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Originally published Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 4:43 PM

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Wash. tribe restores fish run

The Yakama Nation Indian Tribe released sockeye salmon into a lake on the east slope of the Cascades Tuesday, marking yet another effort by Pacific Northwest tribes to restore fish in areas where they have long been extinct.

Associated Press Writer

SALMON LA SAC, Wash. —

The Yakama Nation Indian Tribe released sockeye salmon into a lake on the east slope of the Cascades Tuesday, marking yet another effort by Pacific Northwest tribes to restore fish in areas where they have long been extinct.

A ceremony that included native song, dance and a prayer for the future of the fish ended with the release of 100 sockeye salmon into Cle Elum Lake in Central Washington. Biologists plan to release 1,000 fish in the coming weeks in hopes of restoring sockeye to the headwaters of the Yakima River basin.

Phil Rigdon, deputy director of the Yakama Nation's Natural Resources Department, called Tuesday's event "an important milestone into what we are trying to achieve as a tribe."

Also known as the "blueback," sockeye salmon are revered by Pacific Northwest tribes. Juvenile salmon migrate to the ocean for about two years, then return upriver to spend several months in a lake before spawning in mountain creeks and rivers. They were eradicated in central Washington rivers when the rivers were dammed, barring fish passage.

Fidelia Andy, a Yakama Nation councilwoman and treasurer of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, remembers her grandmother's stories about drying salmon to get through the winter.

"We'd have bundles and bundles of it put away for winter," Andy said, recalling the telling of her grandmother's stories. "All she would put away was the blueback."

State and federal officials praised the Yakamas' efforts, saying sockeye restoration wouldn't have been possible without the tribe.

"I have no doubt, without the tireless efforts of the Yakama Nation, we would be wondering if any fish remain in the Yakima basin," said Jeff Tayer, regional director for the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Tribes across the region have led the way in the reintroduction of lost species, said Dale Bambrick, Eastern Washington branch chief for NOAA Fisheries.

"The tribes, starting about 25-30 years ago, said, 'We aren't going anywhere, we reside here, and we want fish to come back here where they belong," he said.

In northcentral Washington, the Colville Confederated Tribes have worked to restore sockeye to the Okanogan River. In Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla successfully restored spring chinook salmon to the Umatilla River and are now working to replicate that success in southeast Washington's Walla Walla River basin.

The Yakima River basin stretches from Snoqualmie Pass to Richland.

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Three species of fish were essentially wiped out there when early dams were built to create reservoirs for irrigation and flood control: coho, summer chinook and sockeye.

Efforts have been under way to restore coho to the region, including a test study in Cle Elum Lake to gauge whether sockeye might also thrive there.

Sockeye used to be found in four large lakes in the basin. They disappeared from Cle Elum Lake in about 1894 when the first dam was built.

A slide will allow juvenile salmon to spill out from the lake in spring to the Cle Elum River, a tributary of the Yakima River, after which they will travel to the ocean. Because the slide only works when the reservoir is full, future plans call for building a tower that would stay with the levels of the lake, allowing fish to wash downstream even in dry years.

Returning adult salmon will be captured downstream in the Yakima River and trucked to the lake.

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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