Colville Confederated Tribes fish and wildlife officers recently cited several Lake Roosevelt anglers for fishing without a tribal fishing license on land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The anglers aren’t happy about the $100 tickets or having their fishing gear confiscated on Geezer Beach next to Grand Coulee Dam. They thought they were on the side of the law.
The tribal officers said they were under reservation rules.
“It’s a place where old-timers can drive their cars down the shore when the water level is low,” said Connie Williamson, explaining the unofficial name of the site.
Williamson and several other anglers are risking personal expense to shine light on a legal issue they believe threatens public access on waters bordering the Colville and Spokane Indian reservations.
On several occasions, Williamson says, anglers have been cited as they were fishing on the north shore of Lake Roosevelt below the 1,310 elevation line, which is federal public land.
When similar tension was brewing between anglers and tribal officers in 1994, Joe Cassidy of Davenport made the emotional and financial sacrifice of getting arrested by tribal police and taking the U.S. Government to court. He hoped the case would decide whether anglers need a state or tribal license in those waters.
Indeed, the court ruled in favor of Cassidy, noting the Colville and Spokane tribes do not have authority under the existing U.S. laws to regulate fishing by non-Indians in any of the waters of Lake Roosevelt.
The case has given the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and sportsmen some clear legal backing for jurisdiction and access.
But the tribes have continued to press legal angles that occasionally frustrate anglers and state Fish and Wildlife officials alike.
The Geezer Beach incidents rise from an unchallenged rule in the Colville Tribe’s fishing regulations for non-tribal members. It states:
“When fishing Lake Roosevelt, non-member fishermen that traverse the Colville Indian Reservation to obtain fishing access on the west shore of Lake Roosevelt are required to possess a Colville Indian Reservation Fishing Permit.”
Since 9/11 restrictions blocked access across the dam, anglers going to Geezer Beach have had to cross the bridge downstream from Grand Coulee and drive a short way on what might be considered reservation land to reach the fishing area on land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Williamson got her ticket in February. She said she went to the tribal court in Nespelem and the judge dismissed her case.
“I have a tribal license because there are places on the reservation where I like to fish,” she said. “But if they get away with what they’re doing at Geezer Beach, where else will they try to ticket (non-tribal) fishermen?”
On April 19, she went back to Geezer Beach with Donald and Chris Fisher. They were issued $100 tickets, plus a $200 ticket because they’d caught a fish, which was confiscated along with the Fisher’s angling gear.
The Fishers could forfeit their fines, but to get their fishing gear back they must appear in tribal court. They’re scheduled for June 28 at 3 p.m.
Donald Fisher emphasized the issue extends beyond Geezer Beach.
When the Tribal fish and wildlife officer confronted them, Fisher told the officer he believed the courts had proved he had a right to fish with a state license below the 1310 line, which was up on the hillside above them.
“I told him the reservation doesn’t start until the 1310 line,” Fisher said. “He then pointed to the middle of Lake Roosevelt and said, ‘That’s the 1310 line.’”
In other words, some tribal officials apparently are still challenging the 1994 Cassidy decision and insisting the tribe has jurisdiction of some sort out to the middle of Lake Roosevelt.
Chris Anderson, WDFW police captain, said the issue rises to another level. “It’s up to the U.S. Attorney’s office and the state Attorney General to determine whether they can do that or not,” he said.
Dennis Beich, WDFW region director in Ephrata, said the agency has requested a meeting with the Tribe on the issue, but no date has been said.
“In general, the 1310 line continues to be an issue,” Beach said.
Perhaps it’s notable that the escalation in tribal enforcement action is just months before the WDFW and Colville Tribe will be renegotiating their five-year agreement that allows non-tribal members to fish hassle-free at designated sites along Lake Rufus Woods with either a state or a tribal fishing license.
The Spokesman-Review requested details on the citations from the Tribe two weeks ago: The official response received Wednesday from Alice Koskela, who handles public relations: “The Tribe considers jurisdictional matters very important and we continue to look into the issue.”
No spokesman from U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby’s office could be reached on Wednesday.
Gov. Gregoire’s office sent a letter to Williamson recommending that she contact her U.S. representative and senators.
Williamson said she’s writing Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers to urge Ormsby to get involved.
Stay tuned, but not necessarily on the edge of your seat.
It took financial backing and two years just to get the Cassidy case into court.