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American Indian Tribes, Feds Reach Salmon Deal

by Nate Poppino
Times-News, April 8, 2008

Proposal responds to calls to breach dams

Four American Indian tribes have tentatively agreed to drop their arguments for breaching four dams on the Lower Snake River, in return for $900 million for salmon hatchery and watershed rehabilitation projects.

The proposed agreements, endorsed by three of the four tribes involved in a dispute over a federal salmon management plan and a fourth, previously uninvolved one, removes the strongest voice for breaching the dams as part of salmon recovery efforts.

Under the terms of the deal, the tribes would receive the money over 10 years and use it to accomplish specific objectives intended to boost the salmon population in the Columbia River Basin. In return, they would acknowledge that the federal government's obligations under the Endangered Species Act and related laws would be fulfilled for those 10 years and would resolve ESA litigation pending before U.S. District Court Judge James Redden in Portland.

Norm Semanko, IWUA executive director, said Monday afternoon that he was still reading through the agreement but applauded the move. Breaching the dams, he said, could lead to removal of even more important dams along the Snake River, hurt those relying on power generated by the dams and wouldn't ensure that the federal government or environmentalists couldn't demand more Idaho water in the future.

"Hopefully, this will allow the region to move forward with reasonable solutions and avoid the mindset of the radical environmentalists, who continually seek to tear out the dams and take our water - regardless of the consequences," Semanko said.

Representatives from the tribes - the Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama and Colville - emphasized Monday that the agreement does not rescind any of their previous opinions on the dams and that they will be allowed to resume the debate if the situation doesn't improve within the 10-year period.

"If it looks like more must be done, the tribes are free to advocate as they choose," said John Ogan, speaking for the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon.

Missing from the deal was the Nez Perce Tribe, part of an inter-tribal fish commission with the Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama, and which formed its own agreement with the state of Idaho in 2005 maintaining minimum stream flows for salmon and steelhead. The tribe was part of discussions, but has yet to make a decision and sent a letter to the other three tribes expressing its reluctance, Ogan said.

Redden ruled late last year that salmon recovery efforts on the Lower Snake River have fallen short of recovery goals. He has also assailed the Upper Snake River water plan that affects Idaho irrigators and includes key agreements made in the Nez Perce water agreement between the tribe and the state in 2005.

In November, Redden threatened to take control of dam management himself rather than wait for an acceptable plan from federal agencies, a decision that many irrigators fear could dry up acres as far as eastern Idaho.

The Bonneville Power Administration, the main federal representative in the deal, hailed the agreement as "unprecedented." But environmental groups involved in the legislation accused the government of ignoring good science in favor of preserving the dams.

"A majority of fisheries scientists agree that the best, and likely the only way to restore wild salmon is to remove four high-cost, low-value dams on the lower Snake River," said Bert Bowler, fisheries biologist and current director of Snake River Salmon Solutions. "Nothing in this deal changes the science."

Monday's announcement started a public comment period that ends April 23. For more information, visit

Nate Poppino
American Indian Tribes, Feds Reach Salmon Deal
Times-News, April 8, 2008

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