Whoever you are, whatever you do and wherever you live in the state of Washington, it is to your benefit to support state and tribal co-management of the fisheries resource.

There are a number of reasons why this is undeniably true. For one, it’s the law. Co-management is legally mandated by federal law. For another, it avoids litigation that can waste millions of dollars, years of time and tons of energy; yet seldom accomplishes a thing. Co-management also provides an opportunity for the people of this nation to do something they can be proud of — keep their word. The tribes are here to stay, and their treaty rights are as valid as the Constitution that protects them.

So, what does this mean to the fish? For that matter, what does it mean to us humans?

By staying out of court and at the government-to-government negotiation table, we can seek common solutions to common problems. We can work together, as a team, to protect and restore salmon habitat. We can produce cooperative harvest plans and catch accountability programs. I know we can do these things, and much more, because we have already done them. In fact, the past 15 years were unofficially dubbed the “era of cooperation” between the state and the tribes, and it was an era of progress. Co-management, based on understanding and mutual respect, is the one and only path to progress in natural resource management in the future.

Over the past year, however, the spirit of cooperation between the state and the tribes has been threatened. There are many reasons this has been the case, ranging from partisan politics to increased pressure to exploit the environment. These things lead to the path of renewed conflict.

The tribes don’t want that, and neither should you. We are all in the same boat. Through co-management, tribes and other governments can keep that boat afloat. Without it, we all sink.

One of the first things we will see is intervention by the federal government into the affairs we should be managing ourselves. It will come in the form of listings of salmon species under the Endangered Species Act, a sign of failure by all of us to meet our responsibilities in the proper manner.

As Mitch Johnson, chairman of state Fish and Wildlife Commission stated in a recent joint gathering, “Only through regular, meaningful dialogue will we be able to evolve a clear understanding of the processes that should guide state and tribal discussions — discussions that will meet the needs of both parties by protecting the natural resources we care about while maintaining the fabric of our communities.” He said that fabric is torn right now but made a firm commitment to uphold court decisions defining tribal fishing rights. He is also committed to support the continued development of state/tribal cooperation, pointing out that we need to work together to repair that fabric.

We agree, but it won’t be easy. There are those who wish to divert us, despite the fact that such diversion could be disastrous for us all. This is a critical time for those who truly care about our common future in this state, and who understand the need for the spirit of cooperation, to speak out in support of that spirit and help us all get back on the right path.