I’m starting to wonder if Washington state’s budget problems mean it will no longer be able to co-manage natural resources with the treaty tribes. Even President Obama has said recently that the state’s budget crisis is a “huge problem.”
Like most of state government, natural resources agencies are likely going to see a huge hit during this upcoming legislative session as the state seeks to fill its $2 billion budget gap. It’s sad to see state government backing away from the basic work of natural resources management, but there’s been at least one bright spot.
The governor has wisely proposed a one-time transfer of $1.5 million from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's wildlife fund to protect salmon production at several hatcheries. We hope the legislature will support her plan. Sport, commercial and tribal fishermen from the ocean to deep south Sound would all feel the effects of the lost hatchery production.
Some say the transfer would be wrong because the funds come from hunting and recreational fishing license fees, but will be used to maintain production at hatcheries that also support commercial and tribal fisheries. I would remind those people that in 2010, treaty tribes in western Washington produced more than 30 million salmon and steelhead at their hatcheries. Those fish will be harvested by everyone, Indian and non-Indian. That’s because all hatcheries support all fisheries to some extent. That’s the way it should be, because the salmon is for everyone. Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s not.
Salmon production at state hatcheries in western Washington already has dropped sharply in the past decade from a high in 2001 of nearly 90 million fish. That figure could dip to less than 50 million if projected cuts become reality.
Most hatcheries were built to make up for lost natural salmon production caused by lost and damaged habitat. If production at those hatcheries is reduced or eliminated, we all pay twice: once for the lost natural production and again for the lost hatchery production.
It is important to remember that tribal and state co-management is not optional. It is required under U.S. v. Washington, (the Boldt Decision) and is key to international processes such as the U.S./Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty. Co-management also is required for implementation of agreements such as the Puget Sound Salmon Management Plan and the Hoh v. Baldrige Framework Management Plan, which form the basis of salmon management in western Washington.
The state’s budget problems, combined with the ongoing loss of salmon habitat and the state’s inability to stop that trend, put tribal cultures and treaty-reserved rights at risk. The decline of wild salmon and degradation of their habitat already has restricted the ability of the tribes to exercise their treaty-reserved fishing rights. More cuts in hatchery production and state participation in co-management would further threaten those rights.
The treaty tribes are committed to co-management. We know that difficult decisions must be made during these tough economic times, but they should not come at the further expense of tribal cultures and treaty rights or the fish production that we all, both Indian and non-Indian, rely on.
Billy Frank, Jr. is the chairman for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.