1995 Subbasin Plans—Introduction

Klickitat, Yakima, Imnaha, Umatilla, Walla Walla—many of the tributaries of the Columbia Basin retain the names of the people who inhabited their banks and fished their waters for no less than ten thousand years. Even those rivers renamed by white settlers remain within the territories where our ancestors, the people of the Umatilla, Nez Perce, Yakama, and Warm Springs tribes lived and died since time immemorial.

Prior to treaty signing in 1855, our Indian people traveled throughout our territories in the Columbia Basin to places where we knew fish and game were available for sustenance and livelihood. In the treaties, which opened the basin to white settlement, we reserved the right to travel to all of these usual and accustomed fishing places to take fish while also reserving the exclusive right to take fish on our reservations. For its part, the United States agreed to secure these rights.

For almost a century following the treaty councils, federal policy generally ignored the treaties by allowing the salmon populations of the basin to decline through over harvest and upper basin development and by misusing mitigation authorities such as the Mitchell Act and the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan in a discriminatory manner. But in 1968, with the initiation of the lawsuit now called U.S. v. Oregon, we acted to protect our birthright.

Twenty-seven years later, U.S. v. Oregon is still on the federal district court docket and provides a means of dispute resolution when discussion and negotiations fail between our tribes, the United States, and the states of Oregon, Idaho and Washington.

Since 1968, the federal, state and tribal governments created or used other institutions to address the problem of declining salmon stocks. These included the Northwest Power Planning Council  (NPPC), the Pacific Salmon Commission, the Columbia River Fish Management Plan adopted by the federal court in U.S. v. Oregon, and the consultations conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The NPPC was created under the Northwest Power Act of 1980 to protect, mitigate and enhance salmon in the basin. After determining the magnitude of salmon losses, the NPPC adopted a Fish and Wildlife Program amendment setting forth a program to restore salmon through individual tributary plans (subbasin planning) with implementation slated for 1990.

The Pacific Salmon Commission was created in 1985 under the Pacific Salmon Treaty to rebuild chinook salmon runs and allocate harvests between United States and Canadian fisheries.

The Columbia River Fish Management Plan was approved by the Federal District Court of Oregon in 1988 to address production and harvest issues among the federal, state, and tribal governments. Provisions included the development of subbasin plans to achieve the earliest feasible rebuilding of basin salmon stocks.

In 1991 the National Marine Fisheries Service listed certain Snake River salmon stocks as threatened or endangered, shifting attention to the preservation of fragmented and isolated populations in the Snake River, its tributaries and Redfish Lake. During the Salmon Summit, a series of citizen/industry/government meetings convened in the early 1990s to confront the salmon crisis, key participants rejected the approach that included subbasin restoration programs in favor of a focus on Endangered Species Act listings.

The NMFS listing also restricted the ability of fishery managers to use propagation as a tool for rebuilding by including the “evolutionarily significant unit” (ESU) policy, a severe restriction on the ability of fishery managers to utilize propagation techniques that were included as elements of the subbasin plans and the Columbia River Fish Management Plan.

Regrettably, the ESA designation of Snake River salmon set back efforts to restore the basin’s declining salmon populations throughout the basin— efforts that were mandated under U.S. v. Oregon, the Pacific Salmon Treaty and the NPPC’s Fish and Wildlife Program. However, scientific researchindicates now that numerous non-listed populations will be lost unless protection and restoration efforts are begun immediately in every Columbia Basin tributary.

Since the passage of the Northwest Power Act in 1980, the basin’s treaty fishing tribes have worked with their neighbors in certain watersheds to restore fisheries for the benefit and enjoyment of all users.

In the Umatilla, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, in cooperation with the State of Oregon and local irrigators, implemented a program of habitat improvement and outplanting of appropriate stocks that returned chinook salmon and coho to the river for the first time in seventy years.

In the Imnaha, a tributary of the Snake, the Nez Perce Tribe worked with Wallowa County residents to maintain a program for habitat protection and artificial propagation that, in 1992 and 1993, resulted in a ten-fold increase in adult spring chinook returns, then the only increasing trend for spring chinook in the Snake above eight dams.

In the Yakima, the Yakama Indian Nation secured federal legislation to provide enhancement of water quantity as a means to implement an ambitious program of salmon restoration that has been in the NPPC’s Fish and Wildlife Program since 1982.

In the Hood River, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon are working closely with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and with local interests to rebuild spring chinook and steelhead through a program of habitat improvement and supplementation of natural production.

