Tag Archives: Skokomish Tribe

WDFW Says 2016 DOI Opinion On Skokomish Border ‘Factually And Legally Deficient’

Washington state salmon managers are appealing to the Department of the Interior to set aside a 2016 opinion that has kept sport anglers from fishing the lower Skokomish for plentiful Chinook and coho for four years.

Citing research by two outside historians drawing on multiple documents, maps and statements from the late 1800s and early 1900s dug out of the National Archives and elsewhere, WDFW says that a federal Solicitor General reached “an erroneous conclusion” that the boundaries of the Skokomish Reservation stretched all the way across the river to the other bank.

A SIGN POSTED ALONG THE SOUTH BANK OF THE SKOKOMISH RIVER BY THE SKOKOMISH TRIBE WARNS ANGLERS AWAY FROM THE BANKS AS 2016’S RETURN OF CHINOOK TO THE STATE HATCHERY FILLED THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Oct. 3 letter from WDFW Director Kelly Susewind to DOI Secretary David Bernhardt says the opinion “was issued without
input by Washington State, and our subsequent analysis shows it is factually and legally deficient.”

And it requests that the matter be given immediate attention as the start of the 2020 North of Falcon salmon season negotiations is just a few months away.

“With this new information in hand, I am writing to request that Solicitor Opinion M-37034 be reversed, or at a minimum be withdrawn,” Susewind asks Bernhardt and DOI.

The Skokomish River is important because it sees one of Puget Sound’s larger returns of kings, reared at a state hatchery near Shelton, and is productive from the bank. In the starving orca era, terminal salmon fisheries will be increasingly important.

But with that opinion hanging over their heads, WDFW has had to close its seasons to keep state anglers out of legal limbo with the feds. Fishermen rallied in summer 2016 in protest. The 2017 run saw tens of thousands of Chinook in excess of broodstock needs.

HUNTER SHELTON SHOWS OFF A SKOKOMISH RIVER CHINOOK FROM THE LAST SEASON IT WAS OPEN TO SPORT ANGLERS, 2015. IT BIT EGGS UNDER A BOBBER. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

And so with negotiations with the Skokomish Tribe stalled and raising the issue with the myriad Western Washington tribes at North of Falcon a nonstarter, the agency is now looking for relief from DOI.

While respective of tribal sovereignty, treaty fishing rights and historical links to the Great Bend of Hood Canal, Susewind’s letter just as firmly makes the case that at no time was the entire width of the river part of the tribe’s reservation, nor was it ever ceded to the Skokomish by the federal government before statehood.

That argument is supported by General Land Office Survey plat maps from 1861, 1873 — which in particular paid close attention to the boundaries of the reservation, according to WDFW — 1874, 1885 and 1909, along with what Susewind calls “perhaps the most significant piece of evidence on this point,” an 1874 letter discovered in the National Archives.

It was written in May of that year by federal Indian Agent Edwin Eells, who is described by Susewind as being tasked with attending to the Skokomish Tribe’s “needs,” and sent three months after President Ulysses S. Grant established the borders of the reservation via executive order.

It states:

“The present reservation lies on the North side of the river extending from the mouth about 3 1/2 miles up the river.”

FEDERAL INDIAN AGENT EDWIN EELLS’ MAY 25, 1874 LETTER TO H.E.P. SMITH, COMMANDER OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, ON THE LOCATION OF THE SKOKOMISH RESERVATION’S SOUTHERN BORDER STATES IT IS THE NORTH BANK OF THE SKOKOMISH RIVER. (NATIONAL ARCHIVES)

According to Susewind, the correspondence from Eells to H.E.P. Smith, Commander of Indian Affairs in Washington DC, was “apparently never discovered or considered” by DOI’s Hilary C. Tompkins, who authored that 2016 opinion.

“The correspondence clears any ambiguity about whether the local federal Indian agents intended the Reservation to extend across the entire River to its south bank and encompass the River’s full width — they did not,” Susewind asserts.

