A giant pain in the rear for Lake Roosevelt anglers and boaters appears to be festering under the aloof care of the U.S. Department of Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Colville and Spokane tribes want jurisdiction over fishing and fisheries in the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam. It’s not clear how much authority they want or why they want it, which is part of this issue.
In dealing with the tribes, little information is open and clear. That should be a red flag for the non-tribal public that has a stake in a very important public fishery that’s supported by public funds.
In 1994, brave angler Joe Cassidy, of Davenport, stuck his neck out to settle the smoldering issue over jurisdiction on the Columbia River reservoir.
He dared to fish where the state said he could even though the Spokane Tribe said he couldn’t.
Instead of rolling over when he was ticketed by tribal enforcement, he took them — and the federal government that backs the tribes in legal matters – to court.
U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush ultimately dismissed criminal charges brought upon Cassidy by the tribe and the federal government. The Cassidy Decision gave non-tribal anglers confidence that they could boat and fish in Lake Roosevelt without a tribal permit.
But the tribes have never stopped pursuing jurisdiction, and their efforts appear to be coming to a head behind closed doors.
The understanding described in the Cassidy Decision is that the state has authority over fishing up to the 1,310 elevation line. Full pool at Lake Roosevelt is 1,290 feet.
Tribal officers likely would give a non-tribal angler a ticket for fishing on shore in most places within reservation boundaries regardless of the elevation. The state and anglers have been living with that.
In 2012, the Colville Tribe pressed the Secretary of Interior for authority over fisheries and management on the Sanpoil Arm. The Spokane Tribe also became more engaged. But the state agency that has responsibility for fish and wildlife in the state was never in the loop.