PUD Fish Passage Project: great for the fish, great for the environment

Marie Zackuse, Tulalip Tribes Chairwoman.

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

On Thursday, May 11, Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) officials joined with the City of Everett, the Tulalip Tribes, and various state and federal resource agencies to recognize the success of the Fish Passage Project. The location of this gathering was on-site at the Jackson Hydroelectric Project Powerhouse in Sultan, Washington.

“It’s an honor to be here today to celebrate completion of the PUD Fish Passage Project. We raise our hands to all of you who have helped ensure safe passage of our precious salmon,” stated Tulalip Chairwoman Marie Zackuse during the Sultan celebration. “Our water and salmon are the foundation of our culture. Our people occupied lands ranging from the islands near Seattle, north to the Canadian border and east to the Cascades. Some of our people descended from a village near the mouth of the Sultan River. Today, one-hundred years after the diversion dam was built, we can finally welcome our salmon home.”

Back in 1919, the City of Everett oversaw the first timber crib dam on the Sultan River built for water supply. In 1929, a decade later, Everett built a new concrete diversion dam at the same location to meet water needs of their growing region. The way the diversion was managed, there were times of the year that the Upper Sultan River was completely dry. Although the Lower Sultan River received enough water from other tributaries to allow salmon to spawn, miles of the Upper Sultan River were no longer accessible to spawning fish resulting in massive population losses.

Fast forward to 2011, when the PUD received a new 45-year hydroelectric license, requiring volitional fish passage construction at the Diversion Dam based on a biological need for more habitat.  In May to December 2016, the Diversion Dam received several modifications that allow for unrestricted access (upstream and downstream) for resident and anadromous fish to additional six miles of habitat, an area not accessible to them since 1929. Within the few short months since the dam’s modifications, Natural Resources and Fisheries staff have already seen Coho and Steelhead return in the area above the dam and anticipate Chinook will return in the upcoming season.

“Creating passage for fish past the 1930’s era diversion dam was a significant endeavor, but the best part is the fish are already taking advantage of this new opportunity,” said PUD Natural Resources Manager Keith Binkley. “These actions, as well as others on the horizon, are indicative of the substantial and collaborative effort by those of us who know and care about this river system.”

Earlier this year, the PUD’s Diversion Dam Project received the National Hydropower Association’s “Outstanding Stewards of American’s Waters Award” in the category of “Recreational, Historical, & Environmental Enhancement.”

For more information on the PUD Fish Passage Project and several other projects taking place in the Jackson Hydroelectric Powerhouse house area please visit www.snopud.com/jhp

For Tulalips, protecting treaty rights means restoring habitat

From a research boat on Oct. 12, Tulalip Tribes treaty rights commissioner Terry Williams points out a steep hillside near Mission Beach that has been gradually eroding for years. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

From a research boat on Oct. 12, Tulalip Tribes treaty rights commissioner Terry Williams points out a steep hillside near Mission Beach that has been gradually eroding for years. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

 

 

By Chris Winters, The Herald, Oct 22, 2016

 

TULALIP — From the deck of a 30-foot research boat owned by the Tulalip Tribes, Terry Williams pointed out the remnants of a bulkhead along Mission Beach where not long ago there was a string of beach houses.

In 2013, the leases on the tribal property weren’t renewed and the homes were removed. The main concern was erosion of the beach and the bluffs overhead damaging the fragile marine environment below.

Williams, who is the Tulalips’ treaty rights commissioner, said increased rainfall and stronger windstorms would saturate the sandy bluffs and cause them to slide down onto the houses below.

“It gets to the consistency of a milkshake and tends to fall,” Williams said.

On a bright fall day, several parts of the bluff showed clear evidence of slides. Houses were visible above.

Coastal landslides tend to silt up the nearshore environment, which is considered a critical piece of the salmon ecosystem.

“Those areas are really important for forage fish for threatened and endangered salmon,” said Joshua Meidav, the Tulalip Tribes’ conservation science program manager.

The beaches were created and rejuvenated over millennia by the gradual erosion of the bluffs. Development along the shore, including bulkheads, docks and clifftop homes, interrupted that natural process.

Now when the bluff slides, it tends to come down all at once, Williams said.

“The reality is that this is all changing,” he said.

An issue of rights 

Climate change is a concern to Williams and the Tulalips in ways that go well beyond the usual worries about flooding and slides. It’s an issue of treaty rights.

While treaty rights are most commonly understood in the context of dividing the salmon harvest, their reach extends beyond the fishing grounds to tribal relationships with local, state and federal governments, said Ray Fryberg Sr., the Tulalips’ Executive Director of Natural Resources.

Most commonly that manifests in cooperative work with federal, state and local governments, and even private landowners, on many kinds of projects designed to restore salmon habitat.

On other occasions, the tribes have sought redress in the federal courts when they felt government wasn’t living up to its obligations.

