Category Archives: Clips

Being Frank: More habitat protection is needed

Cross posted at NW Treaty Tribes

We’ve seen some incredible salmon habitat restoration projects the past few years, but there’s a big difference between restoring habitat and protecting it. We must remember that restoration without protection does not lead us to recovery.

The Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula continues to heal itself after the largest dam removal effort in U.S. history. Two dams on the river had blocked salmon migration and denied Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s treaty fishing rights for more than 100 years.

In another big project, the Tulalip Tribes and partners recently returned tidal flow to the 400-acre Qwuloolt Estuary. The estuary was drained and diked for farming in the early 1900s, blocking access to important salmon habitat.

Both were huge, costly projects that took decades of cooperation to accomplish. Every habitat restoration project – large or small – contributes to salmon recovery. But if we are going to achieve recovery, we must do an equally good job of protecting habitat, and that is not happening.

Treaty Indian tribes are seeking federal leadership to help turn this tide.

Salmon recovery efforts cross many federal, state and local jurisdictions, but it is the federal government that has both the legal and trust responsibility to recover salmon and honor tribal treaty-reserved rights. Through our Treaty Rights at Risk initiative, we are asking the federal government to lead a more coordinated and effective salmon recovery effort.

One way is to ensure that existing federal agency rules and regulations do not conflict with salmon recovery goals.

An example is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ jurisdictional boundary they use for permitting shoreline modifications. The Corps regulates construction of docks and bulkheads in marine waters, and uses a high water mark based on an average of each day’s two high tides to determine its jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

But the Clean Water Act specifies the protection boundary should be the single highest point that an incoming tide can reach.

In Puget Sound, the Corps’ boundary is 1.5 to 2.5 feet below the highest tide. When you apply that to 2,000 miles tidelands, a large portion of important nearshore habitat is left unprotected.

That needs to change. We need to be protecting more habitat, not less.

Another example is agricultural easements issued by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service that can block salmon habitat restoration efforts.

Federally funded agricultural easements pay landowners to lock in agricultural land uses permanently, regardless of whether those areas historically provided salmon habitat and need to be restored to support recovery.

The federal government needs to change the program to ensure agricultural easements do not restrict habitat restoration and other salmon recovery efforts.

These are just a couple of examples of how federal actions can conflict with salmon recovery goals to slow and sometimes stall our progress.

We know that habitat is the key to salmon recovery. That’s why we focus so much of our effort on restoring and protecting it. Many amazing restoration projects are being accomplished, but the more challenging task of protecting that habitat is falling short.

We must do everything we can to protect our remaining habitat as we work to restore even more. One way to do that is to harmonize federal actions and make certain they contribute effectively to recovering salmon, recognizing tribal treaty rights and protecting natural resources for everyone.


Lorraine Loomis is the chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

For more information, contact: Tony Meyer or Emmett O’Connell, (360) 438-1181.

Top 10 Threats to Salmon

Indian Country Today breaks down the top 10 threats to salmon from NWIFC’s State of Our Watersheds report, including:

  1. Estuaries are losing functional habitat because of population increases in lower portions of watersheds.
  2. Rapidly increasing permit-exempt wells threaten water for fish.
  3. Degraded nearshore habitat is unable to support forage fish.
  4. Timber harvest has removed vast amounts of forest cover throughout all watersheds.
  5. Streams lack large woody debris.

Read the rest of the list on Indian Country Today.

Will Stelle on Treaty Rights at Risk and salmon recovery

Will Stelle, the regional administrator of NOAA Fisheries, gives a thorough explanation on the federal perspective of salmon recovery and Treaty Rights at Risk. Stelle spoke during the 2013 Salmon Recovery Conference two weeks ago in Vacouver, WA.

You can also watch his talk here.

Responding to comments at the Seattle Times: “How about calling off fishing for a few years?”

The Seattle Times’ article on Treaty Rights at Risk and the decline of salmon habitat in western Washington sparked a massive online response. By Monday afternoon there were 157 comments posted on the article, mostly negative. Most comments focused on tribal sovereignty, the meaning of the Boldt decision or tribal economics. But some focused on fisheries management, specifically the idea that fishing was the cause of the decline of salmon.

From malby:

How about calling off fishing for a few years? Let the stocks recover?


Take the nets out of the river’s for 4 years and watch a miracle happen.

In places where salmon habitat is declining, simply shutting down fisheries doesn’t mean more fish will return in the future. That’s because degraded habitat can support only a limited number of fish. Habitat, not harvest, is the limiting factor for these populations.

A great example of this is the Stillaquamish chinook fishery. Since the early 80s the harvest rate (the overall percentage of chinook caught in all fisheries) has declined.

So, obviously, more fish are making it through the fisheries and onto the spawning ground (solid line below). But, that doesn’t mean more wild fish are leaving the Stillaquamish River. The dotted line shows wild chinook in the river, and it is flat despite cuts in harvest.

The Stillaquamish chapter of the State of our Watersheds Report outlines various habitat issues in the watershed, including the increased winter floods that are hurting wild salmon  productivity:

Based on data from the USGS stream flow gage on the North Fork Stillaguamish near Arlington, a peak flow that would have happened once in 25 years in the 1930s now happens once every 2 years.  Six of the largest floods recorded at the North Fork gauge have come in the last 10 years, with the largest flood on record coming December 2010.

