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[1] Hydro BiOp: The Final Version
[2] The Difficulties Of Measuring Salmon Success
[3] Wild Fish Counts Up In Idaho
[4] Redd Counts Way Up In John Day River
[5] Large Numbers Of Fall Chinook Spawn Above Hanford
[6] Power Council's Rolling Fish Review Gets Underway
[7] Puget Sound Gears Up For Salmon Rules
[8] NMFS Survives Gorton Budget Language
[9] Insurance Policy Against Extinction: Freezing Salmon Sperm

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The drop-dead version of the hydro BiOp finally hit the streets Dec. 21--a year late--with little of the fanfare in evidence last July when the draft version was announced by George Frampton, acting chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Frampton and other lame duck White House types were nowhere to be seen this time around. Instead, the pertinent documents were posted quietly on the Internet Thursday, followed by a phone-in press briefing hosted by regional authorities later that afternoon.

As it played out, the federal strategy continues what was announced in the draft BiOp: that breaching dams on the lower Snake may not be the only answer when it comes to recovering listed fish runs. But it will cost plenty to keep the dams in place. Policy makers estimated another $200 million to $300 million in added annual costs, which would also pay for an offsite mitigation plan designed to save the hydro system's bacon. If the dams meet performance standards for juvenile and adult fish survival, but off-site improvement goals aren't met, the four lower Snake dams could still be in jeopardy.

"Do we have the political will to implement off-site mitigation?" asked Brig. General Carl Strock, Division Engineer of the Corps. "Otherwise, dam breaching may be the only thing we can do."

BPA's Lori Bodi penciled out the costs. The power agency currently spends about $250 million a year on the Columbia basin fish and wildlife plan. She said the new BiOp is expected to cost another $100 million-and added to that is $175 million to $190 million in FY 2001 for the costs of habitat and hatchery improvements, which she said BPA would contribute to as well.

The feds have called on the Power Planning Council to carry the habitat ball as part of its revamped fish and wildlife program which highlights a subbasin planning process. But some regional politicians have already questioned the legality of the Council's new direction. An Oct. 31 letter from WA Gov. Gary Locke to the Council said he had doubts about the compatibility of the new process with locally developed recovery plans endorsed by Northwest governors. "My concern is that the Council needs to defer to state and local governments on water and land use issues," Locke said, "and that the Council process not conflict with or duplicate existing state and local watershed efforts."

BPA has already begun to plan a framework for coordinating NMFS and Council efforts. But some folks privately questioned whether the BiOp is legally defensible because the future of the dams would be partly determined by actions over which dam operators had no control. Others were more public about it.

"This biological opinion represents a new low in unprincipled exaggeration of the Endangered Species Act," said Portland attorney James Buchal. "The Clinton/Gore Administration demands that dam operators implement hundreds of politically correct programs, many of which will reduce salmon survival; meet impossible standards for survival through the river; meet impossible 'off-site' standards to improve salmon survival nowhere near the dams; and guarantee full salmon recovery without regard to all the other factors affecting salmon populations--or else the dams must go. All this, and the Administration still says it's too stupid to figure out what the effects of the dams actually are."

What Buchal calls stupid, the BiOp calls "critical uncertainties." The BiOp says NMFS will refine the performance standards as it reduces those unknowns. For now, some standards for improvement range hugely, depending on assumptions about hatchery influences and improvements in hydro survival since 1980 and adjustments for effects of the 1995 BiOp.

For late run (B run) Snake River steelhead, for instance, the document indicates a 94 percent to 333 percent generational improvement is needed to achieve survival "after implementing the hydro survival improvements in the RPA [Reasonable Prudent Alternative]." But the BiOp says since NMFS used dam counts in its analysis, the agency may be overestimating improvements needed for some Snake steelhead populations. In the July draft BiOp, the NMFS analysis was much more depressing; the agency said B run Snake River steelhead needed improvements that ranged from 1,000 percent to 35,000 percent.

The BiOp calls for 3-, 5- and 8-year check-ins to measure progress. If the hydro system is not meeting standards at the 3- and 5-year point, preliminary studies to breach the dams may start, said Donna Darm, acting regional NMFS administrator.

The BiOp was delayed nearly a week to clarify BiOp language on breaching. It now spells out specific actions that would reduce the time needed to ask for congressional authorization and possible implementation, "thereby avoiding delay should breach become a preferred option."

