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Affiliated Tribes of Northwest
Oppose Spill-Cut Proposals

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - February 13, 2004

The fifty-four member Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians on Thursday in a consensus passed a resolution in opposition to proposals to reduce or eliminate summer spill at federal hydro projects in the lower Columbia and Snake rivers. The spill is intended to benefit migrating salmon and steelhead.

In the resolution, introduced by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the ATNI chastises "federal agencies, led by the Bonneville Power Association" for engaging in a "vague, unwritten yet aggressive campaign" to eliminate what the tribes say is safest means of in-river fish passage through the hydrosystem. The alternative routes are the hydro turbines or mechanical passage devices.

"This fight for salmon protection has gone on since the dams went in. We fought for years to get salmon protection through the spill program and now, just as Columbia salmon runs are showing signs of rebounding, BPA is thinking the unthinkable," said Jay Minthorn, member of the CTUIR Board of Trustees and vice-chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. He introduced the resolution Tuesday in the ATNI's Natural Resources Committee. It received passage in full assembly Thursday.

"Water is the number one resource for our people. Our resources can't live without it. It's critical to our ceremonies. The cycles and needs for both upriver and downriver concerns are addressed in this resolution," Minthorn said.

ATNI, which heldits four-day winter meeting this week in Portland, is a nonprofit organization representing 54 Northwest tribal governments from Oregon, Idaho, Washington, southeast Alaska, Northern California and Western Montana.

"We want to come to a common agreement here so that we speak with one voice," Minthorn told the committee.

Alfred Nomee, Coeur d'Alene tribal member and chairman of the ATNI Natural Resources Committee oversaw the early discussions and inter-tribal development of the resolution that will now make its way to the National Congress of American Indians later this month.

"The tribes have stated a position that treats the Columbia River as a single living unit and one that must be managed and protected as such," Nomee said. "This river must remain a resource that both serves and protects all tribes. Tribes have a living culture. It's water, fish and forests, every day. They're not artifacts, they're here and now."

Spokesmen for the CRITFC -- whose membership includes the Umatilla, Nez Perce, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes -- said that the resolution would also be made available to state and federal policy makers.

The ATFI stance comes even as federal agency officials consider six potential options for altering July-August spill from strategies called for in the 2000 NOAA Fisheries' Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion. That document, now being rewritten under remand ordered by the Portland federal district court, outlines measures considered necessary to avoid jeopardizing the survival of Columbia Basin salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The drive to have differing levels of spill tested is fueled by Northwest Power and Conservation Council fish and wildlife program amendments that ask federal fish and hydrosystem managers to investigate alternative measures that might bring the same biological benefits as BiOp spill but at a lesser cost. The top regional executives for the involved federal agencies late last summer likewise said that was a proper goal.

The Bonneville Power Administration, Corps of Engineers and NOAA have for the past month showcased newly completed analysis of the possible biological and financial effects that could be expected from each of the six summer spill reduction (and in one case elimination) strategies that are proposed. Also developed were several so-called "off-set" strategies -- actions that could be taken to counteract salmon survival losses from any spill reduction.

The analysis shows that in the extreme case (July-August spill elimination at three Columbia and one Snake river dam) the adult return could be reduced by as many as 19,000 and revenues gained from channeling that water through turbines could be as much as $77 million.

The analysis indicates that as few as two and as many as 24 listed Snake River fall chinook would be lost from the various spill strategies as compared to BiOp spill. The federal executives are expected to make a decision in late March about whether the reduced spill plans, and accompanying research, could be carried out within the legal structure of the BiOp.

Comment on the analyses results and methodologies will be accepted through Feb. 20 (extended from the original Feb. 13 deadline).

The updated biological and financial analysis was completed collaboratively by BPA and the Corps with assistance from NOAA. BPA completed the financial analysis.

BPA's Greg Delwiche and Suzanne Cooper and the Corps' Jim Athearn gave a brief presentation to the organization's Natural Resources Committee about the spill test analysis during the first day of the ATNI winter meeting.

"The (BiOp summer spill) operation is extremely costly" with relatively small biological rewards, Delwiche told the committee. That is because in summer a maximum transportation policy is in place in which the vast majority of the Snake River migrants are loaded aboard barges and floated downriver for release below Bonneville Dam. The only listed stock during that migration period are the Snake River fall chinook. The larger losses are expected to be absorbed by stocks originating from below the Snake's confluence with the Columbia.

The officials told the committee that federal agencies are earnestly engaged in soliciting the tribes' opinion on the spill analyses and offset proposals. A sit-down with the Upper Columbia United Tribes took place last week and federal executives will meet with CRITFC's policy makers next week.

Meanwhile, the agencies would like to "get some information from you about how you'd like to engage on the issue," Delwiche told the committee.

The federal agencies were drafting a letter that was expected to be mailed late this week asking for "one-on-one conversations with the tribes at the management level as well as the executive level," Cooper said Wednesday. Of particular interest is the tribes' thoughts on potential off-sets -- which include reductions in avian and fish predation, commercial harvest buyouts, Hanford Reach rearing protections and habitat improvements. The healthy Hanford stocks are staples of the tribal fisheries.

"Our intent is to find a way to achieve the same or better biological benefits" -- via off-sets -- if any of the spill tests are implemented, Delwiche said. He asked for the tribes' thoughts about alternative measures that might be considered.

The ATNI resolution said the agencies' list of off-sets "do not come close to providing the same in-kind benefits as spill, they remain vague and unspecified as to where they will occur, when they will occur, what benefits they will provide, and when those benefits will accrue…." It also accuses the agencies of "double counting" -- by calling for actions that had already been adopted or supported in the past.

Tribal biologists estimate that summer spill curtailment would kill as many as 50,000 adult salmon each year, thus impacting tribal and non-tribal in-river and ocean fisheries as well as compromising rebuilding efforts, according to a CRITFC press release.

The resolution was crafted after negotiations between tribes that live in the upper part of the Columbia River basin where salmon no longer swim and lower Columbia River treaty tribes, who have a strong interest in seeing salmon prosper. The finalized document stressed that "it is not necessary to draw water from the upper reaches of the Columbia Rvier Basin in order to implement the summer spill program."

"The passing of this resolution represents the tribes' dedication to natural and cultural resource protection," said Lloyd Irvine, Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribal Council member and ATNI 3rd vice-president. "We were willing to unite to protect both upriver and downriver interests."

"This resolution demonstrates the ability of tribes to overcome differences to reach viable solutions. The Columbia River is in a drastically altered condition with complex issues requiring delicate balancing of operations," said Amos First Raised, Fish and Wildlife Program director for the Burns Paiute Tribe.

CBB Staff
Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Oppose Spill-Cut Proposals
Columbia Basin Bulletin, February 13, 2004

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