Treaty tribes in western Washington were disappointed to learn today that state Attorney General Bob Ferguson will appeal the culvert case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tribes believe the state of Washington has made remarkable progress in the past four years toward meeting a federal court mandate to repair hundreds of fish-blocking culverts under state roads, said Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“Instead of continuing to appeal the culvert case, tribes think the state should use the momentum gained by those efforts to finish the job and focus on our shared goal of salmon recovery,” she said.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz agrees with the tribes.

“I am concerned that we are about to begin yet another chapter of fighting each other over who should do what, rather than rolling up our sleeves, standing shoulder to shoulder and investing our limited time, energy and resources toward saving salmon for future generations,” Franz wrote in an Aug. 11 letter to Ferguson.

“It’s time to work collectively and focus on actions that address and actively aid the many concerns that our tribal governments – and so many of our non-tribal residents – have been raising for years. It’s time to move forward, learn from the failings of the past, and devote ourselves to ensuring the presence of salmon for this and all generations to come,” she wrote.

Federal Court Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled early in the case that tribal treaty-reserved rights to harvest salmon include the right to have those salmon protected so they are available for harvest.

“Failing culverts deny our treaty-reserved fishing rights that include the right for salmon to be available for harvest,” Loomis said. “The right to harvest salmon was one of the few things we kept when we gave up nearly all the land in western Washington.”

The battle for salmon recovery is being lost because we are losing salmon habitat faster than it can be restored, Loomis said. “The culvert case offers a rare opportunity to achieve a net gain in habitat that salmon need so badly.”

When the culvert case was filed in 2001, nearly 1,500 state culverts blocked salmon access to more than 1,600 miles of good habitat, and harmed salmon at every stage of their life cycle.

Before the ruling, the state was fixing failed culverts so slowly that it would have taken more than 200 years to finish the job. By then few salmon would be left.

In 2013, Judge Martinez ordered state natural resources agencies to fix their barrier culverts by 2016. The court gave the state Department of Transportation 17 years to reopen about 450 of its 800 most significant fish-blocking culverts in western Washington.

Since 2013, the state has appealed the case and lost, then lost again when it asked the appeals court to reconsider.

Meanwhile, state agencies such as fish and wildlife, parks, and natural resources have stayed on schedule to fix nearly all of the culverts for which they are responsible.

The Department of Transportation has committed additional resources to the effort and is steadily working towards its requirements. Additional funding may be needed, but if DOT maintains its current pace, it will come close to meeting the court’s mandate.

“We are pleased with the cooperation that state agencies have shown in working with us to develop guidelines to fulfill the court’s order,” Loomis said. “It’s the kind of relationship we want to continue.”

Fully implemented, the culvert case is a win-win for salmon and everyone who lives here because it will provide more fish, more fishing, more jobs, and healthier economies for all citizens of the state, Loomis said.

Contact: Tony Meyer, NWIFC, 360.438.1181; tmeyer@nwifc.org