Today in Idaho River History: Salmon abundance eased cost of living in Idaho

By Blake Hunter, IRU Service Learning Student

Ninety-nine years ago, the wild salmon and steelhead of Idaho returned in colossal numbers to their spawning grounds high into the mountains of Idaho. Along the way, the salmon and steelhead had a profound impact on the people living on the banks of the Salmon River. In fact, today in 1917, the Idaho Statesman published a story discussing the importance of the Gem State’s bounty of wild fish.

Officers of the Salmon National Forest estimated that in 1917, in the waters near the city of Salmon, 7,000 pounds of salmon were harvested. These fish could then be preserved and established a reliable source of food to “promise well for the coming winter.”

“As long as it is possible for a sufficient number to spawn to provide for a future supply,” the salmon are a staple for rural communities and a relief on their wallets, said the article.

According to IRU Executive Director Kevin Lewis, if the salmon and steelhead runs returned in self-sustaining numbers today, they would generate significant revenue throughout the state, with the majority of benefit being seen in rural towns along the Salmon and Clearwater rivers, as well as their tributaries.

In 2005, a Boise economic think tank estimated that restored salmon and steelhead runs could generate $544 million for Idaho annually. Rural communities would see the greatest benefit—between direct angler spending and indirect spending, or the “total community economic impact,” Lewiston, Orofino, and Salmon would see annual spending at around $52, $47, and $40 million dollars each year, respectively.

Other highly affected communities would include Riggins, Challis, Grangeville, and McCall. As study author Don Reading points out, the impact may appear insignificant in larger communities, but a $544 million annual boost for Idaho is an increase in the state’s bottom line that will prove influential.

Unfortunately since construction of dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers salmon and steelhead populations have crashed. Moreover, a succession of federal salmon plans have failed to do enough to stem the decline, and wild salmon and steelhead and salmon are on the ropes. today.

Click here to learn more about Idaho’s wild salmon and the dire threat they face.