Addition of Idaho Tribes
We've all heard a lot about lawsuits over fish, dams and water here in the Northwest.
By now, most of us are either tired of the issue or polarized by it.
But earlier this year something big happened, and the litigation ceased.
Perhaps the two most visible players -- Indian tribes and the federal government -- signed an agreement that should prevent new lawsuits for the next 10 years.
For their part, the tribes -- Yakama, Colville, Warm Springs and Umatilla -- will share in $900 million from the federal government to be put toward salmon restoration.
Idaho and Montana, plus three federal agencies -- Bonneville Power Administration, Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation -- joined in the Columbia Basin Fish Accords, signing a ceremonial deer skin as part of the agreement.
Just last week, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of southeastern Idaho announced plans to join the agreement. Those tribes were the first to ask the federal government to provide protection for sockeye salmon nearly two decades ago.
That's good news, leaving only one significant holdout from the accord: the Nez Perce Tribe, which still holds strong to the belief that the only way to restore salmon is to remove the lower Snake River dams.
Oregon has not joined the agreement; Washington has been supportive and may be in talks to become a more formal partner.
A 30-day comment period is in effect on the Shoshone-Bannock's effort to join the accord. If it is approved, the tribes will receive $61 million for fish restoration and management work in the Snake River.
Parties on both sides of the agreement see it as a positive move, and it is.
What the tribes most want is a return of healthy fish populations to the rivers. Decades of litigation hasn't solved that problem.
The federal government wants a reprieve from the seemingly endless legal battle over dams on the Columbia-Snake system.
It's about time for a change in approach and for devoting resources to saving fish instead of filing legal briefs.
Both sides in the accord need to stick to their commitments and do the work required to ensure a lasting effect on Northwest salmon.
It won't be left to guesswork. Milestones and checkpoints have been set to monitor progress through the next decade.
By the time the 10-year agreement concludes, we're hopeful that its success will be found swimming in the rivers.
Increased numbers of salmon would prove what we've long contended, that decisions about management of the Northwest's greatest rivers are best made by stakeholders, not a federal judge.
If we could permanently focus salmon recovery efforts on the rivers instead of the courtroom, salmon would surely be better off.
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