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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Columbia River Treaty fish passage proposal on Olympia agenda

FISHERIES -- Today in Olympia, the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on a resolution:  Concerning the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead above blocked areas of the Columbia river.  

Tribes have proposed that fish passage above dams such as Grand  Coulee Dam be installed to allow salmon to reach miles of traditional spawning habitat.

The Upper Columbia United Tribes is requesting support of HJM 4014.

The UCUT, Columbia Basin Tribes, and First Nations have received support from many Washington Counties, State agencies, and Cities regarding the scientifically-disciplined phased approach to determining the feasibility of this endeavor. This effort is also included in the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program; and, is included in the U.S. Entities’ Regional Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River Treaty.

Following is the testimony of the UCUT Executive Director D.R. Michel for the hearing scheduled for today, Feb. 2, 2016.

Members of the Committee, my name is Donald R. Michel, Executive Director of the Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT), a coordination body working on behalf of five sovereign tribes of the upper Columbia Basin: the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. UCUT strongly supports House Joint Memorial 4014, supporting investigations into the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead into the upper Columbia River.

The Joint Memorial refers to the tragic and historical wrong that was done to native peoples when salmon were denied access to the vast habitats of the upper Columbia Basin in the U.S. and Canada. But today, we have the opportunity to correct that injustice, not only for native peoples, but all communities and citizens of the upper Basin. Salmon are truly a treasured resource for our state and region. Restoring salmon to rural communities of northeastern Washington would provide important economic, social, and ecosystem benefits. Chinook and sockeye salmon produced in the upper Columbia Basin would benefit not only the areas that are currently blocked, but communities of coastal Washington and along the Columbia River.

As the Joint Memorial states, UCUT and many others are pursuing salmon reintroduction above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams as an important element of a modernized Columbia River Treaty with Canada and within the Fish & Wildlife Program of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, as mitigation for the development and operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System. We believe salmon passage and reintroduction should be a priority element of both the international Treaty and the domestic Fish and Wildlife Program.

A few points that I would like to stress here today:

  • While salmon passage over high-head dams such as Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee may have been deemed impossible when they were constructed 50 and 80 years ago, that is not the case today. New fish passage technologies have been developed and are presently being perfected at other dams here in the Pacific Northwest. The region should move promptly to investigate the application of these technologies at the two, federal dams.
  • Of particular note, these new fish passage technologies should function without impacting the existing values and beneficiaries of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams. Their flood control, irrigation, and recreational benefits could continue unimpeded. Project operations and flexibilities for electricity generation would continue as today, reduced only very slightly to power the fish passage facilities.
  • It is our intent to use non-ESA listed salmon runs – specifically summer Chinook and sockeye that return to the Okanogan River below Chief Joseph Dam – in our reintroduction investigations.  As a result of the efforts of many in the region, these salmon runs are now once again highly viable, productive and support valuable recreational, commercial and tribal fisheries.
  • For the tribes and other citizens of northeastern Washington, reintroduced salmon offer a healthy food source, returning from the ocean, without the contamination concerns that surround many of our resident fish species.
  • Finally, many of us are concerned about the potential impacts of climate change on our region and its salmon resources. Those impacts may be manifesting themselves now, with warmer water temperatures and reduced river flows. Scientists tell us that we need to start taking actions now to allow salmon to once again access the cooler, headwater habitats where they should continue to successfully reproduce and thrive.

I encourage this legislative body to adopt House Joint Memorial 4014 and send its clear message to our federal government that the time is now to investigate and correct the blockage of salmon by the federal dams. This mitigation is long overdue.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I would be happy to answer any questions.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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