The Cowlitz Indian Tribe is celebrating Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on salmon culverts, a 4-4 tie that affirms a lower court’s order requiring Washington state to pay billions to repair or replace hundreds of drain pipes that keep fish from reaching spawning streams.
“This is a victory for Washington tribes, but it is also a victory for all people of Washington,” general council chairman Bill Iyall said in a written statement. “Salmon are the iconic species of the Pacific Northwest. They are food, medicine, and identity. Without them, we would not be the same.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy stepped aside from the case, leading to a split vote. The tie means that the lower court ruling — that Washington state is on the hook to restore the culverts — stands.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who sought the Supreme Court review of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, called it “unfortunate” that Washington state taxpayers will pay “for the federal government’s faulty culvert design.”
The state has argued that it has no obligation to restore the salmon habitats, and that the work might not even benefit salmon anyway since other barriers can completely block fish.
In Tuesday’s statement, the tribe argued that “Washington’s outdated road network has impacted salmon populations for decades.” Culvert replacement done by the tribe, it said, has already helped salmon populations.