Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Cd’A Tribe, U.S. reach agreement to restore salmon populations

| September 22, 2023 1:00 AM

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe executed a significant and important settlement agreement with the U.S. federal government Thursday.

“The agreement is a major first step in correcting the historic wrongs suffered by the Tribe as a result of the construction of federal dams in the Upper Columbia River Basin that permanently blocked salmon from reaching the Coeur d’Alene Reservation,” said a news release. The settlement agreement is the result of mediated negotiations that stem from litigation in the federal district court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals brought by the Tribe against the federal government regarding the federal government’s environmental review of the Columbia River System Operations for federal dams within the Columbia Basin and failure to take a hard look at and address fish passage. 

Under the settlement agreement, the U.S. commits to fully supporting and implementing the Phase 2 Implementation Plan developed by the Upper Columbia United Tribes, as well as addressing other fish and wildlife impacts experienced by the Coeur d’Alene and Spokane tribes as a result of the dams. The Phase 2 Implementation Plan involves a series of studies to assess and facilitate the reintroduction of salmon into the blocked area of the Upper Columbia River Basin, including examining ways to address fish passage at Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams. 

Coeur d’Alene Tribe Vice Chairman Hemene James noted the critical role the Tribe played in reaching the agreement.

“The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has been a leader in advocating for salmon reintroduction and  continued that leadership throughout the challenging negotiations that preceded the  agreement. We would not be here today without the leadership of the chairman and Tribal  Council or the unwavering commitment of Tribal Natural Resources staff,” James said in the release. 

Councilman Cajetan Matheson explained the importance of the agreement in recognizing and honoring the Tribe’s connection with salmon. 

“The Coeur d’Alene People have always been a salmon people since anyone can remember. Salmon, the character, appears in several of our stories. He was always a chief, meant to be respected as he traveled throughout the landscape,” Matheson said in the release. “As a source of sustenance, the arrival of salmon was always met with eager anticipation. This time of year meant plenty of food after a long, hard winter, and it also provided for some of the most rooted social interactions between us and other tribes as we congregated in popular areas. In many ways, salmon was a core structure that nourished our hearts, minds and bodies.” 

It is the Tribe’s hope, according to the release, that the settlement agreement will sustain the massive momentum for reintroduction that the Tribe has seen over the past few years. 

“We’ve even seen the return of some salmon that were released in the headwaters of Hangman Creek to our reservation as adults,” James said.

The vice chairman said this settlement agreement needs to continue to provide the Tribe with these successes until full salmon reintroduction can be realized.

“The agreement represents a near 180-degree reversal for the federal agencies,” said the release. “It has been exciting for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to see the federal agencies work in a collaborative way to find creative solutions to tough problems.”

Coeur d’Alene Tribe Chairman Chief Allan said the Biden Administration deserves credit for its leadership in helping make this happen. 

“Connecting the hearts of our tribes with the full commitment of the federal agencies was what was able to get us moving in the right direction,” Allan said in the release. “Our leaders and elders have always been a champion for the return of salmon into the blocked area of the Upper Columbia River. This agreement is a huge step toward reintroduction and has been the only significant step in that direction since the salmon have been blocked.”

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