest, we encouraged more than 400,000 people to participate in government processes and asked for definitive change on the lower Snake River that makes sense for local economies, fishermen and fish. 

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Idaho Power denied petition to override state supremacy over water

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dismissed a petition Jan. 19 that would have overridden states’ abilities to enforce water quality. The ruling was a win for IRU and other groups seeking better water quality at three dams on the Snake River in Hells Canyon, a mostly behind-the-scenes issue we’ve been working on for nearly 20 years.

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Settlement protects historic uses on Highway 12, restricts megaloads

Former IRU Executive Director Bill Sedivy joins Nez Perce protesters along Highway 12 in 2013. IRU and the Nez Perce Tribe reached a settlement with the U.S. Forest Service this year after nearly a decade-long battle over megaloads.

In January the Nez Perce Tribe, IRU, and legal group Advocates for the West finalized a settlement with the U.S. Forest Service to protect historic uses of U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho while restricting megaload shipments to preserve the area’s spectacular scenery and cultural significance. The settlement capped nearly a decade of sometimes-tense work by IRU, allied organizations and local residents.

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Winter snowpack surges, produces near-record runoff 

Water was a big story in 2017. By early March many south and central Idaho rivers basins stood at 150 to 200 percent of average snowpack, and early releases of up to 6,000 cubic feet per second were initiated on the Boise River, up to three months earlier than usual. A mid-February warm snap also caused widespread flooding across southern Idaho. This was foreshadowing for events to unfold later in the spring. As the month of April unfolded, low- and mid-elevation snow began to melt while higher elevations continued accumulating significant snow. It was a rare combination of huge snowfall and fast warm-up. For the most part, disaster was averted around the state, but the situation produced significant tension for dam managers and riverside residents alike. 

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IRU sues EPA to prevent heat-driven salmon kills

IRU became part of a coalition of Columbia Basin organizations, represented by Boise-based Advocates for the West, that filed suit Feb. 23 to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to create a temperature pollution budget to protect endangered salmon and steelhead.

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Court grants increased spill for salmon

On Monday, March 17, a federal court in Portland, Ore., sided with IRU and our allies and ruled that federal dam managers on the Columbia and Snake rivers must increase water release over spillways at eight dams to improve survival rates for juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean. The additional spill must start in 2018. The federal government appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which should issue a ruling early in 2018.

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IRU and Save Our wild Salmon debate former congressman

IRU Executive Director Kevin Lewis and Save Our wild Salmon Inland Northwest Director Sam Mace went toe-to-toe on Tuesday, March 28, with former Congressman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and think-tank employee Tod Myers, who argued for the status quo on the lower Snake River.

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IRU and Aveda Salons partner for fifth Aveda Earth Month

For the fifth straight year, IRU partnered with Aveda Salons to honor Earth Month, a month full of events and public information campaigns designed to raise awareness and money for nonprofits working to protect water. Since 1999, Aveda has raised more than $50 million to help support organizations that directly affect environmental change. 

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Ride for Redd ladies make monumental trek for salmon

Ride for Redd arrives home. Photo by Ava Izaacson

A team of Idaho women set out on horseback April 18 from Astoria, Ore., on a journey to Redfish Lake in central Idaho. The nearly 1,000-mile trip, called Ride for Redd, a partnership with IRU, was designed to draw attention to endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest. The team arrived at Redfish Lake in central Idaho June 10.

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New agreement protects Selway Wild and Scenic corridor

The Selway River and several sensitive tributary streams were protected June 23 when conservation groups completed negotiations with the U.S. Forest Service and settled on a revised plan to log only specific portions of a canyon burned in 2014. This work capped nearly two years of successful efforts to defend the Selway River’s Wild and Scenic integrity.

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Idaho breweries join Brewshed Alliance to advocate clean water

In its second year, the Idaho Brewshed Alliance is taking off.  The Alliance is built on a single, pragmatic premise: great beer starts with clean water. Brewshed featured in Washington, Oregon and Idaho where breweries are taking pledge to help protect the watersheds that make their beer great. In 2017 Idaho Brewshed Alliance members included Payette Brewing, 10 Barrel Brewing, Hunga Dunga Brewing, Salmon River Brewery, Sockeye Brewing and Sawtooth Brewery.

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Idaho Statesman publishes huge salmon investigation

Twenty years ago, on July 20, 1997, the Idaho Statesman launched a three-part, eight-page package of editorials that included graphs, timelines, maps, photos and facts discussing the pitfalls of the lower Snake River dams. The paper’s conclusion: removing the four dams made economic sense and would help restore endangered wild salmon. In the summer of 2017, Statesman reporter Rocky Barker embarked to reexamine the issue of wild salmon recovery and wrote a comprehensive series that dove deep in issues including energy, commerce, fishing and politics. 

