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[1] NMFS Extinction Analysis Questioned At Workshop
[2] Most Tribal Fishermen Keep BPA-Purchased Nets From Getting Wet
[3] Gorton Goes After Gore On Breaching; Administration Fires Back
[4] House OK's $600 Million For 3 Years Of Salmon Recovery
[5] Senate Hears More Gripes Over Water For Salmon
[6] Corps Says 'Enough' To More John Day Drawdown Study
[7] Irrigators Point To Conflicts In Draft F&W Program

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Federal scientists took some heat last week from BPA consultants at a NMFS workshop on salmon extinction risk and habitat analysis. It was an affair only a statistician could love, but close to 100 regional biologists toughed it out, spending the day in Seattle listening and commenting as the federal agency described its latest work in the arcane world of extinction mathematics.

Dr. Rich Hinrichsen said the NMFS analysis gave him "concern." He had earlier participated in the contested PATH process, both as a private consultant to BPA and, earlier, as a colleague of UW professor Jim Anderson's CRiSP modeling group. Hinrichsen explained that the time frame used in the feds' analysis is set up to predict extinction for many stocks.

NMFS calls it the "lambda" analysis, with lambda denoting the median annual rate of population change. It's becoming a cornerstone of the new BiOp, though NMFS admits it does have shortcomings--mainly from differences in counting spawners over the years.

Hinrichsen said he has no problem with NMFS scientists using more recent time frames (brood years 1980-1995) than PATH did, but pointed out the first five and the last five points (averaged spawner counts on a graph over time) "are the only ones that really count" because they set the trend of the graph, either sloping upward towards recovery or downward toward extinction. If spawner numbers started "in a trough" [low returns] and ended in a trough, the downward slope toward extinction could be unduly pessimistic, he contended.

Since the NMFS analysis has not included this year's general uptick in populations, which seems to indicate more spawners in the near term, Hinrichsen was concerned that the NMFS method has no way to quickly adjust to better returns.

UW's Anderson raised another issue with the lambda analysis. With the data set starting in 1980, he said the entire analysis looks at a time period when the stocks have had to put up with a "poor ocean." He encouraged the feds to add the regime shift concept to their results. Many scientists now feel that the region is entering a 20- to 30-year period of better ocean conditions and higher salmon productivity for West Coast stocks.

NMFS scientist Michelle McClure, who works with the Cumulative Risk Initiative group, said it was a point well taken. But Tom Cooney, a NMFS analyst who has led the work on mid-Columbia listed stocks, was more skeptical. "We don't know if there is going to be a positive regime shift," he said. "Should we be more positive?"

Anderson said the idea should be put on the table and analyzed. He said the region needs to plan ahead at least 10 years to be ready for the next downturn. "The runs are coming back," Anderson said emphatically.

"We don't know," said NMFS scientist Chris Jordan, who had earlier explained the difficulties of designing ways to see if benefits from improving habitat could be measured by bigger fish runs. In some cases, he said there is less than a 20 percent chance of detecting such a benefit in fish populations over the next 10 years--a remark that had some participants wondering out loud how that jibed with the draft BiOp's call for a report card on salmon improvements in three, five and eight years to gauge the need for breaching lower Snake River dams.

The workshop also looked at the broad-brush habitat analysis NMFS is conducting and compared it to the EDT [Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment] method being pushed by the Power Planning Council to estimate potential fish productivity.

NMFS scientist Peter Kareiva, lead player in the agency's Cumulative Risk Initiative, told Council staffer Chip McConnaha, who represented the EDT group, that the process was too unwieldy. "You've got to come up with key drivers," rather than analyze the more than 9,000 parameters that EDT has postulated for each of the 7,500 streams in the Columbia Basin, he said. Another key difference in the models is that NMFS says small populations are not density-dependent, while EDT hypothesizes run-size limits due to limited spawning and rearing habitat.

