Federal agencies and Northwest Indian tribes reach $900 million deal to protect salmon

By Matthew Daly
Washington, D.C. (AP) 4-08

A compromise reached with four Northwest tribes would commit federal agencies to spend $900 million over the next decade on improving conditions for endangered salmon while leaving intact hydroelectric dams that harm fish.

The deal would end years of legal battles between the Bush administration and the four Northwest tribes. However, it would not affect a fifth tribe that is party to a lawsuit nor environmental groups that vowed to press on in their efforts to breach four dams on the Lower Snake River in eastern Washington.

Federal officials called the agreement a landmark in the long-running dispute over balancing tribal and commercial fishing rights, protection for threatened salmon and power demands from the region’s network of hydroelectric dams.

“This deal defies the decades of salmon science that say salmon recovery in the Columbia and Snake River Basin is not possible with habitat and hatchery programs alone,” said Bill Shake, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official who advises a Northwest sportfishing group.

Any scientifically sound plan must include increased spill at the two dozen dams and irrigation projects along the Columbia and Snake rivers as well as removal of four outdated dams on the lower Snake River in Eastern Washington, Shake said.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski called the agreement premature and said tribes were taking a short-term view.

“It’s a sad day for me,” Kulongoski said.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire called the deal a “positive development” and said federal and tribal leaders should be commended for their efforts.

“We can best protect and enhance our salmon by working together collaboratively throughout the region focusing on real on-the-ground solutions that make a difference,” she said. Both governors are Democrats.

Steve Wright, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, a regional power agency that led the settlement talks, said the new agreements should benefit salmon and Northwest ratepayers alike.

“We have spent decades arguing with each other. Today these parties are saying let’s lay down the swords, let’s spend more time working collaboratively to ... help fish and less time litigating,” Wright said.

The agreement calls for federal agencies to expand tribal efforts to protect endangered and threatened fish in the Columbia River Basin, spending up to $900 million over 10 years for hatchery improvements, stream restoration work, screens to protect fish and additional spillways on some of the dams.

In exchange, two Oregon tribes – the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Confederated tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation – and two Washington tribes – the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation – agreed to drop lawsuits against the federal government.

Ron Suppah, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, said tribal leaders came to the table with the federal agencies two years ago as adversaries.

“We leave that table now as partners,” he said, adding that the agreement will increase the health and number of salmon, steelhead and lamprey and focus the tribe’s energy “where it must be now – on recovering fish, providing opportunity for our tribal fishers and on finding real solutions rather than blame.”

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission also agreed to the settlement, although one of its member tribes, the Idaho-based Nez Perce Tribe, declined to sign the agreement. The tribe said in a statement that it still wants to see the four lower Snake River dams taken down.

Nicole Cordan, policy and legal director of Save Our Wild Salmon, an advocacy group that supports breaching the four Snake River dams, said the agreements were fine as far as they went but did not address the fundamental problem facing salmon.

“These projects may be laudable in their own right and perhaps should be funded,” she said, “but the real question is, will they recover salmon in the basin without making changes to the federal dams? We think the answer to that question is no.”

Associated Press writers Sarah Skidmore and William McCall in Portland, Ore., and Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Wash., contributed to this report.


On the Net:
Federal salmon recovery page: www.salmonrecovery.gov

 

0
0
0