Monday, October 24, 1994

The Changing Face of the West

SEJ Journal
By Terri C. Hansen

With a population of only 800, Escalante is small, but the environmental issues surrounding this town form a fitting composite of the larger picture taking place throughout the West.

The focus on these issues was through the story of this canyon in southern Utah, called "one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world" by panelist Jon Christensen, Great Basin regional editor of High Country News.

The town also has had the distinction of being named twice as one of "The nation's ten most endangered communities," by the National Association of Counties.

Moderator Howard Berkes, Rocky Mountain correspondent for National Public Radio, described Escalante as a place that visitors come to care deeply about. It is those visitors who are now fighting hard to preserve it.

Berkes described bitter battles "right on Main Street," where an environmentalist was hung in effigy. Another environmentalist had his well salted. Yet another had dynamite thrown into his home.

Residents who can trace their roots back to Mormon pioneers raise hay in the valley, and cut timber from the mountains above the town. They say they want to mine carbon dioxide and coal from the ridges above their town. Their cattle are free to run just about everywhere, including the canyons.

Some of these same cattle have been shot, execution-style. It is not clear who is responsible. Each side wants to blame the other.

Berkes used a question and answer format to frame these issues to panelists Joseph Chapman, dean of the College of Natural Resources at Utah State University, Scott Groene, staff attorney for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Louise Liston, a native of Escalante and currently a Garfield County commissioner, Brooke Williams, an economic and environmental consultant, and Christensen. In this framework the panelists neatly illustrated many of the issues and changes taking place over the last 10 to 15 years in Escalante, providing an overview of the many dissimilar voices demanding a say in the future of the West.

Tuesday, October 4, 1994

Chlorine Ban: To Be or Not to Be?

By Terri C. Hansen

PROVO, Utah — The question, to ban or not to ban chlorine, has produced considerable debate. USA Today environmental reporter and editor Rae Tyson summarized a 1987 chlorine phase-out recommendation by the International Joint Commission of the United States and Canada, and asked a panel during SEJ's fourth annual conference, "Is a chlorine phase-out necessary?"

"Why are we giving chemicals constitutional rights?" askeded Greenpeace campaigner Bonnie Rice, basing her support of a ban on research studies including the recently issued EPA report that links dioxin, a chlorinated hydrocarbon, with immune system damage to humans and animals.

Attorney Gordon Durnil, chairman of the IJC at the time of its recommendation, said commission members studied the process for two years before recommending a phase-out, based on solid scientific evidence. The chlorine industry responded with a 30-year timetable, he said.

But the industry opposes a phase-out, responded scientist Bill Carroll, a chemical company executive on loan to the Chlorine Chemical Council. Carroll used PVC compounds — used extensively in plumbing and sewer lines — to illustrate the negative economic and ecological impact of a phase-out. 96 percent of pesticides are chlorine-based, Carroll said, and almost all water disinfection relies on chlorine.

Thursday, September 1, 1994

EPA establishes new office to strengthen tribal operations

By Terri C. Hansen
Pacific Northwest Bureau Chief
News from Indian Country

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A new Office of Tribal Operations has been established within the Environmental Protection Agency to address critical gaps in environmental protection and improve the EPA's government-to-government partnership with Tribes.

A team of senior EPA managers have been working since January to identify ways of strengthening communication and understanding between EPA and tribes. A memorandum issued by EPA administrator Carol M. Browner last July announced specific actions for strengthening tribal operations, which included establishing a base description of tribal environmental problems and priorities, workplans for responding to those problems, field assistance, grant flexibility and streamlining, resource investment in tribal operations, and training for EPA staff.

Terry Williams, named as director of the new office, will work closely with top leaders in the EPA programs and regional offices in evaluating the levels of assistance being provided to tribes in air, water, waste, and other programs.

Williams, who prior to accepting the position served as executive director of the Tulalip Tribes Fisheries and Natural Resources in Washington state, said he looks forward to the challenges the newly created position offers. "Establishment of this new office will help ensure that Indian tribes throughout the U.S. receive the resources needed to address their environmental concerns," he stated in a news release.

"Terry has been a consistent, strong and effective advocate for tribal sovereignty and environmental protection in Indian Country," said Browner. "I look forward to having him join my senior management team."

Wednesday, June 22, 1994

Coeur d'Alene Tribe wants to clean up 100 years of mining poison

"Paradise in Peril"
Coeur d'Alene Tribe wants to clean up 100 years of mining poison

By Terri C. Hansen
News from Indian Country
Pacific Northwest Bureau Chief

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho—On top of battling several of Idaho's political and economic heavyweights, the Coeur d'Alene Indian Tribe has challenged some of the largest mining companies in the world in their fight to force a clean up of mining contamination in the Coeur d'Alene River basin. A documentary produced by the Coeur d'Alenes describes their effort to return their sacred homeland to its once pristine state. The 25-minute film, "Paradise in Peril," airs on Idaho's public television network this month.

