throbbed and the sacred circle of life was on display last week
at what the Kootenai Tribe hopes will be the rebirth of sturgeon
and burbot, at a ceremony dedicating a massive new 35,000-square
foot hatchery for propagating and rearing both species.
"Sturgeon and burbot
are so unique it's amazing," said Sue Ireland, fish and wildlife
director for the c Tribe of Idaho, at the October 9 ceremony. "They're
just incredible creatures and are culturally significant to the
tribe. They're really important here in the Kootenai River in the
circle of life. This is really a special day in the restoration
of these species."
A large crowd gathered
in this rather remote location to dedicate the opening of the Twin
Rivers Sturgeon and Burbot Hatchery, including Idaho's two U.S.
Senators, Republicans Mike Crapo and Jim Risch. The Sookenai Singers
from the Ktunaxa Nation in British Columbia provided drum music
for the event.
The hatchery is the
first facility, nationally or internationally, to be built to rear
and release burbot to rehabilitate a native population. Burbot were
once a primary winter food source for tribal members but the population
has been nearly extirpated to an estimated 50 fish through many
miles of the Kootenai River in Idaho. But changes in river flow
after the 1975 completion of Libby Dam in Montana altered river
conditions drastically, reducing both burbot and sturgeon numbers.
Fortunately, another genetic source nearby has been found to furnish
Sturgeon can live
to be 100 and were even revered by the tribe as spiritual grandfathers
able to lead tribal people safely up and down the river. The restoration
of the two species has been a major goal of the Kootenai Tribe since
its first sturgeon hatchery opened in 1991.
"We've been writing
the book on sturgeon restoration," said Tribal Chairman Gary Aitken
Jr., who, emceed the event. His father had been the first manager
of the first sturgeon hatchery, and the younger Aitken worked there
during those early years.
has been under way for several years, with bank and riparian restoration,
along with placement of rock substrate over clay bottoms to aid
in improving spawning success. More projects are planned as well.
"Native people believe
everything is connected, so we take a holistic approach," Aitken
said. "We start from the bottom of the food chain up to the top
and address all these factors we can. In doing so we forged partnerships
where once we faced opposition."
The new hatchery
will enable the sturgeon program to expand. The additional space
will allow more females to be spawned and thus provide for more
The tribe has been
working with the University of Idaho since 2006 to develop techniques
for rearing burbot. They are a predatory fish, even eating smaller
burbot, and must be separated by size as they grow in the hatchery.
Burbot spawn in winter,
and proper water temperature is critical for their survival. They
reproduce in shallow waters, making them easy to net. Excellent
to eat, they thus can serve as a food source in winter.
The Bonneville Power
Administration is the primary funding agency. Money comes from rate
payers and is used to mitigate the effects of dams built in the
"The hatchery is
part of the largest aquatic restoration program in the country,"
said BPA Deputy Director Greg Delwiche. "We should be proud of where
He also spoke of
the "passion and gutsiness" of the Kootenai Tribe in reaching this
point. "They've built success after success."
Sturgeon Rebound With Help From Kootenai Tribe of Idaho
The ceremony was
a "tremendous opportunity to recognize what the Kootenai Tribe has
done for the community, the state, the nation as they work to protect
these tremendous fish, both sturgeon and burbot," Crapo said.
"I've worked with
the tribe over the years on many different issues," the senator
said at the opening. "It's incredible to see such wise leadership
that the tribe has shown. They have learned the value of collaboration.
They work together and work to make sure they address the issues
of concern for all the stakeholders."
The hatchery itself
is as unique as the cooperative, can-do spirit of the enterprise,
he added, praising tribal members and their efforts.
"I'm not sure if
there is a fish hatchery in Idaho that's larger than this one,"
Crapo said. "It's a beautiful facility that is going to help preserve
sturgeon and burbot, and extend protection of our cultural heritage
in this community while promoting economic growth and jobs and strength
for the families who live in this area. I commend you for this."