News from the Front #79  

Dear John:  An Open Letter to the Tribes

Mr. John Platt, an employee of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), though not writing on its behalf, prepared an extensive response to News from the Front #75.  You may read it here; this is my response:  

With respect to Columbia River flow, the State of Washington specifically asked the National Academy of Sciences what adverse effect, if any, might arise from diverting from 250,000 to 1.3 million acre-feet more water from the Columbia.  Presented with solid evidence that the impacts were too small to measure, the Academy responded that "precise and credible forecasts of specific outcomes of these withdrawals are beyond current scientific capabilities and knowledge".  

The Academy refused even to evaluate the work of Dr. Anderson, who provides the only model that fits the strikingly non-linear relationship of within-season survival data.  His work and the work of others confirms that there are only two variables with any perceptible influence on survival:  temperature and distance traveled.  The Academy's performance was a shameful exercise in political science, not real science, and its pronouncements about "risk" to fish are meaningless.  Everything is always "at risk"; the only meaningful information comes from quantifying the risk.

There are probably  areas in the Columbia Basin where more flow might benefit fish, but only the deluded think that the mainstem Columbia River is one of them.  Additional withdrawals from some small tributaries may hurt fish, but one particularly asinine feature of the Columbia River Initiative is to facilitate such withdrawals with "mitigation" by mainstem water.   Perhaps that is because very rich environmentalists seek to build their resorts along these tributaries.

Even 250,000 additional acre-feet of water from the mainstem could provide for continued growth in jobs and income in Eastern Washington, where many Tribal members live, for decades.  But such economic development does not suit the interests of those who would move all but the wealthy elites into urban enclaves.

At the behest of these elites, fronted by Tribes, environmentalists, and moles in the agencies, we now incinerate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in public funds to micromanage reservoir releases to achieve tiny incremental changes in mainstem flows.  This program is probably more wasteful, on a cost-per-fish basis, than any other environmental program in the world.  

You point to temperature effects, but there are only two effects of importance.  First, the dams and reservoirs serve as giant flywheels, keeping things cooler earlier on, and warmer later on.  Second, the reservoirs at all times provide deep, cool water refuge for migrating fish that almost certainly improves migration conditions on balance.  There is no evidence to suggest that fish have lost their "migration timing" by reason of any alterations in flow.

We do agree that there has been little focus on harvest and hatchery management.  Everyone, regrettably including the Tribes, has focused upon the dams because that is where the money is.  What you call a "salmon-industrial-process" has nothing to do with industry:  it is a "salmon-governmental-process" whereby groups that ought to be allied are manipulated into conflict with each other, destroying the common wealth of the Region to serve the interests of a tiny, dangerous elite. 

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote (through the character of Mr. Rosewater), that there was a "river of wealth", and that if one put the right pressure on the right people, one would "be shown a place on the riverbank, and handed a bucket all your own. Slurp as much as you want, but try to keep the racket of your slurping down. A poor man might hear."  This is the Faustian bargain the Tribes have made.

Ordinary Tribal members do not benefit at all.  A few Tribal leaders do get to fly back East, hobnob with the Kennedys, and meet with the New York Times editorial board, but they are just being used.  While having lunch with Mr. Lannan recently (God rest his soul), he or one of the other elder biologists present  told me that he noticed that there were no more Tribal biologists on the scene now than there were during the Boldt era.  Most of the money flows to white consultants with their complex and ultimately useless computer models (like Mr. Mobrand), leaving only crumbs for Tribal members.

Ordinary Tribal members, and ordinary whites, want to see fish in the rivers they can catch and eat.  Both groups understand that there is nothing wrong with using hatcheries to put more fish in the rivers.  But this is not the goal of the elites with whom the Tribes have aligned themselves.

The Native American I respect above all others for his courage and wisdom, Russell Means, speaking of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, warns that "having a bureau of any kind of ethnic affairs is repugnant,  it's anti-democratic, it is communistic".  He says that "communism is alive and well on reservations run by the United States government".  I stand with him in "believ[ing] in returning to where you began, which is individual liberty".  From that perspective, your desire to "encourag[e] a system of conservation" like the Columbia River Initiative is, whether you know it or not, a desire further to enthrone those  you deride.  

At the end of your letter, you wonder whether I (or presumably those whom I represent) "can assist us in taking the keys away and placing them in the hands where they belong".  I have little  hope that the Tribes will renounce their Faustian bargain, cease echoing the lies of the eco-fascists, and look to exercise their sovereignty in practical ways not the subject of white-funded planning documents.  Once the elites taught the Tribes, falsely,  that the Stevens Treaties provided for allocation by the elites, rather than the right of all citizens to take fish in common in the rivers of this great Region, the elites corrupted the Tribes.

But I can still dream of radical change, where those who grow the salmon and release them, whether by hatcheries or sound land management, have important rights to them; where river-based authorities, controlled by local citizens, issue the licenses to take the fish and receive the revenues therefrom; and where we abandon the foolish exercise of chasing salmon all over the ocean in mixed-stock fisheries that are inherently unmanageable.  I can still dream that the Tribes, and my own race, will someday rebel against the Matrix formed by the "salmon-governmental-complex" and all of the other complexes.  

On paper, we the people still hold the keys, but the promises of that paper, the Constitution, threaten to go the way of so many Tribal treaties, to be honored only when convenient to the controlling elites.  When the Tribes and the common folk of the Pacific Northwest stand together in truth against the lies of the elites, maybe we can use those keys to unlock some progress in salmon management.  From my perspective, first the Tribes have to refocus their hired guns on making salmon, not dipping buckets.

James Buchal, January 17, 2005

You have permission to reprint this article, and are encouraged to do so. The sooner people figure out what's going on, the quicker we'll have more fish in the rivers.

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