Using scenes of a starkly devastated landscape, the film informs viewers of the deadly outcome of a century of mining in what is known as Idaho's "Silver Valley". Home to a mining empire that lasted one hundred years, an estimated 72 million tons of mine waste poured down the rivers and tributaries of the Silver Valley basin and into Lake Coeur d'Alene.

Heavy metal pollution has destroyed much of the plant, animal and aquatic life of the region. The death of over 7000 tundra swans here, which stop and feed in the area during their migration, has been attributed by biologists to heavy metal poisoning. Many areas are now unsafe and dangerous to humans, especially children. The damage stretches over hundreds of square miles.

According to a 1991 U.S. Geological Survey report, Lake Coeur d'Alene has the highest heavy-metal contamination in the world. The federal Environmental Protection Agency designated a 21 square mile section a Superfund clean up site. The site, known as Bunker Hill, is the second worst Superfund project in the nation.

Coeur d'Alene tribal officials say Bunker Hill is but a small portion of the one hundred polluted miles. The designated Superfund site is a rectangular box, seven miles long and three miles wide. The Tribe calls it a "10% solution for 10% of the problem." The clean-up boundary ignores 90 percent of the pollution upriver from the site — 86 miles along the Coeur d'Alene River basin, which presently flows with lead, zinc, cadmium and arsenic. "As this battle continues, so does the flow of poisons," tribal officials say.

The Tribe says a study done by the mining companies accused of the pollution—and required to fund the clean up—has revealed heavy metal contaminants still flowing down the basin's tributaries into the Superfund clean-up box at the rate of 900 pounds each day. 1200 pounds flow out of the box downstream and into the lake. Even if the EPA is successful in removing heavy metals from Bunker Hill, much of the current load will still be released into the lake, the Tribe contends.

In Nov. 1992, efforts by the Coeur d'Alenes resulted in an unprecedented agreement signed between the Tribe, the state of Idaho and the U.S. government. The Memorandum of Agreement gave the Coeur d'Alenes the same authority as the state and federal government towards developing a restoration plan. The Tribe commended the agreement for recognizing their status as a sovereign nation.

But the mining companies were incensed, according to newspaper articles at that time. Gordon Crow, executive director of the Council for Mineral-Information, said in a local newspaper interview, "It means the tribe will have veto power over any and all decisions. The state's letting the fox into its own chicken coop and freezing out the people who are paying for the restoration efforts." CMI is an industry advocacy group based in Coeur d'Alene.

The Coeur d'Alene Tribe has taken their battle to federal court, with less success. To force a clean up of the poison, the Tribe filed a lawsuit in 1991 claiming tribal ownership of Lake Coeur d'Alene. The suit relies on an executive order issued by President Grant in 1873, which set aside the Tribe's reservation lands. But in a 1992 decision, U.S. Judge Harold Ryan dismissed the lawsuit. Ryan, citing the 11th Amendment, said the jurisdiction of federal courts does not extend to cases brought against a state by an Indian tribe, since states cannot be sued by another state or foreign nation. Ryan determined that Grant's executive order did not specifically include the lake, ruling that the federal equal footing doctrine gave ownership of all land under passable waters to Idaho upon statehood in 1890.

The Tribe appealed the decision Feb. 2, 1994 in Seattle, before the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. They asked the three-judge panel to reverse and send the suit back for trial, contending the judge ruled on the merits of the case when he concluded the lake was state-owned. In a separate action, the Tribe is suing the mining companies to pay for the clean up. However, Judge Ryan said that suit was a moot point in his 1992 decision dismissing the ownership lawsuit.

But the Coeur d'Alenes does not plan to give up. They are only gaining strength as warriors for what may be a protracted battle to restore a once undefiled land back to the condition intended by Creator.

And they are not alone. The Idaho Wildlife Federation—an affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation—recognized the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's leadership role and tireless efforts to expose and demand a solution to the contamination problem. In a 1993 resolution, the IWF urged support of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, "who have often been the most persistent voice in detailing what is a national tragedy."

"Paradise in Peril" is available in video format. To order, send $25 to Bob Bostwick, Coeur d'Alene Indian Tribe, Route 1, Plummer, Idaho 83851.

