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Swinomish Tribe to sue Army Corps over salmon

caption: The confluence of Grandy Creek and the Skagit River, which produces most of the chinook salmon in Puget Sound.
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The confluence of Grandy Creek and the Skagit River, which produces most of the chinook salmon in Puget Sound.
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

The Swinomish Tribe has put the Army Corps of Engineers on notice of an impending lawsuit over destruction to salmon habitat.

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community has filed an intent to sue the federal government over the degradation of Chinook salmon estuaries on the Skagit River. The Tribe says the Army Corps of Engineers agreed to restore hundreds of acres of salmon estuaries in a binding agreement, but hasn't done so.

And now, "basically 80-percent of the historic estuary habitat in the Skagit Delta has been diked, ditched, and drained, and turned into agricultural land", said Amy Trainer, the Tribe's Environmental Policy Director. "That's resulted in a roughly 80-percent reduction in salmon harvest."

She said the intent to sue is a step they have thought long and hard about.

"The Swinomish Tribe are people of the salmon ... and they don't have enough fish to feed their families," Trainer said. "The Tribe is very frustrated that the Army Corps and NOAA Fisheries, in their opinion, have completely failed to ensure that the fundamental premise of this tide gate agreement was met."

A tide gate agreement that both parties agreed to in 2015 requires the Corps to repair salmon estuaries any time it allows new dikes on the Skagit River.

An Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson said the Corps "has received the notice and we are currently reviewing it."

Trainer said that unless the Corps can show it is going to fix hundreds of acres of estuaries on the Skagit River, the tribe will sue within 60 days (as of Sept. 9th).

The Swinomish have fishing and cultural rights over the entire Skagit River watershed. Of all the rivers flowing into Puget Sound, the Skagit is the biggest producer of salmon.

The Swinomish Tribe is one of several in the Puget Sound region taking legal action over low salmon returns in their treaty areas. Just upriver, the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe is suing Seattle City Light over the impacts of its dams on salmon.

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