State still billions short in repairing culverts that threaten treaty rights and salmon

TVW has an update on how the state is doing responding to a court to the Culvert Case. Back in 2007, a federal court ordered the state to repair state-owned fish blocking culverts in western Washington.

Just over a year ago the same court issued an injunction forcing the state to fix the culverts, but the state quickly appealed that decision:

“The salmon needs our help now,” Frank said. “Salmon habitat throughout the region continues to be damaged and destroyed faster than we can repair it, and the trend is not improving. This ruling is a step in the right direction.”

Blocking culverts deny salmon access to hundreds of miles of good habitat in western Washington streams, affecting the fish in all stages of their life cycle. State agencies told the Legislature in 1995 that fixing culverts was one of the most cost-effective strategies for restoring salmon habitat and increasing natural salmon production. In 1997 state agencies estimated that every dollar spent fixing culverts would generate four dollars worth of additional salmon production. Recent studies support the state’s findings.

In the ruling Martinez wrote that the state’s duty to fix the culverts does not arise from a “broad environmental servitude” by the state to the treaty tribes, but rather a “narrow and specific treaty-based duty that attaches when the state elects to block rather than bridge a salmon-bearing stream. . .”

“Judge Martinez’s ruling was clear,” Frank said. “Our treaty-reserved right to harvest salmon also includes the right to have those salmon protected so that they are available for harvest, not only by the tribes, but by everyone who lives here.”

Despite seven years of negotiations following the original decision, the state is apparently still $2.4 billion short in repairing the culverts.