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Tribes Lobby Washington to Boost Salmon Recovery

by Associated Press
January ?, 2001

Representatives from tribal fish panel are in nation's Capitol to push recovery measures

WASHINGTON -- Poor water quality, low water flows, an energy crisis and government spending shortfalls are threatening already endangeredd salmon, tribal representatives said Tuesday.

As President Bush unpacked his boxes, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission wasted no time in highlighting what they see as hazards facing salmon that must be corrected by the Republican-dominated Congress and Bush administration.

The commission came to Washington Monday, Bush's first work day.

"It's not going to be a good year for migrating salmon," said Rob Lothrop, the commission's public policy department manager. "The salmon are caught in a regional-national tug of war."

During a four-day lobbying trip, the tribal commission -- made up of representatives for the Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce and Warm Springs tribes -- plans to meet with staff from thee Northwest delegation and government officials.

They're concerned that water quality, particularly temperatures that are too high for salmon to thrive, will harm what could be a record chinook salmon run this year. Plus, low water flows -- exacerbated by low precipitation and a greater need for hydroelectric power during the West's energy crisis -- are only making the salmon's plight worse.

"Mother Nature could bail us out with significant rainfall, but I am not optimistic," Lothrop said.

On top of the commission's agenda is also an assurance that enough money will be spent to protect fish and their habitats.

Under an 1855 treaty, the United States promised the tribes, which have rights to the Columbia Basin, access to their fisheries.

Last month, the federal government released a plan that called for its hydroelectric dams in the basin to be operated in ways that minimizes harm to salmon during their migrations, as well as habitat improvements and fishing policy changes.

Though the tribes supported some aspects of the plan, they hoped the government would endorse breaching four controversial dams along the lower Snake River in Eastern Washington. The government said it would do that only if other habitat recovery efforts fail.

As the tribes consider filing a suit to require more definitive action to save salmon, they want to ensure that the recovery efforts are properly funded.

"The budget issues are significant," Lothrop said, armed with commission-prepared charts that predict the government will come up hundreds of millions of dollars short.

He said he isn't "afraid" of the Republican Bush administration, but he "honestly" believes that projects, such as the salmon recovery plan, won't be fully funded and implemented.

Chris Matthews, spokesman for Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, a senior Republican in the delegation, said that spending issues are a "huge balancing act" requiring that alternatives are weighed.

"The tribes' issues are everybody else's environmental issues," Matthews said. "Everybody wants the water and everybody likes salmon."

Bush said during his campaign that the dams should not be breached. He also said that he is committed to working closely with local communities on conservation efforts.

"I believe the environment and industry can be balanced in a proper way," Bush said.

Associated Press
Tribes Lobby Washington to Boost Salmon Recovery
Associated Press, January ?, 2001

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