Nez Perce Tribe opts out of salmon talks

Lewiston, Idaho (AP) 8-08

The Nez Perce Tribe has withdrawn from settlement negotiations over the federal government’s plan to reconcile hydroelectric dam operations with efforts to restore imperiled salmon and steelhead runs.

The tribe on Aug. 19 said it would continue to be involved in litigation over the plan. Nez Perce officials said they support dam removal as the best way to restore the runs.

“The dams on the Lower Snake and mainstem Columbia (rivers) have a significant impact on the fish and on the Nez Perce Tribe,” Tribal Chairman Samuel. N. Penney said in a news release, the Lewiston Tribune reported.

Earlier this year, four Northwest Indian tribes and federal hydropower regulators agreed to a 10-year plan that committed the federal agencies to giving the tribes $900 million to spend toward salmon recovery in exchange for dropping out of a lawsuit challenging hydroelectric dam operations.

The Nez Perce did not join the Yakama, Colville, Warm Springs and Umatilla tribes in that deal but said they would participate in negotiations to help recover the 13 species of salmon and steelhead that pass over the dams and that are listed as threatened or endangered.


Those negotiations were being conducted with the Bonneville Power Administration, which sells the power produced by the dams; the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dams; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The tribe said the negotiations with the dam operators, called action agencies, failed to produce results.

“The tribe has simply agreed to disagree with the action agencies on several core issues regarding the impact of the mainstem Columbia and Lower Snake river dams on salmon and steelhead,” Penney said.

Greg Delwiche, BPA vice president for environment, fish and wildlife, said efforts to restore runs will continue.

“It’s disappointing but I think we have a game plan we think has a high level of promise for being successful,” he said.

In Portland, Ore., a federal judge denied a motion for an independent scientific review of the latest government plan to protect Columbia River Basin salmon, saying he first wants to determine if the plan is flawed and to fix it if it is.

U.S. District Judge James A. Redden has twice rejected plans intended to balance salmon preservation with hydroelectric power production, calling them inadequate. He said he doesn’t want to take the same action he did in 2004 and 2006.

“I don’t want to pull the plug; I want to talk,” he said.

Nez Perce lawyer David Cummings said settlement remains an option despite an end to negotiations.

“The tribe will continue to evaluate all settlement opportunities at every appropriate juncture,” he said.