WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Biden-Harris administration has announced a historic agreement to support tribally led efforts to restore healthy and abundant salmon populations in the Upper Columbia River Basin. The agreement between the United States, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and the Spokane Tribe of Indians will fund efforts to test the feasibility of, and ultimately to reintroduce salmon in blocked habitats in the Upper Basin. The agreement includes $200 million over 20 years from the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal power marketing administration under the Department of Energy, to advance the tribally led implementation plan. The Department of the Interior also announced it is providing $8 million over two years through the Bureau of Reclamation to support these efforts.
The Upper Columbia River Basin historically supported abundant wild salmon, steelhead, and native resident fish, which critically supported thriving tribal cultures and communities. Members of these tribes and their ancestors stewarded these native species and relied upon their abundance as the staples of their daily diets and ceremony. This agreement was announced at a ceremonial signing at the Department of the Interior with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, tribes, agency leaders, and other senior Biden-Harris administration officials.
“Since time immemorial, tribes along the Columbia River System have relied on Pacific salmon, steelhead, and other native fish species for sustenance and their cultural and spiritual ways of life,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “Today’s historic agreement is integral to helping restore healthy and abundant fish populations to these communities. As we work toward comprehensive and collaborative basin-wide solutions to restoring salmon and other native fish populations, the Biden-Harris administration will continue its efforts to honor federal commitments to tribal nations, deliver affordable and reliable clean power, and meet the many resilience needs of stakeholders across the region.”
“The Columbia River and its tributaries are the life spring of the Pacific Northwest, stewarded since time immemorial by tribal nations,” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. “Today’s historic announcement builds on the Biden-Harris administration values of honoring long-standing commitments to tribal nations. This agreement is a crucial step in delivering sustainable long-term solutions to restore abundant fish runs in the Columbia River Basin while also acknowledging and accounting for the many services the Upper River system provides today: flood risk, energy, and water supply.”
The construction of large hydroelectric and flood control dams – including the Grand Coulee Dam and Chief Joseph Dam – throughout the Upper Columbia River Basin beginning at the turn of the 20th century blocked anadromous fish from migrating into the Upper Columbia River Basin and onto or through the ceded and reserved lands of the Colville, Spokane and Coeur d’Alene Tribes. As a result, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and Spokane Tribe of Indians lost access to anadromous fish in their communities. This profound loss has had traumatic impacts on tribal communities, including by altering traditional diets, depriving tribal members of the ability to exercise traditional ways of life, and fundamentally changing how tribal members teach and raise children in the cultural and spiritual beliefs that center around these fish.
For over a decade, the Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) – which includes the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Spokane Tribe of Indians, Kalispel Tribe of Indians, and Kootenai Tribe of Idaho – have worked to develop a scientifically rigorous phased plan to study the feasibility of, and then ultimately implement, a reintroduction program into the blocked areas. The four-part phased effort is currently in the Phase 2 Implementation Plan (P2IP) stage, which involves scientifically based research over the next 20 years to establish sources of donor and brood stocks for reintroduction, test key biological assumptions, guide management actions, develop interim hatchery and passage facilities, and evaluate success.
“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,” said Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation Chairman Jarred-Michael Erickson. “Today the federal government is taking a major step toward righting that historic wrong by committing to support the tribally led, science-driven reintroduction of salmon above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams. Together as partners, we will bring salmon back where they belong – to the waters of the Upper Columbia. The Colville Tribes looks forward to our children celebrating a ceremony of joy when salmon are permanently restored to their ancestral waters.”
“Grand Coulee Dam moved the floods from Portland and Vancouver to my tribe’s reservation and stole the once abundant salmon that fed the Spokane People that lived and thrived where the Spokane and Columbia River meet,” said Greg Abrahamson, Chairman of the Spokane Tribal Business Council, Spokane Tribe of Indians. “Grand Coulee Dam allowed the desert to bloom and many far away cities to enjoy cheap electricity at my people’s expense. The tribe never lost hope that one day the salmon would return to the tribe’s waters, and this agreement will turn that hope into a reality with salmon in the Spokane’s waters. The Spokane Tribe believes when the salmon return home, we will begin to heal. This will bring healing to both the salmon and the people which is why we do this work.”
“The Biden administration deserves a lot of credit for their leadership to help make this happen,” said Coeur d’Alene Tribe Chairman Chief Allan. “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. 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.”
“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,” said Coeur d’Alene Tribe Vice Chairman Hemene James, who represented the tribe at the ceremonial signing. “We would not be here today without the leadership of the Chairman and Tribal Council or the unwavering commitment of Tribal Natural Resources staff.”
The agreement between the tribes and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Energy’s Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) includes $200 million over 20 years from the BPA to advance the Phase 2 Implementation Plan. The other agencies also agree to use their authorities to seek additional funding for this effort and to take other actions necessary to advance implementation. The tribes have agreed to a 20-year pause to existing litigation while these actions are pursued.
As part of this agreement, the Bureau of Reclamation is announcing a $6 million investment from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to the Upper Columbia Tribes and UCUT for these efforts. This funding from the new WaterSMART Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program will help support the tribes’ Phase 2 study needs, including juvenile salmon outmigration studies, genetic sampling, and development of fish passage designs.
“The Bureau of Reclamation is proud to partner with the Upper Columbia Tribes as we seek collaborative and science-based solutions to reintroducing salmon across the Upper Columbia River Basin,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “Thanks to President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, we are deploying historic resources to support projects that restore or protect aquatic ecosystems, including those that will help return healthy and abundant populations of salmon to these tribes’ waters.”
If Phase 2 Implementation Plan studies confirm the feasibility of reintroducing anadromous salmonids in the blocked areas, Phase 2 is anticipated to lead to Phase 3, including the construction of permanent juvenile and adult passage and supporting propagation facilities, as well as implementation of priority habitat improvements, consistent with the phased approach to reintroducing anadromous salmonids above Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams. Phase 1 included pre-assessment planning for reintroduction and fish passage that the UCUT wrote in a May 2019 report.