Wilkerson: Billy Frank Jr., at the forefront of historic change

Author:
Updated:
Original:

As tribal leader, Billy Frank Jr. led the change in the way fisheries resources are managed in Washington state. For his decades of leadership and commitment to sustaining our natural resources, I could not think of a better person to receive the first American Indian Visionary Award. Without Billy's vision, courage and dedication, our state would have continued managing its fisheries through contention in federal courtrooms, wasting money, time and resources. Instead as Billy states, "we can't depend on the people in Washington, D.C., and we can't depend on the courts to tell us what to do." What we have developed in Washington state is cooperative management of our natural resources, and Billy Frank Jr. was at the forefront of this historic change.

The "Fish Wars" of the 1960s and '70s resulted in contentious court battles, demonstrations, violation of treaty rights, and disagreement between state and tribal governments over the allocation and conservation of the fisheries resource. Billy was there testifying before the courts, and in 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the 1974 "Boldt Decision" which determined that the tribes have a right guaranteed by treaty to 50 percent of the harvestable fish; however, lawsuits continued between the state and tribes over how best to implement the treaty fishing rights, despite the Supreme Court's decision. In 1983 alone, nearly a decade after the Boldt Decision, there were 66 court actions on fisheries management.

As former director for the State Washington Department of Fisheries, I worked with Billy Frank Jr. during the fall out of the "Fish-Wars" in the early l980s. He helped to set up the goal of figuring out how to get along instead of continuing to fight the "Fish Wars." I met with tribal leaders such as Billy Frank Jr., and initiated the "Port Ludlow Conference" in 1982, which were the first set of discussions about how to set up a cooperative management system for fisheries, between the state and tribes. Having to set aside decades of battles and hard feelings, the state and tribes found common ground on which to build trust and finally a cooperative agreement known as the Joint Fisheries Management Project. After years of lawsuits and federal court management of the fisheries resource, in 1984 the state and tribes did not go to court once. After 21 months, the process was formalized and the Puget Sound Management Plan developed to formalize their joint working relationship.

The cooperative agreement for joint fisheries management produced under the leadership of Billy Frank Jr., between the tribes and state laid the foundation for resolution of the negotiations between the United States and Canada. The allied interest of the state and tribes over allocation of fish between the U.S. and Canada gave strength to help settle the negotiations. Billy represented the tribes as one of the lead negotiators for the United States. After 20 years of negotiations between the two countries, the United States, with the help of the tribes and state, finalized the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada in 1985.

In timber country, similar battles were brewing. The State Forest Practices Act was established in 1974 regulating timber management activities, and most of the energy was spent warring before the Forest Practices Board and in court over the adequacy of timber management regulations as it related to protection of fish and wildlife habitat. In 1986, under the leadership of Billy Frank Jr. and the late Stu Bledsoe, private forest landowners met with Native American tribes, state agencies and environmental groups to discuss a better way of doing business. Building upon the strength of success of the Joint Fisheries Management Project, the goal was set to develop a cooperative agreement for the management of timber, fisheries, wildlife and water resources. Over 40 individuals participated in 60 meetings held during a five-month period, which resulted in the final Timber Fish Wildlife (TFW) Agreement in February 1987. While few of the stakeholder groups achieved all of their desires in the final TFW agreement, they all walked away with something they needed, under conditions they could "live with."

The TFW Agreement marked an historic shift in the way we manage natural resources in Washington state, resolve problems and make changes in our future management. All stakeholder groups acknowledged they have compatible interests in maintaining a viable timber industry and the importance of responsibly managing our natural resources. For the first time, a consensus-based set of forest practices rule changes, unanimously endorsed by the Washington state legislature, was brought before the State Forest Practices Board. Flexibility was built into the system to allow for site-specific issues to be resolved on the ground. An adaptive management process was established to evaluate and improve forest practices as science proves is necessary. The tribes became accepted as equal partners in the TFW process, and the significance of fish and forest habitat, and cultural and archaeological resources were established.

Cooperation, listening, trust, team-work and commitment is the "spirit" of TFW. Once disparate and warring factions found common ground in which to allow some of the best thinking and information to set a new direction for cooperative management of natural resources in Washington state. Developing our own lasting solutions to multi-faceted natural resource issues has given us pride in Washington state, as Billy stated, "we have to make it happen."

In 1996, I changed hats and began working for private timberland owners as the executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association and had the opportunity to work with Billy once again. In anticipation of future listings of salmon stocks under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and water bodies listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act (CWA), Billy rose to the occasion and began discussions with timber, state and federal government leaders to develop a state-based solution for federally ESA listed salmon and CWA issues. TFW became the forum of choice for the negotiations. TFW was again expanded and now included six caucuses: federal and state agencies, Native American tribes, counties, environmental groups and private forest landowners.

The first formal meeting of the group was held in November 1997. Over 140 individuals participated in discussions during 18 months to develop a consensus-based set of recommended changes to forest practices that would meet the four resource protection goals established by the Forest Practices Board.

The Forests & Fish Report was incorporated into Washington's Statewide Salmon Recovery Strategy, which recognizes that all factors affecting fish and water - habitat, hydroelectric, hatcheries and harvest - will have to do their part if salmon recovery is to be successful.

The Washington State Legislature used the Forests & Fish Report as the basis for salmon recovery legislation in 1999, strongly encouraging the state Forest Practices Board to adopt rules consistent with the Forests & Fish Report. The legislature found that "? the forest industry, small landowners, tribal governments, state and federal agencies, and counties have worked diligently for nearly two years to reach agreement on scientifically based changes to the forest practices rules, set forth in the Forests & Fish Report." Legislation passed with strong bi-partisan support and was signed into law by Governor Locke on June 7, 1999.

Billy has worked consistently for fairness and balanced use of our natural resources, defended tribal cultural values and has been a friend to many of us. We know that sustaining natural resources and ourselves over the long-run, can only be achieved through wise use of our natural resources.

I have a deep respect for Billy Frank Jr. as a courageous leader, willing partner and a personal friend. With the common understanding that everything is connected, and common respect for the natural resources of our state, Billy has truly helped to set the stage for cooperative, sustainable and abundant natural resources in Washington state.

Congratulations to you and to Billy for this wonderful American Indian Visionary Award.

Bill Wilkerson is executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association, a group of large and small private forest landowners who grow, harvest and regrow trees on 4.5 million acres of land in Washington state. Wilkerson recently led WFPA in negotiations with many Native American treaty tribes, and federal, county and state agencies, to gain legislative passage of the largest HCP in the country. From 1982 to 1986 he was director of the Washington State Fisheries Department. Wilkerson also held positions with the federal government in Washington, D.C. from 1969 to 1975, including the Interior and Commerce departments, the Executive Office of the President, and the U.S. Small Business Administration.