Lower Columbia tribes went on record against the overall federal strategy and told the Bureau of Indian Affairs not to support it, either. They have been at odds with federal plans to keep breaching off the table for 10 years, "radically" overhauling the hatchery system and keeping harvest at current levels rather than using artificial production to rebuild runs.

"The federal government is taking a regulate-for-scarcity approach just as we're breaking through on a collaboration-for-abundance plan with the states. The federal agencies can help this effort through less interference and foot-dragging," said Olney Pratt, Jr., CRITFC chair.

The tribes want to boost their harvest rate of next year's spring chinook run in the Columbia River to 14 percent, up from about 8 percent now. The run is expected to be huge-possibly half a million fish.

The feds say the improvement in recent returns may be the beginning of a trend based on actions taken since 1995 or "simply a reaction to temporary improvements in ocean conditions," as part of the press release states. But fish runs throughout the Northwest are improving, and the "temporary" improvements could be part of a 20 to 30 year cycle of better ocean productivity and colder, wetter conditions in the region that could improve stream survival.

The impending flood of fish didn't stop conservationist Scott Bosse of Idaho Rivers United from circulating a fresh petition calling for a major overhaul of the BiOp. Signed by 200 scientists from 27 states and sent to President Clinton, it asks the government to commit to breaching the dams.

NMFS' Darm said the science doesn't support the call for breaching. She pointed out that the strategy would only aid the four listed Snake stocks, anyway, when there are many other listed stocks in the basin. "It's the issue of delayed mortality," Darm explained. "…What you believe."

Breaching supporters say that passage through the lower Snake hydro corridor has a latent detrimental effect on fish in addition to natural mortality in the estuary and ocean, although they are short on documented proof.

Commercial river users voiced cautious support for the new BiOp. "The federal agencies spent over $20 million to evaluate dam breaching and concluded that it is very expensive and they don't know its effect on salmon," said Bruce Lovelin, executive director of the Columbia River Alliance. "Barring a successful legal challenge and a radical shift in science, we are comfortable dam breaching will not occur." Though he said the BiOp could cost an additional $3 billion in the next five years, Lovelin said his group would work with federal agencies to insure its success.

Scott Corwin of PNGC Power said it was reassuring "to see NMFS listen to their top scientists who say breaching dams will not work. Throwing away 3,000 MW of electricity peaking capacity provided by these dams-enough power to run the city of Seattle-will not bring the fish back now, nor in five or eight years from now." The feds said the new BiOp would reduce the hydro system's generating capacity by about 60 MW. Overall, actions to aid fish over the past five years have reduced capacity by nearly 10 percent, or 1,000 MW.

Others had reservations about the fuzzy goals. "We are concerned about whether the goals are clearly defined and also whether the performance targets will be achievable,"said Gretchen Borck of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. "For example, the conflict between protecting wild fish and management of hatcheries and harvest hampers recovery efforts."

There was little mention of the new BiOp's call for more flow and spill to aid fish passage through the hydro system. But water consultant Darryll Olsen called the BiOp "a nice lump of coal for the region's Christmas stocking.

"I don't think the state [WA] or Bush would accept the water regime," Olsen said. "This document is ephemeral; I don't think it will last. If the Administration doesn't change it, the water users will." -Bill Rudolph


Fish managers are just waking up to a huge problem that could put the new hydro BiOp in a tough spot. With their current toolbox, they simply may not be able to gauge fish survival improvements closely enough to determine if they meet the levels that will be mandated for some stocks in the upcoming BiOp. A workshop on hydro survival held last month in Seattle brought together biologists, engineers and fish managers to hear about some of the latest findings and concerns over monitoring fish survival through the hydro system.

The main problem: too few fish in some ESUs to PIT-tag enough of them to obtain robust survival estimates. Using hatchery fish may help in some cases, namely with mid-Columbia spring chinook and steelhead. But in other cases, like that of Snake River fall chinook, most are barged, leaving so few in the river to migrate that it may be nearly impossible to get reliable answers. Some preliminary data has shown that only about 25 percent of the in-river migrants make it through the hydro system.

Consultant Al Giorgi reported on the recent passage analysis by Chelan County PUD. The biologist used radio tags to track juvenile fish, comparing results with PIT-tagged juvenile fish. The radio-tagged fish seemed to exhibit slightly higher survivals, possibly because slightly larger fish may be picked for the radio tags.