“We’re like the last vanguard,” Fryberg said. “They have policies and procedures but there’s no enforcement.”

Most recently, that manifested in the “culverts case.”

In 2001, 21 tribes argued successfully that Washington state violated their treaty rights because culverts that carried streams under roads harmed salmon runs.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision in June, and ordered the state Department of Transportation to replace or fix 818 culverts at an estimated cost of $2.4 billion over the next 17 years.

It was a significant advancement of treaty rights into the realm of habitat restoration.

“The culvert case is the case that says there has to be a restoration so that ongoing harm doesn’t continue,” said Robert Anderson, a law professor and the director of the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington.

In this case, the state of Washington was found to have damaged habitat for salmon, and was ordered to make repairs.

Habitat protection and restoration were key elements in the second phase of a landmark decision by U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt.

In 1974, the first phase of the Boldt decision provided the basis for the co-management system, in which tribal and non-tribal fishermen divide the salmon harvest each year. The second phase, decided in 1984, focused on the habitat for the salmon.

“Phase II said that there’s not going to be a treaty resource of the salmon unless the environment is protected,” Fryberg said. “We get a certain amount of say-so in that.”

The part of the Phase II Boldt decision that obligated the federal government to restore habitat was overturned on appeal. However, the federal appeals court still said that the state of Washington and the tribes needed to take steps to protect and enhance the fisheries.

What those steps should be was left unstated.

“It’s difficult to argue that the federal government has an obligation to restore the ecosystem to, say, pre-treaty conditions, or treaty-time conditions,” Anderson said.

Some of the damage to habitat had already been done by that time, he said. Also, it’s a lot harder to assess the damage done by small changes, such as a single tide gate on private land, compared with the cumulative effects of the state’s culvert construction.

Momentum for restoration work can be created, however, when treaty rights are considered in tandem with the Endangered Species Act’s listing of various populations of salmon and steelhead.

“I think there’s a strong argument with the federal government to take steps to restore habitat,” Anderson said. “Maybe not a legal argument, but a treaty trust obligation to do it, and that they should do it.”

A seat at the table 

In practical terms, that means that the tribes have been aggressive in forming partnerships to pursue environmental projects.

Representatives from the Tulalips and the Suquamish Tribes were included in last week’s announcement of a new governmental task force to identify goals to protect Puget Sound.

Tribes also have broad leeway to take on projects of their own that help restore habitat, or at least halt the progress of degradation.

It’s not a blanket authority to do anything anywhere, but it means tribes have a seat at the table whenever a treaty trust resource is affected.

As a coordinating body among the 20 treaty tribes of Western Washington, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission has a role supporting restoration programs to have a greater impact.

A lot of the commission’s work focuses on the marine nearshore environment, said Fran Wilshusen, the NWIFC’s habitat services director. That also means studying how the marine environment interacts with estuaries, river systems and the upland watersheds.

“We’re trying to pull the lens back and look at how the whole system is connected,” Wilshusen said.

That includes small projects, such as the Tulalips’ 2013 pilot study to release beavers in the western Cascades, where their activity of building dams is expected to help return the upper reaches of streams to their natural state, which happens to be better spawning territory for salmon.

Larger efforts include the Tulalips’ restoration of the 400-acre Qwuloolt Estuary in Marysville. A similar project was restoration of the 762-acre estuary in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge outside Tacoma by the Nisqually Tribe.

The ongoing Nearshore Restoration Project focuses on restoring beaches and marine environments damaged by beach erosion. It’s a Snohomish County project, and local tribes have a place at the table, serving on the boards of several organizations that provided money for the project, including the county’s Marine Resource Committee and the Northwest Straits Commission.

One project under way is an agreement between the Tulalip Tribes and the U.S. Forest Service to maintain a 1,280-acre tract in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as a source of wild huckleberries.

There aren’t that many places left in the mountains that are accessible by road that still provide habitat for the berries, which are important to tribal culture, said Libby Halpin Nelson, a senior environmental policy analyst with the Tulalips.

“They are healthy and they are a traditional food that is always looked for in ceremonies,” Nelson said.

The project includes removing small conifers that could “shade-out” the berries. In essence, the tribe is mimicking the effect forest fires used to have before fire suppression became standard response, she said.

Rights at risk 

For all the work that’s been done to protect and restore salmon habitat, the fish runs continue to decline.

In spring, projections of low numbers of returning salmon, especially coho, led to a breakdown of negotiations between the tribes and the state. Tempers flared and fishermen protested when tribes were given permission to catch a small number of spring Chinook while the non-native sportsmen had to wait.

July report from the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission’s “Treaty Rights at Risk” initiative pointed out just how dire the situation was for many watersheds, including the Snohomish and Stillaguamish rivers: Habitat was being lost faster than it could be replaced and nearly every single indicator of the health of salmon populations was trending downward.

The challenges looming on the horizon are even more formidable.

