In the Works...
"The New Fish Wars - The Fight for Puget Sound"
A highly publicized effort is now underway now to restore and protect Puget Sound, the Inland Sea of the State of Washington. An ambitious Action Plan has been crafted by a cross-section of environmental, industry and elected leaders to clean up the Sound, to make it healthy again for people and wildlife, including its endangered resident orcas and iconic salmon. But the success of this effort rests in how well this delicate coalition works together and builds a consensus. Perhaps the most critical partners at the table are the 20 treaty tribes of Washington, by law the co-managers of the fisheries here. The special looks back at what got them there – the famous “Fish Wars” of the 1960s and ‘70s, the direct and uncompromising civil disobedience of Native people throughout the Pacific Northwest, defying a cross-section of federal and local law enforcement, inviting threats to life and liberty with extraordinary courage – and a surprising amount of humor – and ultimately winning the right to live as they have for time immemorial. The episode frames these Fish War stories with two high-profile, Native-led restoration efforts underway to bring the fish back to Puget Sound – the Nisqually Delta Restoration Project, and the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams on the Elwha River, home to what was once one of the largest salmon-producing river systems in North America.
Proposed Locations Include: Frank's Landing, Puyallup River Encampment, Nisqually Delta, Celilo Falls/Columbia River
Fish Wars Reunion
THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY With Billy Frank Jr. will have the honor of participating in an extraordinary, historic event – the reuniting of the veterans of The Fish Wars, the great treaty fishing rights battles of the 1960s and 70s. In an extraordinary campfire gathering at the site of the famous Puyallup River Encampment of 1970, The event will be a remarkable remembrance of two decades of direct action that ultimately led to the 1974 "Boldt Decision," upheld in U.S. Supreme Court in 1979. The day will no doubt be dynamic and revealing, both reverent and irreverent, sometimes hilarious, other times heart-wrenching. And those attending and sharing stories will be surpisingly diverse, from the warriors themselves who often risked their lives (and some gave theirs) to continue their traditional way of living… to the volunteer litigators who had the audacity to advocate for their Indian neighbors, and then make it a winning case in the nation's highest courts… perhaps even some of the celebrities who lent their fame to the fight, like Dick Gregory, the comedian who was deadly serious about Indian fishing rights, who together with his wife demanded to be put into prison and serve time for his Fish-In support. And of course, since this is a gathering of fishermen on the banks of a river and the Chinook are starting to run, there could be a few nets tossed in the water, as well.
The special will also include extended one-on-one oral history interviews with some of the Fish Warriors, as well as with some of the friends and family of those no longer with us, who sacrificed so much to preserve their way of life. The Fish Wars began nearly a half-century ago; these documented stories will help ensure that the spirit of these heroic battles will endure for centuries into the future.
Shoots at the Nisqually Delta
Wildlife and Scenics; Ints/Nisqually Tribe and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission; Timelapse Photography
THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY With Billy Frank Jr. will document one of the most significant habitat restoration projects in the world, at its most spectacular time of the year. Billy will lead a walking tour of the Nisqually Delta, the largest undeveloped river delta on the west coast of the United States, now given entirely and unconditionally back to Puget Sound – a gift sorely needed by the troubled ecosystem. Millions of drivers pass by the Nisqually along Interstate 5, between the cities of Olympia and Tacoma, and those who make that drive have watched the miracle of nature unfold before their eyes.
After a century of diking off tidal flow, the Brown Farm Dike was removed to inundate 308 acres of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in November 2009. along with 57 acres of wetlands restored by the Nisqually Indian Tribe. The Nisqually Delta represents the largest tidal marsh restoration project in the Pacific Northwest, assisting in recovery of Puget Sound salmon and wildlife populations. Over the past decade, the Refuge and close partners, including the Tribe and Ducks Unlimited, have restored more than 35 km of the historic tidal slough systems and re-connected historic floodplains to Puget Sound, increasing potential salt marsh habitat in the southern reach of Puget Sound by 50%. Estuarine restoration of this magnitude and the potential contribution to restoration science is unprecedented in Puget Sound. Because the mosaic of estuarine habitats, this large-scale restoration is expected to result in a considerable increase in regional ecological functions and services, representing one of the most significant advances to date towards the recovery of Puget Sound.
(below) Billy Frank Jr. at the "Treaty Tree," Nisqually Delta, site of the 1855 Treaty of Medicine Creek.
Beyond its importance to the health of Puget Sound, the Delta is also profoundly important to the tribes of Washington State. This is the site of the infamous Treaty of Medicine Creek of 1855, engineered by the hated Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens to pacify the Native people of the Northwest and confine them to designated reservations. However, one leader refused to play Stevens' shell game – Leschi, great Chief of the Nisqually. His resistence led to the 1855-56 "Indian War" between the Territory of Washington and the tribes of Puget Sound, and ultimately the wrongful hanging of Leschi by Stevens, the first recorded case of capital punishment in the region. For a century-and-a-half the "legal murder" of Leschi remained a deep wound in the heart of the tribes, until an unprecedented "Historical Court of Justice" was convened by Washington State Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander that at long last exonerated Leschi. Bringing the Nisqually Delta back to its completely natural, pre-contact state may be another way to heal the wounds of time.
Shoots at the Elwha River
Wildlife and Scenics; Ints/Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and National Park Service; Timelapse Photography
In September 2011, at a VIP ceremony hosted by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and attended by dignataries like Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, work began on the largest dam removal in U.S. history – along the Elwha River, home to all five species of Pacific salmon, including some of the largest Chinook the world's ever seen. Just a few short months after the 108-foot tall Elwha Dam was removed, fish were already returning to their restored habitat. The last remnants of the Elwha Dam were finally gone in early March, and the Glines Canyon Dam, nine miles upstream, has been reduced to a 50-foot waterfall, with the former Lake Mills reservoir behind it almost gone.
Part of the restoration process was releasing tagged fish into the river above the lower dam to jump start the recolonization of the high-quality habitat that had been cut off from migratory salmon for almost a hundred years. So far about 60 steelhead and 600 salmon have been released into the river upstream of the former dam site. These fish are even spawning already. The return of wild, un-tagged fish that found their own way up the river without human help means that they sense that the river is open again. While out monitoring the river, NOAA scientists spotted several un-tagged steelhead. One was a robust 35 inches, bigger than any of the fish tagged and released. This is encouraging news for the Elwha and for other dam removals nationwide. It confirms what was suspected: that once the barrier is gone, fish can recolonize the river without assistance and at a faster pace than anyone anticipated. The Elwha Experiment is proving an extraordinary success story, and it couldn't have happened without the leadership and persistence of the tribes of the Northwest.
CO-MANAGERS – Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Chairman Billy Frank Jr. at the Elwha River with Congressman Norm Dicks and Senator Maria Cantwell.