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.


  • Restore anadromous fishes to the rivers and streams that support the historical cultural and economic practices of the tribes. (These are generally areas above Bonneville Dam.)
  • Emphasize strategies that rely on natural production and healthy river systems to achieve this goal.
  • Protect tribal sovereignty and treaty rights.
  • Reclaim the anadromous fish resource and the environment on which it depends for future generations.


  • Within 7 years, halt the declining trends in salmon, sturgeon, and lamprey populations originating upstream of Bonneville Dam.
  • Within 25 years, increase the total adult salmon returns of stocks originating above Bonneville Dam to 4 million annually and in a manner that sustains natural production to support tribal commercial as well as ceremonial and subsistence harvests.
  • Within 25 years, increase sturgeon and lamprey populations to naturally sustainable levels that also support tribal harvest opportunities.
  • Restore anadromous fishes to historical abundance in perpetuity.

If the actions outlined in the plan are taken, the four tribes believe the salmon decline can be halted within seven years and salmon populations rebuilt to annual run sizes of four million above Bonneville Dam within 25 years. Interim adult return goals for each subbasin and species are listed in Table 1.1 and in Volume II Subbasin Plans. Allowing for additional escapement needs and anticipated passage losses, about two million salmon will be available for harvest in mainstem fisheries. Longer-term goals will depend in part on the success of the proposed actions. Habitat-based methods indicate the possibility of achieving larger adult returns over the long term. Goals in this plan will be reviewed periodically as part of the adaptive management process.

To accomplish these objectives, the first volume of the plan sets out 10 proposals for institutional change, along with 13 scientific hypotheses and the recommended actions associated with each. The second volume contains subbasin-by-subbasin return goals and the restoration actions that must be undertaken to achieve them.

Tribal Culture and History

To understand the approach the four Columbia River tribes have taken to anadromous fish restoration, key aspects of tribal culture and history are described, including the importance of salmon, tribal governmental structures and the traditional tribal management philosophies that continue to guide the tribes as they have since ancient times.

Biological Perspective

Outlined in this section are the survival requirements for salmon and measures to improve survival of Pacific lamprey and white sturgeon. While their requirements, such as cool, clean water and complex stream systems, remain virtually the same as they have for hundreds of years, the conditions under which these anadromous fish must now live have been dramatically altered in a relatively short time. These changes and their consequences are summarized here and are the bases for many of the recommendations presented in this plan. The tribes have set survival standards by life history stage required to meet restoration goals for spring and fall chinook (Table 1.2).

Legal and Institutional Context

The tribes in the Northwest have a unique place in the legal and regulatory scheme of natural resource management. To provide some understanding of why this is so, tribal sovereignty, treaty-reserved rights, trust responsibility and other legal matters pertaining to the governmental status of the tribes are explained. This section also describes the institutional structures already in place which recognize the tribes as resource co-managers and that can serve as the framework for accomplishing most restoration actions. An analysis of the successes and failures of these institutions and of numerous legislative initiatives is offered.

The tribal plan generally offers three types of actions within the recommendations section: institutional, technical, and watershed- or subbasin-specific. Recommendation descriptions and highlights follow.


The tribal salmon restoration plan urges that existing institutional frameworks be used to manage and achieve anadromous fish restoration. The framework provided by the Columbia River Fish Management Plan, Pacific Salmon Treaty, Northwest Power Planning Act, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission provides the structure for the sovereign governments of the Northwest to plan, coordinate and direct major restoration actions. The tribes contend that the failure of these existing mechanisms is a failure to act by responsible parties. The success of these existing institutional frameworks requires true co-management by the tribes instead of unilateral decisions by the state and federal governments.

The institutional recommendations propose, for the most part, modest changes to the procedures adopted under the authority of U.S. v. Oregon and the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act to improve harvest and production management and to coordinate policies and resolve disputes, particularly for hydro operations, public lands management and research. The recommendations attempt to join accountability with responsibility for fish restoration by shifting the funding prioritization process to the tribes and agencies and transferring certain federally funded hatcheries to the tribes. The recommendations seek to limit policy barriers to the use of artificial propagation as a tool for restoration. The institutional changes also address private land management by recommending support for watershed initiatives and for enforcement of environmental laws.

Institutional Recommendations

  1.  Rather than create a new federal bureaucracy, use the Columbia River Fish Management Plan, the Northwest Power Planning Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program, and orders of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as a basis for management.
  2. Plan and implement production called for in the Columbia River Fish Management Plan.
  3. For public lands and water project management, implement a dispute resolution process similar to Columbia River Fish Management Plan and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission processes.
  4. Establish a new state and tribal fish and wildlife entity using Bonneville Power Administration funding.
  5. Support ongoing and implement new subbasin planning through a Columbia Basin watershed trust program.
  6. Base Endangered Species Act listing on the status of species throughout a significant portion of its spawning and rearing range. In the absence of scientific proof, the National Marine Fisheries Service should withdraw its Evolutionarily Significant Unit (ESU) interim policy as a basis for Endangered Species Act listings.
  7. Transfer federally funded hatcheries located on reservations and at other upriver sites to tribal control.
  8. State, tribal and federal fish agencies coordinate and set priorities for research, monitoring and evaluation programs.
  9. Continue development of and make research and monitoring data available through a coordinated information system.
  10. Update provisions of the Pacific Salmon Treaty and the Columbia River Fish Management Plan based on the latest survival rate and catch level information.
  11. Continue coordinated harvest law enforcement; develop habitat protection law enforcement.

