Executive Summary

The Columbia River Watershed is world renowned for its salmon populations. Historical estimates of average annual salmon runs exceeded 5-11 million fish in the portion of the watershed now above Bonneville Dam. When Lewis and Clark reached the Columbia River, they were amazed by the abundance of the salmon. Yet today, fewer than 500,000 fish return above Bonneville and approximately 80% of these are produced in hatcheries. Some stocks have already been lost, three have been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the majority of the remaining stocks are declining. These reduced runs of salmon are surely cause enough for alarm, yet the issue comprises far more than salmon. Tribal culture, the identity of all the people, and many of the species that constitute the Pacific Northwest—essentially the integrity of the entire Columbia River Watershed—are at stake.

If salmon are to survive in the Columbia River Watershed, we must face the challenges before us with our goals clearly in mind, in heart, and in spirit. We must now begin to respect, to reestablish, and to restore the balances that once enabled this watershed to perform so magnificently.

Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit: The Columbia River Anadromous Fish Restoration Plan of the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama Tribes provides a framework to restore the Columbia River salmon, simply stated: put the fish back into the rivers. Yet making this happen has become increasingly difficult because of the decades of poorly guided and deeply entrenched fish management policies. More than science and its limits, the problems have almost always involved people and their institutions—whether government, business or otherwise.

Much of what is recommended to benefit salmon is what has been needed and known for a long time. More than 50 years ago, federal biologists warned that the consequences of continued habitat degradation and additional hydroelectric development would be devastating to salmon populations. They were joined by tribal leaders and through the years, by government commissions and citizen groups.

However, until the enactment of the Pacific Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Act of 1980 and its fish and wildlife program, there was no comprehensive salmon restoration program for the Columbia Basin. Had the Northwest Power Planning Council’s salmon plan been implemented, the people of the Northwest would not be today facing a salmon crisis.

It was known that the passage conditions in the mainstem Columbia River were inhospitable to salmon. Yet changes in river operation were minute, especially given the prevailing drought conditions. It was also known that many salmon runs and stocks had declined to such an extent that their best hope was the application of artificial propagation strategies. But hatcheries were eschewed without regard to the best available science. Instead some of the stocks that might have been helped by enactment of the fish program measures became listed under the Endangered Species Act. And it was known that many environmental laws have been ignored, exacerbating the crisis in the Columbia River Watershed.

Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit is the culmination of the leadership and wisdom of the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama fish and wildlife committees and the technical work of reservation fisheries and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission staffs. This tribal salmon restoration plan outlines the cultural, biological, legal, institutional and economic context within which the region’s salmon restoration efforts are taking place. This long-term plan addresses virtually all causes of salmon decline and roadblocks to salmon restoration for all anadromous fish stocks: chinook, coho, sockeye, steelhead, chum, eels (Pacific lamprey) and sturgeon, above Bonneville Dam. This area, encompassing about three quarters of the Columbia River Basin, is where most of the tribes’ treaty-reserved fishing places and fish resources are located.

The Columbia River treaty tribes take a holistic “gravel-to-gravel” approach to the management of the salmon, which differs from approaches of many other groups in a variety of respects. This approach focuses on the tributary, mainstem, estuary, and ocean ecosystems and habitats where anadromous fish live. This focus on passage, habitat, harvest and production requires substantial changes in current practices and specific actions to recover from historical destructive impacts.

Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit integrates this gravel-to-gravel approach into an adaptive management framework. The tribes agree with others who advocate an adaptive approach that requires action even in the face of uncertainty. According to adaptive management principles, that action must be carefully monitored and evaluated so that natural resource managers learn and change their actions on the basis of what they have learned. Using an adaptive framework, this plan identifies the survival changes in current water, land and fish management needed to produce the necessary survival rates. The actions endorsed in this plan are designed to measure whether or not survival levels are being achieved. Should the recommended measures not attain sufficient rates of survival, the plan calls for modifications and additional actions.

This plan goes far beyond those plans currently offered by other sovereign governments — the federal plan for endangered Snake River salmon by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington fish and wildlife mitigation plan by the Northwest Power Planning Council (NPPC). The plan not only makes recommendations, but more importantly begins to provide a context for decision making: scientific and legal justifications, directions for implementation, and analyses of expected outcomes are provided.

Unlike other plans, this plan establishes a foundation for the United States and its citizens to honor their treaty and trust obligations to the four tribes. If implemented, it would at least begin to meet ceremonial, subsistence, and commercial needs of tribal members and to return fish to many of the tribes’ usual and accustomed fishing places, as guaranteed in the 1855 treaties. If these obligations were met, the non-Indian public would be a beneficiary, enjoying its legal allotment of harvestable salmon and sharing a healthier, more natural river system.

What often sets policy development apart from other decision-making is the tribal conviction that not all societal decisions can be properly weighed in terms of costs and economics. The costs of restoration must be at least equated with the value of restoration. That value includes the spirit of the salmon (Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit). Tribal peoples can feel the yearning of salmon to serve its life purpose. There is no model that can factor in spirituality nor the ultimate value of living creatures.

The tribes would hope that those who read, study and use this plan, consider it a work-in-progress and invite readers to join in refining it. The tribes believe that the plan’s approach can help give direction to a region whose salmon recovery is floundering without real political vision and genuine scientific guidance.

If the reader can reconcile the truths of the past with the dreams for tomorrow, then today’s work can be found. This plan calls on the collective human spirit to bring cultured and hereditary strengths to bear upon the need for salmon restoration.

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