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Tribes Urge Government to Commit to Breaching

by Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, December 20, 2000

Upset by the lack of changes in federal river and dam operations, Columbia Basin tribes are asking the Bureau of Indian Affairs not to sign critical salmon documents set for release Thursday.

"They don't reflect plans that will meet treaty obligations, nor do they represent a collaborative effort, contrary to what the federal spokespeople are going to tell you," said Chuck Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

The tribal assault on the Columbia River operations plan comes a day after environmentalists tried a last-ditch effort to convince the Clinton administration to breach four lower Snake River dams.

National Marine Fisheries Service officials say their Thursday plan will put off a breaching recommendation to Congress for about five years while agencies continue to monitor fish runs and improve the existing hydropower system.

Already, environmentalists have indicated their willingness to sue NMFS if it doesn't start preparing for dam breaching. And tribal opposition adds more potential legal weight, should the case go to court.

Tribes want more commitments to dam breaching. But more than that, they object to the federal approach of trying to prevent more severe declines in salmon and steelhead instead of trying to restore fishing opportunities.

"None of the supporting analyses indicate that the recovery strategy will lead to restoration of treaty fisheries," said a letter from the tribal fish commission to Kevin Gover, BIA assistant secretary in Washington, D.C.

Also, say tribes, the federal government has not integrated tribal hatchery measures into its recovery plan. The role of hatchery fish continues to be one of the major dividing lines in the salmon wars, with tribes supporting advanced hatchery programs and federal agencies opposing widespread hatchery use.

Randy Settler, Yakama Nation Fish and Wildlife Committee chairman, said federal plans have failed to include recommendations submitted during yearlong policy and technical consultations with top officials of the Clinton administration.

"If they suggest that tribal input is reflected in these plans, we haven't seen it," he said.

Mike Lee
Tribes Urge Government to Commit to Breaching
Tri-City Herald, December 20, 2000

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