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[1] Irrigators Win Flap Over Federal Flow Targets
[2] Council's Mainstem Program May Collide With BiOp Over Flows
[3] Methow, Wenatchee Fish Numbers Go Through Roof
[4] Fish Recovery Budget Up 19 Percent; Fish Counts Up 340 Percent
[5] Water Forecasters Still Predicting Below Normal Water Year
[6] Negative Influence On Wild Stocks By Hatchery Fish Chronicled In New Paper
[7] State Culverts Block 1,700 Miles Of Spawning Streams In Oregon
[8] IDFG Director Resigns, Cites "Philosophical Differences"
[9] BiOp Mediator Named By Judge
[10] Wright Named BPA Head

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A Benton county judge ruled last week that the state of Washington can't use BiOp-mandated federal flow targets on the Columbia River as a reason to deny new water permits for eastern Washington irrigators. Judge Dennis Yule agreed with the plaintiffs, who claimed that the state Department of Ecology had adopted the standard without a public rulemaking process as mandated by state law.

The Jan. 31 decision didn't go into the nuts and bolts of the federal standards, which the irrigators also question. Yule didn't allow last-minute testimony from irrigators on the subject, who say that the nine permits in question would use less than one percent of the variation in daily flows as measured on July 1, 2001, in the midst of a drought year.

An analysis using the CRiSP model from the UW's Columbia Basin Research group found that the permit application by the Quad Cities [Tri-Cities plus West Richland], which accounted for about half of the potential withdrawals, could theoretically kill about eight salmonids annually. In other words, "an unmeasurable impact," said irrigators' attorney James Buchal.

The state cited general statements from the now defunct PATH process' Weight of Evidence panel that speculated the CRiSP model underestimated fish mortality. NMFS' own recent survival studies have found that both the CRiSP and FLUSH models actually over-estimated fish mortality--CRiSP much less than FLUSH, however.

But Judge Yule didn't pay much attention to the scientific argument, anyway, and made his ruling on a legal point: that the state must undertake a public review process to create water standards.

The Department of Ecology had gone into settlement talks with the plaintiffs after the original lawsuit was filed last May, and was willing to OK the permits as long as federal flow targets were met. But that meant users wouldn't be able to take water in July and August of even most normal water years. That wasn't enough for irrigators, who re-kindled the suit last month. Judge Yule heard the case on Jan. 10 and ruled then to prohibit DOE from using the flow targets as a basis for reviewing permits while the case was being heard.

"The evidence before the Court," said attorney Buchal, "made it clear that the Department didn't want to follow the public rulemaking procedures required by law because they'd rather make a stealth attack on the economic future of Eastern Washington.

"Fortunately," Buchal said, "Judge Yule is going to require the Department to obey the law, and either put its crazy ideas about the mighty Columbia River not having enough water for fish out for public comment, or wise up and recognize that with the largest salmon runs ever counted this year, the salmon problem is not as serious as the Department seems to have thought."

The state has not decided whether it will appeal the decision. Olsen said it's likely the state will issue the new water rights and then go into rulemaking to develop new standards.

The decision is a blow to a new state initiative designed to bring mainstem water users, environmentalists and regulators together to solve water issues. Olsen said the new Columbia River Initiative is going nowhere, along with new legislation pushed by DOE that's supposed to streamline water law and permitting. "It's rapidly becoming an ephemeral dream for 2002," he said.

The new water initiative for the Columbia River has been pushed by Gov. Gary Locke and led by Department of Ecology director Tom Fitzsimmons. It is being billed as including both national and regional peer review, along with facilitated negotiations among water users, power producers, fishing groups, environmentalists, municipal governments and recreationists. Gov. Locke said federal agencies, other Northwest states and tribal governments have been invited to take part, with the final results due by December 2002.

The main issue for irrigators is that the state has quietly supported the NMFS "no-net-loss" water policy for the mainstem Columbia, which means that any new water rights must be balanced by the retirement of older water rights. Irrigators say the NMFS policy doesn't track with the findings of federal scientists, which conclude that augmented river flows, especially in spring, don't necessarily improve juvenile fish survival. But state water policy has quietly marched in line with the federal policy, including support for the flow targets mandated in the hydro BiOp. The DOE's draft report on the permits in question admits that NMFS BiOp target flows are typically not met during summer months even in average flow years like 1998 and 2000.