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Mine threatens South Fork Salmon River

Idahoans faced a new and threatening mine proposition in the headwaters of one of its most important rivers. Canada-based Midas Gold has proposed to reopen pit mines near the remote community of Yellow Pine at the headwaters of the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River, a basin prized for fishing, hunting, paddling and natural beauty. IRU successfully encouraged hundreds of people from around the country to comment in opposition to the mine.

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The late Gov. Andurs was an influential and important salmon advocate

Idaho lost a giant Aug. 24 when four-time Idaho Gov. and U.S. Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus passed away. Andrus will be remembered for numerous important accomplishments. He probably won’t, however, be remembered for his failure “with the cause I fought hardest and longest for, and cared about the most,” Idaho’s salmon.

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Salmon Fest and Flotilla attract hundreds

Photo by Greg Stahl

In August hundreds of Idahoans gathered in Stanley for IRU’s annual Sawtooth Salmon Festival where IRU partnered with the Stanley Museum and biologists to lead tours of wild salmon spawning in their natal waters. Despite abysmal salmon returns this year, biologists managed to find spawning salmon in a new location. In September, IRU also helped plan and lead the third annual Free the Snake Flotilla, where more than 300 people from throughout the region gathered to paddle on Lower Granite Reservoir and draw attention to the plight of endangered salmon.

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Clearwater and Salmon basins overflow with Wild and Scenic candidates

Cayuse Creek. Photo by Wendy Jones

For much of the past decade, IRU has worked to defend the Wild and Scenic rivers of the Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forests, where some of the finest wild rivers in the nation flow clean, clear and cold. This fall IRU asked the U.S. Forest Service to protect more of the Clearwater River basin’s rivers, including renowned cold-water fishing streams like Kelly Creek, Cayuse Creek, Fish Creek and others. Simultaneously, IRU engaged in a process on the Salmon-Challis National Forest that could lead to Wild and Scenic protections in the upper Salmon River basin, as well as the Big Lost and Little Lost rivers.

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Hatchery setback underscores fallacy of approach to restoring salmon

On Nov. 14 the Idaho Department of Fish and Game acknowledged that sockeye salmon from its new $14 million Springfield Hatchery in southern Idaho are dying at difficult-to-explain rates. In fact, not a single fish from the hatchery has ever survived the round-trip journey from central Idaho to the Pacific and back.

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Salmon and steelhead post historically poor returns

Graph by Bert Bowler, Snake River Salmon Solutions

Idaho’s salmon and steelhead are in trouble. This year’s returns of wild salmon and steelhead are among the worst on record, and it’s a quarter century after the species were listed under the Endangered Species Act. The dire situation in 2017 first started to come into focus in March when the Idaho Department of Fish and Game indicated that one of the lowest steelhead returns in decades could curtail fishing opportunities. By April, biologists predicted that all of Idaho’s salmon populations would nosedive. Predictions were, unfortunately, accurate. 

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Northwest Reps. write death warrant for Idaho’s salmon

Five Northwest political leaders on June 29 introduced legislation seeking to block a federal court order that requires increased protections for Idaho’s endangered salmon “These five members of Congress have written a death warrant for endangered salmon,” said IRU Executive Director Kevin Lewis. “This bill must be stopped dead in its tracks." In October, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. weighed in on the bill, which Idaho conservationists coined the “Sock-it-to-Idaho Act” for its attempt to wipe out progress made for endangered wild salmon. IRU mobilized Idahoans to write members of Congress and submitted dozens of pages of comments to the DC hearing. By the end of the year with the historically-abysmal 2017 salmon returns in the books, Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador has signed on to support the bill. 

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Massive new mine threatens Boise River

The Boise River and people of the Treasure Valley are facing a renewed threat from the American CuMo Mining Corp., a Canadian company seeking to develop what would be one of the largest toxic open pit mines in the world in the Boise River headwaters.

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South Fork Payette threatened by 37 new mining claims

South Fork Payette. Photo by Greg Stahl

The year unfortunately came to a close with yet another emerging threat on a popular section of the South Fork of the Payette River, where there are 37 new mining claims in and next to the river. If developed the claims could dramatically rearrange the area from Lowman to Sourdough Lodge, including lands adjacent and close to the popular Kirkham Hot Springs.

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New interactive timeline chronicles 27 years of conservation victories for Idaho’s rivers

In 2017 we have an immense amount of great work to celebrate, and we also have 27 years of accomplishments to hold up as evidence that your involvement in river conservation makes a difference. Follow the link to brows a timeline featuring nearly 100 organizational success stories.

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