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[DEADLINER] NMFS ISSUE DECISION TIMETABLE ON WEST COAST SALMONIDS AND CUTTHROAT :: The National Marine Fisheries Service June 14 released a timetable on ESA listing decisions on West Coast coho, chum, sockeye and chinook salmon and cutthroat trout. The agency last month said it would decide whether or not to list Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California steelhead by early December of this year. The NMFS announcement said ESA decision dates would be coho, January 1997; chum February 1997; sockeye, September 1997; chinook December 1997 and cutthroat January 1998 [Cyrus Noë].

[1] RECORD JACK RETURN RAISES HOPES FOR SNAKE RIVER SALMON :: This year's return of immature adult spring/summer chinook salmon in the Snake River promises to be one for the record books. Jack salmon that return after only one year in the ocean provide a reliable forecast of the number of salmon that will return to spawn in the next two years. Midway through the spring/summer chinook season, more jacks have appeared above Bonneville than in 1991, the year of the third highest run in two decades. The total jack return is closely tailing the 1986 count, which was the largest run since 1976.

Based on the Snake River jack count thus far, adult returns in 1997 and 1998 should be in the 25,000-30,000 range, said Gene Matthews, a NMFS fisheries research biologist. "We should have two really strong runs." Jack runs reliably predict the adult runs because most of the mortality suffered by salmon occurs in their first year in the ocean, he said.

The return of jacks to the Snake is especially encouraging, Matthews added, because wild runs in the Snake are on the verge of disappearing. Jack counts above Lower Granite on the Snake are about ten times higher than those above Priest Rapids, on the Mid-Columbia. "It appears they did really well in the '95 out-migration. It couldn't have happened at a better time."

This year, some 6,000 adult spring/summer chinook (hatchery and wild) are returning to the Snake to spawn, a level that was predicted by last year's jack run. The 1995 run was weaker still, and the 1994 jack run that preceded it was the lowest on record, yielding only 116 jacks over Lower Granite dam. This year, fish counters have spotted 1,241 jacks over Lower Granite, and that may be only half the run.

The fluctuation in numbers of returning jacks suggests that ocean conditions affect salmon survival more than river flows, Matthews said. "If you have good ocean conditions, you'll have good fish runs. If you have El Niņos and bad conditions, you won't do much." The strapping 1991 jack run followed an outmigration on low flows in 1990. On the other hand, 1994's extremely weak jack run followed a good flow year in 1993 with lots of spill. "You've got two diametrically opposed conditions, so I don't see a lot of relationship there at all," said Matthews [Pam Russell].

[2] SPRING RUNOFF ROARS THROUGH HYDRO SYSTEM :: The spring freshet raged through the Columbia/Snake river system last week, producing flows of 200 Kcfs at Lower Granite, and in excess of 450 Kcfs below Bonneville dam. Grand Coulee was filling at a rate of more than 2 feet per day, a rise so rapid it posed a concern for federal hydro operators. Until flows ease on the Snake, the Army Corps of Engineers is keeping outflow from Grand Coulee at about 190 Kcfs, according to Cindy Hendrickson, chief of the Corps' reservoir control center. Once the flows on the Snake begin to recede, discharge from Coulee will be increased to ease the pressure on that reservoir. Between efforts to manage the runoff in the Snake and the Columbia, flows on the lower Columbia are expected to stay above 300 Kcfs into July.

Spill continues at all projects throughout the system, and gas levels remain high. Gas bubble disease was observable in 23 percent of fish at Ice Harbor on June 11, but none of the fish exhibited severe signs. The signs of gas bubble trauma have been high at times, but also sporadic. At John Day on June 3, 22.6 percent had signs of gas bubbles in fins, but the level at the same dam decreased to as low as 3.1 percent on June 9.

The Technical Management Team decided on June 5 to begin transporting fall chinook at McNary, but high waters and constant spill below the dam made the water too deep and dangerous for barges. Beginning on Thursday, June 6, and every other day thereafter, the Corps has been trucking salmonids from McNary to the lower Columbia downstream of Bonneville dam, said the Corps' Hendrickson.

The controversy over whether to barge spring/summer chinook at McNary is now moot--the spring/summer yearlings have passed through the system. A May 22 memo from salmon management agencies to the Technical Management Team supported the decision not to barge [Pam Russell].