In a related issue, eastern Washington carrot grower Bud Mercer and his son Rob filed affidavits Jan. 7 as part of a request by irrigators' attorneys to the Klickitat County Prosecutor's Office to investigate remarks made in a recent conversation involving the Mercers and Fitzsimmons concerning a December meeting. The request accuses Fitzsimmons of witness tampering. The office is now looking into the matter.

The Mercers said Fitzsimmons "made it quite clear that as long as we (Mercer Ranches) were a part of a lawsuit with Columbia/Snake River Irrigators Association that he 'did not feel obligated to continue to support the solutions that had been discussed at the Dec. 5 meeting. He also made it clear that he felt like the lawsuit would tie his hands and deter him (the Department) from issuing any more water permits whatsoever."

DOE spokespeople say it's all a misunderstanding. Locke water advisor Jim Waldo told the Tri-City Herald that Fitzsimmons' remarks were not a threat, but were addressing a concern over the ability of the agencies to work on the issues while being sued.

Mercer has several permit applications in the hopper at DOE. The oldest is a request for 8 gallons a minute to run a carrot processing facility. It has been in the state bureaucratic machinery for 14 years. DOE has twice told Mercer a permit would soon be issued for the facility, but none yet has, according to consultant Olsen. -Bill Rudolph


A presentation on the latest state of salmon science indicates the Council's mainstem amendment process may be on a collision course with the latest NMFS hydro BiOp, which keeps current Columbia River flow augmentation and spill strategies in place for the next 10 years.

At the NWPPC's monthly meeting last week, consultant Al Giorgi reported that after nine years of NMFS research, the agency has found no "apparent" flow/ survival relationship for ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks. Council members seemed a bit stunned by the straight talk, though it's really not news.

With salmon stocks showing a 10-fold increase in survival rates over the past 10 years, Giorgi, a principal with BioAnalysts Inc., told the Council that "conventional wisdom" holds that the boost isn't anything that could be expected from the fresh water system, but resulted from changes in oceanic conditions.

According to Washington member Tom Karier, the absence of a relationship between higher river flows and better fish survival "could be the most important part of the Council's mainstem amendment program."

Giorgi's review also looked at the value of spilling water to help fish over dams and using barges to transport them downstream. He told Council members that spillways are generally the safest passage route, but total effects on fish must be included in a proper analysis, including possible adverse effects on adult fish migrations from spill. He also recommended that models used to estimate fish survival be updated with the latest information, and he stressed the difficulties inherent in isolating effects of spill in field studies.

Barging seems effective from Lower Granite and Little Goose dams, but "questionable" at Lower Monumental and possibly McNary, said Giorgi, who noted that small sample sizes have made it impossible to determine whether barging helps wild fish or not.

But with increasing survival rates that have exceeded the 2 percent minimum recovery threshhold, Giorgi's report noted that "neither transport nor inriver migrations may be a bottleneck to recovery, when marine-based survival is at some adequate level."

Other uncertainties about augmented flows are whether such strategies could improve river estuary and ocean plume characteristics within a given year, optimize the time fish reach the ocean, or if more flows really add much to summer fish survival in the lower Snake. Giorgi suggested updated evaluations for flow augmentation that balance benefits and risks between anadromous and resident fish resources.

"The emperor still has no clothes," Portland attorney James Buchal commented after the presentation. He said Giorgi's review just reinforced the view of many water users, who point to the lack of scientific support from its own scientists for the NMFS BiOp's flow augmentation and spill strategies.

