Outdoors

Tribes keep fishing jurisdiction a hot potato on Lake Roosevelt

As part of the bill approved by the Legislature in 2006,  the state proposed drawing down Lake Roosevelt, behind Grand Coulee Dam, by as much as 132,500 acre-feet. An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover 1 acre to a depth of 1 foot, or about 325,850 gallons.  (File / The Spokesman-Review)
As part of the bill approved by the Legislature in 2006, the state proposed drawing down Lake Roosevelt, behind Grand Coulee Dam, by as much as 132,500 acre-feet. An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover 1 acre to a depth of 1 foot, or about 325,850 gallons. (File / The Spokesman-Review)

PUBLIC LANDS — My column today regarding the murky jurisdictional differences sport fishermen must navigate on and around Lake Roosevelt is just a glimpse at years of posturing that's likely to go on for many more years.   That's the way it is with boundary disputes between sovereign nations, only in the case of a U.S. citizen challenging the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe, the citizens pay the cost of both the prosecution and the defense, since the U.S. Attorney would be called in to defend the tribe.

This is part of the reason it's hard to move forward.

A few notes:

  • When camping or fishing FROM SHORE on the Colville or Spokane Indian reservation lands along Lake Roosevelt, tribal permits and licenses are required.  No state or federal agencies dispute that.
  • The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Colville Tribe recently renewed their five-year agreement to allow non-tribal anglers to fish without a tribal fishing license in the designated area along the net pens on Lake Rufus Woods.  The agreement calls for allowing this privilege in three areas along the reservation side of Rufus Woods, but state funding has allowed development of only the one site so far, said WDFW Police  Capt. Chris Anderson.
  • Attatched to this blog is the “5 Party Agreement” the Indian Tribes refer to when they say they have jurisdiction to the middle of Lake Roosevelt, regardless of what the federal court ruled in the Cassidy Decision.
  • Click here for my story explaining the Spokane Tribe's contention that a tribal fishing license is required for fishing in the Sanpoil Arm of Lake Roosevelt, even from a boat below the 1,310 elevation line.

Connie Williamson of Grand Coulee was one of the anglers first ticketed by tribal officers for fishing without a Colville tribal fishing license on Geezer Beach. She says she has a tribal because she fishes on the reservation lands and respects the tribe's authority to manage its fish and wildlife on the reservation. But she fished while carrying just a state fishing license on Geezer Beach to  press the point that that land belongs to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the tribe should have no authority on that land.

When she went to Colville tribal court for her hearing, the charges were dropped. She, too, could not progress to a resolution in the dispute.

Read on for portions of the responses she's received as she's pursued the issue to higher levels:

FROM Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Region 2 Director: APRIL 16, 2012:

“Therefore, the court ruled the Colville and Spokane Tribes do not have authority under the existing laws and regulations of the United States to regulate or prohibit fishing by non-tribal members in any of the waters of Lake Roosevelt as long as a non-Indian fisherman is duly licensed by the State of Washington.”

FROM U.S. Department of Justice, Michael Ormsby: 

“This office has been actively working with the other parties to resolve this dispute for a number of years.”

FROM state Attorney General Robert McKenna (while still in office):

“This office is well aware of the issues reflected in your letter, and we are discussing them with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and attorneys for the Colville tribe…you may wish to consult a private attorney.”

FROM Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Region 2 Director when asked what an angler should do if ticketed for fishing without a tribal license on Geezer Beach:

“Contact the Ferry County Sheriff's Office and Prosecutor to file a report that you were accosted by armed tribal police officers allegedly operating outside the exterior boundaries of the Colville Reservation.”




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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog


Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.


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