Treaties. Lawsuits. Hatcheries. Genetics. And now more than a million salmon making their way back up the Columbia River.
Paul Lumley has seen plenty in his more than 20 years with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which oversees management policy for the Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla and Nez Perce tribes. He’s been executive director of the commission for the past four years.
“The abundance solves a lot of our problems for the moment,” says Lumley, a member of the Yakama tribe. “There has not been much fighting about fish this year.” In addition to fighting for fishing rights guaranteed by treaties signed in 1855 — with some cases going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — Northwest tribes have also played a major role in recent years in habitat restoration, hatchery production efforts and genetic identification.
The CRITFC’s genetics lab — a partnership with the University of Idaho that focuses on production, supplementation and recovery of Columbia Basin salmon — is considered a preeminent program in the region. Tribe-led stream restoration projects at places like Shitike Creek on the Warm Springs reservation, and an agreement that adds more water to salmon habitat every year near Hanford Reach, have also helped bolster fish populations in the basin. And the effect, especially recently, has been an economic and environmental boon for the tribes. One tangible sign: In Cascade Locks, Terrie Brigham and her sister, Kim Brigham Campbell, members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, are opening a retail shop to sell Columbia-caught fish.
“Tribes that haven’t seen fish in decades are seeing them again. It’s wonderful,” Lumley says. “We have businesses popping up and down the river — fishing tackle, tourism, recreation — that had gone away. It’s a success.”