Tribes release habitat recovery strategy

“As the salmon disappear, so do our cultures and treaty rights. We are at a crossroads and we are running out of time.”

These words of the late tribal leader Billy Frank Jr. become more urgent every day.

Despite massive harvest cuts, careful use of hatcheries and a large investment in fixing salmon habitat over the past 40 years, salmon populations continue to decline as their habitat disappears faster than it can be fixed.

That’s why the treaty Indian tribes in Western Washington have developed a strategy for identifying and protecting the lands, waters and natural processes that are central to our rights, resources and homelands.

The effort is called gwadzadad (pronounced gwa-zah-did) in the Lushootseed language. It translates to “Teaching of our Ancestors” and reflects the reality that our beliefs and teachings are learned from our homelands and can’t be separated from tribal cultures and heritage or any of our actions today.

It is a unified tribal habitat strategy designed to organize and focus work around key habitats and shared goals necessary to protect tribal treaty rights and resources. It aims to preserve and restore the natural functions and connectivity of our river, marine and upland ecosystems, and to seek accountability for decisions on the use of our lands and waters.

The effort is based on what we know is actually needed to achieve ecosystem health, not what we think is possible to achieve given current habitat conditions. It is not a retreat to the past, but a long-term vision for a future with healthy resources for everyone.

Gwadzadad calls for coordination and accountability across tribal, local, state and federal governments. It will require transparent accounting of habitat conditions, resource allocations and how we are managing habitat for salmon and other treaty-protected resources. A science-based accounting system will measure the difference between current conditions and what is needed to fix the declining productivity of fish, shellfish, plants and wildlife.

Climate change and population growth are already impacting our region and creating an urgency impossible to measure. We must work harder today to address the habitat loss and damage these changes bring.

We are not starting from scratch with gwadzadad. It builds on two other important tribal initiatives from the past decade.

The first is the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative begun in 2011. It calls for the federal government to meet its obligation to uphold treaty rights and achieve salmon recovery through better coordination of agencies and programs. The federal government has both the authority and responsibility to protect treaty tribal rights and resources. And as the tribal victory in the U.S. Supreme Court on the culvert case in June showed, the state of Washington shares the obligation to protect our treaty-reserved resources.

The second is the State of Our Watersheds, a comprehensive report on the ongoing and increasing loss of habitat for salmon and other treaty-protected resources. The report, first issued in 2012 and updated regularly, proved the fact that we are losing habitat faster than we are restoring it. The State of Our Watersheds Report is considered by many state agencies to be the most authoritative source on the status of our watersheds and key impediments to their health.

If we are going to recover salmon, we will have to do it together. That is why we are also building a coalition of sport and commercial fishermen, conservation groups and others to collaborate on solving our shared concerns about the future of salmon.

The decline of salmon and their habitat and the damage to our ecosystems hasn’t happened overnight. It took more than a century of poor logging practices, development in river floodplains, polluted stormwater runoff, unregulated agriculture and many other factors to get us where we are today.

It takes a long view to solve century-old problems, and that’s what gwadzadad does. It offers a long-term, multi-generational approach that can help us achieve the future we want for ourselves and create accountability for the decisions we are making today for those who will come after us.

You can download a copy of gwadzadad at nwtreatytribes.org.

Lorraine Loomis is chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

More in Opinion

What a surprise: Democrats eyeing the need for higher taxes

Even with a robust economy, the majority party may seek more revenue to carry out its wish list.

Growing resistance to corporate incentives | Brunell

The circumstances leading to Amazon’s decision to scrap its New York City… Continue reading

Lawmakers on the road to finding car tab relief

One of the last spitball fights among lawmakers in the 2018 session… Continue reading

Student debt draining retired income | Brunell

Lots has been written about students exiting college saddled with hefty student… Continue reading

Washington farmers need tariff relief | Brunell

The good news is Washington’s cherry crop is projected to be as… Continue reading

What happens after the bin? Behind the scenes at the recycling center

For many residents in Auburn, recycling isn’t a chore, it’s a life… Continue reading

Private sector is stepping up for tourism | Brunell

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. That’s particularly true… Continue reading

3 years in the making: new law on police use of deadly force

Legislators are about to pass a bill that will permit officers to kill only in ‘good faith’

Gov. Jay Inslee. REPORTER FILE PHOTO
Inslee sounding more presidential than ever

“Washington’s Unwritten Chapter” was the title of the State of the State… Continue reading

Male-only no more: The next House Speaker will be a woman

Frank Chopp’s reign as speaker of the state House of Representatives will… Continue reading

East Coast seaports ramping up capabilities | Brunell

While many eyes are fixed on trade talks between our country and… Continue reading

New year will bring new libraries, opportunities

On Jan. 16, I will celebrate my one-year anniversary as the King… Continue reading