By most accounts, Toby Wyatt and his Reel Time Fishing business are premier examples of entrepreneurship and fishing experience excellence in our region. You could easily argue that he is legendary in the tradition of his father, Snake River Jake.
The title of his recent Lewiston Tribune commentary, “Simpson’s plan can make all of us winners,” paints an idyllic picture of a “river runs through it” scenario that is a total fantasy when compared to the reality of the on-the-ground destruction and economic disaster that would be created in the wake of dam removal as laid out in Congressman Mike Simpson’s plan.
To be fair to Simpson, his chief of staff, Lindsey Slater, put together a broad and necessarily vague compensation plan for the economic devastation that would surely result if his plan became reality. But let’s address the flaws in Wyatt’s argument.
The four lower Snake River dams are not even the No. 1 obstacle to salmon recovery. Warming ocean conditions are universally acknowledged as the main obstacle to salmon recovery in the lower Snake and most other Pacific coastal watersheds. The majority of the loss occurs long before the salmon return to the Columbia-Snake corridor. The increase in predation is at historic levels for both the ocean and the mouth of the Columbia River. Similar trends in low returning adults along the West Coast are seen in all streams, even those without dams.
As a nine-year board member of the Snake River Salmon Recovery Board, I have had the opportunity to listen and view reports from fish biologists, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration experts and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staffers who have presented a constant and comprehensive overview of the ever-changing challenges of salmon recovery, particularly the endangered spring chinook run.
While waters warmed in 2014-2015, hatchery production was suddenly and mysteriously slashed in Washington and the practice of barging and trucking juvenile fish downstream was largely abandoned. These mitigation efforts had consistently more than offset most of the damage done by dams, predators, commercial fishing and poorly managed fishing seasons below Bonneville Dam.
Restoring hatchery output and resuming juvenile fish barging would cost far less than dam breaching and would provide measurable relief in the near future.
When I confronted Slater via Zoom about the fact that no one, not even Simpson, can guarantee salmon recovery as a direct result of dam breaching, he acknowledged that truth as stated by his boss when Simpson said: “I want to be clear that I’m not certain removing these dams will restore Idaho’s salmon and prevent their extinction, but I am certain that if we do not take this course of action we are condemning Idaho’s salmon to extinction.”
Salmon recovery is not that simple and there are no shortcuts.
So, Toby, what you’re asking might (and might not) make you and your fellow fishing guides a better living, but it will make losers out of the other 95 percent of us by destroying the infrastructure of our economy. For the record, $33.9 billion is not enough money to purchase our way of life.
We wish you well, Toby, and are confident that you will continue to adapt to conditions on the ground.