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Tribes, U.S. Sign Deal on NW Dams

by Scott Learn
The Oregonian, May 3, 2008

A Native coalition agrees to accept the Columbia River system
for 10 years and $900 million for habitat and hatchery upgrades

HORSETHIEF LAKE, Wash. -- Fidelia Andy was a 6-year-old happily running coffee to tribal fishermen at Celilo Falls when the federal government signed a deal with the tribes that flooded the falls and her family's home in the rising waters behind The Dalles Dam.

On Friday, more than 50 years later, Andy and other leaders of four Northwest tribes finalized a new $900 million agreement with the federal government that they hope will begin to reverse the damage done by Columbia River system dams.

"We Indians gave up so much in the past," Andy, a Yakama tribal leader and chairwoman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said just before Friday's signing ceremony. "It's time a little bit of it started coming back."

The accord requires the Bonneville Power Administration and other agencies to pay for 10 years of habitat and hatchery improvements on tributaries important to the tribes. That's projected to boost wholesale power rates by up to 4 percent.

In exchange, the Colville, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama nations agreed to support the government's plan for operating the dams for 10 years and bow out of a long-running lawsuit challenging dam operations.

On Friday, beside Washington's Horsethief Lake just upstream of The Dalles Dam, the tribal chairmen and leaders of the federal agencies signed a deer hide to cement the agreement. Fish popped up periodically during the ceremony.

Many of the tribal leaders said it was a historic and emotional day.

Terry Goudy-Rambler, a member of the Yakama Nation's tribal council, told those gathered by the lake that she was born in Celilo Village close to the falls, a productive Native fishery for thousands of years. "I remember when the mist from the falls came (into the village) to fall across my face," she said through tears.

"It has been taken from us, our way of life," she said. "But today we realize that the world moves on, and we as an Indian people have to make changes."

The deal provides for hundreds of habitat and hatchery projects, about 60 percent new and the rest existing but now locked in for 10 years. The tribes run many of those programs.

The deal was two years in the making and rough going at times, all sides said. This week, the signing ceremony had to be postponed because of concern among Yakama tribal members that the agreement ceded too much of the tribe's sovereignty. The Nez Perce of Idaho, another key tribe in the river system, has declined to go along.

The state of Oregon and environmentalists still involved in the federal lawsuit over dam operations question whether the agreement does enough to save runs of salmon and steelhead listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. Roughly three-quarters of the money would help nonlisted species, they say.

Environmentalists also question whether the deal promotes hatchery fish at the expense of wild fish.

Those arguments will continue in federal court before U.S. District Court Judge James Redden. But the focus Friday was on what can be achieved when efforts shift from litigation to on-the-ground work.

Mike Marchand, chairman of the Colville tribes in eastern Washington, said Grand Coulee Dam almost destroyed salmon productivity in his tribe's lands.

Among other improvements, the new agreement means Salmon Creek, an Okanagan River tributary that hasn't had fish in Marchand's lifetime, probably will have salmon in it once again.

Billions of dollars have been spent on salmon restoration in the Columbia River basin, with often discouraging results. But Steve Wright, Bonneville Power's administrator, pledged that the deal will boost numbers of salmon, steelhead and lamprey in the river system.

Tribal leaders said they'll be watching the government closely.

The two sides are "starting to work together more and understand each other more," Marchand said. On the other hand, he said, smiling, "We keep our eyes open all the time."

Scott Learn
Tribes, U.S. Sign Deal on NW Dams
The Oregonian, May 3, 2008

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