Historic Agreement Honors Tribal Treaty Rights, Addresses Long-Running Litigation Against the Federal Government’s Operation of Dams in the Columbia River Basin
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Biden-Harris Administration today announced a historic agreement to work in partnership with Pacific Northwest Tribes and States to restore wild salmon populations, expand Tribally sponsored clean energy production, and provide stability for communities that depend on the Columbia River System. Building on President Biden’s direction to Federal agencies, the agreement, when combined with other funding that the Administration is anticipated to deliver to the region, will bring more than $1 billion in new Federal investments to wild fish restoration over the next decade and enable an unprecedented 10-year break from decades-long litigation against the Federal government’s operation of its dams in the Pacific Northwest.
The agreement was filed in the Federal District Court in Oregon and sets commitments made by the Federal Government and implemented through a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States; the States of Oregon and Washington; the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakama Tribes; and environmental non-profit organizations.
Implementation of the agreement will diversify and develop affordable, clean, and reliable energy options for the region. Investments under this agreement will help to ensure continued energy reliability and affordability, transportation, recreation, irrigation, and other key services, including in the event that Congress decides to authorize breaching of the four Lower Snake River dams.
Today’s agreement follows a Presidential Memorandum issued by President Biden in September that – for the first time ever – directed Federal agencies to prioritize the restoration of healthy and abundant salmon, steelhead, and other native fish populations in the Columbia River Basin. It also builds on a historic agreement earlier this year to support Tribally led efforts to restore salmon in blocked habitats in the Upper Columbia Basin.
“President Biden understands that the Columbia River System is the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest, and for the first time under his direction, federal agencies are putting all hands on deck to support regional and Tribal efforts to restore wild salmon in the region. This agreement charts a new path to restore the river, provide for a clean energy future and the jobs that come with it, and live up to our responsibilities to Tribal Nations,” said Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
“Today’s historic agreement marks a new direction for the Pacific Northwest. Today, the Biden-Harris Administration and state and Tribal governments are agreeing to work together to protect salmon and other native fish, honor our obligations to Tribal nations, and recognize the important services the Columbia River System provides to the economy of the Pacific Northwest,” said John Podesta, Senior Advisor to the President for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation.
“The Pacific Northwest’s iconic salmon and steelhead are essential to our ecological and economic wealth, and a sacred part of Tribal ceremonial, spiritual, and subsistence practices since time immemorial. The Columbia River treaty reserved tribes exemplify steadfast leadership in salmon restoration and stewardship, forging a strong partnership with our states in a shared commitment to comanaging this precious natural resource for generations to come. This successful and unprecedented partnership between the six sovereigns and the United States government has established a shared vision and pathway forward for restoration in both the lower and upper Columbia River Basin. Oregon looks forward to continued collaboration on a successful restoration,” said Oregon Governor Tina Kotek.
“Leaders across the region have long recognized that inaction on the Columbia-Snake River would doom our iconic species, do irreversible harm to Tribal communities, and diminish our region’s economic future. This agreement between the U.S. government and the Six Sovereigns and NGO plaintiffs is that path forward. It is a durable, comprehensive product of determined leadership by all parties to help secure the long term economic, energy, and salmon recovery needs of our region,” said Washington Governor Jay Inslee.
This agreement honors Tribal treaty rights. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to honoring and respecting Tribal sovereignty, protecting Tribal homelands, and incorporating Indigenous Knowledge and robust Tribal consultation into planning and decision-making.
“As Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) we are bound to the salmon and the rivers – these are our life sources. We will not allow extinction to be an option for the salmon, nor for us. The United States is bound to salmon and to us by Treaty where we reserved all our fisheries – our Treaty is the supreme law of the land under the United States Constitution,” said Chairman Shannon F. Wheeler, Nez Perce Tribe. “The federal dams on the lower Snake and mainstem Columbia rivers have had – and continue to have – devastating impacts on the salmon and our people, burdening our Treaty partnership. So today, as Six Sovereigns joining together with the United States to advance salmon restoration throughout the Basin – including preparation for breach of the four lower Snake River dams – we are also witnessing the restoration of Tribal Treaties to their rightful place under the rule of law. We appreciate President Biden’s commitment to honor Tribal Treaties, and to work in partnership to restore healthy, abundant salmon throughout the Columbia Basin.”
