Idaho Statesman Guest Opinion: Past 20 years have strengthened the case for removing four Snake River dams

Twenty years ago the Idaho Statesman wrote a groundbreaking collection of editorials that concluded it was time to remove four dams on the lower Snake River to save taxpayers money and restore endangered wild salmon.

This summer five Northwest lawmakers have introduced legislation that would turn the clock back on the limited progress that's been made during the ensuing two decades.

The following Reader's View by IRU Executive Director Kevin Lewis was published in the Statesman today, July 28. Click here to read Lewis's reflections at the Statesman's website. Otherwise, read on.

BY KEVIN LEWIS

Twenty years ago this month, The Idaho Statesman helped nudge the conversation about wild salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest toward lower Snake River dam removal.

On July 20, 1997, the Statesman launched a series of editorials discussing the steady decline of wild Idaho salmon and the impact of four lower Snake River dams. The paper’s conclusion: removing the four dams would restore salmon and made economic sense. “Four dams in Washington are holding Idaho’s economy hostage,” the Statesman concluded.

Recent economic analysis shows that the numbers have only tipped further toward dam removal in the ensuing 20 years. For every dollar spent on these four low-value, high-0cost dams, taxpayers receive just 15 cents in return. Meanwhile, salmon returns to Idaho this year are likely as low as at any time in the past 40 years.

Idaho Rivers United applauds both the Statesman’s 1997 investigation and conclusion along with the current series of salmon-focused articles by reporter Rocky Barker, who is taking a fresh look at the challenges and opportunities related to Idaho’s salmon. Hopefully, Barker’s articles will help stimulate new discussions and further advance the notion that Northwesterners have to do more to return these species from the brink.

Unfortunately, there are those who would do less and, moreover, work to impose their will on Idaho. Five Northwest elected leaders recently introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives seeking to block a federal court order that requires increased protections for Idaho’s endangered salmon.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and four other Washington and Oregon congressional representatives. The legislation is aimed at an April decision by a federal judge that requires federal, state and tribal fisheries experts to work together to improve conditions in the Columbia and Snake rivers for young salmon migrating to the ocean.

Idaho’s iconic salmon have been teetering on the brink of extinction for more than 25 years with little progress toward recovery and, during that time, federal courts have repeatedly instructed federal agencies to follow the law and create a sound plan to prevent extinction of these fish.

Instead, these representatives think it is good government to bypass our nation’s judicial branch and impose their misguided will on the people of Idaho. Would they be so cavalier if these were Oregon and Washington fish?

It is possible to restore the lower Snake River, recover our salmon and steelhead, protect agriculture and build a more robust regional economy if folks sit down in good faith to work out solutions without being bullied by out-of-state interests.

In recent decades hundreds of dams have been removed across America, including several large-scale dam removals in the Pacific Northwest. Nobody regrets the dam removals that have already occurred. In fact, they are universally celebrated as success stories for fish, local economics and quality of life.

Here in Idaho our people and salmon deserve better than to have the clock turned backward on their protections. McMorris Rodgers’ bill should be dead on arrival.

Kevin Lewis is the executive director of Idaho Rivers United.