By Eric Crawford, north Idaho field coordinator for Trout Unlimited.
As salmon and steelhead populations continue to decline, Idaho has arrived at a pivotal moment in how it will define itself for generations to come.
Last month, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission announced the closure of the Clearwater River to steelhead fishing effective Sept. 29.
This marks the first time in decades that this mighty river has been closed to steelhead anglers.
If dismal – depressingly low – fish returns aren’t a flashing red light that we have entered a critical moment, this closure should. Some experts predict that extinction of these iconic species is little more than a decade or two away, leaving no room for error or dawdling.
With only 10 percent of the 10-year average passing through Lower Granite, Idaho is on track to have one of the worst years on record for salmon and steelhead. In the 1800s an estimated 4 million salmon and steelhead populated our rivers. By the 1960s, 100,000 adults returned. In July, Idaho Fish and Game estimated only 665 wild B-run steelhead would return to Idaho.
So we find ourselves faced with two options: continue with the status quo, or come together to meet the challenge ahead.
As anglers, scientists, volunteers and advocates, Trout Unlimited is wholly committed to a future that includes fish.
We cannot fathom the alternative.
Trout Unlimited, with partners and volunteers, has put millions of dollars on the ground in Idaho restoring and reconnecting important salmon and steelhead habitat. It is our audacious vision that Idaho will once again see salmon and steelhead return en masse to its rivers, bending the rods of anglers, filling our freezers, boosting our local economies.
Making decisions based on sound science is a core principle at Trout Unlimited, and overwhelming scientific evidence has led us to support removal of the four lower Snake River dams. Science has shown that it is necessary to recover abundant, fishable and harvestable Snake River salmon and steelhead, even though it is not a silver bullet, and complementary actions will also be needed.
We understand that not everyone sees it the way we do. As members of the communities that have been and will be affected by this challenge, we recognize that all Idahoans must benefit from any solutions package. We are committed to seek solutions that work for fish and people.
Our wake-up call is here. The decision and solutions we put forth now will set the stage for years to come … maybe forever. We urge Idahoans to set their differences aside and come to the table. Collaboration takes time, creative thinking, and no small amount of patience. But ultimately it is the collaborative solutions which serve us best and last the longest.