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Restoring the Abundant Trust: Tribal Litigation in Pacific Northwest Salmon Recovery

March 2006

Citation: ELR 10163

Author: Mary Christina Wood

Editors' Summary: Tribal fishing economies that survived thousands of years are now on the brink of collapse. Tribal harvest in the Columbia Basin today is less than 1% of what it was in aboriginal times, and in the Puget Sound region, tribal harvest has plummeted 90% from levels in the mid-1980s. Native American tribes, therefore, are now forcing the courts to confront the issue. In this Article, Prof. Mary Christina Wood explores three pending cases in which tribes are seeking protection of their fisheries in the Pacific Northwest. In these cases, tribes are asking courts either to recognize their unique trust-based property rights to the natural capital sustaining fish, or to enforce the ESA in a more meaningful way. Although the cases rest on different legal theories, they all ask the courts to protect the natural capital on which their fishing livelihood depends, a livelihood they were promised long ago when they ceded their lands to the federal government.

Mary Christina Wood is a Professor of Law and Dean's Distinguished Faculty Fellow at the University of Oregon School of Law. She wishes to thank the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics for a project grant sponsoring this research as part of a two-year theme of inquiry into "Indigenous Peoples: National Policy and International Human Rights." The author appreciates the research assistance of Robert Schwartz and Evan Smith.

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