Idaho conservation groups issue harsh rebuke of Gov. Otter after he signs fish accords committing Idaho to failed federal policy

Idaho conservation groups issued a harsh rebuke to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter today after the governor committed the state to four more years of support for failed federal salmon policies.

“Governor Otter is the architect of do-nothing salmon policy that commits Idaho to a failed federal approach,” said Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, a coalition of sportsmen. “Idaho’s salmon and steelhead are in dire straits right now, in danger of extinction. Fishing seasons are getting shut down, really damaging the economies of fish communities. That’s where the state’s commitment to federal salmon policy has gotten us. It’s time for Idaho solutions that bring Idaho fish back.”

In 2008 Idaho signed a 10-year Accord with the Bonneville Power Administration. In exchange for access to federal funds that would be used for fisheries projects, Idaho agreed to support federal plans to recover populations of steelhead, sockeye and chinook salmon that were listed under the Endangered Species Act in the 1990s.

“In the 10 years since Idaho signed its first Accord with the federal government, salmon returns have not improved--they’ve gotten worse,” said Marie Callaway Kellner, water associate for the Idaho Conservation League. “For the past three years, in fact, returns have been declining steeply. Wild steelhead in particular have made a hard turn toward extinction. The sockeye of Redfish Lake remain at high risk, with only 13 wild adults returning in 2018.”

The document Gov. Otter signed on September 30 commits Idaho to four more years of the same. It provides Idaho with an additional $16 million in federal funds, but requires the state to “fully support the federal approach to salmon policy … in all appropriate forums” for four more years. This is bad for Idaho.

“This governor’s action is a grave, reckless and disrespectful act,” said Kevin Lewis, executive director of Idaho Rivers United. “It’s disrespectful to Idahoans and to Idaho’s natural resources. It’s also disrespectful to the next governor, who may be forced to bear the burden for the extinction of Idaho’s iconic salmon and steelhead.”

A consortium of conservation groups and anglers sent a letter to Otter on Sept. 27 asking him not to sign any Accord that binds the state to failing federal fish policy.

“In sum, we request that the State of Idaho not sign an Accord that: supports another BPA-proposed spill experiment, since it will harm endangered Idaho fish that need additional help now, or forces the state of Idaho to endorse and support federal positions rather than reach its own independent judgments,” wrote the groups, which included Idaho Wildlife Federation, Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United and the Idaho chapter of the Sierra Club.

“Now is not the time to double down on federal policies that have clearly failed Idaho’s salmon and steelhead”, said Zack Waterman, director of the Idaho Sierra Club. “With fish populations plummeting, the state of Idaho was in a position to break the inertia that led to this point. Sadly, Gov. Otter has committed us to more of the same.”

  • Click here to read the groups’ letter to Gov. Otter.

  • Click here to read the groups’ letter to BPA.

Banner photo by Neil Ever Osborne