U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo S. Martinez's ruling was the result of a decades-old legal battle tied to treaties dating back to the mid-1800s. Tribes have said the state has blocked salmon passage and contributed to the decline of fish harvests.
Under the ruling, the state must first fix culverts on recreational lands by fall 2016. The state would have 17 years to provide fish passage through Transportation Department culverts.
Martinez said in his decision that the tribes have been harmed economically, socially, educationally and culturally because of reduced salmon harvests caused by state barriers that prevent fish passage.
"This injury is ongoing, as efforts by the State to correct the barrier culverts have been insufficient," Martinez wrote in his ruling. "Despite past state action, a great many barrier culverts still exist, large stretches of potential salmon habitat remain empty of fish, and harvests are still diminished."
Martinez compared spending on culvert correction with the overall transportation department budget and said the state has the financial ability to accelerate the pace of its fixes over the next several years.
Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, said she expected tribal leaders would soon convene a meeting with state officials about how to implement the court's decision.
"It's been a long time coming," she said. "We're very excited to see this next phase."
State Attorney General spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie said the state was determining its next step, which includes appealing the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
At the start of the case in 2009, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife identified 807 culverts blocking salmon habitat in the tribal case. By 2012, that number had gone up to 817 despite 24 culverts getting fixed.
"Extrapolation from these data would lead to the untenable conclusion that under the current State approach, the problem of WSDOT barrier culverts in the Case Area will never be solved," Martinez wrote.
More Northwest Headlines
Yakima youngsters mix Legos, science education Activists rappel off Oregon bridge to stop Shell icebreaker Stanwood man pleads guilty to stealing from Swinomish tribe Death penalty dropped from Carnation killings trial Poll: Just 30 percent inclined to re-elect Gov. Inslee GOP lawmakers want Washington to look at Planned Parenthood Salvation Army sets up charging ports for Portland homeless Spokane criminal faces 30th felony charge
Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.