Tribes target state in salmon suit

Case built on Boldt decision

January 16, 2001



OLYMPIA -- More than a dozen Puget Sound Indian tribes are filing a federal

lawsuit to force the state of Washington to fix salmon habitat, including

installation of road culverts to aid endangered fish runs.

The tribes, who have called a press conference today to explain their

action, said the lawsuit will build on treaty rights that were affirmed by

the U.S. Supreme Court in the historic fishing-rights battles of the 1970s.

"It's a culvert case," said Tony Meyer, spokesman for the Northwest Indian

Fisheries Commission in Lacey.

The case involves several hundred fish-blocking culverts in Washington, he

said. Meyer declined to say more before today's press briefing.

A 1974 federal court ruling -- called the Boldt decision -- eventually

recognized that the tribes had a treaty right to harvest half of each

year's Puget Sound salmon run.

A later ruling said tribes had the right to 50 percent of Puget Sound's

naturally occurring shellfish harvest.

"In general, the overall goal of the tribes is to fix all of the fish

culverts and other barriers and to do that within a reasonable period of

time ... in the form of a legally binding court order," said Kevin Lyon, an

Olympia-based attorney for the Squaxin Island Indian tribe. The Squaxin

tribe is a party to the suit.

"Culverts in South Sound are affected," Lyon said. "We're referring to any

fish-blocking culvert. It's the improperly constructed and improperly

maintained culverts.''

The Independent Science Panel created by the Legislature in 1998 reported

last summer that the state's salmon-recovery effort was at risk of

"devolving into trivial pursuits and random acts of kindness.''

State lawmakers are expected to wrestle this year over how much money to

put into salmon-recovery programs in response to the listing of many salmon

runs as endangered or threatened.

Gov. Gary Locke's budget proposal includes $212.7 million in state and

federal spending on fish and water programs for the two-year budget cycle

starting July 1.

What's next

Representatives of Puget Sound treaty tribes will have a noon news

conference today at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 6730 Martin

Way, Lacey.

On the web:

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (

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