Feds Fund Salmon Restoration in Upper Columbia River Basins

A salmon. File photo.

A historic agreement struck between the Biden-Harris administration and three Native American tribes calls for investment of over $200 million in federal dollars over 20 years to restore salmon populations in the Upper Columbia River Basin.

The agreement, announced by the Interior Department on Sept. 21, includes $200 million over 20 years from the Bonneville Power Administration, part of the Energy Department, to advance the tribally led plan. Bonneville is one of four such administrations that operate electric systems and sell the output of federally owned and operated hydroelectric dams. 

The Interior Department also announced that the agency would provide $8 million over two years through the Bureau of Reclamation.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland noted that tribes along the Columbia River system long have relied on native fish species for sustenance and their cultural and spiritual ways of life.

“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,” she said.

The Upper Columbia River Basin has historically supported abundant wild salmon, steelhead and other resident fish deemed critically important for tribal cultures and communities. Members of these tribes and their ancestors have since time immemorial been stewards of these native species and relied upon them as staples of their daily diets and ceremony.

The agreement was signed in ceremonies at the Interior Department, with Haaland, tribes, agency leaders and other senior Biden-Harris administration officials present.

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 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 local access to anadromous fish. Tribal communities have said that this has had a traumatic effect, including altering traditional diets, depriving members of the ability to exercise traditional ways of life and fundamentally changing how they teach and raise children in the cultural and spiritual beliefs that center around the fish.

For more than 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 re-introduction program into the blocked areas.

The four-part effort is currently in the Phase 2 implementation stage. This involves research over the next 20 years to establish sources of donor and brood stocks for re-introduction and tests of key biological assumptions, along with guiding management actions and developing interim hatchery and passage facilities.