“Being Frank” Tell The Truth

Dave Herrera, Skokomish Fish and Wildlife Policy Advisor
Dave Herrera, Skokomish Fish and Wildlife Policy Advisor


Note: Being Frank is the monthly opinion column that was written for many years by the late Billy Frank Jr., NWIFC Chairman. To honor him, the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington will continue to share their perspectives on natural resources management through this column. This month’s writer is Dave Herrera, a Skokomish tribal member who serves as the tribe’s fish and wildlife policy advisor, and who also is an NWIFC commissioner.


By Dave Herrera, Skokomish Fish and Wildlife Policy Advisor

The late NWIFC chairman Billy Frank Jr. left us all many lessons during his time on this earth. One of the most important was also one of the simplest: “Tell the truth.”

But that’s not what the state of Washington is doing when it comes to salmon recovery. You wouldn’t know it from what state government tells us, but the truth is that salmon recovery is failing.

At the center of that truth is the fact that we are losing salmon habitat faster than it can be restored. We cannot recover wild salmon until we stop the bleeding in our watersheds and estuaries.

Another truth is that tribal treaty rights are one of the few things strong enough to stand between all of us and the extinction of wild salmon. We have demonstrated that time and again over the decades.

Most recently, we showed that truth with a victory in the culvert case. We the filed suit in 2001 to force the state to repair hundreds of failing, fish-blocking culverts. These blockages under state roads cut off salmon from hundreds of miles of spawning and rearing habitat. The case was filed as a sub proceeding of the 1974 Boldt decision in U.S. v. Washington that upheld our treaty fishing rights reserved in treaties with the United States.

On March 29, 2013, federal district court Judge Ricardo Martinez confirmed those rights by issuing a permanent injunction. He ordered the state to repair more than 600 of its fish-blocking culverts over the next 17 years. He wanted to “ensure that the State will act expeditiously in correcting the barrier culverts which violate treaty promises.” Martinez noted that funding for the repairs would come from the state’s separate transportation budget, not at the cost of education or other social services.

Judge Martinez clearly ruled that our treaty-reserved right to harvest salmon also includes the right to have those salmon protected so that they are available for harvest. And not only by tribes, but by everyone who lives and fishes in the region.

It’s the same with tribal hatcheries and the 40 million or so salmon they produce every year. Tribal hatchery production makes the pie bigger for all because everyone can harvest those fish.

Without the tribes, the salmon and its habitat would be in far worse shape than it is today. We bring to the table our treaty rights, traditional and scientific knowledge, funding, and a strong cultural commitment to recovering the salmon resource. Everyone benefits from the work we do.

Perhaps most importantly, tribes and our treaty rights bring the rule of federal law to natural resources management. Federal law trumps state law and treaties are protected under the U.S. Constitution as the “supreme law of the land.”

The truth is that tribes aren’t the only beneficiaries of treaty rights. Non-Indians benefit from them as well. Besides sharing the natural resources of the region with the tribes, non-Indians have homes, businesses and schools on lands ceded by the tribes in return for the fishing, hunting and gathering rights tribes reserved in the treaties.

But our treaty rights – and the protection they give to all – are under constant, heavy attack by those who want to close our fisheries, shut down our hatcheries and destroy the salmon’s home. That puts treaty rights at risk for everyone.

We’re all in the same canoe, so let’s tell the truth: salmon recovery is failing. Tribal treaty rights are one of the few things that might keep salmon from disappearing altogether. The tribes will not allow salmon recovery to fail. That is why we must pull together to protect our natural resources and the treaty rights that protect those resources and all of us.

Being Frank: Listen to the Planet

Note: Being Frank is the monthly opinion column that was written for many years by the late Billy Frank Jr., NWIFC Chairman. To honor him, the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington will continue to share their perspectives on natural resources management through this column. This month’s writer is Ed Johnstone, treasurer of the NWIFC and Natural Resources Policy Spokesperson for the Quinault Indian Nation.   


Ed Johnstone 05ish_1


By Ed Johnstone, Quinault Indian Nation, NWIFC Treasurer

OLYMPIA – Our planet is talking to us, and we better pay attention. It’s telling us that our climate and oceans are changing for the worse and that every living thing will be affected. The signs are everywhere. The only solution is for all of us to work together harder to meet these challenges.

We are seeing many signs of climate change. Our polar ice caps and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising. Winter storms are becoming more frequent and fierce, threatening our homes and lives.

It is believed that we are witnessing a fundamental change in ocean and wind circulation patterns. In the past, cold water full of nutrients would upwell from deep in the ocean, mix with oxygen-rich water near the surface, and aid the growth of phytoplankton that provides the foundation for a for a strong marine food chain that includes all of us.

The change in wind and ocean patterns is causing huge amounts of marine plants to die and decompose, rapidly using up available oxygen in the water. The result is a massive low oxygen dead zone of warmer waters off the coasts of Washington and Oregon that is steadily growing bigger, researchers say. Large fish kills caused by low oxygen levels are becoming common, at times leaving thousands of dead fish, crab and other forms of sea life lining our beaches.

Low oxygen levels and higher water temperatures are also contributing to a massive outbreak of sea star wasting syndrome all along the West Coast. It starts with white sores and ultimately causes the star fish to disintegrate. While outbreaks have been documented in the past, nothing on the scale we are seeing now has ever been recorded.