But with a battery life of only a couple of weeks, the radio tags are used for examining only one or two dam stretches of the river. Fish can be tracked quite accurately by a system of antenna arrays--especially helpful in parsing how many fish passed dams through different passage routes. The Chelan study pegged project survival at Rock Island at almost 95 percent for spring chinook (plus or minus 2 percent), while PIT-tag detections showed survival at nearly 92 percent (plus or minus 3.4 percent). A study of fish passing Rocky Reach Dam was confounded by premature battery failures in some tags.

Workshop participants seemed to spend a lot of time discussing possible reasons for the slight differences in survivals, which left little room for discussion of some of the larger issues--like developing ways to measure compliance with the hydro system performance standards. The results from Chelan's radio-tagging suggest that project survivals are approaching anticipated performance standards (the HCP for Chelan and Douglas PUDs specifies 95 percent project [dam plus reservoir] survival). But the few percentage points that separate survival estimates from the two types of tags could have huge policy implications. Since NMFS has not yet signed off on the HCP, it is not clear what the final yardstick will be. Chelan PUD biologist Chuck Peven said it isn't even certain when standards will be announced for his stretch of river.

Once the migrating fish are past Priest Rapids Dam, they enter the world of the upcoming federal BiOp and a different set of performance standards. NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman said the new BiOp will include standards at the ESU level, but not at the watershed level. While new recovery activities at local levels will eventually have to be accounted for, NMFS will for now be looking at the big picture in the mid-Columbia.

General in-river survival estimates can be derived from PIT-tagged fish, of course, which can even be detected upon their return as migrating adults. Whether sample sizes will be large enough to obtain reliable numbers to gauge smolt-to-adult returns is still the question. This year, preliminary detections by NMFS' trawling effort showed that about half the Mid-Columbia spring chinook tagged above Wells Dam made it through the hydro system.

Prof. John Skalski said it was the difference between using a hand saw and a chain saw--a knowledge of the level of detail needed before one was chosen over the other--and whether fish managers are smart enough to know when to choose the right tool.

"PIT-tagging is the gold standard--when I started it was a son-of-a-bitch," he said, somewhat tongue in cheek. referring to the difficulties biologists had in the early 1990s getting PIT-tagging research off the ground.

State and tribal fish managers fought PIT tag research for years. In 1994, then ODFW research head Doug DeHart sent a letter to NMFS complaining of the new technique and how it would compromise wild fish numbers. Since then, of course, millions of fish have been tagged this way, and the Fish Passage Center, once a big critic of PIT tag results, rides herd on a huge PIT tag study that tracks hatchery fish from both Idaho and lower Columbia hatcheries.

But researchers at the Seattle meeting said low numbers of PIT-tagged fall chinook from the lower Snake and spring chinook and steelhead from the mid-Columbia raise questions about survival results developed from detections below Bonneville Dam, beyond the hydro system. NMFS scientist Bill Muir said he is not sure whether "we're there yet" as far as measuring survival through the system.

"If you put more PIT tags in them, you'll get more detections downriver," said Dick Ledgerwood, a NMFS researcher who has played a big role in developing a detection system using a net dragged behind two boats. But others pointed out that fish like Snake River falls are mostly barged as a matter of policy, so it would be difficult to obtain enough in-river survival detections without a big change in policy direction. Hatchery fish may serve as surrogates for wild fish in some cases, but improvements in detection systems were discussed as well.

One suggestion: developing a PIT-tag detection system for spillways. Currently, PIT-tagged fish can only be detected in bypass systems at dams. Others doubted that such a system could be built, but said it wasn't impossible.

Another important question raised was how to account for the inter-year variability in fish survivals with performance standards, since it seems that survivals are generally higher during wet years than dry years.

Assessing adult survivals will be part of the new BiOp's set of performance standards as well, but accounting for adults to the level of accuracy the BiOp calls for may be another tough hurdle to overcome. Workshop participants heard a report on radio-tracking adult fish, an effort led by University of Idaho researcher Ted Bjornn, that found about 90 percent survivals of adults in the lower Snake (Ice Harbor tailrace to Lower Granite tailrace).

