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[1] Tri-County Salmon Effort Slowly Moves Ahead
[2] It's Unanimous! Council Approves New Fish and Wildlife Plan
[3] Showdown Over Hatchery Standards Tabled For Now
[4] Fall Chinook Run Falls Off: Steelhead Counts High--With Discrepancies
[5] Idaho Enviros Intend To Sue Everybody Over Stream Flows

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With federal 4(d) rules to protect Puget Sound salmon designed to kick in next January, the two-year-old tri-county effort that's supposed to develop NMFS-approved habitat plans to help threatened wild chinook is still a long way from finished. By last week's meeting of the 34-person executive committee, which included three county executives and several mayors of nearby cities, a road maintenance plan was nearly ready for NMFS approval, but other major elements, like a storm water management plan, have not yet been analyzed for biological benefits. Jackie Kirn of King County's ESA Policy Coordination Office said the ultimate goal is to be "close to" pre-development erosion standards for the Puget Sound region.

That could take up to another year, said Tim Ceis, ESA office director. "But this is not failure at all," he said, reminding committee members that two years ago, the group set off "na´ve and rosy-cheeked," and now they are dealing with "the complicated, hard stuff."

The committee also discussed the possibilities for funding salmon recovery efforts over the long term. One idea--a one percent for salmon assessment, was discussed as a publicly acceptable way to pay for part of the salmon recovery bill, similar to the way public art is funded through the one percent for arts program. A one-percent assessment on the capital spending in the three counties (King, Pierce, Snohomish) and Seattle and Bellevue could generate more than $14 million annually.

Policymakers handed out a decision-making tree that put final federal approval of salmon conservation plans in 2005, after a three-year trip through the multi-jurisdictional/multi-stakeholder planning bodies of the watershed assessment process, and another six months for local, tribal and state governments to implement actions before it would be handed over to NMFS and USF&WS for their OK.

Tribal leaders said things were moving too slow. G. I. James of the Lummi Tribe said he didn't feel the group felt the sense of urgency about recovering salmon stocks that Native Americans did. Committee member Terry Williams, a leader of the Tulalip Tribe, echoed James' concern. He told the group that his reservation's members needed more fish in their diet--too many were succumbing to heart disease and diabetes from high-fat diets.

Another hot-button issue is buffer zones. King County's Ceis said a committee majority has agreed that fish-bearing streams, lakes or marine waters should have 200-foot buffers on each side. In rural areas, the inner 150 feet of the management zone would be a "no-touch buffer." In urban areas, the inner 115 feet of the zone would be "no touch."

In addition, 65 percent of the total zone would be preserved or restored in native vegetation. And all impervious surfaces (roads, parking lots, etc.) within the zone must be infiltrated or dispersed so that the net effective impervious surface in the area is zero. A 10-foot building set back line will be maintained between any structure, including paved parking areas, and native vegetation areas.

Most committee members supported analyzing the differences between 115-foot and 150-foot "no touch" zones, but there is still some question about which streams should be included in the analysis.

Options included looking at streams with mean annual flows of 20 cfs or greater since that would include all waters under the jurisdiction of the Shorelines Management Act. Another potential option would exempt streams that flowed through "urbanized" basins--those with more than 35 percent total impervious areas with less than half of their riparian corridor intact.

Ceis admitted problems with the options, since none actually dealt with critical chinook habitat--another ill-defined term. As for using streams in the 20 cfs range, he said that was "not actually based on whether the habitat was in good condition."

This brought a flurry of comments from committee members. Larry Phillips, a member of the King County Council, said he thought restoring urban streams was not a wise use of funds. "We need to look at the economic and social aspects of what we're doing."

There was some discussion about setting goals, but Ceis said it was premature to set them now. "Setting goals with our best givens--we'll probably miss them." He said it was up to NMFS to set the goals, and a watershed assessment would help in that area.

NMFS' salmon recovery goals would not be ready until next summer, said Bob Turner, the federal agency's lead policymaker for habitat in the state. He said goals could be set now, but ones that don't apply to urban environments. In Seattle, for instance, Turner said interim goals could simply mean no more habitat loss coupled with programs that started to improve it.

