PORTLAND, Ore. – After five years as executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Olney “JP” Patt Jr. resigned Aug. 1 to spend more time with his family, especially his 94-year-old father.
“There are a lot of good reasons to move on right now,” he said.
As a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, one of the four treaty tribes involved in CRITRC decision-making policies, the sustenance, ceremonial and commercial importance of salmon fall directly in line with Patt’s rich heritage.
Since his arrival, the commission has completed three historic agreements with federal, state and Canadian parties, among other milestones.
“When I first started working here, I jokingly said the job of the executive director is to take credit for the hard work of their staff,” he said. “To a large degree, that’s almost true.”
Patt worked closely with staffers on a new 10-year agreement with the United States and Canada to protect Chinook salmon under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. The new agreement calls for further limitations to the fishing of the species in an effort to boost populations.
Once approved by both governments, the commission expects a 3 – 7 percent improvement from the previous treaty, which expires in December.
“It wasn’t a renegotiation of the entire treaty, just annexes of the treaty,” Patt said.
Patt also said that the agency supports the removal of up to 85 California sea lions that feed off threatened salmon at the base of the Bonneville Dam.
In March, Oregon, Washington and Idaho received authorization under Section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act to carry out the removal. Part of the removal involved lethal means that angered animal activists. And, several sea lions that were caught in traps in an attempt to remove them non-lethally died from heat and predation.
“I think it’s going to continue to be an issue,” he said, adding that a balance between the two species is vital to salmon survival.
Patt said that his active role in fish management came on the heels of his father’s retirement from the Warm Springs tribal council after 36 years of service.
“It’s a very spiritual place in our lifestyle and deep-seated in our traditions,” he said.
His on-again, off-again involvement in CRITFC began in 1978 when he was hired as a public information officer. At the time, the commission was a year old and there were only about a dozen employees. Today, the commission employs about 100 people.
He was the CRITFC chairman in 2000 – 01, and had served as a commissioner since 1995.
Prior to his role as executive director, he spent five years as chairman of the Warm Springs tribal council and, similar to his father, took an active role in tribal fish and game management.
“It just goes from one generation to the other,” he said. “We always say that we are a very patient group of people. We are going to wait until we have millions of fish in the river.”
Patt reflected on the negative consequences of the construction of dams on the Columbia River.
Last year, the commission commemorated the 50th anniversary of the loss of Celilo Falls to the construction of the Dalles Dam. Celilo Falls was abundant in salmon and allowed for tribes to fish together and trade their catch.
Without Native involvement over the years of numerous changes, Patt said that salmon in the Columbia River would have gone extinct. The treaty tribes have worked diligently to ensure that upstream and downstream salmon have a passage through the dams. “We have to ask ourselves: what would have happened if we had not undertaken that effort?” he said.
Patt, 56, credited his staffers for their hard work on legal and technical areas. “It’s been great working for them all these years,” he said. “The fact is that I learned a lot.”
Fidelia Andy, CRITFC executive committee member, said in a press release that the organization has a deep appreciation of Patt’s service to the four treaty tribes. “We respect Olney’s wishes to be closer to family and tribe,” she said.
Meanwhile, Patt relishes no longer having to make a three-hour commute to spend time with his family on the reservation.
His plans include plenty of relaxation and spending that quality time with family for the remainder of this year. Early next year, his career plans entail returning to work on the tribal level as an adviser on fish and game issues for the decision makers of his tribe. “I don’t plan straying far from the fish,” he said.
He will also continue his presidential appointment as a U.S. Commissioner to the Pacific Salmon Treaty until his term is up in 2012.
The CRIFC was formed in 1977 by the Warm Springs, Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce tribes to have a place at the table on issues that affect salmon and fisheries management along the Columbia River on a local, state and federal level.
“Over those 31 years, we have never deviated from that course,” he said.
For more information on CRIFC, visit www.critfc.org.