Tribal Resolution saysby CBB Staff
The National Congress of American Indians, meeting in Washington, D.C., last week unanimously passed an emergency resolution reprimanding the Bonneville Power Administration for its proposal to cut funding for Columbia River basin fish and wildlife protection, mitigation and enhancement programs.
A member of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians introduced the resolution, which was worded similarly to one approved by ATNI's 54 member tribes at a meeting earlier this month in Portland.
Like its ATNI counterpart, the NCAI resolution seeks a full audit of Bonneville and execution by the agency of the National Marine Fisheries Service's 2000 Biological Opinion on the 29-dam Federal Columbia River Power System and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's fish and wildlife program. The BiOp seeks to have measures implemented both within the hydrosystem and off-site that improve the survival of salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act. The NPCC program was called for the Northwest Power to mitigate for the impacts on fish and wildlife from the construction and operation of the federal hydrosystem. BPA markets the power produced at the federal hydrosystem.
The resolution accuses Bonneville of failing to administer and consistently under-funding its fish and wildlife obligations in the region "in a manner consistent with federal statutes and with its trust responsibility to the Indian tribes of the Columbia Basin." The resolution also says these issues "could provide an adverse precedent for other federal agencies that have a responsibility to protect trust resources of Indian tribes throughout the United States."
BPA CEO Steve Wright in a December letter called on the NPCC to ensure that fiscal year 2003 spending for the fish and wildlife program did not exceed a $139 million cap. BPA staff had estimated that nearly $180 million in bills could accrue during the year. The Council and its staff over the past nearly three months have trimmed, mainly through deferrals of work and habitat acquisitions, anticipated spending to what they feel is $137 million. Bonneville has yet to respond to the Council recommendations.
Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission executive director Don Sampson said Bonneville officials were warned its actions would eventually gain national notoriety.
"People are starting to look at this, and they're concerned," Sampson said. "Federal agencies are basically abrogating their responsibilities to the tribes under the treaties. We're jeopardizing salmon as a national treasure."
Sampson pointed out that several members of Congress, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Michael Crapo of Idaho, are calling for a congressional investigation and oversight of Bonneville. "Others are beginning to look into our situation," he said.
Crapo, in a press release last week echoed the tribes' concerns.
"Congress, the (Bush) Administration, and its many agencies need to accelerate the pace of implementing measures we all know will help fish recovery," Crapo, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water, said Feb. 26. "I am particularly concerned about the Bonneville Power Administration's proposed cuts in its Fish and Wildlife Program and the lack of appropriations dedicated to habitat improvement.
"I am sufficiently concerned about the status of the entire recovery effort that I believe a formal Senate hearing should be convened by my subcommittee to give all those who are concerned an opportunity to weigh in on how we get these fish recovered. We are losing time and wasting too many efforts on this matter."
CRITFC chairman Justin Gould said the resolution's quick passage underscored the direness with which NCAI members view the situation with Bonneville.
"Bonneville's actions are having a chilling effect on tribes nationwide, not just here in the Northwest," said Gould, a member of the Nez Perce Tribe. "Many tribes believe that if a federal agency like Bonneville is allowed to arbitrarily cut nationally prominent fish and wildlife programs without even a wink, the other federal agencies they work with in their own areas will begin looking at their programs with equal indifference."
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