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Groups Aim to Spend
Money on Fish, Not Court

by John Trumbo
Tri-City Herald, September 19, 2008

KENNEWICK -- The struggle to save salmon has stepped away from the courthouse and is shifting to the gravel riverbeds of the Columbia River basin.

The Columbia Basin Fish Accords, signed in May, are designed to put more money and effort into bringing back fish runs and stop spending on courtroom battles, said Tim Weaver, an attorney who has represented the Yakama Nation on fish issues for 38 years.

"We've done well winning in courts, but we have not seen an increase in fish," Weaver said.

The agreement among the Umatilla, Yakama, Warm Springs and Colville Indian tribes, the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration, the Bureau of Reclamation and the states of Montana and Idaho is intended to change that fish story.

Weaver and Witt Anderson, programs director for the Corps in the Northwestern division based in Portland, talked about the new deal for fish during a visit to the Herald this week.

"This is an historic agreement that will bring 10 years of peace on the river," Weaver said.

In addition to the tribes and federal agencies, the accords have support from the state of Washington and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The deal will invest $967 million over the next decade on projects to improve fish and lamprey survival in the region's rivers. Bonneville Power Administration will invest $917 million, while the Corps will provide $50 million, mostly to benefit the lamprey.

The accords also resolve Endangered Species Act litigation that is pending in U.S. District Court, suspend dam breaching arguments, give states and tribes a say in how dams are operated and demand accountability for results.

"We have never seen a partnership of this kind before," Anderson said.

"It is important to honor our commitment to the tribes to help them manage resources. We have our (money) lined up to be focused for the next 10 years," he added.

The agreement will see 150 fish habitat and fish supplementation projects done. Each is a "boots on the ground" project, Weaver said.

The Yakama Nation will work on the upper Columbia River and its tributaries to assist endangered spring chinook by improving side channels and replacing culverts.

Umatilla tribes' projects will include fish habitat restoration in the Tucannon River for the benefit of Snake River spring-summer chinook.

The John Day River watershed also will see fish habitat improvements for spring chinook and steelhead through efforts of the Warm Springs tribe.

The Colville Tribes will use hatchery fish to reintroduce spring salmon from the Upper Columbia into the Okanogan River.

In Washington, projects are planned as far north as Winthrop, south to Goldendale, west to Bingen and east of Dayton. Projects in Oregon are planned from north of Bend to east of La Grande.

Most of the smaller projects will be completed in four years, Weaver said.

As an example of how it could work, a project at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River keeps young fish in an acclimation pond for several months to nearly a year.

That helps accustom them to the water so that when they are released, they will have imprinted the locale and are likely to return there to spawn, Weaver said.

The accords came after two years of negotiations ordered by U.S. District Court Judge James Redden.

"Federal agencies and tribes will work together as partners on the ground to provide tangible survival benefits for salmon recovery," according to a statement released after the agreement by eight government agencies known as the Salmon Caucus.

The projects are to include upgrading passage over dams, restoration of river and estuary fish habitat and creative use of hatcheries.

John Trumbo
Groups Aim to Spend Money on Fish, Not Court
Tri-City Herald, September 19, 2008

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