As for her opinion, Tompkins argued that tribal fishers’ use of weirs “required use and control of the entire width of rivers and their beds.”

She wrote that the 1855 treaty with the tribe and Grant’s order essentially reserved the riverbed along the border of the reservation so that it did not pass to Washington at statehood under what is known as the Equal Footing Doctrine.

At statehood, navigable waters were conveyed to the states by the federal government, an act affirmed in a 1926 Supreme Court decision and essentially upheld in a 2001 ruling that there had to be clear and compelling reasons not to, both cited by Susewind. The Skokomish is considered navigable, in pioneer days to above the reservation’s western boundary.

Tompkins assessment was panned by Dr. Gail Thompson of Gail Thompson Research of Seattle, who stated Tompkins “conducted inadequate research and overlooked much information that would have led to a different conclusion.”

“I conclude that the anthropological and ethnohistoric data do not support the Solicitor’s Opinion that the riverbed adjacent to the reservation was included within its boundaries,” Thompson writes in a 77-page report entitled “Anthropological and Ethnohistoric Information Related to the Riverbed Adjacent to the
Skokomish River.”

“To the contrary,” Thompson continues, “government maps and documents consistently show that the southern boundary of the reservation was located along the north bank of the Skokomish River.”

MAPS FROM 1861, 1873 — LIKE THIS ONE — 1874, 1885 AND 1909 CITED BY A PAIR OF RESEARCHERS CONSISTENTLY SHOW THE SOUTHERN BORDER OF THE SKOKOMISH RESERVATION TO BE THE NORTH BANK OF THE SKOKOMISH RIVER. (GENERAL LAND OFFICE)

Dr. Douglas Littlefield of Littlefield Historical Research in California also looked into the issue, and his 111-page report concludes:

“Based upon extensive historical research in multiple archival sources, governmental reports, and historical newspaper accounts, [my] report clearly demonstrates that federal Indian Agents in Washington Territory expressly did not intend to include the bed of the Skokomish River when they established the boundaries of the Skokomish Indian Reservation. Instead, contemporaneous understanding by Indian Agents as well as other historical observers was that the Reservation’s southern boundary lay along the low-water mark of the north bank of the Skokomish River. The historical evidence in support of this conclusion is substantial and includes U.S. General Land Office survey plats and field notes as well as extensive documentation from the files of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and published annual reports of that agency.”

His “Historical Report on the Skokomish River and the Southern Boundary of the Skokomish Indian Reservation” states the border was defined by federal officials in the Office of Indian Affairs and confirmed by Grant’s order.

Littlefield’s and Thompson’s services were procured through the state Attorney General’s Office.

How this all turns out will be very interesting to watch.

Meanwhile, the work that WDFW has put into challenging the 2016 DOI Solicitor General’s opinion is notable.

The depth of the research, the tone of Susewind’s letter and who else he cc’ed it to — the state’s Congressional delegation, numerous DOI officials, the Skokomish Tribe, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, and select Olympia lawmakers — lend it a confident air.

Word of it emerged publicly this morning during the Director’s Report to the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

But the question is whether the feds have enough time to review these new facts and make a decision in time for this coming North of Falcon, or when.

ANGLERS CARRY SIGNS AT A 2016 RALLY TO REOPEN THE SKOKOMISH TO SPORT FISHING. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

In Bid To Reopen Skokomish, WDFW To Propose 2018 Salmon Fishery

After two years without a chance to fish the Skokomish for state-reared Chinook and coho, salmon anglers might soon be back on the southern Hood Canal river.

WDFW will propose a fishery there during the upcoming North of Falcon negotiations with Western Washington tribes.

“We cannot — and pretty strong words — go another year without fishing in the Skokomish River,” agency Fish Program manager Ron Warren told the Kitsap Poggie Club on Wednesday evening, according to a Kitsap Sun article.

