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Tribes: Federal Salmon Plan 'Unacceptable'

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - December 22, 2000

The Columbia River treaty tribes have greeted the latest federal salmon recovery plan with disdain, saying it ignores science and the federal government's treaty responsibilities to the tribes.

"It is essentially a status quo BiOp," said Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. He said the document virtually ignores input provide by the 13 Basin tribes over the past year during a series of intensive consultations. "Our concerns remain unaddressed."

"It is unacceptable," Hudson said of the final National Marine Fisheries Service Columbia Basin hydrosystem biological opinion released Thursday. The federal plan includes a basinwide recovery strategy developed by a caucus of nine federal agencies. That "All-H" describes actions that can be taken to reduce salmon and steelhead mortality in the hydrosystem, through habitat improvements, and with changed hatchery and harvest management.

The federal recovery plan sets back a decision on whether to pursue breaching of four Lower Snake River dams for at least three years.

"I think the tribes have made things quite clear to the federal agencies over the past year" that the plan would be challenged if their concerns were not met, Hudson said.

"The tribes are probably going to be forced into a legal challenge to this," he said. "That's not what we wanted. But this may be a case where we're forced to."

Rob Smith of the Nez Perce Tribe's legal counsel's office agreed.

"The next step will have to be to pursue some legal action," Smith said. Since the documents are now "final," the tribes' options for bringing change to the recovery effort are limited, he said.

"Tribal input is not reflected in these plans," said Samuel N. Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe. "Habitat restoration, reduced harvest, and flow augmentation cannot lead to successful recovery if salmon are not able to survive the dams."

Penney said "consistently choosing the path of least political resistance is disappointing, especially when the weight of scientific evidence supports breaching and the future of an entire species is at stake."

The Nez Perce Tribe believes, Penney said, that the best science supports breaching the dams. He cited a letter signed by 215 scientists that last week urged President Clinton to strengthen elements of the plan that would trigger dam breaching.

"Detailed scientific studies have determined that breaching is the option with the highest probability of restoring healthy salmon populations," Penney said. "Time is running out on the salmon. Re-examining whether breaching is an option five or 10 years from now will be too late."

CRITFC this week advised the Bureau of Indian Affairs not to endorse federal salmon recovery plans that "reflect the work of agencies protecting their own missions rather than restoration of salmon populations."

CRITFC said the BIA should not sign a federal "memorandum of understanding" that describes the process to be used to coordinate and implement the recovery strategy. The document was released Thursday along with the BiOps and recovery strategy.

In a letter to Kevin Gover, assistant BIA secretary, Donald Sampson, CRITFC executive director, explained why the member tribes could not support the recovery plan. Sampson said that by signing the agreement, the BIA would be obligating itself to actions that run contrary to federal treaty and trust responsibilities to the tribes.

"They (BIA officials) told us that they've not signed the MOU" because of concerns that the strategy inadequately addresses treaty responsibilities, Hudson said. The BIA's Northwest regional office did not return CBB calls to inquire whether or not the agency intended to sign the document.

Supporting analyses indicate that the federal recovery strategy will not lead to restoration of treaty fisheries, according to CRITFC. "Instead, the analyses indicate 'preventing severe decline' as the sole objective… a goal the tribes say is self-serving and ultimately meaningless to the people of the Northwest."

The treaty tribes also scoff at the notion that their consultations with federal agencies produced any meaningful results.

"If they suggest that tribal input is reflected in these plans we haven't seen it," said Randy Settler, Yakama Nation Fish and Wildlife Committee chair and member of the government-to-government consultation effort. Federal plans have failed to integrate tribal recommendations submitted during yearlong policy and technical consultations with top officials of the Clinton Administration, he said.

"The fact that they failed to use artificial production to rebuild runs tells us that they're not interested in what's working in places like the Umatilla, Clearwater and Yakima basins," said Sampson.

The tribes have been outspoken opponents of federal policies requiring destruction of so-called 'surplus' hatchery fish -- policies the tribes say squander not only tribal and public resources, but also opportunities to rebuild runs. Under the current policies, tens of thousands of 'surplus' spring chinook will be killed in 2001 -- undoubtedly provoking public outrage as it did in the past year, according to a CRITFC press release.

The federal failure to incorporate regional recommendations is in stark contrast to recent agreements and alignment of goals and objectives by Northwest states and tribes, according to CRITFC. The Northwest Power Planning Council and the tribes set mutual rebuilding goals of five million fish in 25 years through a blend of innovative state and tribal projects -- some opposed by the NMFS.

"The federal government is taking a regulate-for-scarcity approach just as we're breaking through on a collaboration-for-abundance plan with the states. The federal agencies can help this effort through less interference and foot-dragging," said Olney Patt, Jr., CRITFC chairman.

"The Recovery Strategy will indefinitely 'cap' Indian fisheries at token levels and would displace Indian fishers from their usual and accustomed fishing places to implement selective fisheries," Sampson said in his letter to Gover. It also focuses on off-site actions "instead of taking further measures to reduce salmon impacts at the dams. Consideration for breaching the Snake Dams is deferred 10 years."

CRITFC is the technical coordinating agency for the Columbia River treaty tribes -- Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce and Warm Springs.

Related Pages:
NMFS, Caucus Release Salmon Recovery Strategy

Barry Espenson
Tribes: Federal Salmon Plan 'Unacceptable'
Columbia Basin Bulletin, December 22, 2000

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