Testimony of Lionel Boyer
9/13/00 - Delivered before the Committee on Environment and Public
My name is Lionel Q. Boyer, Chairman of the Fort Hall Business Council, the governing body of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. In 1868 the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes agreed to a treaty to have peace with the United States under Article Six of the U.S. Constitution (Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868, 15 Stat. 673). Our various bands and families were relocated to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Eastern Idaho during the European settlement of the western United States.
The Fort Hall Indian Reservation is a place where people and animals migrated to spend winters. The annual migration of my people to secure our subsistence was preserved in the Treaty because we reserved the right to hunt, fish and gather on unoccupied lands of the United States. Hunting the salmon is a significant part of our way of life. The name for the salmon, Agai, has been used to define our people as the Agaidika. No one can understate the importance of this resource to the Shoshone and Bannock peoples. We have continued to exercise our right to hunt salmon in the Columbia River Basin since the Treaty was signed. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are today co-managers of the anadromous fish resource in the Columbia River Basin and have continued to work towards improving the habitat and supplementation efforts.
Salmon need four habitats in which to survive and prosper. 1) They need a place to spawn (clean gravel and cold clear, running water), 2) a place for their young to rear (woody debris and other nooks and crannies, undercut banks, and shade from overhanging vegetation), 3) a place rich in food for them to grow into large mature adults (the ocean), and 4) a corridor in which they can travel to and from their place of origin. The National Marine Fisheries Service has failed to honor this simple science of the salmon.
Man has changed all of these habitats but each to a different degree. The Salmon River, where about half of the entire Columbia Basin spring and summer chinook salmon historically came from, is largely in good shape. Most of the Salmon River is protected by its rugged inaccessibility and its wilderness area status. The National Marine Fisheries Service is wrong to conclude that the greatest opportunities for survival improvements of listed Snake River salmon may hinge on efforts to restore health to the tributaries. Although some tributaries in the Salmon River drainage are not as healthy as they should be for salmon (for example, the de-waterings and excessive irrigation diversions in the Lemhi River), the vast majority of the habitat is very healthy for salmon spawning and rearing.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes look forward to working as resource co-mangers with the federal and state agencies to correct problems in the Salmon River primarily in tributaries to the Salmon River from the Lemhi River upstream to the headwaters of the Salmon River. However, no evidence exists that indicates these problems are the major cause of the declines in wild fish. The wild fish populations in the Middle Fork Salmon River which is a Wild and Scenic River almost completely within the Frank Church Wilderness Area and in almost pristine condition continue to decline at least at the same rate as the populations in the upper Salmon River. This evidence suggests that the major problems and thus the major areas to concentrate recovery efforts are outside of the Salmon River system.
The conditions in the Pacific Ocean are a concern to all of us. However, very little can be done by humans to protect the salmon during their time in the ocean, other than reducing or eliminating harvest. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes applaud the efforts of the National Marine Fisheries Service to reduce harvest impacts over the past eight years. However, the position of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes is that there should be no interception fisheries in the ocean and mainstem Columbia River while the weak stocks of wild fish are mixed in with more numerous runs. Fisheries should instead be conducted in the tributaries that have runs which can support harvest.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is particularly unjust in its allocation of the conservation burden when ocean and mainstem Columbia River fisheries can harvest listed Snake River salmon and steelhead while the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes can not harvest those very same fish once they return to the Salmon River.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is wrong to conclude that that there are only two roles for hatcheries. The two roles they state are 1) reform existing hatcheries to prevent negative effects from hatchery-origin fish on wild fish; and 2) use hatcheries to conserve wild fish. These are good roles for hatcheries. However, the most important role for hatcheries is to use them to rebuild wild fish populations. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes call this concrete-to-gravel-to-gravel management. Scientists call it supplementation. There are appropriate ways to use hatchery-origin fish and release them into wild areas for those fish to return to rebuild the listed wild populations. The NMFS is wrong to use genetics as the overriding factor in impeding the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes from pursuing the production actions that the Tribes have successfully initiated. Many of the wild areas no longer contain any fish, so even if the NMFS is correct with their genetics theories, it would be a moot point. We can no longer manage for genes, and need instead to manage for fish. The Recovery Strategy needs to aggressively pursue supplementation of listed fish with available hatchery-origin stocks.
The wealth of scientific evidence concludes that the migration corridor is the primary problem facing the Snake River stocks of listed salmon. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are very concerned that the National Marine Fisheries Service concludes that there have been significant improvements to the migration conditions through the hydrosystem. The evidence does not support this conclusion. The runs of listed salmon and steelhead to the Snake River continue to decline as my technical staff will provide testimony on tomorrow. The changes to the hydrosystem have failed to reverse the declines in listed salmon and steelhead runs in the Snake River. The National Marine Fisheries Service greatly underestimates the necessary survival improvements that are needed to stop the declines and move towards recovery.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes believe that the listed Snake River salmon and steelhead can not wait another eight to ten years before the necessary major improvements and actions are taken to recover these fish. We are now at a very critical stage of crossing the line to extinction. We are extremely disappointed that the 1995 Biological Opinion has not been adhered to. That Opinion was a product of the National Marine Fisheries Service losing the Idaho v. NMFS lawsuit. That Opinion allowed a decision to be made in 1999 to either breach the lower Snake River dams or else continue with vain attempts to fix the dams with screens, curtains, bypasses and barges. The evidence is very clear that the technological attempts have not worked.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes believe that technological fixes to the lower Snake River dams will not allow the listed Snake River salmon to survive. The 1999 decision should have been to pursue Congressional authorization to breach those dams. The Recovery Strategy and the new Biological Opinion should call for the breaching of the four lower Snake River dams now. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes have been saying this longer than any other entity. And thus our warning, once again, is that we have waited too long to fix the river rather than trying in vain to fix the dams, and we will continue to have to tell you that "we told you so." However, these words will still not bring back the salmon.
Breaching the four lower Snake River dams eliminates the need to use middle and upper Snake River water for salmon flow augmentation. It eliminates the need to draw down Dworshak and Brownlee reservoirs, which greatly benefits those aquatic resources and the economies that depend upon them. The four lower Snake River dams only produce 4.6% of the Pacific Northwest's electrical energy, which can be replaced through alternative sources and conservation. The economies created by recovered salmon and steelhead runs and alternative commodities transportation will greatly exceed the costs to the region and the nation of keeping the dams in place. What was once the world's largest run of salmon is now the world's largest environmental recovery effort. This effort does not have to fail, nor does it have to result in economic catastrophe.
Of great concern to the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes is the failure of the federal caucus to consult with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. The resources on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation are compromised by the actions of the federal agencies, yet the federal agencies have failed to address these impacts with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Likewise, the federal agencies have not consulted with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes regarding the impacts to the fish resources that the Tribes rely upon off reservation. We remain hopeful that they will incorporate our comments when we submit them for their final documents. However, we are doubtful that they will because we have had many discussions with them and yet their conclusions and the words they have written in the drafts once again prove that they do not hear us. Thank you Subcommittee, and Chairman Crapo for hosting this hearing and providing us an opportunity to express ourselves. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes technical staff, represented by Keith Kutchins, will provide testimony tomorrow.
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