But researchers said results could be confounded by such factors as fish regurgitating tags, fishermen who don't return tags from harvested fish, and wayward fish entering tributaries. Fish that fell back at dams were also more likely to be unaccounted for, as were fish with head injuries, smaller fish and, in some years, fin-clipped fish (denoting hatchery origin). And there was the added possibility of tag failure.

Canadian scientist Karl English raised more than a few eyebrows when he said it looked like migrating adults in the Columbia seemed to have comparable survival rates to migrating salmon in undammed rivers. English has worked with others on several important adult tracking studies in BC on the Nass, Skeena and Fraser rivers.

"I hope people came away with one thing," said Chelan's Peven. "There may be different telemetries for different things you're trying to measure. But the main thing, if you're measuring survivals, radio tags work, but if you're trying to measure SARs, PIT tags are the way to go."

The action agencies (BPA, Corps, BuRec) suggested the concept of performance standards in the first place, but not in the way NMFS has developed the idea. The agencies wanted to use estimates of natural river survival through the hydro system as a tool to create the standards, but NMFS wants to use the estimates themselves as the benchmark.

Recent negotiations over the final BiOp have frustrated some action agency personnel, who consider NMFS' proposed standards scientifically indefensible. They say, of late, NMFS is not even responding to their comments on the subject. Sources tell NW Fishletter the fish agency is also developing a monitoring and evaluation scheme for off-site mitigation, including an attempt at measuring potential effects of hatchery fish on productivity of wild stocks that could end up costing more than the present fish and wildlife program. -B. R.


Contrary to the gloomy prognostications of some environmental groups, Snake River wild spring chinook stocks seem to be on the rebound--not in a death spiral. Redd counts are showing that some index streams are experiencing a five-fold generational increase from 1996, when the ancestors of most of this year's return dug redds and spawned. A big turnaround in ocean conditions has most likely played a large role in improving stocks from the abysmally low levels in 1995 and 1999.

Preliminary information and estimates of next year's fish return are so high that runs in the Snake could plug hatcheries and complicate efforts to keep wild spawning areas from being infested with hatchery fish, which NMFS scientists say could dilute gene pools and reduce productivity of wild stocks.

The committee that estimates annual Columbia Basin runs has produced its forecast--a prediction that a total upriver spring run of nearly 365,000 chinook will return to the mouth of the river, with over 206,000 bound for the Snake. About 40,000 of that number were pegged as wild fish. That's about four times the wild run from last spring's run.

These estimates may be significantly lower than the number of fish that really shows up next year. The committee lowballed spring estimates of upriver runs in 1999 and 2000 by 58 percent and 33 percent.

Sharon Keifer, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said weirs at some rivers can keep most hatchery fish from straying into wild spawning areas. The state has deliberately kept hatcheries out of other drainages where wild chinook spawn, she added. "We may see a little bit of hatchery straying, but if you see five percent or less, it's not a big problem."

Preliminary redd counts for returning spring chinook show that index streams such as Bear Valley Creek, a tributary of the Salmon River, have 69 redds this year--up from 33 counted in 1999 and 15 in 1996, when this year's relatives spawned. Elk Creek counts went from 10 last year to 103 (17 in 1996). Wild returns normally include a large component of fish that spend three years at sea, but this spring's run had an unusually small percentage of them, a fact that has biologists puzzled.

Marsh Creek drainage counted no redds in 1999, but 36 were tallied this year (10 in 1996). Upper Big Creek showed a big generational spurt--from a single redd in 1996 to 13 this year.

Wild summer chinook showed significant improvement in most areas as well, especially the lower Salmon, where there are 16 times as many redds as the last generation produced--up to 80, from just five redds counted in 1996.

The good news hasn't stopped environmental groups from their efforts to keep dam breaching in the public eye, however. Last week, Scott Bosse of Idaho Rivers United was circulating a petition among regional scientists that called for substantial improvement in the BiOp to avert extinction of Snake River stocks.

Addressed to President Clinton, the petition pointed out that 80 percent of the "record runs" of spring chinook to the lower Columbia were hatchery fish--and all but 10 sockeye that returned to the Snake were products of a captive broodstock program. "We caution you not to give too much weight to the reports of abundant salmon returns in the Columbia Basin this year..." petitioners told Clinton. "Without substantial improvements in freshwater habitat, wild stocks are likely to resume their downward spiral as less favorable environmental conditions return."

