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Salmon vital for treaty review: Ktunaxa

A week after the B.C. government released its principles for negotiation of the Columbia River Treaty renewal, the Ktunaxa Nation is urging negotiators to keep salmon restoration on the table.

"While we have achieved a remarkable amount of consensus, our negotiators have not reached common ground with B.C. on all matters relating to the possible renewal of the treaty," said Ktunaxa Nation Council Chair Kathryn Teneese.

"We have sharply divergent views on whether the restoration of upper Columbia salmon is a matter that should be addressed within a renegotiated Columbia River Treaty.

"Our view is that salmon restoration is largely about the management of dams which currently block fish passage and the management of river flows on both sides of the border, and both of these management issues are at the heart of the Columbia River Treaty."

The B.C. government's decision on the Columbia River Treaty review includes a principle regarding the salmon that says: "Salmon migration into the Columbia River in Canada was eliminated by the Grand Coulee Dam in 1938 (26 years prior to Treaty ratification), and is currently not a Treaty issue. British Columbia's perspective is that the management of anadromous salmon populations is the responsibility of the Government of Canada and that restoration of fish passage and habitat, if feasible, should be the responsibility of each country regarding their respective infrastructure."

But Teneese says salmon restoration is crucial.

"The Joint Engagement Report states that salmon restoration in the upper Columbia is a matter of federal government jurisdiction and would require a joint effort between the U.S. and Canada. This transboundary cooperation is essential if we are to restore upriver salmon."

Ratified in 1964, the Columbia River Treaty is a management agreement between the two countries that allowed for four dams to be built on the Columbia River, three in B.C. and one in the U.S. – Libby Dam on Koocanusa.

Columbia Basin Trust, a Crown corporation, was created in 1995 to support social, economic and environmental well-being in the Columbia River Basin using some of the proceeds of the treaty.

The treaty doesn't have an end date, but the U.S. and Canada have the chance to terminate the agreement on or after September 16, 2024. Either side has to give at least 10 years' notice of the termination, meaning that both sides were reviewing the future options of the treaty ahead of the September 2014 deadline.

Following extensive consultations during the two-year treaty review process, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett, Kootenay East's MLA, announced on March 13 that B.C. wants to continue the treaty, and outlined 14 principles that will guide the province in negotiations with the U.S.

Teneese said that negotiators for the Ktunaxa Nation were a key part of the B.C. government's consultation over the Columbia River Treaty. The treaty principles include provisions for the assessment and management of Ktunaxa cultural heritage resources.

"No group in British Columbia has been more affected by the environmental, economic and cultural impacts of the Columbia River Treaty than First Nations," said Kathryn Teneese, Ktunaxa Nation Council Chair. "These impacts can still be felt in our communities today. As Ktunaxa, we have a responsibility to care for the land, which is why it was vital that we participate in the joint engagement process with the Province. It is a testament to the hard work of both governments we were able to come to such a broad agreement on how we will work together towards the renewal of the Columbia River Treaty."

The U.S. is yet to state its position on the Columbia River Treaty. It has until the September 2014 deadline to make that clear.

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