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IN addition to an apology, Billy Frank Jr. and the other pioneer tribal fishing-rights activists deserve recognition — and thanks — for making salmon habitat protection a much higher regional priority than it probably would have been without them.

Even before the Boldt decision, tribes were arguing the state was obligated under the treaties not just to let them catch fish, but also to protect waters and watersheds so there still would be fish to catch.

That treaty right wasn’t firmly established in court until 2007. Its scope still is being litigated.

But after Boldt, just the suggestion of such a right was enough to give the tribes — and salmon — a hammer they previously lacked.

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One example: The tribes’ potential legal clout “scared the hell out of the forest industries in the state of Washington” in the 1980s, lawyer and environmental mediator Jim Waldo observed near the end of that decade.

Out of that fear came a landmark agreement to toughen logging rules.

Salmon habitat still needs more protection. Resistance persists — the state, for instance, is wrongheadedly appealing a federal judge’s 2013 order that, per the treaties, it must accelerate fixes for 1,000 fish-blocking road culverts.

Still, much progress has been made. Salmon would be in much worse shape today if not for the fish-ins of a half-century ago and the legal safeguards they helped launch.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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