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Tribal Responses to Biden memo on Columbia Salmon Restoration

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On Wednesday, September 27, President Biden issued his Memorandum on Restoring Healthy and Abundant Salmon, Steelhead, and Other Native Fish Populations in the Columbia River Basin. Below are the collected statements from CRITFC and its four member tribes:


“CRITFC commends President Biden for his commitment to salmon recovery and focusing the full power and scope of the federal government on this issue. He has sent a clear message throughout the federal government that business as usual is no longer acceptable,” said CRITFC Chair Corinne Sams. “Never before has the federal government issued a Presidential Memorandum on salmon. This is historic.”

“We applaud President Biden’s Presidential Memorandum, which centers the treaty and trust obligations that the federal government made to our tribes,” said CRITFC executive director Aja DeCoteau. “The memorandum also reflects the federal government’s obligation to promoting and maintaining the nation’s rich natural resources for all its citizens, both current and future. With years of effort, collaboration, and co-management geared toward the work of Columbia Basin salmon restoration, the tribes look forward to partnering with all the agencies involved in implementing this memorandum to protect and restore salmon.”

“In 1995, the Columbia River Treaty Tribes put together the region’s first holistic salmon restoration plan, knowing that the complex issue of salmon decline would require a major, coordinated effort to address impacts and issues throughout their lifecycle,” said Chair Sams. “This Presidential Memorandum reiterates that with its directive pointed to ‘all relevant Federal agencies to restore wild fish populations and help ensure that the United States upholds its treaty and trust responsibilities’.”

“This memorandum reflects the scope and urgency for action that is needed right now,” said Aja DeCoteau. “In Idaho alone, 77% of spring chinook populations in that state are predicted to reach quasi-extinction levels by 2025. We don’t have a moment to spare.”

“Today, the Columbia River Treaty Tribes celebrate President Biden’s September 27 salmon restoration memorandum. We have long sustained that the decline of salmon in the Columbia Basin is a threat to all life in the Pacific Northwest,” said CRITFC Chair Corinne Sams. She continued, “We must stand together in the fight to overcome the perils of climate change, we applaud all partners in the fight to save our river and species that depend on it. Salmon gives life to all those who call this wonderful place home.”

Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon

The Warm Springs Tribe applauds President Biden and his Administration for issuing a landmark “Presidential Memorandum on Restoring Healthy and Abundant Salmon, Steelhead, and Other Native Fish Populations in the Columbia River Basin.” This Memorandum directs federal agencies as a matter of national policy to work towards restoring salmon and native fish runs to “healthy and abundant” levels throughout the Columbia Basin. The Memorandum expressly recognizes the Warm Springs Tribe’s 1855 Treaty, the federal government’s promises to the Tribe regarding its Treaty-reserved fishing rights, and orders the federal government to honor its “Federal trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations.” The Memorandum further orders all executive departments and federal agencies to review their policies and authorities and take steps to ensure consistency with this national policy of restoring Columbia Basin fish to healthy and abundant levels.

“For too long we have seen the federal government try to do the minimum amount necessary to pass legal muster under the Endangered Species Act,” said Jonathan W. Smith, Sr., Warm Springs Tribal Council Chairman. “This minimum effort approach has resulted in our fish populations limping along at depressed levels, oftentimes near-extinction and leaving us without enough salmon for our ceremonies, culture and subsistence.” Chair Smith continued, “we are optimistic that this first of its kind Presidential Memorandum on the Columbia Basin will chart a new course for the federal government that will lead to true restoration of our fisheries. There is no time to waste, and the Warm Springs Tribe is committed to working with the federal agencies, our fisheries co-managers and Columbia Basin stakeholders to make sustainable healthy and abundant fish returns a reality.”

Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation

The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation (“Yakama Nation”) applauds President Biden for issuing a landmark Presidential Memorandum directing federal agencies to focus on the restoration of salmon and other native fisheries in the Columbia River Basin, and affirming his Administration’s commitment to honoring the U.S. government’s treaty and trust obligations to the Yakama Nation and other Columbia Basin tribes

When the Yakama Nation signed its Treaty in 1855, it reserved fishing rights to a run of around 16 million fish. Today, the region is lucky to see 2 million fish coming back to the Columbia Basin. The United States operates and permits Columbia Basin dams that remove, at the very least, 5 million fish each year. But instead of prioritizing mitigation sufficient to offset these impacts, Yakama Nation has seen the federal government provide flat funding in the face of inflation, defer maintenance year after year letting critical fisheries infrastructure crumble, and fail to make policy and budget decisions in a way that puts the needs of the fish on par with the needs of energy and industry in the region.

“Today marks a historic step towards achieving a new vision for the restoration of our Columbia River salmon runs,” said Yakama Nation Chairman Gerald Lewis. “We applaud the Biden Administration’s recognition that a collaborative path exists to achieve salmon restoration and a durable energy future throughout the Columbia River Basin for all governments and stakeholders.”

Under Biden’s Presidential Memorandum, all relevant federal agencies – including the Interior Department, Bonneville Power Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, National Marine Fisheries Service and others – will have 120 days to review their programs and assess how they could better use their existing authorities to advance Columbia Basin fisheries restoration. If their programs or policies conflict with the President’s stated goal of restoring healthy and abundant fisheries, the agencies must reform them to advance this goal.

Similarly, federal agencies will have 220 days to work with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to develop a comprehensive list of federal programs that could advance Columbia Basin salmon restoration, and to advise OMB on the resources those programs would need to advance this policy objective.

Finally, the Presidential Memorandum establishes the Administration’s intention to enter intergovernmental partnership agreements with regional tribes and states to advance Columbia Basin restoration and resilience – an approach consistent with the President’s commitment to supporting Tribally- led conservation efforts and to addressing historic injustices experienced by tribal communities, including the decline or elimination of Columbia Basin salmon runs.

“Our Columbia Basin salmon are in crisis,” stated Yakama Tribal Council Fish & Wildlife Committee Chair, Jeremy Takala. “Without significant change, our native fisheries will disappear forever; and extinction is not an option that the Yakama Nation will accept. At the same time, our communities are facing significant new challenges from climate change, aging infrastructure, and increased clean energy needs. We are pleased that President Biden made this public commitment to Columbia Basin restoration, and we look forward to working with the Administration and with our neighbors to advance the urgent actions we need to save our salmon while also ensuring that our communities will be resilient for generations to come.”

Nez Perce Tribe

The Nez Perce Tribe commends the Biden Administration for taking this critically important step in light of the salmon extinction crisis in the Columbia River Basin. By publicly acknowledging that healthy and abundant salmon runs are essential, we know the Biden Administration is prioritizing the needs of the Northwest and working to uphold our Treaty. We are relying on these Federal Agencies to take the necessary, urgent actions to restore salmon populations in the Columbia Basin. We are committed to working with the Biden Administration in partnership as we move forward.

View on Nez Perce Tribe website.

Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) is pleased to see President Joe Biden and his Administration have taken critical steps in an effort to recover threatened and endangered salmon throughout the Columbia River Basin. The statement below from CTUIR Board of Trustees Member, Fish & Wildlife Commission, and CRITFC Chair, Corinne Sams can be quoted in part or in full:

“The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation commend President Biden for his Presidential Memorandum committing to salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin and directing the full power and scope of the federal government on this issue. The President sends a clear message throughout the federal government that business as usual is no longer acceptable. Never has the federal government issued a Presidential Memorandum on salmon. This memorandum also upholds the U.S. Government’s treaty and trust obligations to the Columbia River treaty tribes. Our water, First Foods, and ecosystem are the lifeblood of our people. If the fish could speak, they would thank President Biden.”

CTUIR looks forward to seeing these commitments put into action by the Administration, federal agencies, members of Congress, and the Columbia River Basin.

View on CTUIR website.


About CRITFC. The Portland-based Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission is the technical support and coordinating agency for fishery management policies of the Columbia River Basin’s four treaty tribes: the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe.

CRITFC, formed in 1977, employs biologists, other scientists, public information specialists, policy analysts and administrators who work in fisheries research and analyses, advocacy, planning and coordination, harvest control and law enforcement.

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