The Upper Columbia River Basin historically supported abundant wild salmon, steelhead, and native resident fish, which supported Tribal cultures and communities.

Feds, tribes reach agreement supporting efforts to restore salmon populations to Upper Columbia River Basin

WASHINGTON — A historic agreement to support Tribally led efforts to restore healthy and abundant salmon populations in the Upper Columbia River Basin was announced by the federal government today. 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 supported Tribal cultures and communities. Today’s agreement was announced at the DOI with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, tribes, agency leaders, and other senior 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. Today’s historic agreement is integral to helping restore healthy and abundant fish populations to these communities,” said Secretary Haaland. “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 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 tribes lost access to anadromous fish in their communities. This profound loss has had traumatic impacts on tribal communities; including 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. 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,” said Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation Chairman Jarred-Michael Erickson. “Together as partners, we will bring salmon back where they belong – to the waters of the Upper Columbia. The Colville Tribes look forward to our children celebrating a Ceremony of Joy when salmon are permanently restored to their ancestral waters.” 

Today’s agreement includes $200 million over 20 years from the Department of Energy’s Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to advance the Phase 2 Implementation Plan. 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 twenty year pause to existing litigation while these actions are pursued. 

As part of the agreement, the Bureau of Reclamation is announcing a $6 million investment 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 Army is excited to announce this partnership with Tribes in the Upper Columbia River Basin to collaborate and support their significant efforts in planning and studying reintroduction of salmon to the region,” said Jaime Pinkham, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “We are proud to support activities that will help us learn more about actions that can be taken to restore the crucial ecosystems and fish populations in the Columbia River Basin.” 

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 pre-assessment planning for reintroduction and fish passage that the UCUT wrote in a May 2019 report.