The Biden administration has pledged over $200 million toward reintroducing salmon in the Upper Columbia River Basin in an agreement with tribes that includes a stay on litigation for 20 years.
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Spokane Tribe of Indians signed the deal with federal officials on Thursday, The Seattle Times reported.
The funds from the Bonneville Power Administration will be paid over 20 years to implement a plan led by the tribes to restore salmon and steelhead in the basin.
Constructing the Grand Coulee Dam about 80 years ago in eastern Washington, and Chief Joseph Dam downstream, stopped salmon from migrating into the basin and through tribal lands, cutting off tribal access to the fish, which leaders say has caused devastating cultural harm.
Salmon runs in the Upper Columbia had been abundant for thousands of years and were a mainstay of tribal cultures and trade.
The Upper Columbia United Tribes, which includes tribes in Washington and Idaho, have been working on the reintroduction plan. Now in the second of four stages, it includes research over the next two decades to establish sources of donor and brood salmon stocks for reintroduction, test biological assumptions, develop interim hatchery and passage facilities, and evaluate how the program is working.
“In 1940, Tribes from around the Northwest gathered at Kettle Falls for a Ceremony of Tears to mourn the loss of salmon at their ancestral fishing grounds,” Jarred-Michael Erickson, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, said in a statement from the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “The federal government is taking a major step toward righting that historic wrong. … The Colville Tribes (look) forward to our children celebrating a Ceremony of Joy when salmon are permanently restored to their ancestral waters.”
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation additionally is committing $8 million in federal money toward juvenile salmon outmigration studies, genetic sampling and fish passage design development.
Northwest RiverPartners, which represents users of the Columbia and Lower Snake rivers, including barge operators and utilities, has been against dam removal on the Lower Snake for salmon recovery but supports this effort, which leaves dams intact.
“Taking this next step in studying salmon reintroduction above these blocked 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 habitat for salmon, responds to important Tribal commitments, and does so without negatively impacting the hydropower our region relies on.”