 Technical Recommendations

  1. Begin improving in-channel stream conditions for anadromous fish by improving or eliminating land-use practices that degrade watershed quality.
  2. Protect and increase instream flows by limiting additional consumptive water withdrawals, using the most efficient irrigation methods, preventing soil compaction and riparian vegetation removal and wetland destruction; where necessary, restore soil, restore riparian vegetation and re-create wetlands.
  3. Actively restore watersheds where salmon populations are in imminent danger of extirpation. Use “Coarse Screening Process” to develop demonstration projects.
  4. Use supplementation to help rebuild salmon populations at high demographic risk of extirpation.
  5. Use supplementation to reintroduce salmon to watersheds from which they have been extirpated.
  6. Use flow, spill, drawdowns, peak efficiency turbine operation, new turbine technology, and predator control projects to improve inriver juvenile salmon survival; avoid fluctuations caused by power peaking operations.
  7. Protect and restore critical estuary habitat.
  8. Establish Alaskan and Canadian ocean fisheries based on chinook abundance.
  9. Use stored cold water, additional ladders, ladder improvements and ladder maintenance to enhance mainstem adult passage; incorporate 24-hour video fish counting.
  10. Improve water quality by eliminating sources of toxic pollution that accumulates in fish tissue and by reducing discharges of other contaminants to meet water quality criteria for anadromous fish.
  11. Closely monitor tributary production and escapement to improve management.
  12. Conduct research on Pacific lamprey and design artificial propagation strategies to supplement natural production.
  13. Develop artificial propagation and management strategies for white sturgeon populations above Bonneville Dam.


The tribal technical recommendations are presented in sets of hypothesis statements that summarize various restoration problems. The hypotheses are organized by salmon life cycle stages. Individually, they propose near- and long-term actions, identify expected results and name the institutional and decisional processes required to carry out the recommended actions.

Habitat Restoration

To protect and recover tributary habitat, the plan proposes that land and water users and managers meet a series of habitat conditions associated with survival rates, for example, 10% egg-to-smolt survival for Snake River spring and summer chinook. The use of the “Coarse Screening Process,” where applicable, will determine the allowable level of watershed impacts. This process requires federal and state land and water managers to maintain or improve fish habitat. If they do not meet the habitat standards — for example, water temperatures can be no higher than 60F — land and water managers must take action that will achieve compliance. Other important Coarse Screening standards include limits on the amount of sediment in spawning habitat and in streams generally, and the establishment of riparian reserves to protect vegetation and soils. So that anadromous fish are able to again thrive in their natural environment, other necessary measures are recommended, including reconnecting habitat areas that support salmon. Badly degraded habitat may be directly downstream or upstream of salmon-supporting habitat. As migratory fish, salmon require decent habitat throughout their life-cycle range.


The tribal goal to put fish back in the rivers means literally putting the fish back. To do that requires returning more of the basin’s fish production to the rivers and streams where they come from. Young salmon, if released at the proper time and manner, will return as adults to spawn in the same area they were released as juveniles. Rather than continuing current hatchery rearing and release methods, the plan outlines the development of new propagation strategies to reestablish naturally spawning salmon runs. With so many Columbia basin stocks at such low numbers, supplementation, which is what the tribes call their propagation proposal, is now an indispensable part of any restoration plan. While accounting for genetic concerns, the tribal plan asserts that increasing likelihood of further extirpations is in fact the far greater genetic risk.


In the mainstem Columbia and Snake rivers where more than a dozen massive dams dominate riparian habitat, the plan also calls for putting the fish back in the river: Young migrating salmon are now being transported in trucks and barges. Stop collecting them for transport, the plan urges, and let them swim down the river to the ocean on their own. To support anadromous fish, mainstem habitat must be returned to natural conditions which are linked to a 71% downstream passage survival rate, closer to those that existed prior to construction of the dams. This can be done by providing additional spill and water flows, among other measures. The plan recommends actions that can begin restoration of mainstem habitat, including provisions to address toxic pollution as well as provisions for additional spill and water flows. The plan also addresses estuary and ocean problems.


Plan recommendations include proposals for reducing chinook mortalities in North Pacific fisheries and the adoption of abundance-based salmon management in ocean fisheries. The plan addresses the problem of incidental mortalities and other harvest issues.

Watershed Actions

Subbasin Plans (Volume II) are included as a key part of this plan. Detailed recommendations are provided for 23 major watersheds above Bonneville Dam. The measures focus on habitat protection and rehabilitation and on returning fish to these streams using supplementation techniques. It is envisioned that these actions will be accomplished through a watershed restoration trust fund, under the leadership of the Columbia River treaty tribes.

In this section, the tribes’ plan acknowledges the cost of salmon restoration but provides a different look at valuation. The tribes contend that the people of the Northwest can afford salmon restoration and that calculating foregone hydroelectric cost is not the only measure of the salmon’s worth. The annual costs of salmon restoration measures are estimated to be half a percent of the region’s annual personal income. The loss of salmon has also meant the loss of revenue for tribal economies historically dependent on salmon with an estimated loss for tribal economies of billions of dollars so far. The estimated annual cost of the plan, $195-$325 million, is similar to the cost range of the Northwest Power Planning Council’s Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Snake River Recovery Plan.

In conclusion, the tribes urge the region to adopt a single plan for Columbia Basin anadromous fish—one that is mutually acceptable to the four tribes, the United States, and the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The tribes ask citizens and their government representatives and officials to use this plan and its framework as the basis for salmon restoration. See Table 6.1.

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