Lumley, tribal fish commission weigh in on LNG

Paul Lumley, new leader of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, sees estuary health as vital to salmon recovery.<I><BR>SUBMITTED?photo</I>

PORTLAND - Paul Lumley, Yakama Indian and past executive director of the National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC), has returned to the Northwest to head up the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) where he first served as biology intern.

Executive Director Lumley comes from a fishing family and has a range of experience that spans both direct knowledge of the Columbia Basin and strong national Indian policy credentials. Prior to his tenure with the NAIHC, he spent three years at the Pentagon.

Concern about LNGPerhaps because of Lumley's strong family ties to the fishing, the first words out of his mouth are concerns about the Columbia River and the impact of Northern Star Natural Gas's proposed LNG project at Bradford Landing.

"Why would anyone allow a liquid natural gas terminal in one of the most critical habitats for fisheries, at the mouth of the Columbia River?" says Lumley in his Portland CRITFC office. "There are enormous safety issues to consider."

"We're looking at that site in terms of what it means for the salmon resource."

"The Lower Columbia estuaries are pristine environment and they've been identified as a critical area for fisheries ecosystems," says Lumley. "Our four tribes don't want to see the plant sited at the landing - there are other sites more appropriate."

"Wouldn't it make more sense to put the LNG terminal in an area that's already industrial?" he queries.

"Sometimes I wake up in the morning and say, 'Is it opposite day?'" Lumley adds laughingly.

"The tribes don't oppose LNG per se but we are very concerned about the estuaries. This is where the salmon smolts feed year round," says Lumley.

"They [LNG proponents] were rejected in California - which is where most of this natural gas will be going - that's why they're coming up north. It could have a big impact on the fall Chinook run," he adds.

Managing the fishery The four Upper Columbia tribes that make up the CRITFC - Warm Springs, Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce - created their alliance in 1977 and work in the manner of the old style Celilo Fish Committee to manage their salmon fishery, related politics and policies.

Fishery recovery methodologies lean either toward habitat - the restoration of breeding and feeding grounds for wild salmon - or hatcheries - the artificial growing, trucking and disbursal of cloned salmon.

The use of hatcheries has been a subject of lengthy debate in the management of salmon and trout resources in the Pacific Northwest. Some feel that hatchery fish weaken the wild stock, that excess hatchery fish should not be allowed to spawn in the wild.

Lumley feels that both hatchery management and habitat restoration are important and must work hand-in-hand to restore lost salmon and that hatchery fish have an important role in recovery and supplementation of wild stocks.

And, despite their tribal locations upriver, Lumley acknowledges the importance of protecting the lower Columbia estuary habitat.

"The Lower Columbia is considered part of our tribal fisheries, the estuaries are critical for smolts. They feed there and their habitat should be protected," Lumley avers.

"The tribes historically have been selective in their fisheries, just not with modern day scientific rules. Our traps and discussion methods aren't all that different from modern means."

"Our tribal elders and chiefs managed our fishery. They were part of the Celilo Fish Committee. The leadership made decisions about when fishing could start, where and when to fish, and which species," he says.

"In 1855, when the first treaties were being signed, there were an estimated 17 million in the salmon runs. Now there is less than 1 million," says Lumley.

"Hatcheries can be a valuable tool at that critical life stage for salmon and if you develop your hatcheries in a way that resembles natural systems they can support the increase of spawning populations," he says.

"Unfortunately, we have fishing interests which would like to force us into the harvest of hatchery fish only. But we will never give up our right to catch wild salmon, that is part of our Indian heritage," Lumley affirms.

The dams In November 2008, a controversial agreement was entered into by tribal organizations and federal dam operators with the lengthy title of "Statement of regional federal executives in support of the NOAA Fisheries 2008 Biological Opinion on the operation of federal dams for Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead," generally called "Bi-Op" for short.

Basically, CRITFC agreed to shelve battles with federal dam operators for 10 years in return for $900 million to be used for habitat and hatchery improvements.

No clear CRITFC consensus could be found during the discussion of the Bi-Op, and one of the CRITFC member tribes, the Nez Perce, did not agree to participate. So the issue of what long-term effects the dams have had or will continue to have on the fisheries in the Columbia River is a topic largely off the table for the CRITFC director.

"The Nez Perce haven't signed the Bi-Op - they have chosen to continue on a different path - but our other three tribes have signed the Bi-Op, so we have put that litigation on hold for now," shares Lumley. "We made a commitment to other programs in order to recover fish."

