Opinion

Cooperation is the way forward for tribes, state | Being Frank

Good relationships don't just happen. We have to work together to build and maintain a strong foundation of trust and commitment to keep a relationship healthy and strong.

As we mark the 40th anniversary of the Boldt decision this year, the tribal and state natural resources co-managers met recently to re-dedicate ourselves to the principles of co-management.

At the core of co-management is a pledge to seek cooperation first and avoid litigation. The approach is based on a government-to-government relationship that respects the decision-making authority of both the tribes and state. Its success depends on jointly planning and developing clear objectives with agreed-upon data to support consistent, coordinated natural resources management programs.

Trust and cooperation go hand in hand. In the first decade following the 1974 Boldt decision, the tribes and state did not trust each other as co-managers. We spent hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours arguing before a federal court about whose data was more accurate and whether this fishery or that fishery should be allowed at this place or time.

All that time and money spent in court was wasted. It could have been better spent protecting and rebuilding the resource.

After a difficult first decade, we found a way to work together built on mutual respect and consideration for each other's needs. Co-management took giant steps forward.

In 1984 the tribes and state started the annual joint season-setting process called North of Falcon. In 1985 the tribes and state worked together to develop the Pacific Salmon Treaty that governs shared U.S. and Canadian salmon fisheries. In 1986 came the Timber/Fish/Wildlife Agreement that provided protection for fish and wildlife on private timberlands while also ensuring a healthy timber industry. Next came the 1989 Centennial Accord that further cemented the government-to-government relationship between the tribes and state.

All of these accomplishments clearly show the great things that can be done when we choose to work together. We can't afford to lose that.

That doesn't mean we agree on everything. We don't. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can't come to an agreement. The case of fish-blocking culverts is a good example.

After many months of negotiations failed, the tribes were forced as a last resort in 2001 to file a lawsuit against the state to fix fish-blocking culverts under state roads that closed access to hundreds of miles of good salmon habitat. The federal court agreed that culverts blocking fish passage violate tribal treaty fishing rights and gave the state 17 years to fix the problem.

While we are disappointed that the state has appealed the ruling, we will continue to work together for the health of the salmon and all of our natural resources. That's because we know cooperation is the way forward. It always has been and always will be.

Billy Frank Jr. is chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (www.nwifc.org).

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