The plans the tribes developed in 1995 are tribal proposals to protect or restore salmon populations in each tributary above Bonneville Dam through the implementation of detailed subbasin actions that address both habitat protection and fish production. These subbasin plans are a refinement of the plans completed by the fishery agencies and tribes in 1990—plans that defined watershed habitat and production problems and proposed remedies.

They represent the cultural and geographic knowledge of our tribes and, in combination with the life cycle survival framework, scientific hypotheses and recommendations in Volume I of Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit, offer the best scientific knowledge available on the use of habitat protection and fish restoration in each watershed. Further, the plans are based upon a thorough technical evaluation of habitat conditions and proper broodstock sources for supplementation where appropriate.

But they are not cast in concrete. Instead these 1995 Subbasin Plans are intended to engage our neighbors in the challenge of salmon restoration through cooperative efforts at the watershed and regional level. Such cooperative efforts guiding state and federal government actions are preferable to mandated programs arising from lawsuits and court orders or from state capitals and national offices in Washington, D.C.

Federal, state and tribal governments each have a role to play in Columbia Basin salmon restoration based upon each sovereign’s specific authorities and functions. Through the U.S. v. Oregon process, the three classes of sovereign governments learned to resolve disputes by defining and answering technical questions in a manner that provided a firm basis on which policy representatives could then find solutions. We believe these same methods can be applied at both the regional and watershed levels so that restoration proceeds on a cooperative basis, thereby avoiding mandated solutions from one government or another.

The watersheds of the basin are both the biological and social neighborhoods in which we live. During the next twelve months, we call upon the stakeholders of each watershed to comment upon these proposals and meet with us in a spirit of neighborly cooperation to address salmon restoration. Institutions such as local governments, municipal and public utility districts, schools and irrigation districts are key players in this effort and their review is especially important.

We call upon state and federal government agencies to assist this effort by supplying technical and financial resources and by constructively participating, along with tribal representatives, in watershed approaches. Certain activities are already under way: Oregon, Idaho and Washington are undertaking various watershed health initiatives under state authorities. In its most recent Fish and Wildlife Program amendments, the NPPC, whose members are appointed by state governors, called for BPA to fund and fish managers to develop emergency production and habitat actions to protect adult spawners in 1995 and 1996. The four Columbia River tribes and the Shoshone Bannock tribe together with the Earth Conservation Corps and the U.S. Department of Energy are putting young people to work fencing off riparian habitat, restoring streambank vegetation and related projects as a part of Salmon Corps, an AmeriCorps division. The Small Watershed Program, administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service under P.L 83-566, provides authority for federal technical assistance while, at the same time, directing federal agencies to cooperate with states and local entities to plan ways to minimize erosion, flood and sediment damage. Coordinating these activities on federal lands with local watershed efforts will improve their effectiveness.

On a regional, basinwide level, NMFS and NPPC actions need to be coordinated with one another and with tribal initiatives that reinforce the objectives of the U.S. v. Oregon Columbia River Fish Management Plan. Most importantly, coordination requires a means of dispute resolution that recognizes the critical distinction between technical assessments and policy decisions.

At the basin level, we also call upon the managers of the mainstem Columbia and Snake river projects and the managers of ocean and inriver harvest to recognize their own responsibilities to honestly deal with the impacts they cause to salmon populations both after the salmon leave the watersheds and before they return to spawn. Tribal efforts at developing a life cycle framework for allocating the conservation burden and measuring success are aimed in this direction and have the purpose of providing a scientific context for implementing watershed based recovery. Without protection of salmon at each stage of its life cycle, the benefits of watershed salmon restoration will be delayed or even eliminated.

On a coastwide level, tribal, state and federal governments need to develop institutional arrangements to support local watershed approaches and coordinate local objectives with regional land use and water development policies. For the Sake of the Salmon, a cooperative state, federal, tribal project, is an important coastwide Pacific salmon restoration initiative.

We are calling for a moratorium on salmon posturing and an end to the impasse that has marked salmon restoration since the listing of Snake River stocks in 1991. From the tribal perspective, the progress that marked salmon rebuilding efforts that began in the mid-1970s was halted as interests suspended constructive dialogue. We believe that most citizens of the Northwest are hopeful that salmon can recover, not only as sustenance for humans and other creatures but also as a cultural symbol of the Columbia River Basin. Adult return goals for each subbasin and species should be considered interim and will be reviewed periodically as part of the adaptive management process. Habitat-based methods indicate the possibility of achieving larger adult returns over the long term.

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