Biden Administration, Tribes Talk Salmon, Rainbow Trout Recovery | wild montana

Eric Barker Lewiston Tribune

The Biden administration reiterated its resolve to change course on the decades-long, $17 billion effort to recover wild salmon in the Snake and Columbia rivers and to enforce the treaty rights of the Nez Perces and other tribes in the basin.

But he didn’t say how he hopes to improve those efforts, which have yet to be proven.

Four salmon and rainbow trout runs in the Snake River and nine others in the Columbia River Basin are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Several basin tribes signed treaties in the mid-1800s that ceded millions of acres of land to the federal government but reserved, among other things, their rights to hunt and fish in “customary and customary places.”

Senior administration officials — including Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm, and Environmental Quality Council Chair Brenda Mallory — have held meetings remotely.” nation to nation” with the tribes of the Columbia Basin last month. Representatives from six of the tribes gathered at the Clearwater River Casino on the Nez Perce reservation for the talks.

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A four-page statement published as a Council on Environmental Quality blog summarized the discussion. He recognized federal dams as a significant source of salmon mortality and tribal injustice, while noting the positive attributes dams provide to citizens of the Pacific Northwest.

The release says the administration has been asked by tribal governments such as the Nez Perce to breach the lower four dams of the Snake River. Many scientists say dams must be removed if wild fish are to be recovered. The statement acknowledged the dam removal and Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson’s economic mitigation plan, and that Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray are studying the matter.

Administration officials said the tribes had asked them to better fund salmon salvage; giving tribes and states a bigger role in the effort; and to expand the recovery of anadromous fish to the Upper Columbia and Snake rivers, where large hydroelectric dams drove the fish to extinction in the mid-1900s.

“As we reflect on what we’ve heard, we know that any long-term solution must take into account the varied and crucial services provided by dams, and the people, communities and industries that depend on them,” wrote administrative officials. . “We cannot carry on as if nothing had happened. Doing what is right for salmon, tribal nations and communities can bring us together. It is time to find effective and creative solutions.

Nez Perce Tribe President Samuel N. Penney called the meeting positive and said he sought to convey the urgency needed to recover salmon, rainbow trout and Pacific lamprey. Last year, an analysis by the tribe’s Fisheries Resource Management Department found that 42% of wild populations of Snake River spring chinook and 19% of wild rainbow trout are near extinction. .

“We are in a state of crisis with the salmon recovery,” Penney said, “and we expect the federal government to meet its (addressed) trust responsibilities, and that there is still an injustice to this day. tribalism that needs to be corrected”.

The tribe has sued the federal government over several iterations of its plan that seeks to balance the needs of protected fish with operation of the Columbia River hydroelectric system. Last fall, the Biden administration announced that the longstanding litigation — which includes the state of Oregon and a coalition of environmental and fisheries groups as plaintiffs — would be put on hold while the two sides seek resolutions. long-term solutions. This process should be completed by the end of July. Inslee and Murray are expected to release a draft of their Snake River salmon recovery plan this month and make a final decision on the violation by July 31.

The statement signed by Haaland, Granholm, Mallory, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael Connor and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Richard W. Spinrad said the government also discussed with other stakeholders in the region and formed an inter-agency group to “identify a sustainable way forward that secures a clean energy future, supports local and regional economies, and restores ecosystem function, while honoring long-standing commitments to nations tribal”.

Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest River Partners, said he has met twice with federal officials about the government’s intention to change course. He said his group supports salmon recovery efforts, but added that the recent statement places too much emphasis on dams as a source of salmon mortality and ignores other factors such as ocean conditions, predators and climate change. He said his group and others have pointed out that salmon survival has declined along the west coast.

“We think there are ways to help the salmon that don’t involve getting rid of those four lower Snake River dams,” Miller said. “We wish they had broadened the discussion to these things.”

Justin Hayes of the Idaho Conservation League in Boise said he’s glad the administration recognizes a new strategy is needed.

“They’re saying we can’t go on with business as usual,” Hayes said. “It’s something that a lot of people in the area have been saying – tribes, conservation groups, fishing groups and even industry groups – that the status quo isn’t working and it’s time to do something. very different thing.”

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