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 that $200 million over 20 years from the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal power marketing administration under the Energy Department, to advance the tribally led plan.

In support of that effort, the Interior Department announced that agency would provide $8 million over two years through the Bureau of Reclamation.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland noted that 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.

“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 native 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 their abundance as the staples of their daily diets and ceremony.

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

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. Tribal communities have said that this has had a traumatic effect, 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 the 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. This phase 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.