Alarms are being raised about proposed jurisdictional changes to Lake Roosevelt’s stellar fisheries.
Rich Landers of the Spokane Spokesman-Review has been asking questions about a tribal bid that could affect fisheries licensing, enforcement and management on the sprawling Upper Columbia reservoir, but not getting many answers.
He’s being ignored by the Colville Tribes and Spokane Tribe, and over a two-month period says he was also only able to get a single response out of a spokesman for the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Secretary of Indian Affairs — a 119-word email message that stated that the agency was carefully considering the proposal and its reply.
That didn’t set well with Landers.
“The unpublic approach to this shift in jurisdiction should alarm sportsmen because it’s the sort of closed-door management they can expect if tribes take over a major publicly funded fishery,” he wrote in a blog that brought daylight to the issue earlier this week.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife would like some answers too.
Regional manager Steve Pozzanghera says the issue goes back to 1994’s Cassidy Decision by Judge Justin L. Quackenbush in U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington. Basically, the lake beneath the 1,310-foot contour line, about 20 feet above full pool, falls under state jurisdiction.
The tribes don’t agree, but that hasn’t kept the parties from working together to bolster Roosevelt’s fish stocks.
The lake is one of the best places in the state for chunky rainbows, which are reared by WDFW net pen volunteers. At the behest of tribal managers, the state may change the limit to target hatchery trout and protect wild redbands.
This year its kokanee, which are raised at a tribal facility, are bursting at the scales. Anglers have been agog over their size; a Westside radio show host has made back-to-back trips to sample the action.
And everyone agrees that northern pike must not gain a foothold in the impoundment.
In the background, however, the tribes have been prodding the Department of the Interior to consider federal rulemaking that would expand their authority on the lake.
Left out of those discussions, WDFW sent a “detailed” letter to DOI on the success of comanagement, as well as its legal questions.
The state didn’t get a response, though Pozzanghera says in fairness didn’t ask for one, but afterwards, the Governor’s Office brought WDFW, the tribes, National Park Service and Bureau of Reclamation together for a meeting.
“At that point we were encouraged we were asked to the table,” says Pozzanghera.
But then the tribes came out with their proposal, downloadable here.
It focuses on managing the “Reservation zones” on the lake, though there’s not a specific definition of what that meanS outside of “within the Colville Reservation.”
Pozzanghera says it alternates between near bank, far bank and midriver.
That, obviously, could impact recreational anglers.
If, say, DOI goes with midriver as the boundary of reservation zone, it potentially means that unlike on the Lower Columbia, where a Washington or Oregon license is good to fish from shore to shore, the lake would be more like the Strait of Georgia, where one needs two licenses (Washington and Canadian) to fish.
Conceivably, to fish where the Colville and Spokane Reservations border the lake south of Hunters one might need three.
But right now that’s all speculation as the tribes aren’t talking. (Tribal managers and biologists can be limited by the business councils on speaking with the media, but also seem to ignore questions.)
Among those 100-plus words from the Bureau of Indian Affairs spokeswoman, she told Landers there would be a chance for interested parties to give their input “concerning any action the Department may be considering that would impact the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.”
But that’s not the fisheries, exactly.
Pozzanghera acknowledges there’s room for improvement in how they’re managed and enforced, but the lack of information coming out of DOI as it reviews the tribes’ proposals has been puzzling and frustrating.
“We’ve been very clear with the Department of the Interior with our beliefs. Cooperative management has been working well and overall, we don’t see the need for DOI to intervene and promulgate rules in the state of Washington,” he said.
If this were Western Washington and, say, 2016 Puget Sound salmon management, the federal government would tell the state and tribes to work it out themselves.
Then again, the feds might also say, here, tribes, have the whole damn thing.
The latter doesn’t seem likely; the former seems more appropriate.