Idaho shouldn't give up its independent voice for salmon

Idaho should retain its ability to fight for its endangered wild salmon.

While that might seem like a no-brainer, it unfortunately isn’t. Earlier this month, IRU and allied organizations mailed a letter to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter asking him not to sign any agreement that further ties the state to federal positions on salmon management.

At issue is a legally-binding document called an accord. Ten years ago, Idaho signed an accord with the Bonneville Power Administration—the federal agency that sells the region’s hydropower—pledging to support the federal government’s legal, biological and economic strategies in exchange for cash it could spend on hatcheries and habitat restoration programs.

Idaho upheld its pledge to support the federal government, but it’s become clear that the federal approach—despite costing $16 billion—has failed. Salmon populations are slipping, and the price tag is going up.

“Idaho salmon and steelhead numbers are dropping, and critical stocks face extinction in the next few years,” the groups said in their letter. “Idaho cannot rely on federal plans or promises to reverse the trend toward extinction.”

The accord signed by Idaho 10 years ago expires Sept. 30. IRU and our allies have been meeting with public officials monthly about accord renewal since last fall, and believe the state is in the process of renegotiating a new, similarly-binding deal that gives up the state’s independent voice.

“Trading a $500 million-per-year fishery for $4 million per year was a bad deal for Idaho,” said IRU Executive Director Kevin Lewis. “Why would we want to sign on the dotted line and eliminate our ability to talk about it? Idaho has been hiding behind the accord, not using it to generate much-needed change for our salmon and steelhead.”

Lewis acknowledged that Idaho’s 2008 accord has contributed to beneficial habitat-restoration projects in the upper Salmon and Potlatch river basins, but those projects have primarily benefitted isolated local communities and species. The economic potential of wild salmon--$544 million per year across the state—is going unrealized.

“Idaho’s salmon are on a four-years-and-counting steady decline toward extinction,” Lewis said. “Regardless what we do in the upper basin, the core problem remains. The primary artery is still blocked, and our salmon cannot migrate to and from the Pacific.”