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The $900 Million Salmon Deal

by Staff
The Oregonian, April 9, 2008

If it holds up in court, this week's tribal-federal agreement
could provide more certainty to Northwest fish recovery

Oregon state officials and environmental groups are rushing too hastily to heap scorn on the potentially historic salmon-recovery pact announced Monday by the federal government and Northwest tribes.

Maybe the deal won't hold up under scrutiny. Maybe it won't help restore salmon runs in the Columbia and Snake rivers. Maybe its underlying strategy won't pass muster in the courtroom.

But maybe it will.

Tribal leaders are justified this week in taking offense at the insulting barrage of criticism that greeted announcement of the $900 million deal.

After all, the people of the Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama and Colville tribes know a thing or two about salmon. For thousands of years they harvested them from the Columbia, and they still do today under treaty-guaranteed rights that recognize the importance of fishing to their culture, heritage and economy.

Salmon were bountiful for centuries on the Columbia and Snake. Then came 20th century newcomers who built a string of hydroelectric dams on the rivers, and now four species of salmon are in danger of extinction and nine others may be heading that way.

No one faulted the tribes for joining in a long-running lawsuit targeting federal operation of the dams. And no one should fault the tribes today for bowing out of that litigation.

On Monday, the four tribes and three federal agencies announced a groundbreaking settlement. The tribes agreed to give the government a decade of support for its bitterly controversial plans for operating the dams, and they agreed not to advocate the breaching of dams or listing of Pacific lamprey as endangered.

In return, the tribes will receive $900 million, spread over the 10 years of the agreement, for fish habitat and hatchery enhancements. Most of that money will come from electricity customers of the Bonneville Power Administration.

In their joint announcement with the BPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the federal Bureau of Reclamation, tribal leaders expressed confidence that their deal will help promote salmon recovery without severely curtailing use of the rivers for power generation, irrigation and shipping. They deserve a chance to show they're right.

They deserve a chance, that is, if the deal doesn't run aground in court. A federal judge has yet to rule on whether the federal government's strategy is lawful, adequately protecting endangered fish.

Essentially, the tribes concluded that talk of breaching Columbia-Snake dams is premature, and they're right. The government has yet to provide meaningful, holistic management of the "four H's" of salmon recovery: habitat, hatcheries, harvesting and hydroelectricity.

Are those needs adequately and therefore lawfully addressed in this week's deal?

That's the $900 million question.

The $900 Million Salmon Deal
The Oregonian, April 9, 2008

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