Phillips was concerned about what happens on January 8 when the 4(d) rules go into effect--"When we need another year..."

Ceis said he didn't think NMFS would begin enforcement, pointing out other issues that have recently come up, like NMFS panning all proposed options for expanding I-405, the main north/south freeway east of Lake Washington, where traffic is projected to go up 250 percent over the next 20 years. The agency said all improvements to the freeway were likely to cause more residential and commercial growth which would adversely impact critical chinook habitat. NMFS recommended a mass transit option that would use two lanes now reserved for general use be included for study.

Ceis said such judgments by the federal fish agency had the indirect effect of managing urban development.

NMFS' Turner said his agency was asked to join the I-405 planning process only in the last six months. He explained that all big projects like this one would probably have a "federal nexus," where the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration shared planning efforts, and would require a section 7 response under the ESA. He called it an "early warning."

"If the Tri-Counties' were done, the outcome would have been much different," Turner said.

In response to another question, Turner said the "take" limit spelled out in the ESA would not be enforced come next January. He supported the tri-county biological assessment that will begin soon.

"NMFS doesn't know what they're doing either," said King County Council member Louise Miller, only half-joking. "My people [constituents] have been working four decades," she said, to improve habitat in her district in east King County, pointing out that this year, "Bear Creek is wall-to-wall sockeye."

Turner said he would be back next month to explain just how NMFS was going to set goals for fish recovery.

Suburban sockeye nears the finish line.

The city of Bellevue has already announced it will create its own watershed plan because it feels the plan being developed between NMFS and the counties will be prohibitively expensive. The city expects to spend up to $1 million developing its plan over the next two years, about one-fourth what it thinks the tri-county effort would cost.

Bellevue mayor Chuck Mosher, a tri-county committee member himself, told others at the meeting that once salmon recovery goals were developed, the issue should be voted on by the public. -Bill Rudolph


NWPPC members put the icing on the cake of their new fish and wildlife program last week, and then cut a real cake to celebrate the end of a long line-by-line march through the new program that began two weeks ago at their regular meeting in Portland.

The one-day Oct. 19 session in Seattle ended in a unanimous vote to OK the new plan, a major overhaul of previous programs that began in 1982. In response to criticism that the old program was a piecemeal affair that lacked goals and scientific grounding, the new program boasts goals, objectives and a scientific foundation--and an optimistic set of interim targets.

These interim goals include halting declining trends in salmon and steelhead populations above Bonneville Dam by 2005, restoring the "widest possible set of healthy naturally reproducing populations of salmon and steelhead" by 2012, and increasing runs above Bonneville to an average of five million annually by 2025.

The new program calls for planning efforts for each of the 53 sub-basins in the Columbia Basin, but pays little notice to the fact that NMFS has asked the Council to shoulder the responsibility for a huge offsite mitigation effort designed to keep lower Snake River dams in place.

However, draft language supported by Washington's Council members asked for preferential treatment for ESA stocks in future funding for water and habitat acquisitions. Washington Council member Tom Karier said ESA is "the crucial issue," and that the region must resolve the jeopardy finding of Basin stocks "to insure a reliable power supply."

John Etchart wasn't so happy about wedding the ESA to the Council's program. "We have a perfectly good law [the NW Power Act]," Etchart said. "Why we want to subordinate our goals to the ESA is beyond me. I wonder what we're doing in the middle of it."

But Karier said it's the Council's role to recognize that enforcement of the ESA could affect the reliability of the region's power supply. One problem, however, is that NMFS has never said how much it wants BPA to spend on fish, he added.

Oregon member Erich Bloch said he didn't want dollars directly targeted to ESA stocks. "Our mandate is broader than that."

In the end, members supported language that gives ESA stocks preference over others when it comes to buying up habitat or paying for water rights. Karier said he felt that such language didn't subordinate the Council's program to the ESA, but Etchart thought that elements of the program would end up competing for funds with other proposals aimed at ESA stocks.