A poster on Fryberg’s office wall has a picture of the late Nisqually leader Billy Frank Jr. and his warning to all Native American tribes: “As the salmon disappear, so do our tribal cultures and treaty rights. We are at a crossroads, and we are running out of time.”

With each new study, it becomes clearer that changes are elapsing at an increasing speed.

“Ten, 15 years ago, what we said would happen in 50 years is already happening,” Fryberg said.

The Tulalip Tribes hosted two summits this year, one in April concerning rising sea levels, and another in September that looked at adapting to climate change in general. Fryberg said the tribe is planning a third focused on the state of salmon recovery.

“Collectively, we have to be making some effort,” Fryberg said. “We have a responsibility to the future to try and do something.”

The quote from Billy Frank was from an essay he wrote in 2012, and it’s the next sentence that points to what needs to be done: “That’s why we are asking the federal government to come to align its agencies and programs, and lead a more coordinated recovery effort.”

Williams’ entire career has been focused on building bridges between tribal, state and federal governments.

Shortly after the Boldt decision, he was involved in setting up the co-management regime in the state, and then negotiating the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada and its First Nations, backed by research developed by Tulalip staff scientists.

In the 1990s he was tapped to open the Indian Office in the Environmental Protection Agency. But many efforts to restore salmon runs were coming up short.

“We were putting tremendous amount of money into restoration and we were losing ground,” Williams said.

He realized that many federal and state agencies operated in their own silos, and often they might set regulations that aren’t in line with each other or broader goals.

“It’s the authority of each individual agency, federal, state or local, that gives them the ability to create rules and standards,” Williams said. “Eleven agencies have independent programs and authorities in Puget Sound. Most are not geared toward Puget Sound recovery goals.”

At the climate change summit in September, Williams noted the decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies to temporarily halt work on the Dakota Access Pipeline after months of protests at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. He said that was recognition that regulators were out of alignment with the Obama Administration’s agenda.

While a court has allowed some of that work to start up again, the government’s order came with an announcement that the federal government would consult with tribes on major infrastructure projects in the future.

The consultation process already existed since President Obama created a cabinet-level position to coordinate government-tribal relations, Anderson said.

“Here the Obama Administration seems to be signaling that, ‘Hey, maybe we ought to be doing more,’” he said.

That may lead simply to more federal agencies talking to each other and more often with tribal governments, which is still a step forward.

From the Tulalip research boat, Williams pointed out a section of Hermosa Point where he’s lived since the 1970s. Here too, the bluffs have slid, and some of the houses are perched on the edge, hanging over the lip.

“When I bought my house we were looking at getting closer to the bluff, but decided that wasn’t a good idea,” he said.

If stronger regulations are enacted, it would prevent some houses from being built, and that would translate into lower insurance costs for government. That would also help protect fragile ecosystems.

“The more we can understand it, the better we can prepare,” Williams said.

“What we’re seeing in climate impacts right now is just the beginning.”

 

An eroding hillside near Hermosa Point on the Tulalip Reservation. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

An eroding hillside near Hermosa Point on the Tulalip Reservation. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

 

Evidence of a recent slide along a hillside near Arcadia Road on the Tulalip Reservation on Oct. 12. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Evidence of a recent slide along a hillside near Arcadia Road on the Tulalip Reservation on Oct. 12. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

 

Fishermen in Tulalip Bay with the Olympic Mountains looming in the background. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Fishermen in Tulalip Bay with the Olympic Mountains looming in the background. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

 

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

Being Frank: Hatcheries Bridge Gap Between Habitat, Harvest

 

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By  Lorraine Loomis, Chair, NWIFC

 

Despite their unbreakable connection, salmon harvest and habitat restoration continue moving down separate roads in western Washington. Many people either don’t see or choose to ignore the fact that habitat determines harvest, and that we continue to lose habitat faster than it can be restored.

Indian and non-Indian harvest has been cut to the bone this summer because of expected historically low returns, especially coho. Yet habitat loss and damage – the root of the problem – continues every day throughout our watersheds and nearshore marine waters.

Poor ocean survival conditions certainly played a role in the low salmon returns of the past several years. But even when we can restore or protect salmon habitat, we aren’t helping ourselves enough.

You might be surprised, but fish really do grow on trees. Trees keep water temperatures low, the way salmon like it. Their roots help to prevent soil erosion that can smother salmon eggs. When they fall into a river, trees provide diverse rearing habitat for fish. When the salmon spawn and die, their nutrients feed the trees.

Yet from 2006 to 2011 we lost the equivalent of two Seattle-sized forests or about 170 square miles, according to the treaty tribes’ 2016 State of Our Watersheds Report. The report can be viewed at nwifc.org/sow.

When we lose habitat, we also lose the natural production of salmon it provides. The collapse of our fisheries is simply mirroring the collapse of the eco-systems that support them.