Other parties interested in the fight to save the salmon, including Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and environmental groups like Earthjustice, are unhappy that these key tribal allies are leaving the field. It weakens the case for those who propose that dams - particularly those on the Snake River - should come down.

The Nez Perce Tribe will continue to lend their great weight to efforts to fully restore the Snake and push for dam removal in that watershed.

Lumley does comment that all tribal people have the same goals in mind.

"The tribes have a vision for the future to restore the river to its natural state," Lumley says quietly.

"Ultimately what does success look like? Increasing the number of salmon," he says.

Commercial and sports fishing When asked whether he sees commercial and sports fishing as 'competing' with the Native rights to salmon and other species, he is direct and clear.

"I'm not going to tell non-Indians how to fish. Tribes get half and non-Indians get half. How you choose to fish your fish is your business," says Lumley.

"We gladly participate in catch balancing exercises and have no complaints with other fishermen. Although we are occasionally concerned that commercial fishermen go in too early before the count is real," he says.

Lumley makes clear that CRITFC's biggest complaint, in line with the chipping away at Indian fishing rights over the decades, is their right to wild fish.

"We are constantly asked to change the way we fish. The biggest push right now, what is new, is the desire for the tribes to give up on their right to fish wild fish."

"After 1855 the runs started declining, which represents decades of hardship for the tribes. There wouldn't be anybody with legal right to those fish if it weren't for the tribes' right for salmon. There might not be any salmon at all," says Lumley.

The tribal fight for the salmon fisheries began in pioneering days and was exacerbated by the dam construction. This was a time when the young states of Washington and Oregon demanded both water and cheap power to feed their economic development engines.

During the Army Corps of Engineers dam construction era, few politicians were focused on the tremendous value of the salmon and other fisheries or how to best balance the interests of farmers and fishermen with other business and economic concerns.

For 11,000 years, Celilo Falls was the most significant economic and cultural hub for native peoples on the Columbia. Fifteen to 20 million salmon passed through the falls every year. Celilo was covered by slack water behind the Dalles Dam in 1957.

"The tribes of the Lower Columbia, they've basically given up their right to fish wild fish. We should never have given up as a group on our right to Celilo," Lumley shares.

There are other fisheries in danger, not just Columbia salmon. Lumley comments on sturgeon and lamprey eel.

"Sturgeon have been landlocked by the dams. They are not considered a first food for our Nation, they're not a traditional species for us. But we do have fishing seasons on sturgeon," he says. "It would be a disappointment to the tribes if these fish disappeared because they are an ancient species."

"Lamprey too are considered a delicacy and important for our art and culture. They are not given the concern they deserve because they are not an icon specie, and their life history is largely unknown," Lumley continues, "But their loss would be a problem."

Indians in modern times "The river is our identity, that's we who we are, we're named after the rivers so it hurts us to see our river systems change so much. It wasn't what the tribe envisioned when the treaties were signed," Lumley shares.

"We are sovereign nations - it's who we are and who we've always been."

"But we are realists too - we live in the U.S., so we have to change the way we live. Our vision is not to be the only ones here - we have a modern lifestyle now."

Lumley goes on, "The river is an economic engine that is important to the Pacific Northwest. We want to be good neighbors and do the right thing to protect the salmon and the river."

"When I was really young, my family fished outside of Lyle and then we moved our fishing site to the John Day pool. The platforms at all of those sites were handed down from generation to generation."

"It was almost a religious experience to build a platform, it supported your whole family, it was your tool to catch the fish."

"On the cliffs above zone six [the river is divided into zones and zone six is comprised of the 147 miles of the Columbia River from Bonneville to McNary dams on both the Oregon and Washington shores], those are really old. Some of the others out in the river, those were rebuilt every year."

"I was born in Toppenish," says Lumley, "and I didn't have a master plan for my life. When I was growing up in the Yakima Valley, I knew I just wanted to do more than live a simple life."

"Now that I'm back at CRITFC, I want to strengthen the organization and strengthen the tribes soverigeninty and work on salmon restoration. We've been given the opportunity to implement these accords [outlined in the Bi-Op], for a 10-year period. It should be a productive environment to get some major projects completed."

"We are working in good faith and we hope the other partners in the agreement will too."

When asked for any parting comments, Lumley returns to the LNG controversy and says to the people in the Astoria area, "You have to live next to that thing if it gets built. Don't give up."

As a tribal leader in the U.S., Lumley knows a thing or two about patience.

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