Over the weekend, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson released his “Energy and Salmon Concept.”  Congressman Simpson developed the far-reaching plan based on three years of meetings with stakeholders, tribes, and other elected authorities to better understand the Snake River’s complexities. The Snake River once enjoyed prolific salmon runs. “But the historical plentiful runs of the Snake and Salmon Rivers are no more,” Congressman Simpson said. Idaho salmon populations have plummeted since the construction of the Snake River dams. Today, all of Idaho’s salmon and steelhead are listed as threatened or endangered. The Congressman has made it clear that he hopes to see salmon return to Idaho in strength within his lifetime. Therefore, he set out on a three year process to ask the larger Snake River community, “what if the four Lower Snake River Dams (LSRDs) were breached?”

The “Energy and Salmon Concept” is an all-encompassing approach to removing the four LSRDs. The key point of the plan is to save Snake River salmon without causing excessive harm to the industries that have depended on the dams for decades. Further, it highlights the reality that constant litigation and burgeoning spending have not made a dent on salmon recovery, but rather fueled a highly corrosive discussion. It does not have to be a never ending fight over salmon or the dams; there are many ways to replace the dam’s benefits and recover Snake River salmon, Congressman Simpson found.

“The removal of the dams would become the cornerstone of a broader effort to stop the decades-long salmon wars, during which conservation interests win in the court but lose in the river,” Trout Unlimited’s Chris Wood said.

Simpson’s $33.5 billion plan represents a departure from the failed ‘either, or’ approach and ushers a new, holistic discussion for the Snake River. Among other provisions, the plan would:

  • Breach all four dams by Fall 2031
  • Replace hydropower through a $10 billion grant for clean power generation
  • Improve watersheds
  • Lock in the other dams in the Columbia River System for 35-50 years and end lawsuits relating to anadromous fish
  • Efficiently transport grain and agriculture products
  • Protect impacted communities through economic development funds
  • Provide funding for agriculture irrigation mitigation

It is important to note that this plan is currently just a conceptual framework. It is not an actual piece of legislation, yet. However, the magnitude of this announcement and movement cannot be understated. Congressman Simpson identified what it would take to keep all parties whole AND remove the four LSRDs, saving Snake River salmon. Further, he outlines how this plan can become a reality through an upcoming stimulus or infrastructure package.

Earlier this year, renowned salmon scientists wrote a letter to the Governors of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana stating, “Incremental changes will not recover these fish and if we do not remove the four lower Snake River dams, the basin’s salmon and steelhead are highly likely to become extinct.” Congressman Simpson agreed on that conclusion: “While I cannot be certain that removing the four LSRDs will bring back Idaho’s salmon, I am certain that if we do not remove them our salmon and steelhead are on a certain path to extinction.”

Endangered Snake River sockeye salmon, NOAA Fisheries

“The Pacific Northwest has never been so well-positioned, with numerous delegates in key leadership positions on both sides of the aisle, to shape our own future; a better future. We urge our congressional delegation to show leadership in coming down on the right side of history, to undertake the largest river restoration project ever, and end the decades-long struggle to recover wild salmon and steelhead,” said Idaho Rivers United Executive Director, Nic Nelson. “While much still needs to be done to ensure the success of this effort, for now, we celebrate this monumental step forward.”

Salmon used to thrive in Idaho. As legend goes, salmon were the reason for the Snake River’s accidental naming convention. The river’s name came from an S-shaped hand sign made by members of the Shoshones tribe. European explorers misinterpreted this hand sign, which is now thought to have truly meant, “the people who live near the river with many fish.” Recovering these fish to their historic abundance will be difficult and expensive. But Snake River salmon represent so much culture, history, and opportunity that their recovery may just be possible. We applaud Representative Simpson’s effort and will be following its progress.

Be sure to read Congressman Simpson’s plan–it’s not very long and clearly outlines the Snake River system. Also, if you want to advocate for this plan and the recovery of Snake River salmon, take action through Trout Unlimited.

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Will Poston has been with us here at Flylords since 2017 and is now our Conservation Editor. Will focuses on high-profile conservation issues, such as Pebble Mine, the Clean Water Act rollbacks, recovering the Pacific Northwest’s salmon and steelhead, and everything in-between. Will is from Washington, DC, and you can find him fishing on the tidal Potomac River in Washington, DC or chasing striped bass and Albies up and down the East Coast—and you know, anywhere else he can find a good bite!


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