But UW scientist Jim Anderson thinks otherwise. Noting that wild Snake River spring and summer chinook recruits-per-spawner for 2000 are significantly larger than any observed in the last decade--"at the level observed in the 1950s and 1960s"--he said it is "particularly significant that this strong recruitment is associated with a cool ocean similar to the conditions in the 1950s and 1960s."

Anderson said these effects must be considered when evaluating recovery actions like those spelled out in the upcoming NMFS BiOp. "These correlations are further compelling evidence of the importance of the ocean in determining the run strength of salmon," Anderson said. " Whether or not this good condition continues will have a tremendous impact on the fate of Northwest salmon. Equally important, the strong runs and cooler ocean provide important information on which to evaluate the causes of the salmon declines. Regional agencies need to use this information to realistically evaluate the effectiveness of the fish recovery actions." -B. R.


The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has reported that a record number of spring chinook have spawned in the index areas of the John Day River this year. Four hundred-seventy seven redds were counted in the North Fork. In 1995, only 27 redds were tallied.

The good news also included other parts of the river, where habitat restoration has improved flood plains in the Granite Creek system, the agency said, by leveling old gold dredge mining operations. This fall, biologists counted 241 redds in Granite Creek, more than double the 20-year average.

Spawning populations in both the mainstem and Middle Fork of the John Day are the highest recorded since 1959. ODF&W credited a host of healthy influences for the upswing in fish numbers; improved ocean conditions, screened diversions, more efficient irrigation and improved management practices. -B. R.


One of the great regional myths says the spawning area in the Hanford Reach's Vernita Bar is home to the last great wild salmon run in the Columbia River. But a large number of fall chinook have found another place to call home--the tailrace of Wanapum Dam, past Priest Rapids Dam, upstream from Hanford.

Grant PUD biologist Joe Lukas told NW Fishletter that preliminary analysis of aerial photographs have counted nearly 800 redds there. When those photographs are interpreted by Battelle scientists, the count could easily surpass 1,000 redds.

Nearly 40,000 fall chinook said 'no thanks' to spawning grounds at Vernita Bar and headed upstream past Priest Rapids this year. In 1987, about 36,000 fall chinook were counted at the dam. The Wanapum tailrace is the hot spot for mid-Columbia spawning; only 6 redds were counted in the tailrace at Rock Island Dam, the next project upstream. -B. R.


The NWPPC's rolling review of fish and wildlife proposals has hit the road, but not without running into a few speed bumps along the way. At the early December meeting of the Power Planning Council in Portland, both fish managers and scientific reviewers got a chance to explain themselves. One thing was especially clear: nobody was paying much attention to the upcoming hydro BiOp, which will call for a considerable amount of off-site mitigation to help boost numbers of listed fish.

The rolling review is the revamped process for the fish and wildlife program, developed early this year. It calls for review of each project every three years on a province-by-province basis. This time around, two of 11 ecological "provinces" have been under scrutiny: the Columbia Gorge (Bonneville to The Dalles) and Inter-Mountain (Chief Joseph Dam to the Canadian border) regions.

But there is still considerable consternation as to how it will all fit in with the big BiOp that NMFS released Dec. 21. Council staffer Peter Paquet told members that NMFS will not have completed until mid-year 2002 its VSP [Viable Salmonid Population] modeling effort, an exercise designed to develop basin goals for ESA-listed fish numbers. On the other hand, he said the basic EDT [Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment] analysis for the basin should be completed by May. The complex analysis will attempt to catalog fish and wildlife populations by watershed, and gauge potential productivity.

Some, like Council chair Larry Cassidy, wondered how sub-basin assessments can be completed without such standards. "It's a big issue in my governor's office," Cassidy said. He pointed to work begun in the Walla Walla sub-basin, where ESA recovery work is underway with no standards yet to meet.

"If we've done the groundwork, NMFS can use it," explained Bob Lohn, head of the NWPPC's fish and wildlife division.

Others were skeptical of the EDT analysis. "Is there a regional buy-in with EDT?" asked Rob Walton, assistant director of the Public Power Council. Some critics said EDT analysis neglects the ocean productivity changes that have lately boosted many Northwest salmon runs.

But Paquet said people are "cautiously accepting it," noting that it was being used in Puget Sound and also by a number of Indian tribes.

As for the rolling review, Tom Iverson of the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority briefed members on his agency's proposals for the two basin provinces under review this year. He said CBFWA supports 13 new and 15 ongoing projects in the Gorge area that would cost $14 million in FY 2001.

