Salmon Is Back on Menu as governments, tribe move closer to working on recovery plan



TOPPENISH, WA— A group of local governments and the Yakama Nation started down a road Wednesday to recover migratory fish and shield private property owners from lawsuits for damaging threatened fish species.

And, what's even better, there's lots of federal and state money available to pay for the journey.

Tribal representatives and officials from the local governments — Benton and Yakima counties and several cities in both counties as well as some in Kittitas County — reached tentative agreement Wednesday on a new organization that will prepare a salmon recovery plan for the region.

That plan, once adopted, would likely be accepted as an interim recovery plan for fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act, state and federal officials said.

With its status as a recovery plan would come protection from third-party lawsuits for activities that damage fish, they added.

Two fish species in Central Washington, steelhead and bull trout, are already listed as threatened under the act.

Jeff Tayer of Yakima, regional director for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the group the plan would give them the protection that no fisheries biologist could offer.

"Not knowing when you are going to get sued is a bad place to be for any businessman," said Tayer.

The Washington Environmental Council last year threatened a lawsuit against water users in Manastash Creek, near Ellensburg, over manmade barriers and low flows in the creek that hurt fish.

Tayer called the proposed plan a marriage of good science and local leadership that will make conditions better for fish.

Kittitas County is not joining the group at the present time because of concerns over the authority to create a plan and potential liability if the plan doesn't restore fish.

The group, to be called the Yakima Subbasin Fish and Wildlife Planning Board, met for three hours in Toppenish to discuss the proposal. Around 20 officials attended. All are expected to sign the document by mid-December.

The plan, to be completed by May 2004, will include both the good and bad about existing conditions for fish, what's been done so far to restore fish, and a management plan on how future projects will be carried out.

Tony Grover, subbasin planning manager for the Portland-based Northwest Power Planning Council, said the council has allocated $365,000 for the Yakima Valley plan. The state Legislature has chimed in with another $300,000.

The council was created by the 1980 Northwest Power Act to plan the region's energy future, and protect and restore fish and wildlife damaged by dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The federal funding comes from Bonneville Power Administration revenues, and is part of a subbasin planning effort embraced by the council that covers the entire Northwest.

Grover, who attended the meeting, said the local plans will be part of a basinwide salmon recovery strategy that is to be completed by December 2004.

He also said the timeline coincides with the council's latest five-year update of its fish and wildlife plan due to be completed in early 2005.

Yakima County Commissioner Jim Lewis said the new group resolves potential jurisdictional problems.

"You can't eliminate the boundaries, but we are trying to eliminate the barriers and do what is right," Lewis said.


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