Tribes, states to cooperate on salmon recovery plan

By John Trumbo, Herald staff writer October 24, 2009 

PORTLAND -- Six sovereign tribes and the states of Idaho, Washington and Montana have united in telling a federal judge they prefer to work together to save and protect salmon in the Columbia River system instead of arguing about legal issues.

The joint statement representing the nine entities is part of a legal brief filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Portland to address a years-old lawsuit filed by the tribes and environmental groups challenging salmon recovery efforts.

"These parties have come together to impress upon the court the historic opportunity presented by the 2008 Biological Opinion and the federal Adaptive Management Implementation Plan," the court filing stated.

Joining the three states in signing the memorandum were the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

"We have never filed together as one before. We've all come from separate corners," said Bob Nichols, executive policy adviser to Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The tribes and states began coming together on the salmon issue 18 months ago with the signing of the Fish Accords, which call for tribes and public agencies to work together over 10 years to do billions of dollars in fish habitat improvements on the Columbia River system.

Nichols said there is nothing new in the legal memorandum except that it represents the first time the tribes and states literally have agreed to be on the same page.

"This is further evidence of a convergence. It is symbolically significant and shows we're confident we can be a success," Nichols said.

"These (tribes and states), who at times have opposed each other, seek to end it as allies to implement the 2008 Biological Opinion ... to not only protect salmon and steelhead from jeopardy, but to take unprecedented stops toward habitat restoration throughout their range," the memo said.

The tribes and states noted for the court that the Obama administration's call for including "Snake River dam configuration issues" as part of what could be the ultimate solution for saving the fish populations also is important.

Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribes have not participated in the Fish Accords and are not party to the documents filed Thursday.

The legal brief will be considered as U.S. District Judge James Redden decides whether the 2008 Biological Opinion is sufficient, or if he will demand additional measures, such as requiring dam-breaching studies.

It was Redden's rulings that prompted plans for habitat improvements that will cost the Bonneville Power Administration about $100 million a year for 10 years under terms outlined in the Fish Accords.

-- John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com

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