A powerful new group that could be in charge of Silver Valley mine-waste cleanup already has encountered opposition. Tensions between county officials and the tribe arose during a Nov. 1 meeting of the Coeur d'Alene River Basin Commission, which the proposed Coeur d'Alene Basin Environmental Improvement Project would replace. If approved, project members would decide how to spend more than $600 million - the amount state officials say cleanup will cost. Tribal members fear the prospective board is too big. It would include one representative each from Kootenai, Shoshone and Benewah counties, a federal representative, a tribal representative and representatives from Idaho and Washington state governments - each with a veto. Tribal council member Chuck Matheson said local officials have opposed the Coeur d'Alenes at meetings for the past decade. The tribe filed a lawsuit to recover cleanup costs from mining companies in 1991, and regained control of the southern third of Lake Coeur d'Alene in 1998. Kootenai County Commissioner Dick Panabaker said the tribe's views should not override those of the three involved counties when it comes to cleanup spending. Before the proposed group forms, it must be approved by the 2001 Idaho Legislature and win assent from federal and tribal officials.
A large run of spawning spring chinook salmon left behind the most nests in 20 years this fall in the Yakima and Naches rivers, the nation says. More than 4,700 nests were found after 17,000 fish returned to the Yakima River Basin to spawn, reported the tribe, which has conducted the reproductive surveys since 1981. While pleased with the numbers, fisheries biologists warn that circumstances for salmon aren't always this good. "Everything lined up, and they had good conditions throughout their lives," said Walt Larrick, a fisheries biologist for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Yakima. "We saw the benefits of that here." A series of good water years that began in 1995 - after three years of drought - contributed to the stronger run of fish. Most adult fish that returned this summer were spawned in the fall of 1996. Typically, chinooks live for more than a year in fresh river water before moving to the coast, where they live in the ocean for a couple of years before returning home. Most Yakima River salmon return as 4-year-olds while Naches River spring chinook return at age 5, apparently a genetic quirk. Yakima River chinook are not under the Endangered Species Act. Steelhead are, but do not begin spawning until January.