We are also seeing basic changes in the chemistry of our oceans. Our atmosphere has been steadily polluted with carbon dioxide for hundreds of years. When that carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, those waters become more acidic and inhospitable to marine life. Young oysters, for example, are dying because the increasingly acidic water prevents them from growing shells. Researchers say that ocean acidification could also amplify the effects of climate change.

Because we live so closely with our natural world, indigenous people are on the front line of climate change and ocean acidification. That is part of the reason that native people from throughout the Pacific region will gather in Washington, D.C. in July for our second First Stewards Symposium. Tribal leaders, scientists and others will examine how native people and their cultures have adapted to climate change for  thousands of years, and what our future—and that of America—may hold as the impacts of climate change continue.

President Obama’s commitment to addressing adaptation to climate change in a real and substantive way is encouraging. Tribes stand ready to partner with the Administration and others any way we can to protect our homelands and the natural resources on which our cultures and economies depend. Only by all of us working together – supporting one another – will we be able to successfully face the challenges of ocean acidification and climate change.

Being Frank: Good Relationships Don’t Just Happen

By Billy Frank, Jr, Chairman, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

OLYMPIA – Good relationships don’t just happen. We have to work together to build and maintain a strong foundation of trust and commitment to keep a relationship healthy and strong.

As we mark the 40th anniversary of the Boldt decision this year, the tribal and state natural resources co-managers met recently to re-dedicate ourselves to the principles of co-management.

At the core of co-management is a pledge to seek cooperation first and avoid litigation. The approach is based on a government-to-government relationship that respects the decision-making authority of both the tribes and state. Its success depends on jointly planning and developing clear objectives with agreed-upon data to support consistent, coordinated natural resources management programs.

Trust and cooperation go hand in hand. In the first decade following the 1974 Boldt decision, the tribes and state did not trust each other as co-managers. We spent hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours arguing before a federal court about whose data was more accurate and whether this fishery or that fishery should be allowed at this place or time.

All that time and money spent in court was wasted. It could have been better spent protecting and rebuilding the resource.

After a difficult first decade, we found a way to work together built on mutual respect and consideration for each other’s needs. Co-management took giant steps forward.

In 1984 the tribes and state started the annual joint season-setting process called North of Falcon. In 1985 the tribes and state worked together to develop the Pacific Salmon Treaty that governs shared U.S. and Canadian salmon fisheries. In 1986 came the Timber/Fish/Wildlife Agreement that provided protection for fish and wildlife on private timberlands while also ensuring a healthy timber industry. Next came the 1989 Centennial Accord that further cemented the government-to-government relationship between the tribes and state.

All of these accomplishments clearly show the great things that can be done when we choose to work together. We can’t afford to lose that.

That doesn’t mean we agree on everything. We don’t. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can’t come to an agreement. The case of fish-blocking culverts is a good example.

After many months of negotiations failed, the tribes were forced as a last resort in 2001 to file a lawsuit against the state to fix fish-blocking culverts under state roads that closed access to hundreds of miles of good salmon habitat. The federal court agreed that culverts blocking fish passage violate tribal treaty fishing rights and gave the state 17 years to fix the problem.

While we are disappointed that the state has appealed the ruling, we will continue to work together for the health of the salmon and all of our natural resources. That’s because we know cooperation is the way forward. It always has been and always will be.

Being Frank: Don’t let First Salmon become Last Salmon

By Billy Frank, Jr, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Chairman

Winter snows are melting up in the mountains and soon the only white stuff we’ll see floating in the air will be cottonwood fluff, a sign that the salmon are beginning to return and a reminder that it is time to celebrate the fish that sustains us as a people.

In gatherings large and small, tribes throughout western Washington will celebrate First Salmon ceremonies this spring and summer to welcome home the salmon.

It is an honor for a tribal fisherman to be asked to harvest the First Salmon, a scout for the Salmon People who live in a village under the sea. With drumming and singing the First Salmon is welcomed and shared. The First Salmon’s bones are then returned to the water to allow his spirit to go home. If the First Salmon was shown proper respect, he will tell the Salmon People how well he was treated, and lead them back to the tribe’s fishing area for harvest.

The return of the salmon means tribal fishermen will be returning to the water as well. As part of the First Salmon Ceremony, many tribes also include a Blessing of the Fleet for protection of tribal fishermen and their boats.

But it is getting harder every year to put our tribal fishermen on the water. While careful harvest management by the tribal and state co-managers is making a strong contribution to the recovery of wild salmon, the keys to rebuilding those runs have always been to protect and restore salmon habitat.

Yet day after day we see salmon habitat being lost and damaged, and little being done to stop or fix it. Our declining salmon populations and resulting lost fishing opportunity are mirrors that reflect the increasingly shrinking quality and quantity of salmon habitat in our region. Conservative fisheries are effective only when they go hand-in-hand with equally strong efforts to protect and restore salmon habitat.

The lack of action on protecting and restoring habitat has gotten to the point that we can no longer make up for declining salmon runs simply by reducing harvest. Those days are gone. Even if we stopped all salmon fishing everywhere in western Washington, most weak wild salmon stocks would still never recover. There simply isn’t enough good quality habitat to support them.

But despite everything that’s thrown against them – dams, pollution, predators and much more – the salmon never stop trying to make it home. We can’t stop either. We all need to work harder to make sure the salmon has a good home when he returns.

We don’t want to ever find ourselves contemplating a Last Salmon Ceremony.