Reasons For Optimism Over Juvenile Migration

NMFS scientists were on hand to report on fish survivals for last year's migration, when juvenile salmon faced the second worst water year on record. Adult returns from the migration "may not be as bad as a lot of people predicted," said NMFS scientist Bill Muir, because most fish from the Snake River were barged (including 98 percent of the steelhead) through the hydro system. He also noted survival rates have been going up over the past few years, which could compensate for lower inriver survivals this year. Muir produced graphs that showed skyrocketing numbers of sardines, anchovies, herring and smelt off the coast that could be satisfying predators such as hake and mackerel populations that could have been preying on juvenile salmon in the near ocean environment.

Muir said that hatchery spring chinook released above the lower Snake dams averaged higher survivals to the first dam (about 65 percent) at Lower Granite than the gullywasher water year of 1997, when survival averaged around 50 percent. In 2000, a pretty normal water year, survival averaged around 70 percent.

Steelhead migrating inriver fared much worse in some stretches of the river than others. Muir pointed to the discovery of 5,000 steelhead PIT tags at the mouth of the Snake, where a large colony of Caspian terns has located, which accounted for over 14 percent of all the steelhead leaving Lower Monumental Dam. Survival from there to McNary Dam (below the colony) was only about 30 percent, when previously it was 80 percent or more. High temperatures and low flows also plagued steelhead, who just quit migrating and stay put when the river gets too hot.

Muir said fall chinook survivals were highly correlated to flow, water temperature, turbidity and release date, but sorting out the variables would require manipulative experiments. Between McNary and John Day dams, fall chinook survival was estimated at 60 percent, slightly lower than the previous year, yet higher than 1998. It took the fish two or three times longer to migrate through the reach, however, than previous years.

There was some discussion about estimated survival benefits from the low levels of spill in 2001. Both NMFS and the Fish Passage Center had done analyses. The FPC results said spill was beneficial, but NMFS scientists said any observed survival benefits couldn't be attributed to spill. They had seen the same pattern in previous years, which suggested a gradually increasing survival through May. But a rapid increase in mortality followed, which could confound any effects from spill itself. The feds said their results were inconclusive. -B. R.


Nearly 10,000 spring chinook have come back to spawn this year in northeast Washington's modest Methow River. That's about the number of springers that returned to the entire Columbia Basin in the dire days of 1995. And despite drought conditions, these fish, mostly hatchery products, laid eggs throughout the basin. Some had wild parents and were the results of captive broodstock programs, released into the wild as young fish. All in all, the return was twice what was expected.

Strictly speaking, only 332 were truly wild fish, said Rob Jones, NMFS' Portland branch chief for hatcheries and inland fisheries. Most important, Jones said, the wild fish got back to the tributaries in the Methow where they were supposed to, with most hatchery fish spawning in the main Methow, lower in the basin.

But hatchery fish or not, oh, what a run it was.

Preliminary information says that 3,073 redds were counted in the Methow River itself, with a basin total of about 4,566. In 1995, a mere 15 redds were tallied in the entire Methow basin, a region that's become a war zone in the battle over water rights and ESA fish mandates for Methow spring chinook, a listing that includes some local hatchery stocks bred from local wild parentage.

But federal fish authorities have been trying to weed the basin of another group of hatchery fish, the "Carson" stock, long used throughout the Northwest to boost production. With over 90 percent of the carcasses recovered in the Methow this year of hatchery origin, coded wire tag recoveries have shown that about 35 percent are of Carson origin. The high numbers of Carson fish are the result of a tradeoff between different agencies and tribes over concerns about "wasting" huge hatchery returns that NMFS' genetics policy has deemed not acceptable for recovering Methow fish runs.

The Carson-based stock originally came from spring chinook trapped at Bonneville Dam years ago and was used as broodstock for fish raised at the Carson National Hatchery in the Bonneville Pool. The stock was a mixture of upper Columbia and Snake River spring chinook and was planted in tributaries of both rivers, said Greg Pratschner, head of the USFWS Leavenworth hatchery complex, which includes the Winthrop facility on the Methow River. He said the stock was even used in Alaska and the Great Lakes.

Pratschner said the Methow hatchery stock that NMFS has approved for ESA recovery is based on a chinook run that returned to the Winthrop hatchery in 1992--"but 60 out of the 100 original fish were Carson stock, anyway," he said.