WHILE FELLOW ANGLERS HOPE TO LAND THEIR OWN HEFTY SKOKOMISH HATCHERY CHINOOK, RANDY HART SHOWS OFF HIS ESTIMATED 25-POUNDER, CAUGHT IN AUGUST 2010. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

Access to the river has been in question since 2016 when a federal solicitor’s opinion sided with the Skokomish Tribe that the entire width of the stream was included in their reservation boundaries.

That effectively blocked recreational anglers from fishing for the plentiful salmon returning to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s George Adams Hatchery.

A SIGN POSTED ALONG THE SKOKOMISH RIVER BY THE SKOKOMISH TRIBE WARNS ANGLERS AWAY FROM THE SOUTH BANK AS 2016’S RETURN OF CHINOOK TO THE STATE HATCHERY FILLED THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Last year, the tribe harvested 55,000 fall Chinook, according to sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck, while another 35,129 hatchery adults and 8,353 jacks returned to the state facility, 37,812 of which were surplus to spawning needs.

Urabeck suggested that had the river been open, anglers might have caught around 15,000 of those kings, but instead could only fish for them in the canal, where they’re notoriously difficult to catch, and perhaps took home fewer than 500.

“What a waste, what unfairness. Time to bring this to a head,” he said.

He’s been instrumental in bringing pressure to bear on the situation, including a rally at the hatchery, and questioning the transfer of eyed sockeye eggs from the Baker River to the Skokomish, as a means to get the state to reopen the salmon fishery, and it appears WDFW in concert with the state Attorney General’s Office will now make a hard push on that front.

ANGLERS LISTEN TO A SPEAKER DURING THE 2016 RALLY AT WDFW’S GEORGE ADAMS HATCHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Sun‘s report states that Mike Grossman, a deputy attorney general, says that state officials feel that the solicitor “erred” in that decision, that — and here I’m using reporter Tad Sooter’s paraphrasing — “they don’t believe Congress intended to bar the state from taking ownership of the river as a navigable waterway when creating the reservation — one legal test established by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

With sovereign immunity laws protecting the Skokomish Tribe and federal government from a state lawsuit in this case, putting anglers on the river essentially forces the other party or parties to sue the state.

“And why would they do that if we’re not fishing? … I think we need to get back in the river and fish,” Grossman said, according to the paper.

He advised the Poggies — this would extend to fishermen in the general public as well — “not to get furious at the Skokomish,” likening the situation to when two neighbors have a property disagreement. Those are better settled in a court of law than how Rand Paul and Rene Boucher like to sort things out.

Urabeck credited Norm Reinhardt, the Poggie’s president, for organizing this week’s meeting, though he was disappointed that the chairman of the Skokomish Tribe, Guy Miller, or tribal representatives weren’t in attendance.

He says he’s repeatedly reached out to them “to help the state resolve issues that motivates the tribe to deny us a very popular and important fishery,” but to no avail.

According to the Kitsap Sun, Miller was not surprised by the state’s push, and he continued to claim the entire river was the Skokomish’s.

He also implied that without anglers on the river, “conditions have improved since the tribe reasserted control,” Sooter wrote. Fisherman poo was blamed for a 2009 tribal shellfish harvest closure in nearby Annas Bay.

Urabeck says those problems had been resolved by the state as of the last fishery, in 2015, but he extended an offer to “do more.”

“As the representative for five sport fishing/conservation groups that are working together to regain our salmon fisheries, I was very proud to see the respectful and civil discussion by representatives of Puget Sound Anglers, Steelhead Trout Club of Washington, Bremerton Sportsmen’s Club, Coastal Conservation Association, as well as a room full of Poggie Club members,” he says. “Walked away a bit more hopeful and very proud to have been a participant in the discussions.”

The next steps are for the state and Western Washington tribes to put out their 2018 salmon forecasts, craft proposed fisheries such as one for a Skokomish River Chinook and coho season, negotiate a deal and send the package to federal fishery overseers for approval.