Other issues touched on included the potential ill effects of hatchery fish on wild populations and their productivity. Karieva pointed out that it is a big uncertainty and surely affected some stocks more than others. He mentioned that the EDT process had already hypothesized hatchery effects--it was a built-in feature--and a worst-case scenario, EDT-style, resulted in hatchery effects that could reduce productivity from 3.6 to 1: in layman's terms, potentially reducing a healthy fish run to marginal reproductive status.

By late afternoon, Lloyd Moody, policy wonk from Washington Gov. Gary Locke's salmon advisory team, admitted he had a hard time following most of the discussion, but suggested that NMFS make an effort to coordinate its efforts with state agencies and local jurisdictions. He spoke for a good share of the audience who felt the NMFS work was too academic and not grounded by the needs of policymakers.

However, Muckleshoot tribal biologist Karen Walter said such coordination is unlikely to occur. She pointed out that Puget Sound salmon swim through more than 50 different jurisdictions on their way to spawn in traditional Muckleshoot watersheds, "and everybody wants to maintain local control." Walter also said the state Department of Ecology has "no will" to lead an effort in that direction. -Bill Rudolph


Tribal fishers on the Columbia River are using only about 30 percent of the new nets bought for them by BPA. The larger-mesh nets were given to the tribes in hopes of improving the passage of ESA-listed wild B-run steelhead between Bonneville and McNary dams, where the tribal fishery occurs every fall.

WDF&W harvest manager Cindy LeFleur told NW Fishletter that aerial surveys showed 137 of the new nets in the river, out of 485 total nets counted during the latest fishing period. She said 626 nets were fishing during the Sept. 13 opening period, including about 191 of the new nets.

BPA spent $308,000 on the new gear this spring, which included 479 nets and enough material to put together 648 total. Their mesh is nine inches across--larger than the typical eight-inch mesh used by tribal fishers during the fall season. Each net is 600 feet long, with depths varying from 45 to 80 meshes.

The tribes have not received more fishing time for using the new nets. By Sept. 23, they had caught about 53,000 fall chinook so far this year, including about 36,000 upriver brights from the Hanford Reach. Around 182,000 fall chinook had passed Bonneville Dam by that date.

BPA project manager John Skidmore, who spearheaded the net purchase, said the agency was hopeful about improved tribal participation. "We are disappointed in the early use, but expect with time, the new nets will be used more and more in the fishery."

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission is monitoring effectiveness of the new nets. Any benefits from allowing more steelhead to reach Idaho will be added to supplementation numbers. A report on the new nets should be available in a couple of weeks, said CRITFC staffer Stuart Ellis. Ellis pointed out that there wasn't a big financial incentive for tribal fishers to use the new nets, but he thought more would be fished as older gear wore out. "Fishermen are pretty conservative," said Ellis. "You've got to prove that the new nets are OK. When the word gets around, more of them will be fished." He said Yakama and Warms Springs tribal fishers are using the new nets, but Nez Perce and Umatilla fishers opted not to take part in the program. -B. R.


The Clinton Administration and Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) traded insults last week as the Washington Republican blasted Vice President Al Gore for what Gorton saw as the presidential candidate's support of breaching Snake River dams. Clinton's Council on Environmental Quality offered equal censure for a Gorton appropriations rider that prohibits funding for studies or any activity that could lead to breaching the dams.

In a DC press conference, Gorton cited a Gore campaign website in which the Vice President appeared to support removing Snake River dams as a salmon recovery strategy. But Gore spokeswoman Tovah Ravitz said the dam removal language was not Gore's, but belonged to the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

"The wording on the web site that refers to removing Snake River dams came from a questionnaire from Friends of the Earth," said Ravitz. "Vice President Gore's response follows that question. He did not say he would support removal of Snake River dams."

Ravitz said Gore's position remains as outlined in his response to the FOE question, in which he cites the Administration mantra that "Extinction is not an option, nor is massive economic dislocation." Gore further promised to "launch a comprehensive strategy addressing habitat, hatcheries, harvest and hydropower operations, based on scientifically-based performance measures." Gore then adds that the performance measures "will help determine whether more aggressive recovery efforts, such as dam breaching, are needed." He also promised to convene a Salmon Summit "to bring together all interested parties to find a real solution to restore salmon while avoiding massive economic dislocation in the region."

