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White House, Tribes Discuss Salmon Runs

by Les Blumenthal, Washington, D.C., bureau
Tri-City Herald, January 26, 2000

WASHINGTON - Top White House officials and Northwest tribal leaders met Tuesday to discuss administration plans to restore salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin.

A spokesman said everything was on the table, including the possibility of breaching four Snake River dams.

The meeting, which lasted several hours and came despite the shutdown of the federal government because of a major snowstorm, was the first of what is expected to be a series planned before the administration unveils its plan for rebuilding the threatened and endangered salmon runs this spring.

Both sides would say little about the meeting, which included George Frampton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission; Judi Johansen, head of the Bonneville Power Administration; Will Steele, Northwest regional director of the National Marine Fisheries Service; and representatives the Army Corps of Engineers and the departments of Interior and Justice.

"It was a productive exchange," said Elliot Diringer, a spokesman for the Council on Environmental Quality. "It allowed tribal leaders to offer their views on a full range of Northwest salmon issues, and federal officials came away with a full understanding of the tribal position."

Among the topics discussed were the so-called four H's - hydro, harvest, habitat and hatcheries - and any discussion of hydro included proposals to tear out the dams, Diringer said.

"I can't get into specifics," he said. "We were primarily listening. That was the primary purpose."

Frampton assured tribal leaders no decisions had been made on a federal plan, Diringer said.

Charles Hudson, a tribal spokesman in Portland, had even less to say about the meeting.

Hudson said the tribes would have no comment until they received a letter from the administration, "reflecting the course of the proceedings and laying out a course of action from here."

Under the federal Endangered Species Act, the administration is required to consult with tribes over how best to restore the salmon runs.

"We are eager to talk about it," Hudson said. "We expect any actions taken now or not taken now will have a huge impact for several generations."

The four Columbia River treaty tribes - the Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce and Warm Springs - have guaranteed fishing rights under centuries-old treaties.

The courts previously have upheld those rights, and if the tribes aren't satisfied with an administration plan they always can return to federal court to enforce them.

Because the tribes are considered sovereign nations under the treaties, they have a special status in the talks with the federal government.

"We asked for the meeting," Hudson said. "The federal government has a legal obligation to meet with us."

The tribes generally have been critical of administration plans to restore the Snake and Columbia river runs, fearing their fishing rights will be diminished while other actions, such as improving habitat or breaching the dams, will be dismissed as too controversial.

Representatives of the so-called up-river tribes, whose fishing rights are not guaranteed by treaty, are expected to meet today with federal officials.

Les Blumenthal, Washington, D.C., bureau
White House, Tribes Discuss Salmon Runs
Tri-City Herald, January 26, 1999

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