The other main genetic strain came from fish trapped at Rock Island Dam in the late 1930s and early 1940s and used as broodstock to make up for losses from the construction of Grand Coulee Dam--a fact that NMFS considers important: though the trapped fish were heading to different tributaries, they were all upper Columbia stocks to start with.

An agreement hammered out last spring by state, tribal and federal managers called for trapping wild fish in several Methow tributaries to satisfy broodstock needs and keeping the Carson fish out of areas where NMFS said wild genetic traits should be most protected. But it also allowed more hatchery fish to spawn in the wild, because the facilities finally shut their doors to more returning fish.

"It was a big compromise for everybody," said USFWS' Dave Carie, who said the trapping met with mixed success. Problems with the weir on the Chewuch River kept fish managers from trapping as many fish as they wanted.

With the trap working poorly--many fish jumped right over it--the tributary ended up with more than 1,000 spring chinook redds being counted there. In 1995, only 2 redds were seen.

1995 was a bad year all around, when most hatchery stocks almost dried up as well from the poor ocean conditions created by the large El Niņo event of the early 1990s. It was a year when the two hatcheries on the Methow saw only 14 fish come back to their ponds.

More good news came from the mid-Columbia last week, when Chelan PUD released a report that said 2,109 spring chinook redds were counted in the Wenatchee River Basin from last year's run, the highest number seen since 1958, when they began keeping track. Nearly 1,000 redds were counted in 1985, with a previous high in 1966 of around 1,200 redds. During the 1990s, the run dropped precipitously and redd counts went from 589 in 1993 to only 32 in 1995. But in recent years, counts have risen, with 354 redds noted last year, up from 54 in 1999. -B. R.


As listed fish populations reach levels not seen since the 1970s or even earlier in some cases, the amount of money that the federal government is willing to commit to recovering them is higher than ever before.

The Bush administration budget announced last week calls for a 19 percent overall boost in federal spending for salmon recovery in the Northwest.

BPA is slated for a 13 percent hike in fish and wildlife spending, to about $287 million of ratepayer funds. Another $220 million in annual appropriations has been earmarked for fish recovery, including $12 million for NMFS to pay for additional scientific work, monitoring and evaluation called for in the hydro BiOp.

The Corps of Engineers is expecting an 18 percent boost, to $128 million for dam improvements, including $32 million to fund a surface bypass system at Bonneville Dam's second powerhouse.

The Bureau of Reclamation may get another $4 million; much of it will go to buying up water for augmenting flows to aid salmon. USFWS is pegged for an additional $3.7 million to pay for improving tributary flows, fixing habitat and improving federal hatcheries.

Another $90 million is earmarked for salmon recovery spending in Oregon, Washington and Alaska under the Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Act.

Environmental groups say the budget falls well short of what's needed, citing internal NMFS budgets during the waning days of the Clinton Administration that called for spending nearly $860 million for FY 2002 and $918 million for FY 2003 to implement the BiOp. They say the documents were discovered through a lawsuit that takes issue with many provisions of the new NMFS BiOp.

"The NMFS plan clearly states these fish are in jeopardy of extinction, and it lays out a series of measures the scientists have determined offer the best chance to stave off that danger without bothering the dams, period," said Trout Unlimited's western conservation director Jeff Curtis. "Not half of the measures, not two-thirds, but all of them together. Anything less brings you right back into jeopardy."

The groups cited TU's "Doomsday Clock" extinction study, which projects functional extinction for wild Snake River spring chinook salmon by 2016 unless dramatic recovery actions are taken, like removing the lower Snake dams.

But preliminary redd count data released last week by IDFG shows that wild fish are faring well these days. With 764 redds counted in tributaries of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, the number is the highest since 1973. Two hundred-twenty four redds were counted there in 2000 and only 53 redds in 1999. It's much the same story in the South Fork of the Salmon, where overall counts are the highest since 1967.

In Marsh Creek, a tributary of the middle fork of the Salmon, no redds were counted in either 1995 or 1999. In 2001, 195 redds were tallied there, the third highest count since 1975. -B. R.