Ravitz acknowledged that the wording on the we site, which is no longer on line, could be misinterpreted as a Gore statement rather than a questionnaire from FOE.

Meanwhile, Gorton came in for his share of criticism from the Clinton Administration in a letter from George Frampton, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. Frampton condemned a move by Gorton to prohibit funding for studies of Snake River dam removal. Gorton is pushing a rider to the FY 2001 Department of the Interior appropriations bill that would prevent any federal inquiry into Snake River dam breaching. The amendment was successfully attached during House/Senate conference committee negotiations.

In a letter to Gorton, Frampton said the Administration is not seeking funding for dam removal, but "nevertheless, we must oppose any appropriations rider that could undermine the legal and scientific defensibility of the federal agencies' salmon recovery strategy..." Frampton claimed that Gorton's rider "could undermine the Biological Opinion and related salmon recovery efforts by picking apart disfavored aspects of a program that can only succeed if implemented as a cohesive whole."

The letter added that Gorton's prohibition "against even the study of economic and cultural effects of dam removal or breaching is exceedingly broad and may impair programs of other agencies besides the Corps [of Engineers]..."

Frampton promised that the Clinton Administration "will oppose any appropriations rider that could undermine the scientific integrity or legal defensibility of the pending Biological Opinion..."

In statements late last week, President Clinton hinted that he could veto the measure if it reaches his desk "polluted with riders." "I've vetoed bills before because they contain them and if I have to, I'll do it again," Clinton told reporters. -Lynn Francisco


The House unanimously passed a bill last week that calls for five western states and tribes to split $600 million in federal funding for salmon recovery over the next three years, with 15 percent earmarked for tribal programs. But the bill has some tough sledding ahead, since sponsors, which include Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), must convince congressional appropriations committees that it's worth it.

The Senate hasn't addressed the issue yet, but some have already expressed concern about the bill. Todd Ungerecht, staffer for Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA), said the bill has too many federal strings attached to spending, rather than allowing more local control of salmon recovery. He said the Senate might have trouble funding Idaho programs, since the original initiative included only Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California.

The Clinton Administration had asked for $100 million to fund the initiative this year, but Congress has only earmarked $58 million--with nothing for Idaho.

The new bill calls for conserving and restoring habitat for listed stocks, or candidates for listing, after states and tribes have submitted plans to the Secretary of Commerce for approval. -Bill Rudolph


Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and several members of the Power Planning Council appeared before a Senate Subcommittee on Sept. 13 to voice their complaints about federal salmon recovery efforts and show support for the plan being put together by Northwest governors. Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo chaired the hearing of the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Public Works, but heard conflicting views from his own state on the value of flow augmentation for improving fish survivals.

Kempthorne said a key element of the governors' plan is the requirement that the states be provided with documentation for the benefit of flow augmentation for juvenile fish. With the new BiOp calling for more water than ever, he said his own Departments of Water Resources and Fish and Game have concluded the NMFS flow-survival data doesn't provide significant biological benefits from either early or late flows.

His remarks didn't jibe with those of Oregon council member Eric Bloch, who said his state sees scientific merit in more flows and wants to increase them. He urged that the proposed BiOp measure calling for purchase of 2 MAF of Canadian storage be adopted, along with more spill at all projects.

Bloch also thought drawdown options for John Day and other mainstem dams should continue to be assessed, a strategy that Montana Council member John Etchart told Crapo "was almost as unsettling and contentious as dam breaching." Etchart said the use of spill should be improved, rather than calling for more of it, because of the need to balance fish needs with reliability impacts to the power system. He also said Montana supported flow augmentation as a key mainstem strategy, but echoed Kempthorne's call for documenting the benefits of it.

As for the proposed BiOp, Etchart called attention to the lack of detail about costs of measures and "whose responsibility it is to pay for them."

