As part of our Environmental Engagement Reconnaissance Trip, we visited the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) and listened to a presentation given by Rob Lothrop. Lothrop is an alumnus of Lewis & Clark Law School, and studied natural and environmental law. Joining CRITFC in 1981, Rob began working there just four years after its creation in 1977. Rob works in Policy Development and the Litigation Support departments at the commission and has been able to assist in many different projects. While working in the Policy Department, Rob works with the salmon management of international fisheries and federal land management. Additionally, Rob is involved in coordinating with state and federal fishery agencies in the Columbia Basin and working to mitigate the impacts of hydroelectric projects. Also joining us for the presentation were members of the of CRITFC’s tribal enforcement team, including Captain Jerry Ekker, Sargent Russell Spino, Officer Christin Lopez, and Officer Dana Journey.
The presentation gave us information on the history and the mission of CRITFC, which was described as a subdivision of the tribal government. Established in 1977, it represents the interests of four nearby tribes— the Yakama Nation, Nez Perce, Warm Springs, and Umatilla. CRITFC is a collaborative effort between these tribes to enforce their rights outlined in a treaty with the US government in 1855. The section of this treaty that Rob emphasized the most speaks on the tribes’ rights to fish in “all usual and accustomed places,” meaning places where the tribes have historically fished. This section of the treaty both defends the tribes’ right to fish in those waters and that it is their right for fish to be there in the first place. This means that the government must work to keep fish populations in these waters intact, which they have notoriously not prioritized in the past.
Read more about the current treaty here.
What Does CRITFC Do?
CRITFC’s tribal enforcement team consists of patrol officers, dispatchers, and administrative personnel. The officers involved have delegated enforcement authority from all four tribes, and actively work collaboratively with them to maintain 24-hour effort to enforce all fishing regulations and protect treaty tribal fishing rights. The work they do takes place on a 147-mile stretch of the Columbia River from Bonneville to McNary Dam.
Additionally, CRITFC works on various conservation and restoration projects, including managing hatcheries and releasing the fish raised in order to boost the native salmon populations. Some tribal hatchery programs that CRITFC are involved with are those which raise Snake River Fall Chinook, Coho, and Spring Chinook. Additionally, CRITFC is involved with the following restoration projects :
- Kelt Reconditioning
- Genetics Investigations
- PCSRF Project Funding
- Fall Chinook Tagging
- Harvest Monitoring
- Habitat Condition Assessment
- Lamprey Translocation
- Sturgeon Hatchery Development
- Salmon Camp
- Fishing Site Maintenance
Learn more about CRITFC’s restoration efforts here.
CRITFC Environmental Engagement
Environmental engagement is taking action with the goal of two-way dialogic conversation in mind. Engagement utilizes the understanding of the different viewpoints and passions of others. This concept is vital to the success of CRITFC internally and externally. The organization strives to aid the Warm Springs, Nez Perce, Yakima and Umatilla tribes in talks and enforcement of policy with federal agencies that control waters, fish and land that are involved in the scope of CRITFC. CRITFC can also serve as a middle-man when tribes need to interact with each other in the context of fishing and water rights. The organization provides biological research and fisheries management that helps to stabilize and promote better waterways and fish populations for all of the tribes to enjoy. Using a collective voice can be more beneficial and can strengthen their collective bargaining abilities. These ways in which environmental engagement are used is helping the tribes, the fish and the communities that are involved in the success of rising fish numbers and a more stable relationship between the tribes and federal agencies. CRITFC also has an enforcement agency that interacts with the public and anyone along the Columbia River from Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam, enforcing fishing regulations and tribal fishing rights. CRITFC uses the tool of environmental engagement in a myriad of ways that are critical to the success of not only their organization, but to the partnerships forged through the organization in hopes of a better, more equitable future for everyone.
The presentation gave us the opportunity to think about how CRITFC uses engagement to help achieve their goals and spread their mission. It helps the Warm Springs, Nez Perce, Yakima, Umatilla tribes engage with federal agencies as well as with each other, so that they’re a voice that works in unison for the better of all four of them. CRITFC serves as a middle-agency for the tribes and federal entities such as law enforcement, the National Wildlife Federation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help them communicate with each other.
Another aspect of engagement is engaging with the public, such as ENVS 295 students like us, that aren’t directly involved, as well as educating people through programs such as their Salmon Camp. CRITFC can engage with us through conversations surrounding approaches to fish restoration. CRITFC has their specific approach to fish restoration, such as the river zoning, hatcheries, and habitat monitoring. The topic of restoring a population is something that can be debated, as some of us may have different ideas of how to approach fish restoration in a way that attends to the fish, rights of the native tribes, and the natural surroundings.
Through the use of outreach programs and educational opportunities, such as internships, the salmon camp for kids, and an online presence through their website, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, CRITFC can connect with the public. This will help introduce children and students to the importance of fish and their restoration. Personally, we feel that the organization could have a few more outreach programs that target the general public, as there isn’t a ton on the website that I could go to if I was looking for this. For example, under the “Public Resources” section, it is mostly the presentation of information, such as Invasive Species, rather than a method for the public to engage with the organization itself. However, CRITFC as a whole uses engagement in multiple ways, and their ability to connect different people and groups together through common interests is a valuable tool that we should look to as an example on how to engage with those with different views than us.