What is the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative?

Download Treaty Rights at Risk, a report from the Treaty Indians Tribes in western Washington.

We are losing the battle for salmon recovery in western Washington because the salmon habitat is being damaged and destroyed faster than it can be restored.

Despite massive cuts in harvest, careful use of hatcheries, and a huge financial investment in restoration during the past four decades, salmon continue to decline along with their habitat. This trend shows no signs of improvement. As the salmon disappear, so do our tribal cultures and treaty rights.

That’s why the tribes started the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative in July 2011. We began with the development of a white paper outlining the issues and offering solutions for the protection of tribal treaty rights and recovery of salmon habitat. Then we took our concerns to Washington, D.C. and met with the White House.

We are asking the federal government to align its agencies and programs and lead a more coordinated salmon recovery effort. We want the United States to take charge of salmon recovery because it has the obligation and authority to ensure both salmon recovery and the protection of tribal treaty rights. In failing to protect salmon habitat, the federal government is failing in its trust responsibility to honor its treaties with the tribes. This path leads to the extinction of both the salmon resource and our treaty-reserved rights.

As sovereign nations, the 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington signed treaties with the United States in 1855-56, giving up most of the land that is now western Washington, but reserving our rights to harvest salmon and other natural resources. For those rights to have meaning there must be salmon to harvest. If salmon are to survive, and if our treaty rights are to be honored, there must be real gains in habitat protection and restoration. Habitat is the key to salmon recovery, protection of our treaty rights, and ensuring that salmon will be there for future generations.

You can find out more about the decline of salmon habitat from these reports:

A Qualitative Assessment of Implementation of the Puget Sound Chinook Salmon Recovery Plan, (Judge Report), NMFS, 2011

Historical Analysis of Habitat Alteration in the Snohomish River Valley, Tulalip Tribes and Snohomish County, 2001

Regulating Shoreline Armoring in Puget Sound from Puget Sound Shorelines and the Impacts of Armoring, USGS, 2011


  1. Excellent job continuing your dedication and passion for doing the right thing! Preservation of our natural resources is paramount to maintain our culture and heritage. Although I am not a member of a Washington tribe, I am a member of an Alaskan tribe. We share many of the same problems with our natural resources and socialeconomic issues. I grew up fishing and hunting on the Yukon and Kuskokwim delta as a way of life. My young adult life was commercial fishing around Kodiak Island, South Central Alaska and the Bering Sea. I have lived in Washington State for the last 25 years and have seen and experienced the corporate way of life. It has been a great experience, but it is not me. I am proud to be a Native AmericanIndian and worry about our future. We can continue to borrow and print more dollar bills, but we can’t buy natural resources. When they are gone, we are gone and history won’t matter. -Vince

  2. I learned 30 years ago that the tribes were the best partner we could have to restore these endangered salmon. I hope very much they will be able to get the government to listen.
    I know what we are doing to restore the habitat. It is a massive effort, but if you think about how fast the population is growing, it is not enough. We must do more. I am working on my own project to bring this to the forefront. Just a small effort. I wrote a letter awhile back disagreeing with Billy Frank. I was naive.

    After much study and thought, he is right on the mark. We know what we need to do and we know how. We have everything in place to make it happen. We just need the public and political will to do it.
    People need to understand that humans need the same thing as the salmon. If we can’t save the salmon, maybe next we will be struggling to save the humans.

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