The February early bird water supply forecast is still calling for less than average conditions at The Dalles between January and July, but the latest estimate from the Northwest River Forecast Center in Portland is a bit higher than its mid-month forecast of a couple weeks ago. Forecasters now estimate 95 percent of a normal water year at The Dalles, or about 101 MAF [million acre-feet]. That's up four percent from the previous estimate and way up from the 58.2 MAF measured last year.

Supply above Grand Coulee rose a notch above the mid-month numbers as well, to 95 percent of average. The big difference from last year is a much better snowpack in most places. In 2001, runoff at Coulee was only 37.4 MAF for January through July. This year, it's expected to be 60.2 MAF.

Up on the Snake at Lower Granite, the improved conditions are expected to produce about 95 percent of the average water supply, or 28.2 MAF for the January-to-July period. Last year, only 14.4 MAF materialized. That's a 7 percent boost from the mid-month forecast and reflects higher precipitation in Idaho, where the Clearwater Basin is running at 128 percent of normal precip and 116 percent of average snow water equivalent. The Salmon Basin reports 91 percent of average snow water equivalent, but has 99 percent of average precip.

Other basins generally show above-average snow and precip, although snow water equivalent is only 81 percent of normal in the Snake basin above Palisades, with precip coming in at 86 percent of average.

By Jan. 29, monthly precip was 97 percent of average for the Columbia Basin above Coulee, or 92 percent of average since October. For the Columbia above Castlegar, precip was only 65 percent of the January average, and down to 73 percent of average since October.

Precip on the Snake above Ice Harbor was up to 90 percent of average for the month, but 101 percent of average for the October through January period. The Flathead, Pend Oreille and Clearwater basins saw way above-average precip for the month, but precip on the upper Snake was only 81 percent of normal for the month, but running near normal since October.

Forecasters at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center issued an El Niņo update Jan. 9, noting that sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific seemed to be heading slightly above normal. Their model predictions "show a spread ranging from near-normal to moderate warm episode conditions over the next three to six months," although the forecasters said their techniques made it difficult to make "skillful forecasts" during these transition periods. -B. R.


In a scientific paper to be presented at this month's meeting of the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, ODFW's Marc Chilcote will review the natural productivity of twelve Oregon steelhead populations influenced by hatchery-origin spawners. He evaluated the effect of hatchery steelhead on streams from the Rogue River, on Oregon's southwest coast, to the Imnaha, a tributary of the Snake River in Northeast Oregon. He looked at both summer and winter steelhead populations from 1974 through 2000.

"Regardless of their origin and level of domestication, the negative effect of hatchery fish on natural production was consistent and substantial," Chilcote said. "In recent years, the impact of naturally spawning hatchery fish has become an issue of considerable interest with respect to their impact on the biological health of wild populations. In particular, evidence from an increasing number of studies suggests that hatchery fish may be functionally maladaptive for survival under natural spawning and stream-rearing conditions."

Chilcote cited papers by Waples, Busack and Currens, Campton, Reisenbichler and McIntyre, Nickelson, Chilcote, Fleming and Gross, Leider, Berejikian, Currens, Clifford and Reisenbichler and Rubin, all published in peer-reviewed journals from 1977 to 1999.

Besides the proportion of hatchery fish in natural spawning populations, Chilcote examined the impacts of other variables, such as the relative size of the spawning populations, the ocean survival index, geographic location, and type of hatchery broodstock.

"Only the ocean survival index was positively associated with population productivity," Chilcote said. "This means that both hatchery and wild steelhead had increased production under favorable ocean conditions."

The number of hatchery fish in the natural spawning population is the critical element. Chilcote compared various scenarios ranging from all hatchery fish to all wild fish. In between, he calculated the percent of hatchery fish in the natural spawning population and the effect on productivity. He evaluated this effect based on 10 percent, 30 percent, 50 percent, and 70 percent hatchery fish. Based on this work he was able to show that "more recruits (adult progeny) were produced from a population of 300 (wild spawners) than from a population of 2,400 spawners comprised entirely of hatchery fish."

