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ID Salmon Workgroup Ends, Considered 'Stepping Stone' Toward Recovery

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Last year, only 18 sockeye salmon returned to Redfish Lake, south of Stanley. (Ryndon Ricks/Flickr)
Last year, only 18 sockeye salmon returned to Redfish Lake, south of Stanley. (Ryndon Ricks/Flickr)
 By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID - Producer, Contact
December 23, 2020

BOISE, Idaho - A group convened by Gov. Brad Little to address the dire situation for salmon and steelhead numbers has finalized its recommendations and should release a final report next month.

The Salmon Workgroup, established in April 2019, is made up of conservation groups and representatives of tribes and local industries.

Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, said the diverse group aimed for "low-hanging fruit," since it needed consensus on its recommendations.

"The recommendations we did come up with, they will move the needle," he said. "They will help fish. Unfortunately, they will not get us to those levels of abundance that Idahoans want."

Conservation groups say one notable issue that isn't part of the final report is the detrimental effects of the four lower Snake River dams on fish populations. Along with being a controversial issue, dam breaching wasn't included because these dams aren't located in Idaho. However, most of the public comments to the group also suggested removing the dams.

Aaron Lieberman, executive director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, agreed that dam removal is the best bet for salmon. He said the workgroup recognizes that its report isn't a recovery plan, and more needs to be done regionally to restore the fish. But he added that he believes the group is a firm stepping stone.

"Even though we couldn't come to consensus around some more important areas, to my view, we did so in good faith," he said. "And I think we each developed a degree of trust - within the state and within different affected or potentially impacted industries and communities - that sets us up well as a state."

Brooks said one of the workgroup's greatest achievements is establishing that Idahoans want more than just seeing salmon and steelhead removed from the list of endangered species. They want the fish species back in abundance - and they want a new vision for how to get there.

"We want economically and culturally viable returns back to Idaho, and that was really great to see these diverse interests around the state really come together and support those levels of returns," he said. "That's what Idahoans want - and that was one of the victories, I think, of this report."

In October, the governors of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington signed an agreement to work together on recovery of salmon and steelhead in the region.

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