The Council's Fish and Wildlife Committee last week recommended a minimum boost of $19 million in direct program spending in FY 2001, along with $5 million to begin sub-basin planning, $10 million to fund land and water acquisitions, and another $10 million to $15 million to pay for "high priority" projects. It was noted that BPA was interested in reducing those costs, but Council members have opened the funding question up for public comment. If passed as is, BPA would be on the hook for almost a 40 percent boost over this year's direct program costs.

Though the Council's new program is based on efforts to mimic natural hydrographic processes, members approved an editorial substitution that would replace the word "normative" with "other appropriate wording."

One significant new wrinkle is calling for an annual accounting of hydro operation costs and BPA's fish and wildlife costs, which includes "the overall cost and impact to the hydro and transmission system of operations for fish and wildlife and other non-power needs," along with an annual report on flow augmentation from BPA, NMFS and USF&WS that documents the benefits of flow augmentation for fish survival, "and the precise attributes of flow that may make it beneficial."

As members, staffers, and the handful in the audience filed out to catch their planes, some acknowledged how pleased they were at how well the Council has worked together. But others recognized the heavy lifting won't start until sub-basin planning efforts begin in earnest.

Though language to support states' water rights was included in the new program, there's sure to be a spate of lawsuits over water and fish issues. Idaho environmentalists have recently sent out 60 letters to ranchers, state agencies and the federal government, notifying of their intention to sue them to boost instream flows in the Salmon River Basin. And word was that another 200 letters are about to be mailed.

Meanwhile, in northeast Washington, Okanogan County authorities were mulling over whether to sue federal and state agencies over what the county considers to be draconian and scientifically unsupportable interim flow targets set for Methow Basin streams. -B.R.


Last year, the Power Planning Council sent its report on hatcheries to Congress minus a set of performance standards, and since then, a subcommittee of fish management agencies, tribes and the public have been trying to develop them. At last, the 30 standards are ready for a Council review.

The new standards will apply to all Columbia River hatcheries and address legal mandates, harvest, conservation of wild populations, life history, genetics, research, hatchery operations, and socio-economic effectiveness.

Hatcheries have been used in the Columbia River Basin for over 120 years as mitigation for watershed development, but are now viewed by scientists as contributing to the decline of native, wild salmonids.

According to their report to Congress, the region's Independent Scientific Advisory Board said hatcheries have generally failed to meet their objectives, they have had adverse effects on natural populations, and that fish managers have failed to evaluate hatchery programs. The ISAB also said that hatcheries have been justified by untested assumptions, gene conservation has not been included in programs, and that fish transfers and non-native fish introductions should be discontinued.

Millions of dollars are needed each year to fund hatchery programs; they consume about 40 percent of the Power Planning Council's fish and wildlife program funding. Yet, according to Dr. Hans Radtke, a natural resource economist, most salmon and steelhead cost more to produce in hatcheries than they are worth in the market.

Hatchery reform is aimed at protecting the ecosystem within which hatcheries operate, and making sure objectives are achieved. There was concern among fish managers that that hatchery performance standards might be used to terminate a hatchery program if not reached. However, the committee members say these are not killer standards but triggers for evaluation and change.

Some members aren't so sure about that. Doug Dompier, representing the policies of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, has opposed some standards outright, including one that would protect life history diversity in salmon cultivated in hatcheries.

"I want the whole standard taken out," Dompier said. "It is so arbitrary. We overcame this through court and I don't wish to deal with this all over again through the fish and wildlife program at the Northwest Power Planning Council." Dompier said this standard is just another way for the states of Oregon and Washington to impose a wild fish protection policy on the whole basin.

This opposition led the consensus-driven committee to "park" the standard. This could mean without resolution of the dispute, the standard could be rejected and not submitted to the Council.

Another disputed standard has to do with native brood stock collection. The standard would allow wild salmon to be collected for hatchery brood stock, but not at the expense of reduced natural production in streams. As Brian Zimmerman of the Umatilla Tribe explained, "Many native brood stock programs are taking all the natural spawners and most native brood stock programs are in violation of this standard."

