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Rifts Threaten Salmon Treaty

by Michael Paulson, Washington Correspondent
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - October 29, 1999

As NW governors feud, Congress won't pay up

WASHINGTON -- The Pacific Salmon Treaty, a hard-fought pact that was supposed to settle a long dispute between the United States and Canada over fishing rights, is in danger of collapse, administration officials warned yesterday.

The carefully assembled coalition of states and tribal leaders has fractured as the governor of Alaska spars with the governors of Washington and Oregon over which region is sacrificing more to save salmon.

The battle is echoing in the U.S. Capitol, where Alaska's powerful congressional delegation is trying to rewrite a portion of the treaty, which was signed June 30.

And a parsimonious congressional majority is trying to avoid paying costs the United States pledged to research and restore fish runs throughout the region, to buy out commercial fishermen in Washington state, and to enhance chinook and coho runs in Alaska.

"We are very concerned about the impact the inadequate funding levels, as well as the riders (legislative provisions) will have on the viability of this treaty," Terry Garcia, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, told a House subcommittee on fisheries yesterday. "It could impact it quite adversely."

The dispute could have major ramifications for the Pacific Northwest and ultimately increase pressure to breach four federal dams on the lower Snake River.

This week Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles described the Columbia and Snake rivers as "killing fields" for salmon and questioned why his state's fishermen should cut their catch while the Snake River dams remain in place as major contributors to salmon mortality.

Garcia made it clear that dam removal would rise higher on the list of possible methods to protect the 26 endangered salmon stocks if fish harvest cannot be controlled.

He warned that failure of the treaty "will not be good for the stocks and it will not be good for any of the states that are going to be impacted by the Endangered Species Act."

Garcia added: "Our ability to recover those stocks is dependent on how we address a number of factors, and one of those factors is harvest. If you remove one of our management tools, you're going to have to rely on other management tools, which means you will have to apply further restrictions on habitat, hatcheries and hydropower."

The Pacific Salmon Treaty, negotiated in 1985, and then renegotiated this year, is an effort to protect five diminishing salmon stocks that live part of their life cycle in Canada and part in the United States. Among its provisions is a requirement that fewer salmon be taken in years when salmon runs are less abundant.

In the mid-1990s, the failure of the two countries to resolve fishing rules under the treaty caused major disputes.

In 1994 Canada imposed a toll on U.S. fishing boats traveling from Washington to Alaska. In 1997 angry Canadian fishermen blockaded an Alaska state ferry, and several times British Columbia tried unsuccessfully to eject the U.S. military from a torpedo testing ground in Canada.

A budget bill passed this year by Congress, and vetoed Monday by President Clinton, included several provisions affecting the Pacific Salmon Treaty. One would have exempted Alaskan salmon from the Endangered Species Act and one would have changed the voting structure of a binational commission without consulting Canada.

Congress also proposed to spend just $10 million on the agreement, far less than the $60 million Clinton wants as a down payment on the expected $190 million tab for implementing the treaty over the next four years.

Clinton said the provisions regarding the Pacific Salmon Treaty "would severely inhibit our ability to recover this important species."

The administration's warnings about the future of the treaty must be seen in the context of the overall budget battle between Congress and the White House. Clinton is pushing for more money and less restrictive language on a number of fronts.

Congressional staffers said the administration may be able to find a compromise with the Alaskans over protecting that state's fishermen, but the administration is likely to have a much tougher time wringing money for the Northwest out of a Congress where some members view salmon restoration as wasteful pork.

The salmon debate has once again divided Alaska from Oregon and Washington. Their leaders are now accusing one another of misrepresenting what they agreed to four months ago.

"We are concerned about destroying the unity that exists within those most affected by the treaty: the states of Washington, Oregon and Alaska and the treaty tribes," said James Pipkin, the State Department's Pacific salmon negotiator.

"They came together on a package, but some of those interests have expressed enormous reservations about the legislative package that now exists, and I am concerned about losing the support of those interests, not only now but in implementation of the agreement."

Whatever unity once existed was not on view this week in Washington, D.C., or the Northwest.

Alaskans want an ironclad guarantee that if they agree to cut back their fishing of salmon in accordance with the treaty, they won't be subjected to further limits under the Endangered Species Act.

At yesterday's hearing, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, shouted at administration officials as he accused them of "kowtowing to the Canadians." He proclaimed that Canada is less protective of its environment than Alaska, and complained that Alaskan fishermen "have taken a cut every time."

Administration officials, supported by Washington and Oregon representatives, refuse to give Alaska the guarantee it wants. But, in a step the administration hopes will answer the Alaskan concerns, a federal agency is issuing a report declaring that the fishing limits under the treaty would not harm endangered salmon.

Thus far, Alaska's leaders remain unsatisfied, leading Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., to complain that the treaty is now endangered by "selfish or parochial concerns," and that "immediately at risk are Oregon and Washington and the tribes of Oregon and Washington."

Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., said he was "very disturbed" by the developments, which he blamed on a "new wave of isolationism on environmental issues." He urged the White House officials to "stick to your guns" against a wave of criticism from Alaskan officials.

"I'm partially sickened that Congress is on the verge of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory after so many years and so much heartache," Inslee said.

The governors of Alaska, Oregon and Washington have been exchanging unfriendly letters in recent days accusing one another of taking positions that could lead to a collapse of the treaty.

Gov. Gary Locke and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber warned in a letter to Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles that his actions "put in jeopardy all the hard-fought success we gained in resolving the major fisheries issues." If Congress failed to finance the treaty, there was a risk of "return of the old harvest regimes that put many American and Canadian stocks in jeopardy."

Knowles responded by suggesting that Locke and Kitzhaber look for solutions to "the lethal zone of freshwater streams and surrounding habitat in the Pacific Northwest."

"There is no question that the federal government and the states of Oregon and Washington have not come to terms with the real problem facing wild Pacific salmon: restoring the great salmon rivers of the Northwest," Knowles said.

"I will not participate in any approach that asks Alaska's fishermen and families to sacrifice any more until the Northwest and the federal government have fully addressed the threats and obstacles to salmon survival in the rivers of the Northwest."

Responding to all this back and forth in Congress and the states, a U.S. diplomat warned that there may not be another chance to reach a deal with Canada.

"Our differences with Canada on salmon (have been) about the nastiest dispute we've had in a long time with them, and here we have today in front of us a chance to settle this on a long-term basis in a really workable way," said David Balton, director of the State Department's Office of Marine Conservation.

"If we cannot resolve the issues that are related to these riders, it will be said of all of us . . . that we lost our best chance."

The Canadians are watching the dispute closely; Canadian diplomats attended yesterday's hearing.

"We were pleased that the U.S. spending bill was vetoed on Monday because of the riders and the lack of funding, and we were quite pleased with the statements made today . . . by the administration," said Rodney Moore, spokesman for the Canadian Embassy in Washington. "We're concerned that the treaty should not be getting sideswiped by this squabble."

For more information on the Pacific Salmon Treaty:
U.S. government site
Canadian government site

by Michael Paulson, Washington Correspondent
Rifts Threaten Salmon Treaty
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 29, 1999

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