Power Council chair Larry Cassidy pointed out several areas where the BiOp could be refined. Measures need to be more specific; water quality and quantity actions, along with fish passage, need to be better articulated; cost estimation is incomplete--especially the effects of one particular action in the draft BiOp, boosting flows in November to aid chum stocks below Bonneville. Cassidy said the region could see power shortfalls in the ensuing two months. He told Crapo the Council believes the power system will most likely have reliability problems to the tune of 1500 aMW in January if the strategy is implemented.

On Sept. 14, Crapo heard from regional scientists who complained that NMFS has not collaborated with them or included much of their input, other than inviting them to several workshops.

ODFW biometrician Nick Bouwes testified that NMFS has "set the bar too low" by underestimating risks of extinction to Snake River stocks. He mentioned the old upriver/downriver stock comparison from the contentious PATH process, which he claimed showed more adverse effects on Snake River fish because they migrated past more dams than lower Columbia stocks.

The new NMFS analysis, the Cumulative Risk Initiative, has found little merit in that argument; both sides have recently made their points in academic journals. The scientists told Crapo that slight genetic differences "don't kill fish." NMFS, on the other hand, says the differences are not slight--which precludes comparison because there are no "control" fish to compare with either upriver or downriver stocks.

IDFG's anadromous fish manager Ed Bowles told Crapo that the fish conservation effort should be "re-focused on the hydro system." Though he acknowledged a "slight improvement" in fish survivals by barging, Bowles supported flow augmentation in the absence of breaching the lower Snake dams.

A later panel of environmentalists supported continued studies to look at breaching the dams and more focus on economic mitigation if such action occurs.

Sam Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, was clear in his own remarks. He called the NMFS proposal "a plan for extinction of Snake River salmon stocks." -B. R.


The Corps of Engineers announced last week that it believes it has enough biological and economic information to make a decision on drawing down John Day Reservoir. The agency sent its recommendation to Congress, which had appropriated $3.7 million in 1998 to study two options at John Day--drawdown to spillway crest and drawdown to "natural river" level. Congress told the Corps to come back for more money if the agency needed to fund a second phase of the study.

The Corps found that a spillway crest drawdown (50 feet) would mean extensive modifications to fish passage systems and would also affect river users. For example, towboaters would be required to use shallow-draft barges. Drawing down the reservoir to natural river level would drop the water level by 100 feet, with dramatic effects on navigation, irrigation, hydro generation, cultural resources and water supplies.

The Corps concluded that drawing down the reservoir would do little to help ESA-listed Snake River fish, much less other stocks. The 1998 supplemental BiOp, which rolled threatened steelhead stocks into the 1995 BiOp on hydro operations, directed the Corps to ask for funds to investigate the potential effects of future drawdowns.
-B. R.


Columbia Basin irrigators say that the latest draft of the Power Planning Council's new fish and wildlife program is on a collision course with state water rights. They told their story to Oregon Council members at a Sept. 22 meeting in Hermiston.

Their message was also spelled out in formal comments that Columbia-Snake and Eastern Oregon Irrigators Associations sent to the Council. "It is not possible for the Council to maintain a position on non-interference over state water rights and management, while at the same time accepting the NMFS flow/augmentation program," the associations argued.

The irrigators have backed a change in mainstem flow policy that would shift augmentation into the summer, which they say would save more fish, along with $30 million in power generation, which could be plowed back into habitat programs, and developing water projects with tribes.

They say the NMFS flow targets are unreachable in average water years and cite the federal agency's own research, which has failed to find a relationship between boosted flows and improved juvenile fish survival through the hydro system.

Since draft language in the Council's program defers to NMFS flow augmentation policy, the irrigators say a fundamental conflict exists between the statutory authority of the Northwest Power Act "not to interfere with state water rights" and adoption of NMFS' flow targets regime and "no net loss" water policy. The federal policy calls for offsetting any new use of mainstem water by relinquishing an earlier water claim; NMFS says it's all needed to help salmon and steelhead migrations.

The irrigators also charge the "natural hydrographic" flow regime called for in the Council's draft program conflicts with other language that recommends flow and spill operations should be "optimized" for biological benefits and economic costs. If the Council's new program defers to the NMFS BiOp, the irrigators say, it will be impossible to achieve a cost-effective fish program in the basin. And without a cost-effective fish program, they point out, the Council cannot assure the region of an economical and reliable power supply--another tenet of the NW Power Act.

"They have some valid criticisms," said John Brogoitti, Oregon Council member representing the eastern part of the state. Brogoitti said the Council has to take a hard look at the federal flow augmentation policy. Both he and Eric Bloch, Oregon's other Council member, attended the Hermiston meeting.

"Both Eric and I agree that we need to look at this further," Brogoitti added. "Though my reasons are probably 180 degrees from what his are." Bloch recently testified before the US Senate that his state supported the NMFS call for more flow augmentation and more spill at all federal projects.

Brogoitti pointed out that the four Northwest governors have a place for flow augmentation in their own salmon plan--if NMFS can document the benefits from the controversial strategy.

Water Flows Toward Courts

Natural resource consultant Darryll Olsen said the irrigators' association plans to file a lawsuit on Oct. 31 against the Washington Department of Ecology for its tacit support of the NMFS "no net loss" water policy. The state has not expressed itself much on this issue, but a DOE spokesperson recently told NW Fishletter that the agency supported the NMFS policy "with some questions."

The irrigators want more water from John Day and McNary Pools that has been reserved by the state since 1980--about 1.3 MAF for supplying 330,000 acres that was slated to be developed by 2020. Some of their applications go back nearly that far, which has the group frustrated, especially since they say DOE staff has "verbally" stated the NMFS policy had no scientific merit (DOE staffers made the statement at a Columbia River Basin Forum meeting) last February.

In 1980, the state also reserved 26 KAF per year from the pools for future municipal water supplies. Last week, the Tri-Cities and the municipality of West Richland, known collectively as the "quad cities," filed suit against the DOE over a water rights application the agency threw out over a technicality. The DOE's move effectively put their application at the end of a line that is 7,000 applications long.

In a recent letter to WA Gov. Gary Locke, the cities offered the state a chance to re-instate their application before they went to court. But Locke let the issue ride, saying he hoped to address water issues in the next legislative session. City officials are worried that the state will deny new water rights with an overhaul of state water policy.

Meanwhile, two Northwest senators have gotten into the act. Slade Gorton (R-WA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) sent a Sept. 20 letter to the Power Planning Council "to echo the concerns raised by many local governments, irrigation, and recreational interests in Washington and Oregon about the Council's proposed water management measures for the Columbia Basin."

The senators also said they were concerned that the flow augmentation policy and target flows in the proposed BiOp weren't based on "sound science" and "are in conflict with the Council's responsibilities under the Northwest Power Act." They called for salmon recovery policies that do not conflict with state water rights and expressed support for the flow alternative developed by the irrigators.

The latest word comes from the state of Washington itself. In comments on the Power Planning Council's proposed fish and wildlife program, the state expressed concern over the Council's new role as enforcer of the off-site mitigation effort that is being planned to help keep the hydro system from jeopardizing ESA-listed stocks. Although he didn't get into the water fight, Curt Smitch, Gov. Locke's salmon advisor, said "The vast majority of the needed off-site mitigation activities involve water and land use practices that are under the jurisdiction of state and local governments, not the Council."

Smitch questioned "the appropriateness" of the central ESA role that federal agencies have in mind for the Council. "It is our firm view," he said, "that the Council's program needs to defer to, and not impose upon, state salmon recovery efforts." He suggested talks begin soon on these issues, and that basin tribes be included in them as well, because the state of Washington feels the sub-basin planning process spelled out in the draft program puts the Council in a new operational role as an administrative body--rather than the "planning, policy-making and reviewing body" it should remain. -B. R.

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