Baker, Skokomish Sockeye Issues Raised With Washington Fish Commission

Sockeye issues are boiling to a head in Western Washington.

Sportfishing representatives went to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in late October to ask for a more equitable share of one river’s salmon.

And they expressed opposition to the use of eggs from those fish so a tribe elsewhere can try and jumpstart a run but in the meanwhile are blocking recreational fishermen from accessing state hatchery-raised Chinook and coho.

A SIGN POSTED ALONG THE SKOKOMISH RIVER BY THE SKOKOMISH TRIBE WARNS ANGLERS AWAY FROM THE BANKS AS 2016’S RETURN OF CHINOOK TO THE STATE HATCHERY FILLED THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“This egg transfer program needs to be put on hold until the sportfishing harvest inequities for the Baker Lake sockeye run is addressed and the sport salmon fishery is reestablished on the Skokomish River,” Al Senyohl of the Steelhead Trout Club of Washington told the commission in late October. “What’s missing here in the whole equation is opportunity — opportunity for us to get our fair share on the Skagit River and opportunity for us to fish on the Skokomish River.”

Ultimately, Senyohl and others are trying to use whatever leverage they can to get more state focus on reopening the Skokomish, which was closed in 2016 and this year, and where some 35,000-plus surplus Chinook have returned to WDFW’s George Adams Hatchery this fall.

Fishing advocate Frank Urabeck reports that with the Skokomish Tribe having harvested 55,000 Chinook this year, he figures that if the river had been open, anglers might have caught as many as 15,000.

The Baker sockeye eggs come from several hundred fish captured at Puget Sound Energy’s Baker River trap and are part of a broader, longterm enrichment of salmon runs in southern Hood Canal as Tacoma Power updates their dams there.

But anglers are leery that they will ever be able to access those fish following on the Skokomish’s use of a federal solicitor’s opinion to take over the entire width of the river.

“Why are we rewarding a neighbor who is behaving badly? Why?” asked Norm Reinhart of the Kitsap Poggie Club. “I understand that the (sockeye) may not belong to WDFW, but we most certainly are supporting that transfer with our science and our staff. Why are we doing that?”

(For the state’s position, go here.)

It has angler advocates looking around for options.

“We’re going to have to play hardball again,” Ron Garner, state president of Puget Sound Anglers, told the commission.

Back up on the Skagit River, as sockeye runs have increased to the Baker in recent years, North Sound tribes and recreational anglers have benefited, but in two of the past four summers, there’s been a sharp harvest inequity in favor of the former fishermen.

That’s due to returns that have come in lower than preseason forecasts. While tribes fish to that forecast, it can mean far fewer sockeye are hauled up to Baker Lake, a prime sportfishing opportunity.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff outlined several possible ways to address that for the commission.

One idea is to use a Columbia River spring Chinook-like 30 percent run buffer before an inseason run update, but the agency appears hesitant to do that because of perceived tribal pushback because of potentially not being able to harvest their share.

Staffers appear to prefer improving run modeling and increasing the sport fishing area on the Skagit River to better balance the harvest.

But Urabeck wanted the commission to get involved.

“Given the complexity, seriousness of the situation, and inability so far for the Department to adequately address the harvest imbalance issues, we ask that the commission have your Fish Committee work with us and the department to achieve the cooperation of the affected Skagit Basin tribes to secure harvest fairness and equity,” Urabeck asked commissioners. “It might be appropriate to have the Fish Committee also take a look at the implementation plan for the transfer of Baker sockeye eyed eggs to the Skokomish Tribe’s Salt-water Park Sockeye Hatchery. We ask that you also could encourage (WDFW) Director (Jim) Unsworth and Governor (Jay) Inslee to renew their efforts with the Skokomish Tribe to allow Skokomish River sport salmon fishing to resume in 2018.”

