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NW Fishletter #313, February 12, 2013
 Comment: Paul Lumley: BPA Should Maintain/Build On Tribal Fish Partnership
[Editor's Note: The following comments first appeared in a Clearing Up series featuring thoughts from regional energy-industry stakeholders on the question: "What's Your Vision for BPA?" It coincides with BPA's 75th anniversary and the upcoming change in Bonneville administrators.]
When Bill Drummond officially steps into the most important office at 905 NE 11th Ave. in Portland, BPA's new administrator will oversee an agency whose culture "has gone through a transition from acrimony to partnership" with tribes in fisheries management, says Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC).
BPA should maintain and build on that partnership as the agency transitions to new leadership, Lumley said in a recent interview with Clearing Up. Continuing goodwill, he added, will come in handy as the region confronts tricky and potentially contentious issues, including the future of the U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty, use of hatcheries for restoring natural salmon runs, and reducing toxins in fish-bearing waters.
"I've seen both sides of BPA. A partnership between BPA and the tribes is the surest path to success" in restoring salmon abundance, said Lumley, a CRITFC veteran who became executive director in 2009.
A milestone in BPA/tribal relations was the 2008 conclusion of the Columbia Basin Fish Accords between three of the four CRITFC tribes and the three federal agencies operating the Federal Columbia River Power System. Implementation of the 10-year pact--in which BPA committed $900 million for specified salmon-recovery projects and the signatory tribes agreed not to file suit seeking additional recovery measures--so far has gone smoothly, according to Lumley.
"BPA has done a pretty good job of carrying out the agreement. I have no major complaints," Lumley said. He added, however, that better budget planning is needed in the future to avoid reductions in fish-and-wildlife funding for non-accord parties, as he said occurred in the past year.
In addition to implementing agreements with Columbia basin treaty tribes, BPA's new administrator will face another treaty issue in his in-box--the knotty details involved in whether to extend, modify or end the Columbia River Treaty. The U.S.-Canada agreement for managing storage and sharing downstream power-generation benefits--which entered into force in 1964--is 20 months away from the earliest date when either country could give the required 10-years notice for termination.
The agreement's flood-control provisions, however, end in 2024, regardless of whether the treaty is ended or extended, which would force the U.S. to use all available domestic storage before calling on Canada for storage to prevent floods.
To not decide effectively is to decide, Lumley said. "Taking no action results in change. Leaving the treaty as-is results in significant changes in 2024," he noted.
Currently, studies are under way to determine the impacts of river-management alternatives, with and without an extended treaty. Lumley and other tribal representatives are members of the Sovereign Review Team studying policy and technical issues associated with the treaty.
"A robust ecosystem analysis must be included" in the treaty review, Lumley said.
He added that the 15 tribes with federally recognized fishery co-management authority are "working hard" with federal agencies to come up with a consensus recommendation for the U.S. State Department by fall.
"I hope the new BPA administrator will appreciate the hard work among sovereigns over the past two years to achieve regional consensus," Lumley said.
Other issues the tribes will bring to Drummond's attention include using hatcheries to restore natural salmon runs and reducing toxic water pollution, which is a "bottleneck to salmon recovery," Lumley said. Many hatchery programs are not designed for salmon recovery but to provide a catch for non-Indian fisheries, he said.
"What if these programs were reformed to restore naturally spawning salmon?" he asked. As an example, he cited the Nez Perce Tribe's use of hatcheries to boost Snake River fall Chinook, which have increased from fewer than 1,000 adults at Lower Granite Dam annually between 1975 and 1995 to more than 41,000 in 2010. That recent count includes nearly 10,000 natural spawners, enough to warrant removal of the run from the threatened species list, he said.
"What a world of difference it would make if all the region adopted" recovery-focused hatchery policies, Lumley added.
Lumley said BPA should lead in reshaping hatchery policies to carry out its federal trust responsibilities to tribes, restore fishery abundance, and "demonstrate that the sacrifices made in the Columbia River Basin result in real benefits to the region." Toxic pollution is another issue the tribes will highlight for BPA's new leader, although BPA has said other federal agencies with direct responsibility for water quality should take the lead. While Lumley said he accepts BPA's position, the agency still has a role to play through, for example, working with irrigators to reduce the flows of hazardous substances into rivers.
The key to a successful tenure for BPA's new administrator, Lumley said, will be forging productive relationships in the region, including "building on a solid foundation of understanding BPA's trust relationships with tribes."
The impacts of building solutions-oriented relationships ripple across the region, he noted.
"Tribes and local communities are bringing back salmon in places where there was conflict. On weekends, we fish together," he said. -Jim DiPeso
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