Biden deal with tribes promises $200 million to restore Columbia River salmon

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Biden administration has committed more than $200 million to salmon restoration in the Upper Columbia River Basin in an agreement with tribes that includes a 20-year stay on litigation.

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the Spokane Indian Tribe signed the treaty with federal officials on Thursday, according to the Seattle Times reported.

The Bonneville Power Administration funds will be disbursed over 20 years to implement a tribal-led plan to restore salmon and steelhead to the basin.

The construction of the Grand Coulee Dam about 80 years ago in eastern Washington and the Chief Joseph Dam downstream prevented salmon from migrating into the basin and through tribal lands and cut off tribes’ access to the fish, which leaders say has had devastating cultural consequences caused damage.

Salmon stocks in the Upper Columbia have been plentiful for thousands of years and have been a mainstay of tribal culture and trade.

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The Upper Columbia United Tribes, which includes tribes in Washington and Idaho, has been working on the resettlement plan. It is now in the second of four phases and includes research over the next two decades to identify sources of donor and hatchery salmon stocks for reintroduction, test biological assumptions, develop temporary hatchery and transit facilities, and improve the operation of the program evaluate.

“In 1940, tribes from across the Northwest gathered at Kettle Falls for a ceremony of tears to mourn the loss of salmon from their ancestral fishing grounds,” Jarred-Michael Erickson, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, said in a statement from White House Council on Environmental Quality. “The federal government is taking a big step to make amends for this historic injustice. … The Colville Tribes look forward to our children celebrating a ceremony of joy as salmon are permanently returned to their traditional waters.”

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is also providing $8 million in federal funding for juvenile salmon emigration studies, genetic sampling and fish passage development.

Northwest RiverPartners, which represents users of the Columbia and Lower Snake rivers, including barge operators and utilities, opposed the removal of the Lower Snake dam for salmon production but supports the effort, which leaves the dams intact.

“Taking this next step in studying salmon reintroduction above these closure areas is the right thing to do and lays the foundation for the possibility of sustainable salmon runs in the upper Columbia River Basin,” Executive Director Kurt Miller said in a statement. “Reintroduction has the potential to create hundreds of miles of upstream salmon habitat, responds to important Tribal commitments, and does so without negatively impacting the hydropower on which our region relies.”

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