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Recreational Impacts to Tribal Treaty Rights

Project Purpose: 

To develop and convene a collaborative process/forum for Washington treaty tribes and federal agencies to explore and better understand recreation impacts on treaty rights and to develop a path forward towards action to prevent, mitigate, or remove recreation impacts on treaty-reserved rights and interests.

Project Overview: 

On September 30, 2016, nine federal agencies and cabinet departments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) creating the Puget Sound Federal Task Force (PSFTF). A five-year action plan primarily focused on recovery of salmon and associated aquatic habitat was adopted in late 2016, with implementation underway through 2021. Leaders of tribes met during Tribal Conference meetings to review treaty rights and risks (TRAR), provide comments on the relative success of the initial action plan, and provide comments and requests identifying issues to be addressed in the next action plan. Findings from the conference, provided during a meeting in November 2021, identified recreation visitation and associated impacts as an impact on treaty rights in need of action.

Federal members of the PSFTF presented a proposed 2022-2027 action plan to leadership of all 20 Western Washington treaty tribes on February 24, 2022. Recreation impacts on treaty rights were noted as a topic of concern in the action plan, however, were not deemed ripe for addition to the plan itself. Meetings in February of 2022 with tribes and PSFTF partners made it clear there is much work to undertake together, and in the spirit of co-management, to: clarify the requests made by tribes, create a shared understanding of recreation-associated impacts on treaty rights, and chart a path forward towards action to mitigate or remove recreation impacts on treaty rights.

The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (MBS) agreed to play a principal role in establishing a recreation impact on treaty rights working group (RITR) as a forum for tribes and federal agencies to begin work towards action to address the requests made by tribes. The MBS met in April of 2022 with an informal working group of tribes, already established by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, to address recreation impacts. Tribes identified two key elements necessary to ensure a higher likelihood of a successful outcome:

  • A mix of meetings with both tribes and federal partners present as well as a desire for facilitated meetings among tribes separate from federal partners.
  • The need for a third party coordinator to work as a go-between for tribes, federal agencies, and between both groups.

On behalf of the Puget Sound Federal Task Force, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest will partner with the Ruckelshaus Center (the Center) to design and execute a collaborative process between and among representatives of approximately 20 treaty tribes of Western Washington and nine federal agencies who compose the Recreation Impacts on Treaty Rights (RITR) Working Group.

  • During Phase I of this effort, the Center will conduct a convening assessment and will develop a collaborative process to facilitate the identification of a set of priority issues related to the impacts of outdoor recreation on the reserved rights and interests of Western Washington tribes.
  • During Phase II, the Center will provide project management and facilitation for the RITR Working Group (RITR) and on behalf of the group will produce a report that summarizes the nature of recreation impacts on treaty rights, identifies key measures of those impacts, and highlights action steps needed by Federal agencies to reduce, resolve, or prevent those impacts to treaty rights. This work will provide the foundation for future collaboration and action planning around the set of issues identified in the report.

Amanda Murphy – Project Co-Lead

Phyllis Shulman – Project Co-Lead