Officials Consider Giving Some Hatcheries to Tribesby Dan Hansen
Spokesman Review, May 23, 2000
High-level federal officials, including a direct adviser to President Clinton, are quietly discussing the transfer of some Northwest salmon and steelhead hatcheries to Native American tribes.
The talks have sparked speculation that the government is trying to avoid a lawsuit by the tribes over the sorry state of wild salmon runs.
"There's fear of back-room agreements to buy off the tribes so they won't sue" said Mitch Sanchotena, executive director of Idaho Steelhead and Salmon United, a sport fishing group. "There's been very little real work by the Clinton-Gore Administration in terms of salmon restoration."
The summary of a March 14 meeting on salmon-recovery issues lists six hatcheries among those the tribes would like to own. They include two massive fish factories, the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery and the Clearwater Hatchery, both near Orofino, Idaho.
However, federal officials say the Dworshak and the Clearwater are not yet on the table.
"They (the tribes) have a long, long list. They'd prefer to have many, many hatcheries transferred," said Ric Ilgenfritz of the National Marine Fisheries Service. "But we're starting with four and talking about the terms and conditions."
Those four, which are federally funded but operated by the states, are the Umatilla and Lookingglass in northeastern Oregon, the Kooskia in Idaho and the Klickitat in south-central Washington, said Bill Shake, assistant Northwest director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Owning title to the hatcheries would mean a few more jobs for tribal members, paid with federal salmon-recovery money. It would mean more influence over salmon recovery, said Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents treaty tribes.
"Without owning and operating hatcheries, we are not truly co-managers of salmon" with state and federal agencies, Hudson said.
But it's not clear how -- or even if -- transferring ownership might affect hatchery operations.
States already consult with tribes over fish management. State officials said they wouldn't willingly turn over hatcheries unless they were regularly consulted on such matters as how many of each salmon species are produced, and when and where they're released.
"We're not going to turn these facilities over and say, `Here, do what you want with them,' " Ilgenfritz said. "We're going to turn them over under the conditions of a management plan.
"The tribes are open to that. They want to prove themselves good fish managers."
Talk of transferring hatcheries is not new.
The state of Oregon agreed to eventual talks about shifting management to the Umatilla Tribe as a condition to Bonneville Power Administration funding for the Umatilla Hatchery in 1992. The Klickitat Hatchery is inside the Yakama Indian Reservation as the result of a 1976 shift in the reservation boundaries. Since then, the state and the tribe have talked repeatedly about transferring the hatchery's title.
But the coordinated federal involvement is new.
In recent months, agencies involved in salmon recovery efforts have hosted a series of "nation-to-nation" meetings with the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama and Warm Springs tribes. Topics include anything related to salmon recovery.
Documents obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act indicate the hatchery transfers were discussed during at least three meetings since December.
After a December meeting in the White House, participants refused to comment about their discussion.
The attendance record for a March 14 meeting in Lewiston includes top regional administrators for the fisheries service, Fish and Wildlife Service, BPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Leaders from the four tribes attended, as did officials from the Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
The official notes from that meeting read: "The federal agencies agreed in principle to support transfer of certain hatcheries to the tribes."
That meeting was followed by another on April 25 in Washington, D.C. Attendees included George Frampton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who is Clinton's top adviser on environmental issues.
Hatchery transfers "was just one of a wide array of issues being discussed" during that 21/2-hour meeting, said Frampton's spokesman, Elliot Diringer. "There weren't any commitments made about the hatcheries."
Leaders for the four tribes did not return telephone messages late last week or Monday.
The tribes' biggest bargaining chip is the 1865 treaty that guarantees them the right to fish. In recent years, they've threatened to sue if the government doesn't do all it can to restore endangered salmon steelhead, including breaching four Snake River dams in Eastern Washington. But the fisheries service last month announced it will try other recovery options for five to 10 years before deciding whether breaching is necessary.
"Of course, (the federal government is) trying to avoid a lawsuit," said Jeff Curtis, the West Coast Conservation Director for Trout Unlimited.
But Curtis, who previously worked for the Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said the tribes aren't likely to "sell out" for a couple of hatcheries. If recovery efforts fail, he notes, they'll lose a fishery that's thousands of years old and growing in cultural and economic importance.
Most of the salmon and steelhead caught by Idaho sportsmen are reared in the Dworshak and Clearwater hatcheries. Like many others in the region, they were built to make up for fish habitat lost to dams.
Dworshak is federally operated, with an annual budget of $1.8 million. The state of Idaho runs the Clearwater hatchery, with $1.4 million in federal money. The Kooskia Hatchery is a satellite of Dworshak, with a budget of $243,000.
The Umatilla Hatchery, which is on the Columbia River, and the Lookingglass Hatchery, on the Grande Ronde River in northeastern Oregon, have annual budgets of $934,000 and about $500,000.
The 50-year-old Klickitat Hatchery produces chinook and coho salmon, with a budget of about $500,000.
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