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Tribal Vision paper a comprehensive plan

PORTLAND, Ore. - Last year 13 tribes of the Columbia River Basin, from Canada to the river's estuaries on the Oregon/Washington border, came together and produced a common sense, stick-to-your-guns approach to salmon restoration in the Columbia Basin.

Titled "Tribal Vision of the Columbia River Basin and How to Achieve It," the paper was sent to state and federal agencies currently managing the implementation of the Endangered Species Act and the restoration of salmon in the basin, as well as environmental groups and local faith organizations.

Although the paper received a warm welcome from environmental groups and has been accepted by bishops and archbishops as a guideline for position papers on salmon restoration, there has been no response from the people who pack the punch in National Marine and Fisheries Service and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.

And that is not too surprising. The Tribal Vision paper presents a comprehensive salmon restoration and management plan that flies in the face of many current practices, and even worse, demands that government regulations concerning habitat restoration, clean water and in-stream flows actually be adhered to.

Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, says the Vision paper is the most comprehensive eco-system management plan ever produced for the region.

"We have found we could restore salmon in many places where they are currently gone," says Sampson. "We could rebuild the declining populations of salmon. We could improve the wildlife diversity and numbers in the basin and we could maintain the economy of the basin, if they managed the river differently and we used our resources more wisely."

The problem with the Tribal Vision paper lies in the fact it is a comprehensive, holistic approach that takes into account science and economics, hydroelectric needs and human needs, tradition and future needs for humans and wildlife. It threatens the status quo.

If it were adopted, something consistent and positive might actually happen in the Columbia Basin, proponents say.

Current restoration efforts implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife have been so contradictory that even Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., and Washington state representative Doc Hastings requested a GAO (General Accounting Office) investigation into NMFS policies.

Last month, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission appealed to Sen. Gorton and other members of the state Congressional delegation for scrutiny of fisheries service activities in the Methow River basin.

"The request for investigation is direct and timely," says Randy Settler, Yakama Nation councilman and chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Committee. "This agency (NMFS) has lost its way. The GAO could provide independent investigation and analysis that has been ducked by NMFS for long enough. Our hope obviously is that the Comptroller General sees the merit and urgency of the request."

In the meantime, the Tribal Vision paper goes ignored.

Calling for a return to a more balanced and harmonious relationship with the environment, the paper sets out a vision for the future based both on past tribal teachings and practices and on current science; a vision "where science serves our teachings and practices, but does not overshadow them."

The vision also has teeth. It calls for a halt in the decline of salmon, sturgeon and lamprey originating above Bonneville Dam within three years; within 21 years, increase the total adult salmon returns of stocks originating above Bonneville Dam to 4 million annually in a manner that sustains natural production and supports tribal ceremonial subsistence and commercial harvests; within 10 years reintroduce anadromous salmon above Chief Joseph and Grand Cooley Dams; and within 50 years reestablish populations of salmon above these dams.

"The notable thing about the vision paper, is that it's the first that advocates the restoration of anadromous fish above Grand Cooley as a long-term objective," says Chuck Hudson, public information manager for the Columbia River Intertribal Fisheries Commission. "There's a feeling that the technology does exist now to ponder those things; that the dams did not mean 'goodbye fish' forever."

To implement these ambitious goals, the plan lays out some very specific actions, including: stop barging and trucking juvenile salmonids; restrict dredging and improve existing dredging management practices; remove existing extended-length turbine intake screens; halt installation of new screens and consider removing existing standard screens; restore, rebuild and reclaim conditions and habitat where they've been altered or destroyed; augment and manipulate flows and storage volumes when necessary to more closely approximate natural historic river hydrographs; relax and seek flexibility in rigid flood control rule curves; spill and/or surface bypass to achieve 80 percent fish passage efficiency through non-powerhouse routes; water temperature and total dissolved gas reduction in abatement to comply with the federal Clean Water Act; new and/or improved turbine technology efficiency; predator reduction and abatement; and 24-hour video fish counting.

The Tribal Vision also calls for adherence to and enforcement of all tribal state and federal laws and regulations including water quality standards, discharge permits and fish and wildlife passage. Strengthening the regulations where needed, and for the development of incentives and cost sharing programs where necessary. It also calls for common sense actions such as halting government subsidies and programs supporting development in sensitive areas such as watersheds and flood plains and maximizing irrigation efficiency and accountability.

"For the tribes, 'taking fish,' and wildlife and plants, cannot be separated from the obligation to 'take care of fish' and wildlife and plants," reads the paper's conclusion. "In our past, promises were made and exchanged - and kept. We would provide for each other, we could provide for ourselves - the people and the fish.

"There have been other promises made, by and to Indian people, in words and on paper. We do not take any of these promises lightly. The tribal vision for the future of the Columbia River Basin is one where, once again, promises made are promises kept."