Copyright © 1994 Terri Crawford Hansen

Pacific Northwest Salmon in Crisis

by Terri C. Hansen
News from Indian Country
Bureau Chief/Pacific Northwest Bureau

Blame it on El Nino, warming ocean waters, hydroelectric dams, habitat destruction or even sea lions. But whatever the cause of dwindling salmon runs, the effect on Northwest Indian Nations can be summed up in one word: catastrophic.

"Certainly it is an economic crisis," says W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Washington Puget Sound Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe. But just as important - if not more so - are the spiritual and cultural aspects, he believes. Salmon are at the heart of Northwest Indian culture; their diet, commerce, ceremonies and spirituality. Salmon are not just a way of life. They are life. And they are fast becoming scarce.

Salmon runs plunged from 16 million less than half a century ago to just two million today. 106 stocks of wild Pacific salmon are extinct, according to the American Fisheries Society. Over 200 more are in peril. This year's projections for all coho and chinook salmon runs are worse than last year's all-time low.

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission represents nineteen Western Washington tribes with treaty fishing rights. Their expected announcement that the tribes would drastically reduce their customary salmon harvest this year came on March 31. More jolting, especially in terms of cultural impact, was their announcement that, in hopes of saving disappearing coho salmon runs, the tribes would cease all coho salmon fishing this year."

It was a difficult choice for the tribal leadership to make," says Allen, who as chairman of a treaty fishing tribe participated in the decision-making process. "Some tribes lean more heavily on certain salmon species than others," he says. "But we all rely on the coho."

The coho are in the worst trouble. Washington's Puget Sound coho runs are projected to drop under the minimum levels needed to spawn the next generation. Coho, also known as silver salmon, spawn in coastal streams from northern California to Washington. After spending their first year in the streams they travel to the ocean, where they live for two years before returning home to their native stream to spawn. So few wild coho remain today many environmental groups want them protected under the Endangered Species Act.

According to Northwest Indian fishing alliances, the current crisis has been in the making for some time. El Nino tipped the scales by warming the oceans and reducing the availability of the nutrient-rich cool water, Steve Robinson of the Northwest Indian Fish Commission explains. Because they are released at the same stage and stay closer to shore, coho are especially vulnerable and have been hardest hit by poor ocean conditions, says the Washington Department of Fisheries.

In an unprecedented move, the federal agency responsible for setting non-tribal ocean fishing limits adopted a "zero option" plan to close ocean fishing for all salmon species this year. The Pacific Fishery Management Council's official announcement came April 8. Rules for non-tribal river and estuary fishing won't be set until later this month. Even with no ocean fishing season, the number of salmon returning to Columbia River hatcheries will probably be less than the number needed to sustain the runs. Few coho returned this year to spawn. The destruction of their natural habitat has been an issue of environmentalists and Indian fishers for nearly two decades. Northwest treaty fishing nations, long involved in efforts to save declining salmon stocks, have labored since the early 80s to have sensitive portions of Pacific Northwest national forests designated "wilderness," thus protecting fish habitat from the erosion and stream sedimentation associated with logging and uncontrolled grazing. (Cold water, essential to most species of salmon, disappears from streams when logging and grazing practices eliminate vegetation needed for shade. The sediment and mud produced by clearcutting destroys salmon spawning areas; silt suffocates their eggs.) Lower stream flows due to irrigation, dryer than usual temperatures and low rainfall have all contributed to less than ample water in the streams.

But, many agree, it is the hydroelectric dams that have played a major role in the salmon's decline. Since the 1930s, when the Columbia began the change from a "wild," free-flowing river to a series of slack-water reservoirs, dam turbines have diced millions of smolts not intercepted by mechanical bypass systems or spilled over dams. Young fish that do survive may spend weeks getting to the ocean, a trip that once took a few days. Timing is critical to their survival; salmon smolts, once they begin a biological body change allowing them to adjust to life in salt water, have only a short time to reach the ocean or they die. In spite of a 1980 directive to dam operators from Congress to give equal treatment to the fish, dams have continued to operate primarily to maximize power generation.

"Volts over smolts" was a phrase used in a newsletter published almost a decade ago by a frustrated Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission. CRITFC represents four Columbia River treaty fishing nations; the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama. Commission publications throughout the 80s and 90s describe tribal efforts to decrease salmon smolt mortality by increasing spillwater over nine Columbia River dams that stand between salmon smolt and the sea. But the agencies and utilities responsible for the massive system of dams and reservoirs used on the Columbia and Snake rivers objected, claiming the price tag of lost electrical generation would come at too high a cost. Tim Wapato, then executive director of CRITFC, said (referring to 1985 U.S.-Canada treaty negotiations), "It doesn't do much good to limit the ocean catch if the smolts can't get to the sea." It echoes like a tragic prophecy today.