For more than 100 years, hatcheries have tried to make up for that loss, but hatchery salmon depend on the same declining habitat as naturally spawning salmon.

About half of the salmon harvested in western Washington are hatchery fish. Continued habitat loss means we will have to depend on hatcheries for as long as lost and damaged habitat continues to restrict natural salmon production and threaten treaty rights.

Hatcheries are simply a tool. Some provide fish for harvest while reducing harvest pressures on weak stocks. Others serve as nurseries to protect threatened salmon stocks. All are essential to salmon recovery and should be integrated in our salmon recovery efforts for every watershed. We need every tool in the box to reinforce remaining salmon populations as we work to restore habitat.

The importance of this tool should be reflected in its funding, but as the need for hatchery fish has increased, state funding for hatcheries has declined or remained flat. Treaty tribes have stepped up to fill the gap in recent years and provide more salmon for everyone by picking up the costs at a number of state hatcheries where production was threatened by budget shortfalls.

The connection between harvest and habitat is clear. We cannot expect to harvest salmon – either hatchery or naturally spawning – as long as we continue to destroy salmon habitat. In the meantime, hatcheries must continue to help bridge that gap and be included as the essential part of salmon recovery that they are.

 

 

 

 

Lorraine Loomis is the chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

 

State still obstinate on tribal rights; fix culverts to save salmon, now

The money, time and effort spent denying tribes their rights could be far better spent on salmon recovery.

 

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By  Lorraine Loomis, Special to The Seattle Times

THE state of Washington should end its long, failed history of denying tribal, treaty-reserved fishing rights and halt its appeal of a federal court ruling requiring repair of hundreds of salmon-blocking culverts under state roads.

Instead, the state should embrace the court’s ruling, roll up its sleeves and work with tribes to end the spiral to extinction in which the salmon and all of us are trapped.

The money, time and effort spent denying tribes their rights could be far better spent on salmon recovery. More salmon would mean more fishing, more jobs and healthier economies for everyone.

The appeal stems from Judge Ricardo Martinez’s 2013 ruling that failed state culverts violate tribal treaty rights because they reduce the number of salmon available for tribal harvest. Martinez gave the state 15 years to reopen 90 percent of the habitat blocked by its culverts in Western Washington. More than 800 state culverts thwart salmon access to more than 1,000 miles of good habitat and harm salmon at every stage of their life cycle. The state has been fixing them so slowly it would need more than 100 years to finish the job.

Lorraine Loomis, a Swinomish tribal member, is chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and fisheries manager for the Swinish Tribe.

Lorraine Loomis, a Swinomish tribal member, is chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and fisheries manager for the Swinish Tribe.

The U.S. government filed this case in 2001 on behalf of the tribes. It is a sub-proceeding of the U.S. v. Washington litigation that led to the landmark 1974 ruling by Judge George Boldt. His decision upheld tribal, treaty-reserved rights and established the tribes as co-managers of the resource with the state of Washington.

Martinez ruled that our treaty-reserved right to harvest salmon also includes the right to have those salmon protected so they are available for harvest.

Our right is meaningless if there are no fish to harvest because their habitat has been destroyed. Today, we are losing the battle for salmon recovery because habitat is being lost faster than it can be restored.

The state argues that the treaties do not explicitly prohibit barrier culverts. But treaty rights don’t depend on fine print, they depend on what our ancestors were told and understood when the treaties were signed. They would never have understood or agreed that they were signing away the ability of salmon to get upstream.

The state claims that fixing its culverts is a waste because there are other barriers on the same streams and other habitat problems that need attention. But state biologists testified that passage barriers must be removed if salmon are to recover. State culverts are often located on the lower reaches of the rivers, and are the key to restoring whole watersheds.

 

Other road owners are doing their part. Under state law, timberland owners will fix all their barriers by this fall. Hundreds of other culverts have also been fixed. The state’s “you first” approach would mean no progress at all.

The state argues that a tribal victory would open a floodgate of litigation from the tribes on any state action that could harm fisheries.

But Judge Martinez ruled that the state’s duty to fix its culverts does not arise from a “broad environmental servitude,” but rather a “narrow and specific treaty-based duty that attaches when the state elects to block rather than bridge a salmon-bearing stream.”

 

A culvert’s waters lead to Mosquito Lake near Deming, in 2007. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)

A culvert’s waters lead to Mosquito Lake near Deming, in 2007. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)

 

During the Fish Wars of the 1960s and ’70s, tribal fishermen were arrested, beaten and jailed for exercising treaty-reserved rights. The beatings and arrests may have stopped, but the state has never stopped challenging tribal treaty rights, even though they have been upheld consistently by the courts.

Reserving the right to fish so that we can feed our families and preserve our culture was one of the tribes’ few conditions when we agreed to give up nearly all of the land that is today Western Washington. The treaties our ancestors signed have no expiration date and no escape clauses.