“The Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative and the U.S. government’s commitments list represent many, many hours of collaboration. They not only address goals for healthy, abundant populations of fish to support Tribal treaty and non-tribal harvest, they also respect the future needs of the Columbia Basin in terms of preparing for climate variability, providing clean, reliable energy, transportation, and recreation. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation is very appreciative of the collaboration with the Six Sovereigns and our Federal partners, and looks forward to working together to advance the goals of healthy and abundant salmon for the benefit of current and future generations,” said Corinne Sams, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Board of Trustees Member, Fish & Wildlife Commission Chair and Chair of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.
“For too long we have seen the federal government try to do the minimum amount necessary to pass legal muster under the Endangered Species Act,” said Jonathan W. Smith, Sr., Warm Springs Tribal Council Chairman. “This minimum effort approach has resulted in our fish populations limping along at depressed levels, oftentimes near-extinction and leaving us without enough salmon for our ceremonies, culture, and subsistence. We are optimistic that this first of its kind Presidential Memorandum on the Columbia Basin will chart a new course for the federal government that will lead to true restoration of our fisheries. There is no time to waste, and the Warm Springs Tribe is committed to working with the federal agencies, our fisheries co-managers and Columbia Basin stakeholders through this agreement to make sustainable healthy and abundant fish returns a reality.”
“Since time immemorial, the strength of the Yakama Nation and its people have come from Nch’í Wána – the Columbia River – and from the fish, game, roots and berries it nourishes. We have fought to protect and restore salmon because salmon are not just a natural resource, they are a cultural resource,” said Gerald Lewis, Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman. “Today the Biden Administration has announced its commitment to partner with us, our sister tribes, and our neighbors in the work that we have been doing, and will continue to do, to restore healthy and abundant salmon runs to the Columbia River. We can, and must, restore our salmon; and working together we can, and will, do so in a way that ensures our communities will have the energy and other resources they need for generations to come.”
As part of the agreement, the Biden-Harris Administration will invest $300 million over 10 years to restore native fish and their habitats throughout the Columbia River Basin, with added measures to increase the autonomy of States and Tribes to use these funds. The Administration will also facilitate the build-out of at least one to three gigawatts of Tribally-sponsored renewable energy production, increased flexibility for the hydrosystem, and studies of dam services.
The agreement keeps energy affordable by avoiding potentially significant rate increases from court ordered dam operations. The Bonneville Power Administration estimates that today’s agreement will have an annual average rate impact of 0.7 percent.
“The Columbia River System is an invaluable natural resource that is critical to many stakeholders in the Basin, including the Tribes who have relied on Pacific salmon, steelhead, and other native fish species for sustenance and their cultural and spiritual ways of life since time immemorial,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “As we commemorate today’s historic milestone, the Biden-Harris Administration remains committed to comprehensive and collaborative Basin-wide solutions to restoring salmon and other native fish populations. At every step of the way, Tribes will continue to have a seat at the table and be integral in our efforts to restore and protect these precious ecosystems.”
“For generations, the Columbia River Basin ecosystem has served as an integral economic and cultural cornerstone for communities and businesses throughout the Pacific Northwest — especially tribal communities,” said U.S. Deputy of Secretary David M. Turk. “Today’s historic agreement reinforces the Biden-Harris Administration commitment to honoring the Federal government’s treaty and trust responsibilities to Tribal Nations, and will provide long-term stability and operational reliability so that communities across the region can prosper for generations to come.”
“In the agreement signed today, BPA sought to provide our ratepayers operational certainty and reliability while avoiding costly, unpredictable litigation in support of our mission to provide a reliable, affordable power supply to the Pacific Northwest,” said John Hairston, Administrator and CEO of the Bonneville Power Administration.
“The Army Corps is proud to implement actions that will help restore habitat and fish populations in the Columbia River Basin while continuing our support for the regional economy. It is incredibly important that we do this work collaboratively with Tribal Nations to produce results that honor their treaty rights and our trust obligations, producing durable solutions that withstand the impacts of climate change,” said Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “The Columbia River provides vital economic and environmental benefits to Tribal Nations, communities and businesses of the Pacific Northwest,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, PhD. “This path forward focuses on the restoration of healthy and abundant salmon, steelhead, and other native fish to meet the needs of the Columbia River Basin while helping ensure the United States upholds its treaty and trust responsibilities to the Tribes.”