[3] KEMPTHORNE SALMON RECOVERY HEARING FOCUSES ON LOWER GRANITE SURFACE COLLECTORS; BURNS SCHEDULES HEARING AS WELL :: What happened during the recent installation of surface collectors at Lower Granite Dam was the main focus of the June 11 hearing held by Senator Dirk Kempthorne (R-ID), chairman of the Senate Drinking Water, Fisheries and Wildlife Subcommittee, in Washington, DC. The Army Corps of Engineers took some heat in April when it shut down half the turbines at Lower Granite to finish work on a surface collection system that was scheduled to be completed before the start of salmon migration season. But high flows resulting from February's floods delayed construction, and the Corps opted to shut down some turbines and finish the system while the fish were running. That led to higher spill levels and evidence of gas bubble disease in the migrating fish--and Kempthorne's hearing.

"I'm disappointed that we seem to be back to square one every summer asking scientists and federal dam managers why more and more fish are being killed," Kempthorne said in his opening statement.

Will Stelle, regional director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, and Major General Russell Fuhrman of the Army Corps of Engineers testified at the hearing. So did Mitch Sanchotena of Idaho Steelhead and Salmon United, Idaho NWPPC member Mike Fields, and members of two scientific advisory committees working on the salmon recovery issue. Furhman reportedly told the hearing the Corps decided to complete work on the system because it would have taken as long to dismantle it as to finish it.

Kempthorne staffer Mark Snider said several of Kempthorne's questions to Stelle and Fuhrman went unanswered--although written replies were promised in the near future. He added that the purpose of the hearing was not to say "let's fix the problem today," but to take a look at "the melding of science and policy."

Meanwhile, Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) has scheduled a June 19 D.C. hearing on salmon issues--this one, to "examine the role of science in formulating the adaptive management plan for recovery of the salmon in the Columbia River Basin." In a news release, Burns expressed concern that such a plan might ignore potential effects on Montana's ecosystem [Jude Noland].

[4] EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE TURNS BACK MONTANA COMPROMISE PROPOSAL ON DRAWDOWN OF LIBBY, HUNGRY HORSE :: In hopes of averting yet another summer confrontation over the drafting of Libby and Hungry Horse reservoirs, Montana asked the Executive Committee of salmon recovery policymakers to compromise on a 10-foot drawdown of each reservoir. The Executive Committee turned the proposal down.

The Biological Opinion calls for drafting Montana reservoirs up to 20 feet in late summer to meet seasonal average flow targets of at least 200 Kcfs far downstream at McNary dam. The heavy drafting of upper Columbia reservoirs to achieve incremental flow increases in the lower Columbia is vehemently opposed by Montana, which is concerned about the biology of resident fish, riparian habitat below the dams, and of course the recreational uses of the reservoirs. Montana's stance previously has been to insist on adherence to the integrated rule curves (IRCs) that were developed to take into consideration the biological productivity of the reservoirs, power operations and flood control as well as flows for salmon recovery. The Bi-Op calls for more water from Montana reservoirs than do the IRCs.

Montana approached the idea of ten-foot drawdowns in the spirit of compromise and concern for "the biological welfare of the whole region," said Montana NWPPC member Stan Grace, who sits on the Executive Committee. The 10-foot drawdown would provide approximately three-quarters of a million acre-feet of storage to help meet Bio-Op flow targets, as well as 1.5 million acre-feet to benefit sturgeon. It would also provide Montana with a degree of certainty as to what to expect in August. An earlier version of the proposal, as presented to the Implementation Team, appeared in a letter from Brian Marotz of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks to NMFS' Brian Brown.

But the Executive Committee was not prepared to voluntarily cut off access to any water in the system. "The only way they would agree is if we went to Canadian storage for replacement water, at a cost to Bonneville of about $4 million," said Grace. "They're looking to prevail in a political debate, not to compromise for the sake of the biological welfare of the region."

Given the circumstances of this year's robust runoff, Montana's compromise would appear to assure salmon managers of a seasonal average runoff of at least 210 Kcfs, in excess of the Biological Opinion flow objectives, Grace said. "Pulling down our reservoirs would give them the possibility of a seasonal average of 224 Kcfs, well in excess of the Bio Op targets." Finding the Executive Committee unwilling to compromise, he is not sure where to turn next. "Maybe we're working in the wrong forum. Maybe we need to turn to the public," he said [Pam Russell].