 We have upheld our promise and have honored the treaties. The state of Washington should do the same.
Lorraine Loomis, a Swinomish tribal member, is chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and fisheries manager for the Swinomish Tribe.

Tulalips, Forterra to preserve land near Wallace River for salmon

 

By Chris Winters, The Herald

GOLD BAR — A 1.25-mile stretch of forested land along the Wallace River will now be protected forever as salmon habitat.

The land, covering 121 acres on five parcels, was purchased by the environmental nonprofit Forterra in July for $490,000. Forterra, formerly known as the Cascade Land Conservancy, transferred the property to the Tulalip Tribes in November for future management.

A conservation easement ensures the property will never be developed.

“There’s a stewardship plan that we’ll be working on with the Tulalips” to maintain the tract’s value to the watershed, said Michelle Connor, Forterra’s executive vice president of strategic enterprises.

The property on the north bank of the Wallace River consists of five parcels that are a mix of wetlands and mature second-growth forests. It was last logged several decades ago.

“The trees have grown back nicely and the land is actually in pretty good shape,” said Daryl Williams, the Tulalip Tribes’ natural resources liaison.

The tract is located just west of Gold Bar and close to the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, the Wild Sky Wilderness and other protected lands managed by the state Department of Natural Resources.

The land lies across the Wallace River from a state salmon hatchery, and provides habitat for bull trout as well as four types of salmon: chinook, coho, pink and chum. The land is also home to black bear, elk, deer and beaver.

Williams said the land is likely to remain in its present state, as it already provides ideal habitat for fish in the water as well as for land mammals.

“Right now we don’t have any money to do anything with the property,” Williams said. “Perhaps we’ll thin some of the trees to allow some of the others to grow faster.”

The deal came together when Forterra learned the owner of the parcels, a property investment firm called Robinett Holdings, soon would put them up for sale, Connor said.

“When we first learned the property was coming on the market, we contacted the Tulalip Tribes to see if (the land) would be conservationally significant,” Connor said.

That turned out to be the case, she said.

“The property itself has historical oxbows and natural features that in and of themselves are very, very important,” she said.

It also fit in with the Tulalips’ efforts to restore the watersheds associated with the Snohomish, Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time and effort trying to restore areas on the watershed,” Williams said.

“With new development and redevelopment, we’re losing habitat faster than we’re replacing it,” he said. “We need to do a better job with what we have.”

The deal marks the second large habitat protection project the Tulalips have undertaken. Last year the tribes breached the levees and restored tidal influence to the Qwuloolt Estuary in Marysville. The 315-acre tract took 20 years to convert from farmland to a salt marsh and cost nearly $20 million.

The transfer of the Wallace River tract is also consistent with Forterra’s goals in working with local Native American tribes on preservation, Connor said.

Last year Forterra carried out a similar property transfer with the Makah Tribe involving 240 acres near Lake Ozette on the Olympic Peninsula that is considered critical salmon habitat.

“We see that repatriation of indigenous lands is an important part of our conservation mission,” Connor said.

Snohomish County was the primary provider of funds for the land purchase and transfer, providing $280,000 in Conservation Futures funds toward the purchase, and toward other costs associated with obtaining the conservation easements and transferring the property to the tribes.

County Parks Director Tom Teigen said the Conservation Futures Advisory Board often tries to strike a balance between acquiring land for active recreation, agriculture and habitat preservation, but this particular exchange stood out for its potential benefits to salmon.

“At the end of the day, preserving that property and getting that much acreage as well as the riverfront is significant,” Teigen said.

Forterra also received $250,000 from the state Recreation and Conservation Office toward the property purchase.

Tulalip turning tide on diminishing salmon

 

 KING5 News

 

It has been 100 years since water flowed in this now former farmland along Ebey Slough. The place is unrecognizable from what it was just four months ago.

“A lot of things are going to change really fast in here,” said Todd Zackey, as he and a team of researchers from the Tulalip Tribes navigated the waters Monday.

In August, the Tulalip, along NOAA and Snohomish County breached a levee along the slough, flooding the land and returning its natural state.

Now, researchers are casting nets into the water to see what fish are showing up. The goal is to create a salmon spawning habitat to help in increase their numbers around Puget Sound.

 

Researchers are casting nets into the Ebey Slough to see what fish are showing up.(Photo: Eric Wilkinson / KING)

Researchers are casting nets into the Ebey Slough to see what fish are showing up.
(Photo: Eric Wilkinson / KING)

 

Right now, though, there are far more questions than answers.

“Can we punch a hole in the dike and have the salmon respond in a positive way?” asked researcher Matt Pouley. “Are we going to see a population response over a reasonable amount of time?”

So far only a few salmon have been spotted, but that’s to be expected for this time of the year. There are plenty of other fish, though, and that’s a good sign.

No one is in a hurry. This is a long term project. It will likely take a century for full restoration of these waters.

And this project is about more than strengthening the fish supply. It’s about a way of life that goes back thousands of years for the Tulalip, and preserving that tradition for generations to come.

