TRAHANT REPORTS— Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is President-elect Donald J. Trump’s choice to head the Department of the Interior. If confirmed by the Senate, she would managed federal lands, including those that produce energy, as well as national parks. She would be oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
McMorris Rodgers has all the necessary qualifications: Pro oil and gas development? Check. Climate change skeptic? Check. Skeptical about federal land ownership in the West? Check.
And, if you need one more check mark, her record in the House does not reflect her being a particularly close ally of tribes from the Republican side.
The Violence Against Women Act is one example. In 2013, McMorris Rogers met with Deborah Parker, then vice chairman of the Tulalip Tribes, where they explored language that would get Republican support and open tribal jurisdiction on domestic violence. But when Rep. Tom Cole’s alternative bill surfaced that did just that, McMorris Rodgers voted no. Slate magazine said she dismissed tribal concerns as “a side issue” and voted the party line against the Violence Against Women Act.
The most problematic issue for Northwest tribes might be salmon.
She describes herself as “a champion of our dams and the power they produce.” She recently told Washington Ag Network: “There are some who believe the Snake River dams are not allowing for adequate salmon recovery. However, thanks to collaboration between states, tribes, federal agencies, and private property owners, our salmon are returning at record levels. Since 2014, more than 2.5 million adult salmon and steelhead passed Bonneville Dam, the highest returns since they began counting in 1938. The Sockeye, Fall Chinook, and Coho were also among record and near-record runs as well.”
But will salmon recovery continue without removing dams on the Snake River? A federal judge in May rejected the government’s recovery plan and said the government had to calculate at least the potential of removing dams.
An irrigation group responded by calling for the government to give up on salmon and declare the species extinct (using an odd provision in the Endangered Species Act that assembles a committee, “the God squad,” to make a determination that nothing more can be done to save salmon). Darryll Olsen, representing The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association, said in the Tri-City Herald, that “the association is hoping for a fair and equitable ruling that would end a cycle of repeated litigation, and escalating and more expensive plans for what is already the most extensive fish protection and enhancement program in the world.” The debate pits salmon recovery against the four Snake River dams that make it possible to barge agricultural products from Lewiston, Idaho, to Oregon ports. And the dams generate inexpensive electricity for some 800,000 Northwest homes.
As a Tri-City Herald headline put it: “People passionate about saving Snake River dams.” But then the newspaper didn’t talk to tribes who are just as passionate about saving salmon.
And, even if the God Squad is assembled, and even if the Snake River salmon are declared extinct, there will be more litigation ahead, including the assertion of tribal treaty rights.
But the Snake River dams will have the best advocate, the Secretary of Interior.
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports.