Environment | Opinion

Billy Frank: Treaty rights threatened by pollution in Washington

"Our treaty right to gather shellfish depends on the shellfish being safe to eat.

Samish Bay is one of the traditional shellfish gathering areas for the Swinomish and Upper Skagit tribes. It has some of the highest levels of fecal coliform in the state.

Fecal coliform is bacteria that’s found in the poop of warm-blooded animals. It ends up in the water when septic systems fail or when farm animals and manure aren’t kept far enough away from streams. The problem gets worse when heavy rains wash even more pollution into the bay. Already this year, Samish Bay has been closed to shellfish harvesting for 38 days.

We have asked the federal government time and again to take action against those who pollute our waterways and contaminate our shellfish. Our treaty shellfish harvest rights are threatened because the state and federal governments are failing to hold landowners responsible to keep fecal coliform and other pollutants out of our bays.

While tribal requests for help have been ignored by the federal government, others have gotten a response. When non-Indian commercial shellfish growers cried for relief from fecal coliform pollution in Samish Bay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responded. EPA gave Skagit County about $1 million to find and fix pollution problems. In May, the Puget Sound Partnership unveiled plans to conduct more inspections of septic tanks and farms."

Get the Story:
Billy Frank Jr: Pollution Denies Our Treaty Rights (Indian Country Today 8/7)

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