Dustin Aherin 2.24

Dustin Aherin

As the president of the Middle Fork Outfitters Association, I represent 27 member outfitters in Idaho that take customers from all over the world on week-long Middle Fork Salmon River trips. We wholeheartedly support Congressman Mike Simpson’s bold and ambitious plan to save endangered salmon and steelhead in Idaho and the Pacific Northwest.

Middle Fork outfitters are tough and tenacious. In other words, we’re typical Idahoans. In any season on the water, we witness great acts of courage and strength — usually hidden from our clients because that’s what it takes for a guide to do his or her job well. Honestly, we’re not easy to impress. But Congressman Simpson has impressed us with his proposal to save Idaho’s magnificent salmon and steelhead runs from extinction.

We thank Congressman Simpson and his staff for giving this issue the leadership it needs. We thank him and his staff for showing attention to detail, honesty in how they approach issues and the grit it takes to go to bat for Idahoans.

The federal government has spent 20 years and $17 billion, and counting, tweaking the hydro system and still failed to restore salmon runs. Before the four dams on the Lower Snake were put in, there were up to 425 redds found in the main stem Middle Fork. In 2020 there were 11.

MFOA members and our private boating friends have done our part for the salmon. Changes made in how permits are issued during the salmon spawning window. We are monitored closely during spawning to prevent boats from impeding with spawning salmon’s activities.

The beauty of Simpson’s $33.5 billion proposal is that it actually finds a path through rocky issues.

Removing the four Lower Snake River dams is just one essential part of the plan. The MFOA welcomes the other parts of the proposal such as continued funding for habitat restoration projects in the upper Salmon Basin, funding for research and monitoring, a fund to draw from should the salmon and steelhead season be curtailed during the dam removal process.

We also support compensation funds for our friends in agriculture from the upper Snake to the dryland wheat farmers in the Palouse and Camas Prairie. We applaud the recognition that we need local control of funding so it can be targeted on a case-by-case basis. We appreciate that the proposal seeks to fully understand the impacts on local communities.

The members of the MFOA value these fish and the crystal clear, cold waters of the Middle Fork Salmon. It is no wonder the crown jewel of the National Wild and Scenic River System, and the surrounding Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, are known as Noah’s Ark for wild Chinook salmon and steelhead.

As sure as salmon bring life to Idaho rivers, they bring life to North Central Idaho. MFOA members and our guests provide $22 million in direct economic impact each year into these communities. If we could restore the salmon and steelhead runs, it would lead to huge economic development in rural communities like Riggins, Salmon, Challis and Stanley.

Congressman Simpson is willing to do his job. We need to do ours. We need to support his innovative proposal and put it into action. We can’t wait any longer. The existing system is killing our fish. Let’s work together to save the namesake of the Salmon River.

Yes, it will be hard. There will be tradeoffs. But it will be worth it.

Dustin Aherin is the president of the Middle Fork Outfitters Association. He runs Idaho River Adventures in Lewiston.

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