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Damning Salmon, Episode 7, with Jon Kittel and Aaron Lieberman

Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association

This week on Sustainable Idaho, we turn our attentions back to salmon in Idaho. Speaking to Jon Kittel, a representative of the Idaho River Community Alliance, and Aaron Lieberman, a representative of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, we find out how Congressman Simpson’s Salmon and Energy Concept may impact local communities in Idaho.

This week on Sustainable Idaho, we are coming back to the topic of salmon in Idaho.

In the last installment of our series on salmon in Idaho, we spoke with Congressman Mike Simpson about his Salmon and Energy Concept. This concept is centered on the removal of the four lower Snake River dams by 2031. However, this is of course a contentious issue. Congressman Simpson explained that the dams provide hydroelectric power, allow the low cost barging of agricultural products from Lewiston-Clarkston to Portland, and support some irrigation practices. Yet, the best available science suggests that the dams are the greatest driver of Idaho’s Salmon population decline and that removing the dams may be the only way to prevent Idaho’s Salmon becoming extinct.

Since our interview with Congressman Simpson, multiple different stakeholders have come out with statements, both in support and against the proposed plan.

This week, we hear from representatives of two key stakeholder groups. The Idaho River Community Alliance and the Idaho Outfitters and Guide Association, who are both involved with Idaho’s salmon fishing industry, and understand how recreational fishing can affect Idahoan communities.

Jon Kittel represents the Idaho River Community Alliance, which is a group that advocates for the river communities of Central Idaho in the Salmon and Clearwater River drainages.

Jon told Sustainable Idaho that salmon and steelhead fishing is vitally important for the economies of many riverside communities in Idaho. People travel from all over Idaho and the wider U.S to spend their dollars in fishing communities.  

Currently, Jon is working with the Idaho Outfitters and Guide Association in regards to Congressman Simpson’s Energy and Salmon Concept.

Jon stated "We have been struggling as fishing guides. Reduced bag limits and in some cases season closures had negatively affected our work opportunities, businesses and communities. I appreciate that Congressman Simpson is seriously working to address this issue in a way that ensures that my friends, neighbors, and fellow statesmen will not be forced into the hardships we have been facing as fishing guides. A solution that includes all is the only solution that works for me."

“As our salmon and steelhead populations have dwindled and so have the opportunities to work as a guide taking people fishing for these fish. As a Riggins community member this reduction in work availability has pushed me to look for other work, as fish guiding was no longer a full time option for me. I have seen my town negatively affected as bars, restaurants and hotels are not able to fill their establishments with people coming to town to go fishing. I appreciate that Congressman Simpson has heard this and has taken concrete action toward restoring our work and town in a way that ensures this hardship is not simply passed onto my friends, neighbors, and fellow statesmen."

Two such riverside communities in Idaho are Riggins and Lewiston.

Fishing guides sometimes get a bad rap in this conversation around salmon recovery. It’s easy to understand why some people may suggest that fishing guides only want to protect Salmon so they can catch and kill more of them. We spoke to Aaron Lieberman, the Executive Director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, to find out more about why fishing guides want to save salmon.

Aaron told us that Idaho Outfitters and Guides Associated are heavily invested in the issued of Salmon recovery and have been exploring potential solutions for decades. Aaron explained that for fishing guides, the desire to conserve salmon goes much deeper than just to save their fishing industry.

Aaron explained “that Salmon represent the totem of Idaho and are the namesakes of many places.”

Aaron told Sustainable Idaho that salmon have the ability to connect one generation to the next. Recalling a conversation he had with a fellow fishing guide, Aaron explained how his fellow guide was saddened by the decline of Idaho’s salmon population. Aaron’s friend and fellow guide described how he had been unable to take his son fishing and how this broke his heart because some of his most meaningful memories with his father and grandfather were of salmon fishing.

In speaking with Aaron and Jon, it is clear that fishing guides are very connected with their natural environment and are aware of the important ecological role that salmon play as a keystone species. Both Aaron and Jon made it clear that conserving salmon is not just about fishing and economic benefits to riverside communities; but is also crucial to the survival of many other species that are interconnected with salmon populations.

But as we have explored in previous weeks, there is opposition to Congressman Simpson’s proposal. Some groups, some as the Idaho Farm Bureau, have voiced their concerns about removing the four lower Snake River dams. I asked Aaron, what would he say to those that are against Congressman Simpson’s proposal and want the dams to stay in place?

Aaron said that he would urge other groups to have faith; to have faith in a way that fishing guides and riverside communities have shown for some time now. Quoting Mike Simpson, Aaron suggested that everything we do, we can do differently. Aaron highlighted how there are feasible alternatives to energy generation (other than hydropower produced by the dams), to barging, and to irrigation.

Thanks to Aaron Lieberman and Jon Kittel for joining us this week. And if you want to hear our full interview with Aaron, Jon and Toby Wyatt, a representative of the Idaho River Community Alliance, who we couldn’t squeeze into this week’s segment, the full interview is available at on the Sustainable Idaho Program page. Join us for sustainable Idaho, every Tuesday morning at 7,35am.