The continued decline of our iconic Wild Salmon & Steelhead is a problem that is affecting Idaho’s ecosystems, rural economy, and outdoor industry. Working on real solutions to this problem of diminishing returns will require bold action and strong leadership. You have all demonstrated over-and-again such audacity and strength of purpose that our state needs to meaningfully address similarly complicated and weighty subjects. This letter is to ask that you now apply your respective capacities to this issue and imbue our state with renewed commitment to finding lasting solutions that work.
A member outfitter, Steve Zettel, recently sent me an article he’s been working on, Welcome to Salmon-less, Idaho, in which he writes:
“I live on the Salmon River in Challis Idaho. I can see the river from my living room. I cannot tell you the last time I saw a Salmon in the Salmon River...
...I may be wrong, but I would guess that we have spent Billions on the Salmon-less problem, yes, that’s with a B. And no results. Sure, someone will start telling you about hatcheries, barges, fish ladders, upstream irrigation measures, thousands of this, 10s of thousands of that, hundreds of thousands more, an entire Salmon-less industry has been created. Jobs, infrastructure, investments, all so large that it’s now more important to have the Salmon-less problem than it is to fix it. It’s amazing how much we are willing to spend on failure. We have entire segments of government, state and federal, in place, just to manage and manipulate the poor folks who have chosen to work, live, invest in, the Salmon-less River country.”
Remarks like these reflect a growing frustration and sense of urgency within the fishing outfitter and guide communities: Frustration because they are bearing the burden and carrying the costs of the decline of Idaho's returning wild fish without seeing returns for their sacrifices; and urgency, because they sense the time for patchwork is behind us.
Fishing outfitters and guides in Idaho are helplessly watching the downward arc of Idaho’s wild fish. The fate of Idaho’s iconic wild fish depends on our finding a solution to the problem of diminishing returns, taking bold action before we pass the point of inflection and find we’re too late. By turn, so do the livelihoods and communities of our fishing outfitters, who were so entranced by those fish as to eschew more comfortable lives and stable jobs working in tall buildings.
Meanwhile, these outfitters continue investing in their businesses and communities, promoting outdoor recreation and tourism in rural Idaho, and supporting Idaho’s rural economy on a truly significant scale (sport-fishing generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year in Idaho), while we continue throwing fathomless sums of money at ineffectual Federal recovery programs. It’s like practicing preventative medicine on a body in cardiac arrest. These are the costs all Idahoans carry. It’s not just outfitters and guides— Idaho, on the whole, pays the highest premium on regulation out of the three Columbia River watershed fishery states, with the lowest returns. For all of their worry and for all of their efforts, what have they come to expect from D.C.? No meaningful return on their continued investments; just more of the same. More bureaucracy, more restrictions, more of the same ideas, same old promises, and ever-declining returns. The patchwork of piecemeal Federal recovery efforts simply have not worked. Neither have commendable restoration efforts within the state managed much beyond staunching the wound. The cliche that “Insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting a different outcome” comes to mind.
Commenting on the recent loss of Idaho’s last surviving caribou, Idaho Fish & Game Wildlife Coordinator Gregg Servheen told the Idaho Statesman: “It kind of happened with a whimper.” Outfitters and guides in this state never do anything with a whimper, especially give up in a fight. We don’t intend to start now, but we need your help.
What we are asking of you is substantial. There is no cure-all to Idaho’s “Salmon Problem,” and those—at least partial—solutions that have come to the forefront of past conversations are difficult and by no means clear cut. What is clear, however, is that what we’ve tried has not worked.
We need to look at the “Salmon Problem” with fresh eyes and real vigor. We need to review what solutions have been proposed over the years unencumbered by the assumptions and biases that belong to different times. We also need to look for the things we’re not looking at, in other words, to identify the dogs that don’t bark. I don’t know what the solution is. But I know that to stand a chance, we’ll need to work together to draw pragmatically from ideas spawned by the diverse interests regarding wildlife management, energy, agriculture, commerce and recreation in our state.
So, we need to do away with the battle lines we’ve construed within our state and recognize that the fight worth fighting is to save Idaho’s Wild Fish—and that fight is for all Idahoans. It’s a fight for the fishing outfitters and guides whose passion for our fish runs strong and deep as the rivers that carry them; for rural economies that depend on our fish for the recreation and tourism dollars they bring; for Ranchers and irrigators, who operate under ESA restrictions imposed because of the “Salmon Problem”; and it’s a fight for generations of Idahoans yet to come, because our fish are a vital part of our shared economy, traditions, and ethos of our great state.
Finally, and crucially, we need you. You have, each of you, demonstrated vision, tenacity, and courage in any number of social and political issues as leaders of this state. We are asking that you do that again, here and now. Help us navigate the difficult questions and work together toward real and lasting solutions. If you do, we’ll stand with you.
Executive Director - Idaho Outfitters & Guides Association