Work at ecosystem restoration in the Inter-Mountain province was budgeted at over $9 million next year. According to Iverson, the Independent Scientific Review Panel [ISRP], charged with reviewing the proposals, said some of them lacked technical information upon which to base biological and habitat assessments. But he said the information gathered so far was sufficient for managers to make decisions now.

ISRP chair Rick Williams said the "most grievous" omissions in the proposals were the lack of provincial plans. He said the process needs a common way for all managers to assess stocks and monitor habitat improvements and recommended a series of workshops to help out fish and wildlife managers.

Williams also said sub-basin summaries used little in the way of "limiting factors analysis" to explain effects of human activities detrimental to fish and wildlife populations. Analysis had to be deeper, he added, to determine how changes in water quality and quantity, sediment flow and streamside vegetation affect fish.

And he expressed the panel's concern over the lack of monitoring and evaluation for some projects that have been funded for over five to seven years--and whose sponsors want continued funding for next year.

"How do you break the cycle?" asked Montana Council member John Etchart, who is retiring soon. "Why continue to fund projects that present a low level of information to reviewers?"

Williams said he understood that sponsors are beleaguered by paperwork, but only a few paragraphs are needed to help reviewers get an idea of a project's past results.

Oregon Council member Erich Bloch said the Council may have to do a better job of making clear what it wants. Montana's other member, Stan Grace, was more blunt. "The failures aren't flagged for us."

The science panel's written review was a bit harsher, especially about hatcheries. "Hatchery operations for harvest management versus supplementation were confused, poorly justified or unsupported by available data," the panel said. "Even incidental harvest is unjustifiable if the stock is below replacement levels based on stock assessment."

The Council also heard from EPA representative Mary Lou Soscia, who enlightened members about her agency's commitment to local watersheds and, therefore, the Council's sub-basin planning process as a way to improve water quality through enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Soscia said the Columbia Basin contains about 2,400 streams for which EPA will develop TMDL [Total Maximum Daily Load] standards over the next 15 years, and that her office has already had preliminary discussions with Council staff on how to integrate the effort. "We don't want to do it alone," she told them. -B. R.


The overseers of Puget Sound salmon recovery efforts heard some good news last week when King County budgeteer Dennis Canty announced that Congress was expected to approve more than $30 million for regional salmon projects--with the promise of at least another $120 million in upcoming years. They also got an update from NMFS on the agency's effort to lead salmon recovery planning into the future, an effort with no specific time frame that had some local politicians baffled until they were assured they weren't on the hook for the whole thing.

"It was a banner year for salmon in DC," Canty said. He told regional executive committee members that "Tri-County" is what sells these packages. The King-Snohomish-Pierce County effort to develop a habitat plan that satisfies NMFS/ESA mandates and leads to salmon recovery began two years ago, even before the fish agency put Puget Sound wild chinook stocks on the threatened list.

"The next job is turning IOUs into cash," Canty said candidly. Funding includes a $40 million initiative to restore habitat in the Puget Sound Basin under the leadership of the Corps of Engineers, with the feds springing for up to 65 percent of the costs.

Another $73 million has been earmarked for the Green/Duwamish watershed and $15 million for the Stillaguamish watershed for projects identified in studies conducted by the Corps, King and Snohomish counties.

Canty also noted the President was ready to sign a bill that included $90 million for coastwide salmon recovery in FY 2001, with up to one-third of that headed for Washington state. Also approved was another $1 million to continue federal studies of habitat needs in the Green River and Lake Washington watersheds and near-shore areas of Puget Sound.
Rubberized riparian habitat
along the Duwamish River

But there could be plenty more green in the region's salmon future as well. He said after next year, additional salmon money could come from a new $225 million nationwide program to restore estuarine habitat and the $900 million Lands Legacy agenda pushed hard by President Clinton. Canty said land and water conservation funding is a cornerstone of Clinton's proposal.

King County executive Ron Sims credited the region's Northwest delegation, including recently defeated Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA), with being very helpful in "finding pots of money."

So far, salmon planners have completed a road maintenance plan that pretty much satisfies federal authorities. Bob Turner, who ramrods NMFS policy for Washington state, said his agency's next move is to conduct a formal biological analysis of the roads plan, then publish it in the Federal Register.

