Over 250 tribal leaders, federal fisheries managers, state fisheries managers, scientists, non-tribal fishers and members of the public attended the Future of Our Salmon conference last week, June 1-2.
Hosted by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and its member tribes -- the Umatilla, Yakama, Warm Springs, and Nez Perce tribes -- the conference provided an opportunity to discuss salmon recovery in a way that followed salmon’s complex life cycle and the various issues that they face.
Opening keynote speaker Tony Washines of the Yakama Nation highlighted the tribes’ approach to natural resource management, which he said is grounded in cutting edge science and traditional tribal culture that focuses on putting fish back in the river and protecting the watersheds where fish live.
“Our people, our tribes, have worked hard to achieve salmon restoration,” said Bruce Jim, chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “We wanted to hear the thoughts of those who have a stake in our work.”
The conference presentations focused not only on the challenges faced by Columbia River basin salmon recovery, and noted successes in restoration efforts.
Conference panelists presented a wide range of topics including the need to address toxic contamination found in the region’s fish species, the on-going debate surrounding the role of hatcheries in rebuilding naturally spawning salmon runs, new genetic tools that will help to inform the debate and the role of mass marking and mark selective fisheries as a conservation tool.
“The heart of the current debate going on across this region appears to be the future of hatcheries,” said Steve Wright, administrator for Bonneville Power Administration. “It is really about what our goals are for salmon and steelhead recovery. Where do we want to be, what will we define as success?”
CRITFC and its member tribes criticized the basinwide movement towards mass marking of hatchery salmon for mark-selective fisheries citing a lack of conservation benefit. The tribes argued that substantial hatchery reform, combined with essential habitat and passage improvements will restore salmon populations to the Columbia River Basin.
“Washington Fish and Wildlife regards mass marking as a management tool related to the management constraints of ESA that maintains non-Indian fisheries at a level that contributes to recovery in order to maintain some level of non-Indian opportunity,” said Guy Norman, regional director for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It is a necessity at this time, for an interim period. The question is how long that interim period will be. That interim period is totally dependent on the success of recovery of wild stocks to healthy, harvestable levels.”
The conference was co-sponsored by the Bonneville Power Administration, Ecotrust, NOAA Fisheries, Bureau of Indian Affairs, US Fish and Wildlife Service, NW Power and Conservation Council and the State of the Salmon.
“We need to think of salmon restoration in a manner that is broader than what we think we can accomplish,” said Paul Lumley, CRITFC’s executive director. “A goal is a dream with a deadline.”
Portland-based CRITFC is the technical support and coordinating agency for fishery management policies of the four Columbia River Basin treaty tribes.
At the conference, those honored with Leadership Awards were:
-- Columbia Land Trust:
The Yakama Nation Fisheries Program first partnered with Columbia Land Trust in 2000 for an acquisition on Dillacort Creek, a small steelhead tributary of the lower-Klickitat River. Successfully funded by Washington’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board, the Dillacort Creek Project was the CLT’s first acquisition in the Klickitat River subbasin and the eastern Columbia River Gorge. Including three subsequent acquisitions, the YNFP has partnered with CLT on the protect of roughly 1,500 acres. The early partnerships between the YN and CLT contributed to the momentum that CLT now has. The trust now has a total of more than 3,000 acres and roughly 13 stream miles conserved in the Klickitat River subbasin alone.
Currently, the YNFP and CLT are partnered in a multi-year, multi-phase project to restore approximately eight miles of floodplain along the mainstem of the Klickitat. With Columbia Land Trust performing some of the most meaningful conservation work in the Columbia Gorge, the YNFP is proud to call them a partner.
-- Kittitas Conservation Trust: David Gerth
David Gerth is the executive director of the Kittitas Conservation Trust. The mission of the trust is to protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat in the Upper Yakima River Basin. Gerth has been with the KCT since 2004, and he reports to a three-member Board of Trustees. Paul Ward is the KCT Trustee that has been appointed by the Yakama Nation. The trust was formed through Yakama Nation’s negotiations with the Suncadia Master Planned Resort which also resulted in protection of 3,700 acres of habitat that are on the resort site. Gerth manages the Cle Elum River Corridor Conservation Easement which encompasses 1,230 acres of riparian habitat along both banks of the lower Cle Elum River for five river miles. His most recent protection project is the Hundley Conservation Easement, which includes 431 acres, and 1.3 miles of shoreline on the Yakima River mainstem, in an area that is rapidly converting to rural and recreational residential development.
Gerth partnered with Yakama Nation habitat biologists to obtain funds for removal of the Bruton Irrigation Dam on Taneum Creek. By the following year, Gerth had funds, plans and permits in place to improve fish passage at the Taneum Canal Diversion. Implementation of these projects allows unencumbered fish passage to the entire Taneum watershed, which hosts over 25 miles of steelhead habitat.
-- Walla Walla Community College, Water and Environmental Center. Steven VanAusdle, President
Established the Water and Environment Center to foster stakeholder collaboration; In collaboration with CTUIR, developed a Watershed Ecology degree program at WWCC which integrates tribal values about watershed processes and our responsibility to care for water and its quantity and quality; Developed a biological and aquatics lab and offices to house CTUIR Fisheries Program staff and expand teaching; Co-developed the “Walla Walla Watershed Management Partnership: to facilitate water efficiency and water banking projects to increase instream flows in the Walla Walla Basin;Facilitated salmon restoration outreach and education to thousands of K-12 students; Sponsored and celebrated “Return to the River” a Walla Walla spring Chinook salmon return festival and Watershed Symposium; Partnered with CTUIR to implement the on-campus Titus Creek restoration project
-- Guy Norman, WDFW
Guy Norman has worked on Columbia River fish management issues for three decades. Most of his career has been with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Norman currently serves as the regional supervisor for Southwest Washington (Region 5). Columbia River fish management issues can be contentious and Norman has shown leadership by seeking collaboration rather than confrontation. Norman has been a key player in developing regional management agreements designed to balance meeting the interests of all fishermen and the needs of the resource.
Norman said in accepting his leadership award: "It means a lot to me to be able to navigate through difficult issues while maintaining mutual respect for each other. I have learned a lot along the way through the years and have gained a great deal of respect for the values and bigger picture way of life perspective the tribes bring to the table."
-- Mary Lou Soscia, EPA
Mary Lou Soscia was honored for her dedication to environmental protection. She helped found the CRITFC Watershed program, guided CRITFC through the fish consumption/contamination projects that are leading to the current ODEQ proposed water quality amendment. She was honored for her respect for tribal culture, and her understanding of the federal obligations to consult with tribes early and often.
Also honored were Glenn Lamb, Anne Hall Connor of the Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forest, and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.