USRT Committee meets to discuss Snake River Basin issues
By LORI EDMO-SUPPAH
FORT HALL — The Upper Snake River Tribes (USRT) Commission recently met at the Shoshone-Bannock Hotel and Events Center to address issues impacting the Snake River Basin.
USRT consists of tribal representatives from the Burns Paiute, Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone, Shoshone-Bannock and Shoshone-Paiute. It is a foundation that works to protect, enhance and restore natural and cultural resources, activities and rights of the compacting tribes. USRT coordinates a unified tribal response to address common resource issues with the Snake River Basin. The foundation has three staff members —Heather Ray is the USRT Executive Director. Bob Austin is Fish and Wildlife Program Director and Scott Hauser is Environmental Program Director. Fort Hall Business Council member Lee Juan Tyler is currently the chairman of the USRT Commission and Buster Gibson of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe is the vice-chairman.
Chad Colter, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Fish and Wildlife director, said many of the issues are what the tribes have been dealing with since the 90’s and they saw a need to have a larger group and that is how USRT evolved.
Claudeo Broncho, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Fisheries Policy Representative, said the organization was established because of common goals. The tribal technical staff works with the policy people on the various issues.
Following are some of the items addressed in the day and half long meeting.
Boise housing development – Ray said a new housing development is being planned near Quarry View Park and the entity wants to work with the tribes to put kiosks along the trails. The development has a mitigation fund that each homeowner puts funds into and that is how the information kiosks are funded. Ray asked if the tribes would assist and Darrell Shay, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Cultural Director said his program is working with different entities on signage.
Columbia River Treaty – USRT is among Columbia River Basin tribes traveling to Washington D.C. December 9 to meet with various members of Congress and federal officials concerning the issue. A USRT report explains the Treaty is an international agreement ratified during the period 1961 to 1964 between Canada and the United States for the cooperative development and operation of the water resources of the Columbia River Basin for the benefit of flood control and power. The Treaty doesn’t have a specified end date, it contains provisions that will change its implementation in 2024. In addition, Canada or the U.S. may unilaterally terminate most provisions of the Treaty in 2024 with a minimum of 10 years advance notice thus the focus on 2014 and 2024. According to an Associated Press report, the Columbia River originates high in the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia and the river flows 1,240 miles through Canada and the U.S. to its mouth in the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration are leading the review of the treaty in consultation with other federal agencies, four Northwest states and 15 Columbia Basin tribes. U.S. regulators will send their final recommendation in December to the State Department, where the ultimate decision on whether to renegotiate rests.
USRT is involved among the Columbia River Basin tribes and the goal is to reach a broad regional consensus on the future of the Treaty.
Fish consumption survey – in 2007 Idaho proposed new water quality standards that recommended the amount of fish per day one could consume is 17.5 grams. In May of 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency denied it. Idaho officials didn’t take into account studies in tribal areas. USRT staff said EPA has surplus funds available for a fish consumption survey where the five Idaho tribes will be involved and the survey will be unique to each tribe. The survey needs to be completed by the end of 2014. Candon Tanaka from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Water Resources department is involved.
Idaho Power license for Hells Canyon Dam Complex — Idaho Power’s license for the complex expired in 2006 but the company is allowed to continue to operate it because they have an application on file with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Interior Redband Trout – Mike Carrier and Dan Shively of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave an update on the assessment and conservation planning efforts of this species. The trout’s range is in six states California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Montana and Idaho. The trout is in five major river basins: Upper Columbia, Upper Snake, Oregon Closed Basins, Upper Klamath and Upper Sacramento. The status is state and federal agencies consider redband trout to be a species of concern/sensitive species/game fish. Tribal governments consider it an important food source and of cultural importance. A Conservation Agreement is expected to be finalized in mid December that would assure long term persistence of the Interior Redband Trout within their historical range, it will manage conservation populations to preserve genetic integrity; address critical uncertainties through research; expand conservation education and public outreach; initiate an administrative framework to improve cooperation and coordination between agencies and entities.
USRT staff noted and Idaho Federal Lands Transfer legislative committee was December 4 for more public comment. In addition a Future of Our Salmon conference is April 23 and 24, 2014 in Portland, Oregon that various tribes will be involved including USRT tribes.