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April 08, 2008

Tribes sell out to BPA for 900 million


Settlements reached Monday with four Northwest Indian tribes would commit federal agencies to spend $900 million over the next decade on improving conditions for endangered salmon, but leave intact hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River Basin that environmentalists say kill fish.

Federal officials called the agreement a landmark in the long-running dispute over balancing tribal and commercial fishing rights, protection for threatened salmon and power demands from the region's network of hydroelectric dams.

But environmentalists said the deal fell far short of what is needed to recover threatened salmon, an icon of the Northwest that is protected by the Endangered Species Act and costs the government billions of dollars to protect.

Via: Oregon Live  LINK

Oregon Governor  Ted Kulongoski refused to sign on to the deal calling it shortsighted. The Nez Perce tribe also refused to sign on saying the 4 lower Snake River dams should be removed. 

Below is a summary of the "deal" from Save Our Wild Salmon.


Over the past two years, the Bush Administration has been meeting with representatives from the
four lower Columbia River tribes to determine whether the two parties could come to an
agreement to avoid continued litigation by the Tribes over the operation of the federal dams on
the Columbia and Snake rivers.   In the past, the four lower Columbia River tribes – the
Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Yakama Indian Nation, the
Nez Perce Tribe, and the Confederated Tribe of the Umatilla Indian Reservation – have been
strong critics of the Bush Administration’s failure to make major changes to the dam operations.
They have pointed out correctly that under this administration the federal agencies responsible
for dam operations have politicized the science and allowed salmon and steelhead of the
Columbia-Snake River Basin to continue their spiral toward extinction.  Nevertheless, three of
the four lower Columbia Treaty tribes (i.e., Warm Springs, Yakamas, Umatillas) and the
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation recently signed an agreement with the Bush
Administration (i.e., three federal agencies: Bonneville Power Administration, the Army Corps
of Engineers, and Bureau of Reclamation) that allows past dam operations to continue
unchanged in return for major financial support for tribal hatchery and habitat programs.

Summary of the Agreement

• Bush Administration & BPA Offer the Tribes about $1 Billion
– The Administration
and BPA (itself part of the administration) have offered the Tribes approximately $1
billion over the next 10 years for habitat restoration and hatchery production projects in
the region, efforts to enhance non-ESA-listed species (including lamprey), and increases
in tribal wildlife enforcement programs.  It appears that just about 25% of the BPA
dollars will be directed toward ESA-listed salmon and steelhead.

• Tribes to Support Bush Salmon Plan
- In return, the Tribes agree to publicly support
the current Bush Administration Biological Opinion (a.k.a. BiOp or salmon plan) – in the
courtroom, in Congress, and in all other public forums.  The MOA requires active
support from the tribes on this front, not mere silence.  In the past, the Tribes have
vigorously criticized both the legal and scientific underpinnings of this plan.

• Tribes to Disavow Previous Positions  - The Tribes must also disavow their science of
the last 15-20 years regarding salmon and the hydrosystem and their legal interpretations
of the flawed jeopardy analysis in the BiOp. The MOA requires the lower Columbia
Tribes to submit documents to the formal administrative record of the BiOp that will state
that the Tribes no longer think more changes in the hydrosystem are necessary and that
the legal framework for the BiOp is adequate.

• Tribes Silenced on Dam Removal & Other Needed Dam Changes  - While the Tribes
are not forced to withdraw resolutions they have passed regarding the need to remove the
four lower Snake River dams, the tribes are forbidden to talk about that position;
advocate for it; or help others advocate for it (whether through their staffs, contractors,
folks that they control, or folks that they work with) until the end of the MOA’s terms.

“Material” Court-Ordered Changes to the BiOp Dissolve the MOA - If outside
parties file lawsuits against the federal agencies for the inadequacy of this BiOp and those
parties prevail in court, this MOA remains in effect unless there is a “material” change
required in the BiOp.  If a judge orders “material” changes to the BiOp, the MOA may be

• Duration of Agreement
– The terms of the MOA generally last for 10 years.  Hatchery
commitments by the Tribes under the agreement last for 30 years even though funding is
only for ten years.

Summary of Salmon Advocates View on this Agreement

The salmon advocacy community is disappointed.  While the Tribes can certainly address – as
this agreement does – concerns far outside the restoration of healthy, harvestable runs of ESA-
listed salmon, the agreement does not solve the fundamental legal and biological errors that
undermine the forthcoming BiOp.

The available science shows that putting money toward just habitat and hatchery programs will
not protect Columbia and Snake River salmon from extinction or allow them to recover to self-
sustain harvestable levels or even halt their slide towards extinction.

Instead of finding ways to bring wild salmon back and provide certainty and protections for
fishing communities, rural farming communities, ratepayers, and federal taxpayers, the
Administration and BPA are proposing a deal that protects the status quo at the expense of long-
term certainty and real solutions.  We can and must do so much better.

The scientists have told us for years that we can restore wild Snake River salmon and bring back
healthy populations by making it easier for these fish to reach their undisturbed spawning
grounds in the cold, clear headwater streams of central Idaho.  With global warming, the need to
do this is even more urgent.  The main obstacle to restoring good access to these rivers and
streams is the four out-dated dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington State.
The only thing the new Bush/BPA plan will produce is continued uncertainty for Northwest
residents, and more specifically salmon and the communities that depend on healthy salmon
runs.  It is destined to be another failed plan from an administration that, when it comes to
salmon, embraces divisive, tired strategies when it could be pursuing solutions that work for the
entire region and nation.


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My dad works on lamprey restoration and he is worried that the minimal runs of lamprey that are returning won't last another 4 or 5 years in some watersheds. Is it better for the tribes to continue drumming the dam breaching argument with the hopes that in at the minimum a decade later it would happen, all the while seeing lamprey and some sturgeon and salmon runs slip into extinction? I hardly consider a pragmatic decision to do something before it is too late "selling out."

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