Essentially, one of the reasons for declining wild chinook on the Stillaquamish isn’t fishing, it’s because floods are happening more often. There are other habitat issues, but this is a pretty important one. But, why are floods getting worse?

Again, from the State of our Watersheds Report:

Suspected human factors impacting peak flow hydrology in the North Fork Stillaguamish watershed are:

  • The conversion of mature forests to immature forests through industrial forest practices.
  • The associated building of forest road networks throughout the upper North Fork watershed to support industrial forestry.
  • The filling of wetlands and and slough habitats, and the disconnection of those habitats from the mainstem North Fork river.

All of these factors have reduced natural water storage in the basin, resulting in more water being available more often during peak flows.

Billy Frank Jr. on Treaty Rights at risk (at NW Straits Annual Meeting)

Via Olympic Peninsula Environmental News. From the blog:

If you have never heard Mr. Frank speak, or if you do not have a good understanding of what drives the Tribes demands for their treaty rights, this is a must listen recording. In it, he clarifies the history behind the struggle for treaty rights and legal interpretation of them, and the personal battles that he has endured to attain them. He also talks directly to the group of Marine Resource Committee members that were attending this meeting, many of the volunteers, all working to protect Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Washington Pacific Coast.

Millie Judge on why we’re failing at salmon recovery in western Washington.

Last week Millie Judge (author of the Judge report) spoke at the South Sound Science Symposium. Her talk outlined four reasons (lack of funding, legal protections, political support and monitoring) we’re not making progress on salmon recovery).

Watch highlights from her talk below.

Tribes putting the resource first when planning fisheries

In a letter to the editor of the Seattle Times, Mount Vernon resident David Yamashita attacks tribal fisheries management without mentioning how fisheries managemnent has changed since Puget Sound chinook and several other species were listed under the federal Endangered Species Act more than 10 years ago.

Today all salmon fisheries in western Washington are viewed through the lens of the federal Endgangered Species Act. State and tribal fishing plans must meet the threshold that protects listed salmon. If a fishery has too high of an impact on listed or weak stocks, it doesn’t happen.

Last year, the federal government released a report that points out while we’ve made gains in reducing fisheries to protect salmon, we’re still losing ground on habitat.

Yes, even though some salmon stocks are listed under ESA, tribes still fish. But those fisheries are carefully constrained and monitored to make sure they don’t impact weak salmon stocks. According to the federal report, harvest limits have been followed and the goals of the fishing plans are being met.

It’s easy to see a net in the river, and assume that tribes are taking too many salmon. But for that one net to get into a river for even one day, tribal managers have to prove scientifically that it won’t harm the overall population. While the cumulative impacts of individual fishermen are taken into consideration when planning fisheries, the same cannot be said for ongoing damage and destruction of habitat that is the primary cause for the decline of wild salmon in western Washington.

AP: Tribes say tribal fishing rights at risk

An Associated Press story about the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative was carried by many news outlets this morning, including the Seattle PI. From the story by Phuong Le:

Now, those tribes say their treaty rights with the U.S. are at risk because the region is losing habitat that salmon need to survive. They say their treaty rights won’t mean much if there’s no salmon to harvest, and they’re warning the federal government that they could resort to court action if more isn’t done.

For many tribes that have lived for centuries along Washington’s rivers and bays, fishing for salmon, digging clams and catching crabs are central to tribal cultural identity, as well as important for subsistence and commercial reasons.
“To be Jamestown is to walk down to the beach to get food for our families to share with our neighbors and to gather our foods in a fashion that we have done for centuries and know that they’re going to be there,” said Elaine Grinnel, 76, a member of the Jamestown S’Kallam Tribe on the Olympic peninsula.

“At no time did anybody have to go without food because it was so available. When you live on the beach and the tides are going in and out, there’s food there. You could always go fishing, you could always go crabbing,” she added.

You can here more from Elaine Grinnel here and many more stories from other tribal members about what is at risk here.

Treaty Rights at Risk in the Seattle Times

Last summer Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, wrote an opinion piece about the Treaty Rights at Risk Initiative. He explained that the tribes are fighting to save salmon and their treaty rights:

Salmon recovery is failing in Western Washington. It’s failing because the federal and state governments are allowing habitat to be destroyed faster than it can be restored.

As the salmon disappear, our tribal cultures, communities and economies are threatened as never before. Our fishing rights have been made almost meaningless. Some of our tribes have lost even their most basic ceremonial and subsistence fisheries — the cornerstone of tribal life.

The failure of salmon recovery is the failure of the federal government to meet its trust responsibility to protect the treaty-reserved rights of tribes. That’s why we are calling for the federal government to assume control and responsibility for implementing salmon recovery in Western Washington.

You can read Chairman Frank’s entire piece here.

Last month, Lance Dickie at the Times followed up with a editorial on accountability, including the tribes’ efforts:

Another voice asking who is in charge is Billy Frank, chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. He wants the feds to step in and enforce Indian treaty fishing rights.

Frank sees treaty-reserved rights to harvest salmon disappearing along with diminishing salmon populations due to a loss of habitat. No one is in charge of salmon recovery, in Frank’s blunt assessment.

Twenty tribes organized a Treaty Rights at Risk campaign last August. They see unabated pollution of Puget Sound, with little or no enforcement of water quality, zoning and development rules.

In light of what Frank described in an interview this week as a failure by the state, he wants the federal government directly involved.