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Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Side With Oregon On Issue Of Fish Passage At Hells Canyon Dams
Posted on Friday, April 06, 2018 (PST)

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of southern Idaho are siding with the state of Oregon in a fight over the inclusion of fish passage over the Snake River’s Hells Canyon Complex of dams.


Caught between states with diametrically opposed views on upstream fish passage, especially passage by endangered anadromous species, Idaho Power asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to declare federal supremacy over the argument in late 2016. The power company’s request was denied and in February of this year it appealed the Commission’s decision to the Washington, D.C. appellate court. On March 30 the Shoshone Bannock Tribes filed as an intervener in the case, siding with the Commission.


The tribes’ motion to intervene to the U.S. Court of Appeals said the 1868 Treaty provides off-reservation hunting, fishing, and gathering rights on unoccupied lands of the United States, including waters of the Snake River, that flow through the Hells Canyon Complex dams.


Species of particular significance to the Tribes in relation to the Hells Canyon Complex are anadromous fish.


The motion stated, “The Snake River and its tributaries are a sacred resource of the Tribes' aboriginal lands. Protection of the rivers and flows for anadromous fish, including chinook, steelhead, coho, sockeye, sturgeon, and lamprey…are critically important to the Tribes.”


The Tribes’ motion argued that the Hells Canyon Complex adversely impacts the treaty reserved rights and federal trust resources by impairing passage of anadromous fish and causing or contributing to direct and indirect mortality. The complex diverts flows from important fish habitat necessary for the production of these stocks, causing harm to traditional fisheries.


“Many Snake River fish stocks that are affected by the Hells Canyon Complex support the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes' ceremonial and subsistence treaty fisheries,” the motion said.


The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes have advocated for fish passage above the dams throughout the entire relicensing procedure starting in the early 2000s. In November 2006 the Tribes submitted extensive comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the Hells Canyon Complex re-licensing, supporting license conditions that would provide for fish passage and reintroduction.


The state of Oregon wants fish passage above the dam for Snake River chinook salmon and steelhead, listed as threatened on the Endangered Species List. Idaho law prohibits the reintroduction of endangered species without approval from the legislature. Stuck in the middle, Idaho Power filed its appeal to a higher court early this year in hopes to force the Commission to override Oregon’s fish passage requirement, meanwhile hoping the two states will come to an agreement.


Brad Bowlin, communications specialist for Idaho power, said, “We continue to be encouraged by the ongoing discussions between the states of Idaho and Oregon. Finding a mutually acceptable solution to the fish passage issue will ultimately benefit both states as well as Idaho Power customers.”


Also see:


-- CBB, May 5, 2017, “Hells Canyon Fish Passage: Idaho, Oregon Governors' Letter Sets Up Process To Resolve Differences”


-- CBB, Feb. 10, 2017, “Idaho Power Caught Between Idaho, Oregon Laws Regarding Fish Passage At Hells Canyon Complex”


-- CBB, Dec. 16, 2016, “Oregon, Idaho Differ On Clean Water Act Interpretations Regarding Snake River’s Hells Canyon Complex”


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