Deal Gives Money to Tribes
by William Yardley
SEATTLE - The enduring battle over endangered salmon in the Northwest took a new turn on Monday with the announcement of a deal between the federal government and four Indian tribes.
The agreement would give the tribes nearly $1 billion to manage fish habitat and hatcheries in exchange for abandoning their opposition to federal fish-management policies in the region.
Indian tribes have long joined with environmental groups in their fight against federal agencies over the management of the Columbia and Snake Rivers and an extensive network of hydroelectric dams. The dams, which provide cheap electricity to the Northwest, have caused consistent declines in fish populations and generated court fights.
Fishing and conservation groups and the State of Oregon have led court fights, with tribes often filing briefs in support of the plaintiffs. A federal district judge in Oregon, James A. Redden, has repeatedly sided with the plaintiffs, rejecting proposals by the Bush administration as insufficient to restore and protect salmon and other species that historically have migrated up the rivers to spawn.
The deal has opened a rift between the tribes and environmental groups. In return for $900 million over the next 10 years, the tribes must agree to stop their involvement in the lawsuits.
"The focus will turn to implementation rather than litigation," said Steve Wright, the administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, which would pay about $850 million of the settlement. Mr. Wright would not say if he expected electric rates to rise.
The other $50 million would come from the Army Corps of Engineers. The four tribes are the Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama and Colville of Washington State and Oregon. A fifth involved in the litigation, the Nez Perce, has not joined the agreement.
Mr. Wright said the Bonneville Power Administration, part of the Energy Department, would seek public input this month to refine the deal. But the agencies involved have authority to finalize it without outside approval.
Environmental groups involved in the litigation said the agreement, which focuses heavily on restoring habitat and expanding fish hatcheries in tributaries of the Columbia, did not directly address the main cause of the declining fish population: hydroelectric dams. Some groups want the dams removed. Oregon wants more aggressive measures to help fish pass over the dams.
"We're just saying keep your eye on the ball," said Todd True, a lawyer for Earthjustice, which represents some of the plaintiffs in the case before Judge Redden. "That is, what does the Endangered Species Act say needs to be done? And what does the science say needs to be done?"
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