Deep in the $38.2 billion two-year state operating budget, passed by the Washington Legislature June 29, hides a $2 million line item for the Lake Rufus Woods Fishing Access.
The line item is Washington—at least partially—making good on the 8-year old Lake Rufus Woods agreement between Washington and the Colville Tribes.
In an April 2015 letter from Colville Business Council Chair Jim Boyd to state representatives, Boyd notes Washington “provided annual enforcement funding but until today it has not fulfilled its funding obligation for the planning, construction and maintenance of designated fishing areas.”
Originally the agreement committed the Tribe to designate fishing areas on the Colville Reservation for non-Tribal fishers, addressed fishing regulations and committed the State to provide nearly $4.5 million to the Tribe for enforcement and fishing access improvements.
The Tribes also stock the reservoir; this year alone, the Colville Resident Fish Hatchery has released 63, 903 trout into the 51-mile-long Lake Rufus Woods, which sits between Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams.
Part of the reservation’s southern boundary is defined as the middle of the lake’s riverbed, but a 2008 press release notes that previous to the agreement determining and enforcing the actual boundary was difficult and state fishermen were required to hold both tribal and state fishing licenses.
At the time, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Jeff Koenings applauded the cooperative effort.
Then Colville Tribal Fish and Wildlife Director Joe Peone called the agreement “a genuine public benefit.”
On most summer mornings, fishermen from around Washington come to the lake guided most by the lore of enormous trout; the three most recent state record trout, which includes the reservoir’s famous triploids, have been harvested there. The most recent, in 2002—six years previous to the agreement—weighed 29.6 lbs.
But the fishermen are faced with undeveloped access points, rutted gravel, trucks and boat trailers backed into long, dry grass along the Columbia River Road: risks of erosion, fire danger.
Following the 2008 signing of the agreement, the Tribes even designed three fishing access boat launches with the architecture firm Womer and Associates, but without funding, those designs sat idle.
In 2013, after the initial agreement ran out, the Colville Tribes’ re-signed, waiting still for the access improvement funding.
“This was an obligation we made in the past and we needed to fulfill that obligation, said Washington District 12 Representative Linda Evans Parlette.
“The governor didn’t do it, so the legislature stepped up to full this obligation.”
Originally the agreement was for Washington to provide $3 million toward fishing access improvement, and for the remaining money, not included in the June 29 operating budget, Parlette expressed the Tribes should push the governor to add funds to the supplemental budget.
“They hadn’t paid,” said Billy Nicholson, Colville Business Council representative for the Nespelem District,” but we weren’t jumping up and down.”