“The tribe is, in essence, losing part of its culture,” said Zackey. “Restoring salmon is restoring the culture of the tribe.”

U.S. Should Honor Billy Frank’s Dream

Being Frank”

 


By Lorraine Loomis, Chair Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

 

Billy Frank Jr., longtime chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, received many awards during his life and continues to be honored since his passing in 2014.

His life was celebrated last month when President Barack Obama posthumously awarded him the Medal of Freedom. It is the nation’s highest civilian award.

Billy would have been delighted to receive the medal, but even more delighted by the attention that such an award can bring to the issues he fought for every day: protection of tribal cultures, treaty rights and natural resources.

We hope the United States will honor not only Billy’s life, but also his dream, by taking action on the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative that was the focus of his efforts for the final four years of his life.

Salmon recovery efforts cross many federal, state and local jurisdictions, but leadership is lacking to implement recovery consistently across those lines. Billy believed that the federal government has a duty to step in and lead a more coordinated and effective salmon recovery effort. The federal government has both the legal and trust responsibility to honor our treaties and recover the salmon resource.

That’s why he called on tribal leadership to bring the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative to the White House in 2011. It is a call to action for the federal government to ensure that the promises made in the treaties are honored and that our treaty-reserved resources remain available for harvest.

Tribal cultures and economies in western Washington depend on salmon. But salmon are in a spiral to extinction because their habitat is being lost faster than it can be restored.

Some tribes have lost even their most basic ceremonial and subsistence fisheries – the cornerstone of tribal life. Four species of salmon in western Washington are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, some of them for more than a decade.

“As the salmon disappear, so do our tribal cultures and treaty rights. We are at a crossroads, and we are running out of time,” Billy wrote not long before his passing.

Over the past four years under the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative, we have met often with federal agency officials and others to work toward a coordinated set of salmon recovery goals and objectives. Progress has been slow, and at times discouraging, but we remain optimistic.

An important goal is to institutionalize the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative in the federal government through the White House Council on Native American Affairs, created by President Obama in 2013.

Economic development, health care, tribal justice systems, education and tribal natural resources are the five pillars of the council. With one exception – natural resources – subgroups have been created for each pillar to help frame the issues and begin work.

That needs to change. A natural resources subgroup is absolutely essential to address the needs of Indian people and the natural resources on which we depend. A natural resources subgroup would provide an avenue for tribes nationally to address the protection and management of the natural resources critical to their rights, cultures and economies.

We are running out of time to recover salmon and we are running out of time for the Obama Administration to provide lasting and meaningful protection of tribal rights and resources. Recent meetings with federal officials have been encouraging. We are hopeful that the natural resources subgroup will be created in the coming year.

The creation of a natural resources subgroup for the White House Council on Native American Affairs would truly be a high honor that the United States could bestow on Billy’s legacy.

State Again Tries to Deny Tribal Treaty Rights

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Source: Northwest Treaty Tribes

 

Once again denying tribal treaty-reserved fishing rights – and the many federal court rulings that have consistently upheld those rights – the state of Washington is appealing its latest defeat in a case brought by western Washington tribes in 2001 to force repair of hundreds of salmon-blocking culverts under state roads.

Oral arguments for the appeal will be heard tomorrow, October 16 in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle. The appeal stems from a 2013 ruling by Judge Ricardo Martinez, who issued a permanent injunction requiring the state to repair more than 800 state-owned fish-blocking culverts over the next 15 years. Also at issue is a 2007 decision in favor of the tribes in which Martinez ruled the state’s obligation to fix culverts stems from the treaty right to take fish. The tribes, state, and federal government tried for several years to settle the case, but were unable to reach agreement.

“Our treaty-reserved right to harvest salmon includes the right to have those salmon protected so that they are available for harvest, not only by the tribes, but by everyone,” said Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “Our treaty rights are at risk because we are losing salmon habitat faster than it can be restored. Without habitat, we have no fish. If we have no fish, we have lost our treaty right, and our culture and economies will be destroyed.”

Tribes reserved the right to harvest salmon in treaties with the United States government more than 150 years ago, in exchange for which the tribes ceded the vast majority of their homeland to allow non-Indian settlement. The treaty fishing right was upheld in U.S. v. Washington, the 1974 ruling that recognized the tribal right to half of the harvestable salmon returning to state waters and established the tribes as co-managers of the resource with the state.

In great part due to loss of habitat, salmon populations have rapidly and continually declined for the past several decades. As a result, both Indian and non-Indian fishermen have suffered from greatly reduced harvests. “We all stand to lose if we cannot protect the salmon’s habitat,” said Loomis. “We were disappointed by the state’s choice to appeal the district court’s decision, especially when restoring salmon benefits Indians and non-Indians alike.”