The tribes disagreed with another proposed standard as well. Zimmerman said the tribes don't want any constraint on the proportion of hatchery fish in the spawning population. "The issue is who decides," he said. "If the NMFS decides, the tribes have a problem." This standard was also parked and taken off the table for now.

The tribes also are opposed to standards that would require a 100-percent mark of hatchery fish so they can be identified when they return as adults. Marking hatchery fish is important to identify stray fish and to evaluate the effectiveness of hatchery programs.

CRITFC's Dompier said, "We are going to get more and more of those steelhead without all their fins chopped off so you won't be able to count fish at the dams as wild."

Committee members are concerned about standards being taken off the table. "These parked issues will be resolved in the implementation phase," said Brian Allee, Director of the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority. "We should keep them for now, saying agreement is determined by who has authority to carry out the standard. But this would merely result in preserving the status quo if there is a dispute...We need to move beyond status quo."

It is unclear which hatcheries would have to adhere to the new standards. Would the standards also apply to hatcheries operated by other authorities and other funding?

"These standards would apply to all hatcheries in the Columbia River Basin and to both resident and anadromous fish," said Allee. "Some people may argue that these apply only to Bonneville Power Administration funded and reimbursable hatchery programs. But I have always seen this as a comprehensive hatchery reform process for the Columbia River."-Bill Bakke


The fall chinook run in the Columbia River has tailed off considerably over the past few weeks, but coho runs are now appearing in some strength. By Oct. 24, the fall chinook count was close to 192,000 fish, or about 80 percent of last year's run. Jack counts are 2.3 times last year's number, however, signaling the likelihood of a great year in 2001. Tribal fishermen have caught about 52,000 fall chinook, with non-treaty totals around 27,000.

Over 1,000 coho per day were showing up at Bonneville Dam by the middle of October, bringing the total to about 83,000--about twice last year's return to date.

Steelhead numbers have been declining at Bonneville, but the overall count was around 275,000 for this year, about 30 percent above last year's return. Mid-Columbia steelhead numbers are quite good as well; the 11,000-fish count at Priest Rapids is 138 percent above last year's return. Sporties and tribal fishers have caught about 42,000 fish.

Idaho fish managers were also pleased. With 102,000 steelhead tallied so far at Lower Granite Dam, it's proven to be the biggest return since 1986. IDF&G now expects nearly 19,000 wild steelhead, up from 11,000 last year.

Meanwhile, large discrepancies in the steelhead count between John Day and McNary dams--which has added up to a potential loss of 80,000 fish in John Day Pool--still has biologists stymied. Some folks have pointed fingers at uncounted tribal fishing as the culprit. But a 12-inch gap in the south counting ladder at McNary has been discovered, and that could allow fish to pass uncounted. That fact, coupled with high fallback rates at John Day due to turbulence, may explain part of the problem. Analysis of radio-tagged fish, to be completed within the month, may shed light on the issue. -Bill Rudolph


Two Idaho conservation groups mailed over 50 "intention to sue" letters Oct. 3 to ranchers, farmers, and state and federal agencies in hopes of restoring more streamflows and fish habitat in the Upper Salmon River watershed. Targeted streams include tributaries from the Sawtooth Valley to the Lemhi River.

"Our litigation is focused on abuses that have violated laws in this hidden landscape for a hundred years," said Pamela Marcum, head of the Committee for Idaho's High Desert. She said the group's biologists have found threatened and endangered fish caught in ditches and canals throughout the Upper Salmon Basin.
Idaho's Sawtooth country--a lawsuit runs through it.

The groups pointed out that, in July, NMFS announced new rules under Section 4(d) of the ESA that establish potential liability for "take" of endangered fish through the de-watering of streams. "Federal agencies are complicit in the killing of these fish through stream diversions and de-watering across the state in lands they manage, so it is up to us to initiate corrective action as required by law," said attorney Laird Lucas.

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's office, named in one notice, was reviewing the letter and had no comment. It was reported that the conservation groups will soon send out another 200 "intent to sue" letters. -B. R..

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