Latest: Washington to restore salmon habitat blocked by culverts

The state has 15 years to comply.

  • A fish-friendly culvert is built under a state highway near Seattle, Washington.

    Washington State Department of Transportation

In 2001, 20 Native American tribes sued the state of Washington, claiming that road culverts imperiled salmon and thereby violated tribes’ treaty fishing rights (“Tribes fight to clear the roads for salmon,HCN, 7/2/01). Culverts help prevent flooding, but Washington’s poorly designed and maintained ones also keep dwindling salmon populations from their spawning grounds. In 2007, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that the state was responsible for protecting salmon streams — including fish passage through road culverts. That decision was upheld in 2013.

This spring, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Washington’s request to re-hear the case. Within the next 15 years, the state must reopen 90 percent of the salmon habitat blocked by culverts. The estimated cost could reach $1.88 billion. Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, said in a press release, “This is a win for salmon, treaty rights and everyone who lives here.”

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