Idaho Rivers United: Restoring Salmon And Steelhead In Idaho

For the last several decades Idaho Rivers United has been working to protect and restore Idaho’s wild rivers and wild fish. We count among our members a diverse crew of river recreationists and users, as well as environmentally attuned citizens that see the same special qualities in Idaho’s water and wildlife that we do. The state is unique for its countless miles of free-flowing, pristine river habitat that supports the livelihoods and pastimes of so many people. 

We carry out our work through a blend of advocacy, engagement, and education. By collaborating with many different stakeholders, we push for the protection of healthy, free-flowing rivers through Wild and Scenic designations; prevent ill-conceived, dangerous mining projects in river headwater areas; halt unnecessary dams; and advocate for the meaningful recovery of salmon and steelhead populations in Idaho.

Our longest standing project has been restoring our wild salmon. Salmon and steelhead are an inextricable part of Idaho, yet their populations have plummeted to near extinction since the middle part of the 20th century. Their epic 900 mile migrations to the ocean and back have been significantly degraded by a series of major dams along the Columbia-Snake River corridor. What was once a free-flowing river is now a chain of reservoirs hundreds of miles long. 

Virtually since our founding, we’ve pushed for salmon recovery efforts that follow the best science and take dramatic action in order to save these Endangered Species Act-listed fish. What the science shows is if we want abundant salmon back in Idaho rivers we must breach the four Lower Snake River dams and revive this crucial migration corridor that connects Idaho to the sea. Central Idaho’s vast complex of wilderness areas holds pristine, cold-water habitat capable of supporting runs of Chinook, sockeye, and steelhead hundreds of thousands of fish strong. The recovery potential is immense for both the salmon and the communities that rely on their yearly, abundant return. 

There is ample opportunity to join us in advocating for decisive, smart action to recover salmon. Our elected representatives possess the tools to put together a recovery plan that assures the services the dams provide are not lost, while our wild salmon and steelhead are effectively recovered. Writing letters and providing comment at public meetings are great methods to pressure our leaders to act now. 

Alongside salmon recovery, IRU’s other main project is opposing a large-scale gold mine in the headwaters area of the East Fork South Fork Salmon River. As those that have visited know, this place offers unparalleled solitude and beauty, both qualities that would be forever altered by a mine. The health of headwaters affects the health of communities and habitats many miles downstream. The proposed mine places too great a risk on the iconic South Fork area. 

To learn more about our work, become a member, or access resources to help you better advocate for Idaho’s wild rivers and fish, visit our website at

--Stephen Pfeiffer, Conservation Associate