Earlier this year, in spite of well documented disappearing salmon runs and the recommendations of their own biologists, government agencies responsible for Columbia River Basin dam operations put forward a "business as usual" salmon recovery plan, declaring that "explanations for declining salmon stocks are elusive." CRITFC rejected the five-year plan, saying that it was "scientifically flawed," "contradictory to the requirements of the Endangered Species Act," and failed to adequately protect the declining salmon. Along with the states of Oregon and Alaska, CRITFC joined a lawsuit filed by Idaho in 1993 challenging the plan as inadequate.

On March 18, U.S. District Judge Malcolm Marsh heard arguments in the case in Boise, Idaho. Marsh ruled the plan flawed because it relied too much on the "status quo ... when the situation literally cries out for a major overhaul." He ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration and Bureau of Reclamation to prepare a new plan within 60 days. Bill Yallup, a tribal council member of the Yakama Indian Nation, is on the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission. In a recent Associated Press article he analogized, "To deal only with harvest is like painting the outside of a house while the foundation is crumbling." Without intervention, Yallup says we will soon have no salmon left to harvest or -- more importantly -- to reproduce.

Copyright © 1994 Terri Crawford Hansen
Ethnic News Watch -- SoftLine Information, Inc., Stamford, CT

Sunday, May 1, 1994

Speaking for the Earth: Lummi Nation calls together world indigenous leaders

by Terri C. Hansen
Bureau Chief/Pacific Northwest Bureau
News from Indian Country

No less than cultural survival is the objective of an upcoming five-day conference scheduled May 15-19 in Stony Point, New York. Speaking for the Earth: Building an Indigenous Network for Sustainable Development is intended to facilitate the exchange of strategies between Native communities for keeping their traditions and lifestyles intact. Tribal leaders will focus on many of the issues concerning indigenous communities today; environmental protection, resource management, economic development, cultural preservation and the arts.

Participants include leaders from several Native communities in Mexico and Chile who presently face critical local situations. Leaders from Native communities in Brazil, Siberia, Alaska, New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia and the United States will also participate.

The conference, conceived and sponsored by the Lummi Nation, was inspired by the tribe's continuing efforts to protect the old growth forests of the nearby Arlecho Creek basin. Today, the ancient forests of the Arlecho Creek basin - sacred land since time immemorial to the people of the Lummi Nation - are endangered. The current landowner, Mutual of New York, has threatened to file a forest practice application allowing them to clearcut the old growth forests on the site.

"As an Indian Nation, we are one with the natural world," says Jewell Praying Wolf James, a Lummi tribal member and lineal descendent of Chief Seattle. "We have been struggling against the opposing actions of a western, corporate, profit-motivated paradigm in order to sustain our traditional culture, our lifeways. We believe that by meeting other Native leaders and communicating our own tribal stories, we can enhance the ability of all indigenous communities to survive and thrive."

Tribal leaders who would like more information about the conference may call Kurt Russo of the Lummi Nation's Treaty Protection Task Force at (206) 647-6258.

Copyright © 1994 Terri Crawford Hansen

Ethnic NewsWatch © SoftLine Information, Inc., Stamford, CT

Saturday, April 30, 1994

Transplanted wolves to be overseen by Nez Perce

By Terri C. Hansen
Pacific Northwest Bureau Chief
News from Indian Country

LAPWAI, Idaho--Gray wolves, an important member of the animal family to the Nez Perce people, were transplanted into their traditional homelands in central Idaho three months ago. Now the responsibility for managing and monitoring the pack will be taken over by the Nez Perce Tribe.

The tribe approved a $151,000 contract earlier this month that would fund a tribal wolf biologist position to oversee the monitoring program. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue control of law enforcement to protect the wolves, which were listed in 1973 as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in 47 of the lower 48 states.

Fourteen of the 15 Canadian gray wolves that were released have taken well to Idaho's backcountry, and hopes are high that a litter of wolf pups could be coming this spring.

The wolf a symbol of strength, might and stamina carries strong spiritual medicine among the Nez Perce. So powerful is their relationship that the Nez Perce refer to the wolf as Brother.
"The wolf has held an important cultural kinship with the Nez Perce Tribe throughout the tribe's existence," Nez Perce tribal executive committee chairman Charles H. Hayes said during wolf recovery plan hearings.

"The tribe looks forward to meeting our brother the wolf at the ancient spiritual sites of our ancestors. Only then will the tribe be able to capture some of the spirit medicine once held by the wolf and given to our tribe. Once again we'll be able to talk and listen to his stories of survival which connects us to our past and will help lead us into the future."

Gray wolves flourished in the northern Rocky Mountains until 1870, when their prey was over hunted and the wolves themselves were exterminated by settlers to protect livestock.