Simpson's Salmon-Recovery Plan Called 'Sea Change' For NW

Feb 11, 2021

Salmon and steelhead on the Snake River have dwindled dramatically in recent decades.
Credit Sam Beebe / Flickr

An Idaho congressman may have taken the first step in untangling the tricky knot of dams in the Northwest and their effects on salmon.


Representative Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, laid out a $33 billion Columbia Basin Fund.

While it includes breaching the four lower Snake River dams, it also addresses replacing their benefits, such as energy and irrigation for local agriculture.

Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, said it's a critical lifeline for the region's endangered salmon and steelhead.

"My reaction to Simpson coming out with this plan is 'Finally!'" Brooks remarked. "Finally, someone is giving this attention to this issue because it is such a big problem and it is going to require a big solution, and Simpson is giving it the attention it deserves."

Simpson has been working on the plan for three years and has held three hundred meetings with stakeholders over that time. Other congressional leaders in the region have pushed back on the proposal, saying it's too expensive and might not recover salmon.

However, groups such as the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association and Northwest River Partners, which have dismissed dam-breaching in the past, confirmed they're willing to consider this plan.

Brooks described it as a sea change, and contended removing the dams would bring sustainable numbers of salmon back to Idaho.

"This proposal recognizes that there are other ways to get products to market, there are other ways that we can generate power, but there is only one way for our fish to get back to Idaho and to the ocean," Brooks asserted.

Brooks noted people in the region, especially communities that rely on the endangered fish species, are hurting.

"The current system right now is leaving people behind," Brooks warned. "And if we recognize that these are friends and families that are losing right now, I think that it's a lot easier to say, 'You know what? Yeah, let's roll up our sleeves and talk about a way where we all get what we want.'"

More than a dozen fish species have become endangered since the dams were constructed. In 2019, only 14 sockeye salmon made it back to central Idaho to spawn.