OLYMPIA (August 7, 2006) Thousands of fishermen took to Lake Washington recently to fish for sockeye – arguably the most prized salmon in the Northwest. More than 50,000 sockeye were harvested by treaty tribal and non-Indian fishermen in the Lake Washington fishery. It was a thing of beauty to see this harvest accompanied by more than a hundred traditional tribal cedar canoes gliding through the lake, the culmination of the annual canoe journey hosted this year by the Muckleshoot Tribe.
The canoes opened many eyes to the long-practiced traditions of the tribes in the Pacific Northwest. So did the sockeye fishery, which must be credited to another long-practiced tradition – cooperation.
This valuable fishery didn’t just happen on its own. It was the result of hard work by tribal and state co-managers of the Cedar River system who produced most of these fish using a balanced approach to protect and restore salmon habitat while enhancing the runs through science-based hatchery programs.
In some important ways, King County is traveling the right path to protect salmon habitat. Last year the county put a new Critical Areas Ordinance into effect, the most powerful tool local governments can use to help salmon.
Despite being the most urban, most populated county in the region, King County has seized the opportunity to do the right thing by adopting new rules to protect water quality, restore wetlands and support in-stream salmon habitat. King County did all of this with minimal disturbance to private property rights, and maximum benefit to everyone who lives in the Puget Sound region.
In the months since enacting those rules, leaders in King County have been attacked locally, and now through a statewide initiative, I-933. Such actions are, unfortunately, as predictable as they are ill-advised.
There always seem to be those who put their own interests above everyone else’s. I-933 is a destructive, greedy initiative that should be sent back to its promoters wrapped in a dead sockeye.
If the so-called “property rights” initiative is approved by voters in November, we can start waving goodbye to many things that make the Puget Sound region a special place to live — not the least of which would be sockeye fishing on Lake Washington. We can also wave goodbye to any rightful claim that we are good stewards of the environment.
I-933 would effectively replace critically important environmental protection laws in favor of lawlessness in the form of property rights run amuck. This initiative would cost the state, and all the rest of us, more than we could ever afford to pay. It would wreak havoc with the environment we all depend on, and tie us up in court for decades to come.
Whether you’re Indian or non-Indian, fishing is a true measurement of the environmental and long-term economic health of the Northwest. These two strengths are always ultimately connected. If there is no fishing because of an unhealthy environment, or poor governmental choices, society will not long prosper.
Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
For more information, contact: Steve Robinson or Tony Meyer, NWIFC (360) 438-1180