But, in itself, Turner said the plan does not grant take limitation of the listed species under the upcoming 4(d) rule that takes effect Jan. 8. He said each jurisdiction then adopts their own custom-fit version of the plan, after which each one gets published. He said the second publication is the "effective procedural step" to adoption.

The committee voted to hire the consulting firm Parametrix to begin a biological analysis on the other elements of its program, which includes different options for streamside buffers and stormwater management, and an extensive monitoring effort. Some tribes and environmentalists preferred an independent review by the American Fisheries Society. A Puyallup spokesman said his tribe didn't want to produce a "challenging document," but inferred they very well might.

Jacques White, who represents People For Puget Sound, said he couldn't find any support among other environmental groups for Parametrix. He told NW Fishletter that he was afraid the company would not ask the "hard" questions needed in a truly critical analysis of the Tri-County plan. While noting the group's concerns, the committee voted to fund anyway.

The group also heard a presentation on salmon recovery goals from NMFS scientist Mary Ruckelshaus, who outlined the technical elements the agency is using to establish them.

With three listed stocks in the Puget Sound domain--Puget Sound chinook, Hood Canal summer chum, and Lake Ozette sockeye--NMFS expects to have all populations identified by the end of next January, with estimates of ESU viability completed by next fall, when a limiting factors analysis should be completed as well. Ruckelshaus said the technical team, which she chairs, has been helped by the coastwide salmon review panel, who insure planning is based on "accepted and consistent scientific principles." She described the tasks her team has tackled, which include identifying early actions for recovery and restoration needs, along with monitoring and evaluating them. She said her group will also serve as science advisors to the groups charged with developing the measures to achieve recovery goals. Ruckelshaus also noted that the NMFS document explaining their population viability analysis, including how the agency assesses extinction risk, has gone through an extensive public review by many academics. She said it will be up to her team to decide how many sub-populations in ESUs are needed, along with their distribution, to keep risk of extinction negligible.

Some members, like Barbara Skinner, mayor of the city of Sumner in Pierce County, expressed concern about the length of the process. "When will it be done and we know what we have to do?"

NMFS' Turner said when the Tri-County plan is completed and his agency has signed off on it, "the ESA won't bother them any more."

He pointed out that it was up to NMFS to lead recovery efforts, which will take "a lot more than what just the jurisdictions are doing." He described it as a broad affair that will take into account things like ocean conditions and harvest scenarios and will "involve a lot more science."

"I feel better," Skinner remarked after hearing Turner's explanation.

Lloyd Moody, a member of Gov. Locke's salmon panel, said recovery will be undertaken by the state's "shared strategy." He suggested interested parties check out the website for more information. Although there is "no time frame" for recovery," Moody said, the strategy will describe "a way to conduct ourselves so we can get along with salmon and go with them into the future."

Earlier in the meeting, it was noted that a NMFS video on the ESA's 4(d) rule was recently placed in a time capsule and won't be opened for another 30 years. "Will we be finished by then?" asked Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel. -B. R.


It could have been Slade Gorton's final legacy to salmon recovery: language inserted in the Commerce Appropriations bill, HR 4690, that would have kept the National Marine Fisheries Service from using $13 million in next year's budget to hire 41 new people to help speed the ESA permitting process in the Northwest. Many regional construction projects have been bogged down in the planning stages over concerns for listed chinook, partly due to the length of time NMFS spends in reviewing proposals. Last spring the entire Northwest congressional delegation seemed to support funding the additional positions to expedite permitting over ESA/salmon concerns.

Gorton's language prohibited the agency from filling the positions until it developed a salmon recovery plan. "The Committee is concerned that the work of the staff has not focused on obtaining and analyzing scientific data on the status of the stocks, but more on regulatory and enforcement activities," it read in part. "The Committee sees no utility in providing more staff until the agency can provide a plan for salmonid recovery which is based on sound scientific data and analyses."

The language has now been quietly removed from the bill. Gorton staffer Todd Ungerecht said a key Commerce Appropriations Committee staffer who had helped insert the language left in September. He also hinted that House Democrats deleted the language when the bill went to conference in October.

