These tough economic times are supposed to be getting better, but it’s clear we will be feeling the effects of the recession for a long time. That makes us tribes wonder about the future of natural resources and their management in this state.
The Washington legislature met in special session recently to begin fixing the $6 billion hole in the state’s budget. We’re afraid that when the smoke clears, natural resources will be the big loser.
This isn’t the first time the state and tribal co-managers have faced an economic crisis. Working together, we have always been able to weather the effects of state and federal funding shortfalls.
This time, though, things are different. We have never before seen the kind of deep cuts needed to balance the state’s budget. We’re greatly concerned that these cuts will lead to the state not being able to meet co-management requirements that they share with the tribes under the Boldt Decision. We don’t have the resources to take on the state’s share of natural resources management costs if that happens.
To balance the budget drastic changes are being proposed for many state natural resources management programs, among them the Hydraulic Project Approval program operated by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The HPA law has been on the books since 1943, and is one of our front line defenses for protecting habitat. HPA permits are required for any activities near water that can threaten fish, shellfish and other natural resources.
Reducing staff, increasing fees, and streamlining the HPA permit process are all being looked at as cost savings steps, but if the end result is a program that doesn’t work, it could set back salmon recovery and the cleanup of Puget Sound for decades. We all have far too much time, energy and money invested in these efforts to let that happen.
If state government’s ability to manage natural resources continues to erode, pretty soon the treaty tribes will be the only managers in Washington. Co-management will disappear, and with it, so will our best chance to recover wild salmon and their habitat.
President Barack Obama said it best recently when he told us we must find ways to cut government spending while still investing in our future. We’ve seen hard times before and we will see them again, but we cannot allow our natural resources – our heart and soul – to be sacrificed for something as unimportant as money.
Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually, is chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission in Olympia, Wash., and recipient of the Indian Country Today 2004 American Indian Visionary Award.