Damning Salmon, Episode 6, with Congressman Mike Simpson

Feb 16, 2021

Sustainable Idaho further investigates Salmon in Idaho. Speaking with U.S Congressman Mike Simpson, Rachel and Scott explore Simpson’s recently published ‘Energy and Salmon Concept’, which has the potential to help save Idaho’s salmon from the brink of extinction.

Credit U.S Congressman Mike Simpson, Simpson House.gov


This week on Sustainable Idaho, we are speaking to a special guest, U.S Congressman Mike Simpson. Congressman Simpson very recently published a $34 billion dollar plan, called the Salmon and Energy Concept, which could help save Idaho’s salmon population.

Over the last few months we explored the topic of salmon in Idaho. Speaking to a range of experts, we discussed the ecological, economic and cultural significance of Salmon. However, we also learned that a system of dams within their migration corridor are driving the species toward the brink of extinction. Already threatened by climate change, degradation of riparian habitats, and the warming of ocean and freshwater temperatures, Salmon populations in Idaho are in a dire situation and are in need of a drastic intervention.

In the last 30 years, the Northwest has spent over $17 billion on fish recovery efforts, most notably these funds have gone towards extensive hatchery programs. Yet, we have more salmon and steelhead runs listed under the endangered species act today than we did in 1980. In our last episode on this topic, we suggested that we are simply band aiding the issue but making little meaningful progress towards a sustainable long-term solution. But, Congressman Simpson’s proposal may change all this.

In an exclusive interview with Sustainable Idaho, Congressman Simpson explained that this issue comes down to a simple question “People have to ask themselves, do you want to save salmon, yes or no?” Simpson continued to explain that his proposal endeavors to put an end to the status quo of fighting over never ending litigation and fighting over salmon and the four lower Snake River dams.

Congressman Simpson’s proposal centers on the removal of the four lower Snake River dams by 2031. However, this is of course is a contentious issue. Congressman Simpson explained that the dams provide clean hydroelectric power, allow the low cost barging of agricultural products from Lewiston-Clarkston to Portland, and support some irrigation practices. However, Simpson stated that all the science shows that the dams are the greatest driver of Idaho’s Salmon population decline.

Congressman Simpson now believes the Northwest may have a unique opportunity to craft our own solution, which allows stakeholders to create their own certainty and security for today and for future generations.

Simpson’s proposal seeks to find a compromise for all stakeholders involved. In the past three years, Simpson has been involved in over 300 meetings to hear the concerns and potential solutions to solve this issue, and he hopes that this will allow stakeholders to create their own certainty and security for the future.

From our exploration of this topic, and from the conversations we’ve had with experts, this proposal makes both economic and environmental sense. Since the release of the ‘Energy and Salmon Concept’ ideological battle lines have appeared between environmental advocates and the farming community. However, Congressman Simpson told Sustainable Idaho that the proposal should command unilateral support, even from the farming community, because it works to find a compromising solution across all stakeholder groups. Furthermore, Simpson explained that the Northwest has spent $17 billion to save salmon in the last 30 years but has not been successful, suggesting that a drastic intervention is needed now.

As we have explored in previous episodes, salmon are very significant to Native American culture and are a vital component to their religious practices. Congressman Simpson acknowledged the cultural significance of salmon to not only Native American communities, but also to the broader northwest.  His proposal intends to make Idaho's Tribes part of the ongoing management of salmon, and that he stands committed to fulfilling trust and treaty obligations in Idaho.

Finally, Congressman Simpson touched on the broader cultural and societal benefits of Salmon population recovery, and stated that he does not want to have to explain to his grandchildren why salmon no longer run in Idaho.