Members of the Fish Committee include Vice Chair Larry Carpenter, Bob Kehoe, Dave Graybill and Kim Thorburn.

At least two expressed interest in taking some of the issues up. Carpenter noted that without other fishing opportunities on the Skagit in recent years, sockeye’s all that anybody — tribal and recreational alike — have really had.

Next Thursday, November 16, Tacoma Power is hosting a public meeting on Skokomish River salmon restoration. It will be held at the Cushman Fire Hall (240 North Standstill Drive) and begins at 6 p.m

WDFW, Utilities Holding Meeting June 29 On Baker-Skokomish Sockeye Egg Transfer

State fishery managers and utility officials are holding a special meeting later this month to shed more light on a project using North Sound sockeye to seed a Hood Canal watershed.

It’s being held the evening of June 29 in Sedro-Woolley to address the continued transfer of fertilized eggs from the Baker Lake system to the Skokomish River.

That’s drawing concern from anglers who object to providing the eggs while the Skokomish Tribe uses a federal solicitor’s opinion to block access to a popular salmon fishery fueled by a state Chinook and coho hatchery.

A PLAN TO SEED LAKE CUSHMAN AND THE SKOKOMISH SYSTEM WITH SOCKEYE FROM THE NORTH SOUND IS GETTING A FROSTY RECEPTION FROM SOME ANGLERS. (JOEL NOWACK, USFS)

Fishermen would also like more surety that, if the egg program that’s literally still in its infancy is successful, nontribal fishermen will be able to access returning harvestable salmon in Hood Canal and Lake Cushman.

In late April we wrote about the Steelhead Trout Club’s request for WDFW to hold a public meeting before signing an agreement with the Skokomish Tribe, Tacoma Power and Puget Sound Energy to continue supplying eggs from Baker fish, and this past Saturday morning, it was the subject of a segment on 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line.

“The [Skokomish] should reopen the river to recreational fisheries as a prerequisite for giving them any eggs from the Baker because it will have some impact, it will have some impact on our (Baker Lake) fishery,” maintains Frank Urabeck, a sportfisheries activist.

As part of the federal relicensing of its dams on the North Fork Skokomish River, Tacoma Power is upgrading fish passage around them as well as building a pair of hatcheries to rear as many as 2 million sockeye and 375,000 spring Chinook, plus some steelhead and coho.

The red salmon eggs are coming from 400 adults collected at the Baker River trap and which are supposed to represent an equal split between state and tribal shares. That pencils out to around up to 500,000 eyed eggs annually, though Tacoma Power states it was incubating 250,000 for release into Lake Cushman this year.

Last year was the first year, and Tacoma Power and the Skokomish Tribe are footing the entire bill for the egg transfer, according to WDFW.

The agency’s Edward Eleazer says the program will initially run for five years to see if sockeye actually rear in and return to Cushman before a long-term agreement is implemented.

He says that Tacoma Power is modeling fish passage at Cushman on Puget Sound Energy’s successful juvenile collector at Baker Lake.

With dams on other watersheds around Pugetropolis, the program could also serve as a model for building sockeye runs elsewhere, but the equipment is not inexpensive and could be a tough sell to utility managers and ratepayers unless dam relicensing is at stake.

In comments about the egg-transfer implementation agreement prepared for WDFW several months ago, Urabeck found vague terminology that “… fishery opportunity would likely be provided in Marine Area 12, north of Ayok (sic) Rock and possibly in Cushman Lake” “unacceptable” and said it shouldn’t be signed unless it specifically guaranteed sport access to salmon.

And he said that broodstock collection at the Baker River trap shouldn’t begin until after Aug. 1 to minimize impacts to the Baker Lake fishery, and that if inseason updates peg the run at 30,000 to 40,000 only 100,000 eggs should be provided, nothing if the return is under 30,000.