The conference agreement includes a total NMFS budget of $518 million. The House had recommended about $407 million, while the Senate report pegged $541 million for the agency next year. With Congress now adjourned until the 2001 session, the budget nearly stayed in limbo. Alaska's Sen. Ted Stevens made threats to curtail the agency's budget Dec. 14 and was ready to derail the entire session to do it. He was seething over a recent NMFS BiOp on Stellar sea lions that severely curtailed fishing in his state, but a last minute compromise with the Administration phased in fishing restrictions and paid fishermen $30 million with another $20 million slated for conservation purposes. -B. R.


The wild reaches of the Middle Fork Salmon River, where spawning grounds like Big Creek were once home to thousands of salmon, have now become the site of the salmon's last stand. Biologists are working against time to collect and freeze salmon sperm from spawned-out males captured in streams and at hatchery weirs in order to develop a catalogue of genetic diversity for Idaho salmon and steelhead. Though 13 redds were counted in index areas this year, which means maybe 50 fish have returned, only two to five spawners were counted between 1994 and 1996.

"We are trying to develop an insurance policy for these fish," said Paul Kucera, Director of Biological Services for the Nez Perce tribal fisheries department. "What we are doing is not a recovery tool and it cannot replace recovery of natural populations in their natural habitats. This is an insurance policy against localized extinction."

But others have expressed concern about this approach." I'm not sure just how far we should go to artificially manipulate the future of these fish," said Jim Myron, Conservation Director for Oregon Trout. "If we have to resort to a sperm bank to save these fish, it may be over already."

Kucera's group is collecting samples from several populations in each subbasin of the Salmon River--a huge effort, since there are 39 distinct populations of spring and summer chinook in the Snake River Basin and an unknown number of steelhead populations spread over an immense, rugged landscape. He said the key to success is an interdisciplinary approach. Kucera works with two universities, along with state and federal fish management agencies and the Bonneville Power Administration, which funds the project.

The chinook and steelhead sperm is stored in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of 196 C, according to Gary Thorgaard, a Washington State University geneticist who oversees the project. It's the largest fish germ plasm storage program in the country. Thorgaard says the estimated life span for viable frozen salmon sperm is over 100 years, but only about 50 percent of the salmon sperm is viable once thawed. Cattle sperm, he noted, has been stored successfully for 30 years.

Both hatchery and wild fish are being sampled, with the most valuable being wild chinook from streams such as Big Creek. Other chinook samples are being taken from the Lostine, Imnaha, Rapid, Upper Salmon, and South Fork of the Salmon rivers. Steelhead are being collected at Dworshak, Little Sheep Creek and the Snake River.

Fish are also being collected at hatcheries. "Reference samples at hatcheries are valuable particularly early on when they are developing broodstocks to provide a backup in case the hatchery fish are lost," said Thorgaard. "This collection could help deal with domestication selection in hatcheries" by bringing genetic material into a hatchery brood to offset artificial selection and creation of a hatchery-type fish. Domestication selection has been identified as a serious problem in hatcheries because the hatchery fish do not survive in nature as well as wild fish.

Thorgaard also said freezing the sperm could help conserve the gene pool and "can be used to create a reference sample when developing native brood stocks for hatchery supplementation of wild salmon populations." He noted there was some concern about stored fish not continuing to evolve in the living system. Since salmon, even hatchery salmon, must cope with a constantly changing environment, they must have the genetic diversity to meet the environmental challenges each generation faces. "The best use is not for producing fish, but to build up a brood stock," he said. "The fertilization rate is too low for mass production."

Over 700 male chinook and steelhead were collected in 1999. The unit of measurement used in the sperm bank is called a "straw;" and the 1999 collection can translate into 17,000 straws. Each straw can fertilize 100 eggs, and 20 straws are stored per individual. These samples are now divided between the University of Idaho and WSU as a precaution against accidental loss. The samples are not vulnerable to power failures because they are stored in liquid nitrogen. BPA funding will amount to $213,000 in 2001, with 30 percent spent on coordination and storage at the universities

Though salmon sperm is being collected throughout the basin, there is still no decision about which populations should be sampled. Kucera said the Nez Perce Tribe has asked the National Marine Fisheries Service for guidance, but so far, the agency has not developed a protocol for intervention. "We are trying to develop a pedigree of individual fish and to identify their relationship to other fish in the population," said Kucera. However, there has been little funding to analyze this genetic diversity.

Frozen salmon sperm "are not living gene banks, "he added, "but it may be an insurance against extinction." He said the project is not meant to replace habitat protection and recovery of salmon in their natural habitat. -Bill Bakke

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