Blocking culverts deny salmon access to over a thousand miles of good habitat in western Washington streams, affecting the fish in all stages of their life cycle and reducing the number of adult salmon returning to the state by hundreds of thousands of fish. State agencies have consistently told the Legislature that fixing problem culverts is a scientifically sound, cost effective method for increasing natural salmon production. Even so, the state’s sluggish rate of culvert repair meant it would have taken more than 100 years to fix known blocking culverts even as salmon populations continued to decline throughout western Washington.

The injunction forces the state to accelerate the pace of repairs to blocking culverts. Over the past two years, the state agencies have been cooperative in working with the tribes, Loomis said. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, State Parks and Department of Natural Resources have made good progress toward correcting the existing fish blocking culverts, which the injunction requires be fixed by next year. The Washington Department of Transportation is responsible for the majority of failing culverts, which the injunction requires be corrected by 2030. WSDOT’s correction rate is still far too slow, but the Tribes are encouraged by the agency’s recent efforts to re-prioritize funding to bolster culvert corrections and the state Legislature’s increased funding to the agency. Repairs will be funded through the state’s separate transportation budget and will not come at the expense of education or other social services.

The 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington always prefer to collaborate rather than litigate to restore and protect salmon and their habitat, Loomis said. “But the state’s unwillingness to work together and solve the problems of these salmon-blocking culverts in a timely manner left us with no alternative except the courts. We hope the Ninth Circuit will fully uphold the district court ruling and that we can move beyond litigation to work cooperatively with the State to protect the salmon resource,” she said.

Low levels of oil pollution harm herring, salmon, study finds

Researchers find oil can harm herring and salmon at much lower levels than once thought. The work raises questions about Puget Sound pollution.

 

By  Hal Bernton, Seattle Times 

Federal scientists based in Seattle and Alaska have found that oil — by impairing heart functions — can cause serious harm to herring and pink salmon at far lower concentrations than previously documented.

The research, published Tuesday online in Nature’s Scientific Reports, could help unravel the mystery of why herring stocks in Prince William Sound collapsed after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Their work also has implications about the effects of low levels of chronic oil pollution in Puget Sound and elsewhere in the world.

“What this study shows is that in very, very low concentration of oil, embryonic fish … get born with a mild heart defect,” said John Incardona, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration toxicologist at a Seattle fisheries science center. He is one of 10 co-authors of the study.

Those fish may look OK on the outside, but the heart defect makes them less fit, so they can’t swim as fast. They may succumb to predators at higher rates than other fish and may be more vulnerable to infections, according to Incardona.

The findings reflect years of studies that explored the effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, compounds released by crude oil spills, but also contained in many other forms of fossil-fuel pollution such as tailpipe emissions from Puget Sound motorists that condense and are carried into the water by runoff.

The research examined the effects on fast-growing zebrafish, and then replicated the heart damage in more complex experiments that exposed embryonic herring and pink salmon to oil.

The researchers found that oil’s effects are greatest in cold-water environments, where fish embryos are less able to metabolize the pollutants. And herring, with much smaller eggs than the pink salmon, suffered the most severe effects from the polycyclic aromatics.

In the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill that dumped nearly 11 million gallons of crude in Prince William Sound, Alaska became the first — and so far only state — to create a water-pollution limit for the polycyclic aromatics, according to Incardona.

That Alaska state limit is 10 parts per billion, but the researchers found herring embryos could be affected at levels 10 to 50 times lower than that. At those levels, herring that returned to spawn in Prince William Sound in 1989 as well as subsequent years could have produced offsprings with damaged hearts.

Those offspring would have hatched, but few may have survived long enough to reach spawning age. That could be a big reason spawning stocks of Prince William Sound herring crashed four years after the 1989 spill.

“The thresholds for developmental cardiotoxicity were remarkably low, suggesting that the scale of the Exxon Valdez impact in shoreline spawning habitats was much greater than previously appreciated,” the researchers wrote.

In the more than quarter century since the Exxon Valdez spill, Prince William Sound herring stocks have failed to recover even as oil pollution has declined to levels unlikely to affect them.

The study published Tuesday does not try to explain the herrings’ current problems, although Incardona says once fish stocks get knocked to a very low level, recovery can be very difficult.

The situation is very different in Puget Sound, which has the highest levels of polycyclic aromatics of any estuary due to ongoing chronic pollution, according to Incardona. The Puget Sound levels are not that far below those found to have effects in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez, and raise questions about whether this pollution is harming Puget Sound’s struggling herring stocks.

Incardona, who said that federal researchers hope to work with Washington state biologists to try to answer that question.

As salmon vanish in the dry Pacific Northwest, so does Native heritage

By Darryl Fears, Washington Post 

 

Young salmon called "smolts" are loaded into a floating net suspended on a barge at Mare Island, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Young salmon called “smolts” are loaded into a floating net suspended on a barge at Mare Island, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

 

As a drought tightens its grip on the Pacific Northwest, burning away mountain snow and warming rivers, state officials and Native American tribes are becoming increasingly worried that one of the region’s most precious resources — wild salmon — might disappear.