Puget Sound Anglers president Ron Garner is urging organization members to attend the June 29 meeting, which will be held at Sedro-Woolley High School, 1235 3rd St., starting at 6 p.m.

He and others also want WDFW to move back the Baker Lake sockeye opener from July 8 to July 6, when it opened last year thanks to good early numbers. The lake had otherwise been opening on July 10 in recent years, July 1 in 2012, and varying dates in the two prior Julys based on run timing and strength.

Urabeck says July 6 should be the opener regardless of how many sockeye have been trucked up to the lake, leaving it up to anglers whether or not to participate.

Meeting Asked For On Baker-Skokomish Sockeye Egg Transfer

Washington’s oldest fishing club wants WDFW to hold a public meeting before more North Sound sockeye eggs are sent to Hood Canal, where a boundary dispute is keeping state anglers off a popular salmon river.

The Steelhead Trout Club says the agency needs to detail the program before signing an agreement with the Skokomish Tribe, Tacoma Power and others to continue supplying fertilized eggs from Baker River fish.

“Given the Skokomish tribe’s (sic) hard line anti-sport fishing stance we oppose any further sockeye egg transfers, especially as the brood stock used to secure the eyed eggs is likely to come from fish that should have been placed in Baker Lake for the recreational fishery — as happened last year,” STC president Al Senyohl wrote in an April 19 letter to WDFW Director Jim Unsworth. “We ask that the department stand up against the tribal assault on sport fishing opportunities.”

Senyohl says 2016’s initial egg transfer added “insult to injury” — the closure of river fishing for plentiful hatchery Chinook and coho returning to the state’s George Adams Hatchery on the Skokomish, which led to an angler protest in late July.

It was closed after a federal solicitor issued an opinion that the entire width of the river was part of the Skokomish Reservation. The tribe posted no trespassing signs on trees above the south bank and WDFW advised anglers to heed the closure of the state fishery on the river.

A SIGN POSTED ALONG THE SKOKOMISH RIVER BY THE SKOKOMISH TRIBE WARNS ANGLERS AWAY FROM THE BANKS AS 2016’S RETURN OF CHINOOK TO THE STATE HATCHERY FILLED THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Fast forward to 2017 and nontribal anglers will again not be able to fish the river, as the Skokomish and WDFW were unable to reach an agreement during this year’s North of Falcon salmon negotiations.

That has left Senyohl, whose club traces its origins back to the 1920s, and others like longtime fishing advocate Frank Urabeck believing that for all intents and purposes, the recreational fishery on the Skoke is now “gone forever,” leaving them very disappointed.

Kyle Adicks, a salmon manager at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, sounds more optimistic.

He said the agency was disappointed there wasn’t a resolution through NOF, but it “does not signal we’re walking away from the issue.”

With help from Governor Jay Inslee’s office, WDFW says it plans to continue working with the Skokomish Tribe to “resolve the matter.” A well-informed source has told Northwest Sportsman they believe there’s hope in 2018.

Meanwhile, Adicks says WDFW is trying to keep the river boundary dispute and sockeye egg issues separate, and it does not sound like a meeting in Mt. Vernon, as STC is calling for, is being planned.

He says that continuing to help build new salmon runs in southern Hood Canal will benefit not just the tribes but other fishermen.

“The state’s been supportive of the program and wants to see it move forward,” Adicks says.

As part of licensing its dams on the North Fork Skokomish River, Tacoma Power is upgrading fish passage around them as well as building a pair of hatcheries to rear as many as 2 million sockeye and 375,000 spring Chinook, plus some steelhead and coho.

Eggs for the sockeye program are coming from 400 adults annually collected at the Baker River trap and which represent an equal split between state and tribal shares. Last year, over 24,000 returned to the trap, with more than 16,000 lifted into Baker Lake for fishing and spawning needs.

Eggs for the spring Chinook program are coming from WDFW’s Marblemount Hatchery.

Tacoma Power and the Skokomish Tribe are footing the entire bill.