[5] NWPPC ASKS CLINTON TO ORDER FEDERAL AGENCIES TO DEFER TO SALMON RECOVERY PLAN; COUNCIL, ALASKA, MONTANA, TRIBES & CRA PETITION TO INTERVENE IN AMERICAN RIVERS LAWSUIT :: At its monthly meeting in Spokane June 5, the Northwest Power Planning Council voted to write a letter to President Clinton asking him to issue an executive order requiring all federal agencies to act consistently with the Council's salmon recovery plan. The letter is a follow-up to the Council's similar recommendation to Congress in the 180-Day Report that the White House's executive authority be used to strengthen NWPPC oversight of salmon recovery activities.

The Clinton Administration is open-minded about the proposal, according to one senior administration official. More details about the Council's proposal and its basic intent will be needed. "The administration is very interested in pursuing improvements in the working relationship between federal agencies, the states and the tribes, and if the executive order helps move us in that direction, it may be a very good idea," said the official.

Also at the Spokane meeting, the Council in executive session voted to seek 'friend of the court' status in the American Rivers v. NMFS lawsuit over the Biological Opinion [US District Court, Portland, 96-384-JE]. Although Biological Opinion lawsuits have come to be annual events, this is the first time the council has decided to ask for status. "We recognize that under the Northwest Power Act, we have a statutory responsibility to direct river operations to protect and enhance fish and wildlife, and this lawsuit goes to the heart of river operations," said NWPPC spokesman John Harrison. "If this lawsuit leads to negotiations about river operations, we should have a seat at the table."

The council is of course divided over some of the elements of its salmon recovery plan, notably Snake River drawdowns. The intent of joining the lawsuit is not to take up one side or another, Harrison said. "They're not joining the lawsuit to promote any one part of the council's fish and wildlife program, because they don't agree on all of it." Rather, the decision was made to ensure status in settlement negotiations.

The state of Alaska is also seeking amicus status, and the state of Montana is seeking to intervene on behalf the defendants. Rick Taylor, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said the Yakamas, Nez Perce, Warm Springs and Umatilla tribes have all indicated they will also join the lawsuit as amici in support of American Rivers. CRA filed a petition to intervene June 12 as a defendant, arguing in a memorandum that "plaintiffs' claims threaten to impair significant economic interests of the CRA while providing no additional biological benefit to the listed fish."

The Spokane council meeting also included time for public comment on Columbia Basin F&W managers' recommendations on prioritizing F&W projects to be funded by BPA. Written comments are due to the Council by June 18 [Pam Russell].

[6] MOA ON BONNEVILLE FISH CAP DISCUSSED IN PORTLAND AND WASHINGTON, D.C. :: Regional heads of the five federal agencies involved in administering fish and wildlife activities and hydro operations on the Columbia system met with tribal representatives on Monday, June 3, to discuss how the tribes may give their input into the development of the memorandum of agreement on implementing BPA's fish cap. The tribes asserted their rights to consultation in March, and negotiations among federal agencies on the issues involved--i.e., who controls projects, supervision and most of all, money--ground to a halt. At the Portland meeting, the tribes asked for another month's time to meet and negotiate on a final MOA. The regional leaders of BPA, NMFS, the Corps, Bur Rec and US Fish agreed, but said it was not within their authority to cancel a meeting of the national heads of their agencies scheduled in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, June 5.

The June 5 meeting was held as scheduled, but as promised to the tribes, "nothing was decided," said BPA vice president Steve Wright. The meeting provided an opportunity to educate the higher-ups on the issues involved in designing the MOA, he said [Pam Russell].

[7] CONSERVATION AND FISHER GROUPS CHALLENGE NMFS' TIMETABLE FOR PROPOSING TO LIST STEELHEAD :: The Oregon Natural Resources Council, leading a coalition of 20 conservation and fisher groups, asked a federal judge to force NMFS to speed up the proposed listing of steelhead trout as a threatened species in Oregon, Idaho, Washington and California. The request was in response to NMFS' proposal, on May 28, to delay the listing decision until December.

"Judge Illston had ordered NMFS to submit a reasonable timetable for release of the listing proposal," said Michael Sherwood, a Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund attorney and ONRC's attorney for this case. "Since the government has admitted its proposal was essentially complete by last summer, we have called for its release in six weeks, rather than the six months asked for by NMFS." The judge decided to consider the merits of ONRC's challenge without holding the hearing plaintiff requested, Sherwood said [Pam Russell].

***Document Annex***
Works Cited

DOCUMENTS FROM NW FISHLETTER 011 :: Below are listed available documents referred to in the text of NW Fishletter issue 011.

THE ARCHIVE :: Previous NW Fishletter issues and supporting documents.

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Last modified: June 19, 1996