Court Affirms Quinault Nation ownership of Lake Quinault
A federal judge on July 24, 2019 dismissed a lawsuit that sought to revoke the ownership of Lake Quinault from the Quinault Indian Nation. The judgement affirms two prior court decisions rejecting the claim that the Quinault Nation has no jurisdiction over the lake.
“This latest court decision once again affirms our ownership of Lake Quinault and builds on decades of progress asserting the Nation’s exclusive and sovereign right to manage natural resources on our reservation,” said Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp. “Lake Quinault is sacred to us and we are committed to being responsible stewards of the land and waters of our reservation for the benefit of the Quinault people, as well as our non-tribal neighbors.”
The string of unsuccessful court challenges to the Quinault Nation’s ownership of the lake stem from the opposition of a handful of property-owners to the Nation’s management safeguards to conserve and protect the clean water, habitat quality and access to the lake.
Of particular concern to the Nation is preventing the spread of invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels, and invasive noxious weeds like knotweed, which are transported by boats, trailers and other boating accessories. Once established, the invasive mussels will change ecosystems and food sources critical to native species such as salmon and trout. Knotweed is spreading rapidly along Washington waterways. Knotweed eventually outcompetes native plants and obstructs access to the banks of rivers and lakes for wildlife and recreationists and has been linked to the reduction of salmon habitat.
Many of the safeguards regulating boating and other activities in and surrounding the lake, are part of the Quinault Nation’s priority to protect and restore Blueback salmon and the habitat they need to survive. Adult Blueback salmon, a genetically distinct population of sockeye salmon sacred to the Quinault people, spend up to ten months in Lake Quinault completing their maturation process before swimming upriver to spawn. The Nation has closed the commercial Blueback fishery for 2019 for the second consecutive year for conservation purposes.
“We deeply appreciate the support for our stewardship priorities from the majority of our neighbors and friends who live and own land along the lake,” said Sharp. “We all have a direct interest in keeping the lake clean and safeguarding it now and for future generations.”
Safeguards for Lake Quinault are among many actions the Nation takes to protect and conserve the ecosystems that support the fish and wildlife, clean waters and natural beauty of the Olympic Peninsula. This year marks the 50Anniversary of the Nation’s decision to close the beaches of the reservation’s 23 miles of shoreline. The decision by the Quinault Business Committee in 1969 was in response to destructive activities ranging from illegal trash dumping and improper disposal of sewage waste to irresponsible plans to build on shorelands not suitable for septic systems and where potable water is scarce.
Acting pursuant to the 1856 Treaty of Olympia which established the Quinault Nation as a federally-recognized sovereign Indian tribe, President Grant signed an Executive Order in 1873 setting aside the land that became known as the Quinault Indian Reservation. Lake Quinault lies entirely within the boundaries of the area set aside by the Executive Order.
In dismissing the most recent case, the United States Court of Federal Claims ruled on procedural grounds. Although the suit was brought against the United States, it was based on claims against the Quinault Nation and the State of Washington. The court, however, has jurisdiction only over claims based on the actions of the United States.
In 2017 the Washington State Court of Appeals rejected a claim that Lake Quinault is owned by the State and the Nation had no stake in the lawsuit. The Court saw no merit in those arguments, noting “It is uncontested that the Nation claims an interest in the subject of this action: Lake Quinault. The treaty and executive order, both of which predate Washington statehood, evidence this claim.” The Court of Appeals’ decision concurred with a prior federal court ruling in 2015.