Greg and Cheri Webster run The Bent Rod Outdoors in Challis, Idaho. It’s a great shop, and they’re great TU Business members. Greg and I had the opportunity to chat recently on Instagram Live, and about halfway through our conversation I had a revelation. Greg was talking about the economy that’s grown up around recreation in their little 900-person community in central Idaho. It’s a topic that’s been on a lot of people’s minds and hearts lately in the rural West, especially as some of the traditional economic bases of these communities have slipped away.
We were talking about small, local businesses that have bloomed with the growth of fishing, hunting, camping, river running and all the other outdoor activities that make the Salmon River country what it is today. It’s not just small fly shops like theirs, it’s restaurants and bars and small shops and B&Bs and other small, family-owned businesses. They’ve brought new life to lots of small communities. People want to come to Challis and Lander and Philipsburg and other little towns that may have roots in mining or timber, but their new growth is in recreation.
We talked a lot about fishing. Greg loves fishing for cutthroats on the Salmon River, and I love hearing him talk about bull trout – a fish that’s on my bucket list. But the heart and soul of our discussion was about salmon and steelhead. Challis, ID is 800 river miles from the Pacific Ocean. But these brave and resilient fish evolved to spawn in the Salmon River and its tributaries and they’re genetically programmed to return there. The problem is that these fish are on the brink of extinction. The dams on the Lower Snake River have reduced salmon and steelhead in the Salmon River to a pitiful fraction of their former levels.
That was the revelation that struck me in mid-conversation, even in mid-sentence. What if we could do it? What if we could remove those four dams and bring back real runs of these iconic fish to their natal waters? We know what that would mean to the fish, but what would it mean to the people of central Idaho? What would be the economic input of people coming from all over the world to fish, or even just to see these magnificent creatures? It would be a new lease on life not only for the river and the fish and all the species that depend on the fish, but for the communities. This isn’t just about fish, it’s about all of us.
Greg and Cheri Webster stand with TU on our proposal to remove these dams. How about you?
The Bent Rod Outdoors
Greg and Cheri Webster
Challis, ID 83226