Native Americans, who for centuries have relied on salmon for food and ceremonial rituals, say the area’s five species of salmon have been declining for years, but the current threat is worse than anything they have seen.

“I grew up always having salmon,” said Lorraine Loomis, fisheries director for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, whose culture is so intertwined with the migrating fish that they’re called the “People of the Salmon.” Salmon feasts once marked every phase of life on the reservation north of Seattle — naming ceremonies, weddings, funerals, memorials to the dead. Now they are few, she said.

“We’re very worried,” said N. Kathryn Brigham, chair of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland, Ore., which helps manage fisheries for the Yakama Nation and the Warm Springs, Nez Perce and the Umatilla tribes in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

An estimated quarter-million salmon, more than half of the spring spawning run up the Columbia River, perished, probably because of a disease that thrives in warm water and causes gill rot, officials said. Normally cool streams in the river basin are 13 degrees warmer than the 60 degrees preferred by salmon, Brigham said.

 

The carcass of a Chinook salmon, an apparent victim of high water temperature, is shown on the bank of the Clackamas River in Oregon. Oregon wildlife officials are restricting fishing on most of the state’s rivers in an unprecedented effort to aid fish populations dying off from high water temperatures as the state suffers ongoing drought conditions. (Reuters/Rick Swart/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)

The carcass of a Chinook salmon, an apparent victim of high water temperature, is shown on the bank of the Clackamas River in Oregon. Oregon wildlife officials are restricting fishing on most of the state’s rivers in an unprecedented effort to aid fish populations dying off from high water temperatures as the state suffers ongoing drought conditions. (Reuters/Rick Swart/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)

 

Salmon in the Northwest come in a variety — chinook, pink, coho, sockeye and chum — and that diversity has helped them survive for eons. When they hatch, some babies stay in place to eat and grow before migrating to the Pacific Ocean. Others swim to the ocean right away.

Adults stay in the Pacific for three to seven years before returning to streams where they hatched by swimming through Puget Sound in Washington or up the Columbia River, which runs from Alberta, Canada, to Oregon.

But as the climate warms, more salmon are starting to move farther north to Canada, experts say. Swimming to cooler waters in the north signals a major shift in behavior for the fish, and public officials are watching the trend with dread.

In addition to their significance to Native American communities, the salmon are worth more than $1 billion annually to each state’s sport fishing and tourism industries, which support tens of thousands of jobs.

Oregon and Washington officials recently closed dozens of recreational and commercial fishing spots. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service trucked 160,000 salmon 100 miles from a hatchery in central Oregon to a cooler part of the Columbia River.

As more fish vanish, the Swinomish, whose reservation skirts five bays, rely on handouts from the state and tribal councils. They accept 5,000 to 10,000 pieces per year to freeze, Loomis said.

“There’s just no water,” she said. “The glaciers are almost gone. The snow in the mountains is not good.” Even if salmon survive, but in tiny, remnant populations, “we won’t be able to sustain ourselves.”

 

Commercial fisherman Les Clark pulls a sockeye or blueback salmon from his net while fishing on the Columbia River near Skamania, Wash. More than a quarter million sockeye salmon returning from the ocean to spawn are either dead or dying in the Columbia River and its tributaries. (Gordon King/Yakima Herald-Republic via AP)

Commercial fisherman Les Clark pulls a sockeye or blueback salmon from his net while fishing on the Columbia River near Skamania, Wash. More than a quarter million sockeye salmon returning from the ocean to spawn are either dead or dying in the Columbia River and its tributaries. (Gordon King/Yakima Herald-Republic via AP)

 

Possible extinction

 

Off the coast of Oregon, wild chinook salmon are gathering for a fall spawning run up the Columbia, but experts say there’s a good chance many will never arrive to lay eggs in the streams and brooks where they hatched several years ago.

Besides facing long-standing hurdles such as dams, the fish now will encounter a large patch of warming water. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Rich Johnson said the cooler ocean water probably will signal to the salmon that it’s okay to migrate up the warmer Columbia.

Earlier this year, clusters of dead and dying sockeye salmon were discovered in Oregon’s Lower Deschutes River, a Columbia tributary. Officials counted at least 100 fish but speculated that scavengers ate dozens more.

Scientists fear the chinook will suffer the sockeye’s fate. Die-offs mean that fewer eggs will hatch and hatchlings might not survive the warm water.

“The bleakest, most dire outcome is if this drought is sustained for a couple more years like California,” said Greg McMillan, science and conservation director for Oregon’s Deschutes River Alliance. Some populations “could go extinct,” he said.

But wild salmon have an array of survival tools. The species do not all migrate at the same time, and their hatchlings do not all behave the same. Some remain in shallow streams two years after hatching, while others head for the Pacific.