Nez Perce Tribe
Restoring the lower Snake River and its salmon, steelhead, and lamprey could not be more significant for the Nez Perce people, given the location of the Tribe’s homeland and treaty-reserved territory, and the central role of salmon, steelhead, and lamprey in Nez Perce culture. The dams on the lower Snake River and the mainstem Columbia have had — and continue to have — an enormous impact on salmon and steelhead, and the Nez Perce people. The Nez Perce Tribe has long publicly supported restoring the lower Snake River by breaching the four dams there and investing in affected local communities.
“We view restoring the lower Snake River as urgent and overdue — and we are committed to continuing to provide leadership in all forums: from the halls of Congress, to our federal agency trustees and partners, to the courtroom, to the statehouses, to conversations with our neighbors, energy interests, and other river users, to this Environmental Impact Statement,” stated Chairman Shannon F. Wheeler.
“Accurate, complete, and transparent information and analyses of the impacts of the four lower Snake River dams is necessary for national and regional decision-makers, and is required by law under the National Environmental Policy Act,” Chairman Wheeler continued.
The Tribe has actively participated in the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) litigation involving the impacts of the federal dams on the lower Snake River and mainstem Columbia River. The Tribe agreed with U.S. District Judge Michael Simon about the unique opportunity a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) provides — that a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement “may be able to break through any logjam that simply maintains the precarious status quo” while the Federal Columbia River Power System “remains a system that ‘cries out’ for a new approach and for new thinking” if wild Pacific salmon and steelhead are to have any reasonable chance of surviving their encounter with modern man.
The Tribe has participated as a cooperating agency in the Environmental Impact Statement process, with the acknowledgement that such participation would not — and could not — alter the United States’ Treaty, trust, and Government-to-Government obligations to the Tribe, and that cooperating agencies may or may not support the ultimate National Environmental Policy Act documents and decisions made by the federal co-lead agencies.
The Tribe has continued to support additional interim improvements to benefit salmon. The Tribe entered into the 2019-2021 Spill Operation Agreement, agreeing to forbear from pursuing litigation until completion of the Environmental Impact Statement and intending to incrementally benefit juvenile salmon passage in 2020 and 2021, as the Tribe continued working to address the significant fish mortality from the dams and ensure a full National Environmental Policy Act analysis of lower Snake River dam breaching. “The Tribe made it clear that the 2019-2021 Spill Operation Agreement was acceptable only as an interim operation for the term of that Agreement,” Chairman Wheeler said. “A Draft Environmental Impact Statement that offers a Preferred Alternative that provides no more protection for salmon than the 2019-2021 Spill Operation Agreement that was intended to provide time and space for the development of a more significant system improvement, is unacceptable.”
The Tribe will be reviewing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement carefully, and will be submitting formal comments for the record.