Seattle Times Editorial: Honor treaties with Native Americans, restore salmon

A federal judge told the state of Washington to get working on repairing, replacing or abandoning culverts that create barriers to salmon passage.

Source: The Seattle Times Editorial

FIX it, pay for it, get it done. A federal judge is virtually that blunt in telling the state of Washington to repair culverts that block passage to salmon habitat.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez reminded the state it has a narrow and specific treaty-based duty to ensure Northwest tribes access to healthy fish runs.

Martinez’s order last Friday in Seattle ended an extended phase during which the state and tribal parties were to sit down and work out what would come next. Nothing much happened.

The legal obligation to honor commitments made in the 1850s was not a question for the judge. Accountability for delivering on the promise is the issue.

“The Tribes and their individual members have been harmed economically, socially, educationally and culturally by the greatly reduced salmon harvests that have resulted from state-created or state-maintained fish-passage barriers,” Martinez wrote in his ruling.

The judge put the state departments of fish and wildlife and parks, which have done some work, on a path to fix culverts by 2016.

The state Department of Transportation has a 17-year timeline for an extensive to-do list.

Martinez said the state has the capacity to accelerate work because of expected growth in transportation revenues in years ahead. Separate budgeting for transportation and the general fund, the ruling notes, prevents harm to education and social programs.

The point was also made that culvert repairs will work:

“Correction of fish-passage barrier culverts is a cost-effective and scientifically sound method of salmon-habitat restoration.”

It provides immediate benefit in terms of salmon production, as salmon rapidly recolonize the upstream area and returning adults spawn there,” the opinion states.

In another case that echoes in the news, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in March that water runoff from logging roads was more like runoff from farms, and not the same as industrial pollution from a factory.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which was overturned, had found no exemption for logging.

Fish in streams have no options. They are vulnerable to the sediment collected, channeled and discharged into waterways from all activities, including logging.