Chilcote evaluated hatchery supplementation and found only a small incremental change in the productivity of the population. He showed that "the number of recruits produced by a population comprised entirely of wild fish was always larger than the number produced by...supplementation." He also said that "as the proportion of hatchery fish increased within the supplemented population, the proportion of the genes from wild fish...declined, despite the fact that the reproductive success of wild spawners was more than three times that of hatchery spawners. The fitness of the wild population is negatively affected."

This study shows that using native brood stocks for hatchery supplementation has a negative effect on the wild population. Chilcote says, "...the presence of hatchery fish depressed overall population productivity, reduced the number of recruits, and lowered the genetic fitness of wild fish. The advantage of using wild fish for hatchery broodstocks as a means to create a hatchery fish that is more compatible with wild fish in natural spawning populations was not demonstrated."

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is in the process of converting its hatchery programs to native broodstock to reduce the negative effect of hatchery fish on wild fish, especially those listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Chilcote's findings are disconcerting. He admits that the "wild-type hatchery fish should be genetically more similar to the local wild fish. Therefore, they should have better reproductive performance than hatchery fish from semi-domesticated broodstock..." He's looked for an answer to this apparent problem, and found one in the published research of Geiger and others who looked at the variation of family size and marine survival of pink salmon in Alaska.

Geiger's research found large differences in family survival in pink salmon. The survival of salmon families changes and the results are unpredictable. Populations composed of only a few families are at a clear disadvantage because they would not have enough genetic diversity to cope with a changing environment.

"In any given year," says Chilcote, in a review of Geiger's paper, "it seems the probability would be low that genetic combinations conferring high offspring survival could arise from a group of fish belonging to only a few families. Whereas , a group comprised of many families, such as the case with wild populations, the likelihood of hitting the 'winning' combinations would seem higher. It is possible that this difference would make wild fish appear to be more productive."

Chilcote uses the North Umpqua hatchery program as an illustration. This hatchery program was started using native North Umpqua steelhead and now uses wild steelhead collected from the river for its annual broodstock program, about 160 fish. The wild steelhead spawning in the basin are usually more than 3,000 fish. "Therefore," says Chilcote, "the genetic base for the hatchery return is approximately 80 families, whereas...the wild fish is roughly 1,500 families."

The fishes' environment changes annually. A recent example would be the persistent drought of 2001 and the abundant rainfall and heavy snowpack of 2002. Salmonids must be able to respond to annual fluctuations in the environment, and the basis of this response is adaptive genetic diversity contained a large number of families.

In conclusion, Chilcote is not optimistic about supplementation. "This study found that hatchery fish are poorly suited to reproduce under natural conditions and when allowed to do so have an adverse impact on the recruitment and productivity of natural steelhead populations. It appears that supplementation of depressed wild populations with hatchery spawners is an ineffective conservation strategy. Such efforts can be expected to yield only minor gains in the number of naturally produced recruits and cause a loss in the genetic fitness of the wild fish. Therefore, results of this study are consistent with the view that the most effective conservation role for hatcheries is one of impact avoidance, not direct intervention. It appears that limiting the proportion of hatchery fish in naturally spawning populations to less than 10 percent is an appropriate strategy to achieve this conservation role." -Bill Bakke


The Oregon State Highway Department has blocked nearly 1,700 miles of perfectly good salmon and trout habitat with culverts, according to a recent presentation to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. And there may be more, since the survey included only those miles of stream up to the next blockage. There are many more culverts blocking streams on county, federal, and private roads.

The total stream miles blocked by culverts in Oregon is unknown, but there are over 10,000 culverts blocking fish passage in Oregon waters. ODFW estimates that more than 3,300 miles of streams are blocked by culverts.

"Repairing culverts so they pass juvenile and adult salmon is the goal, and there is broad support for getting the job done," said ODFW fish passage expert Charlie Corrarino. "This is one thing we can do to help recover salmon because it doesn't affect private property. These are public roads that can and should be fixed so that the stream crossing once again passes fish."

Corrarino said a rough guess of the cost would be $600 million in federal funding to address the problem over the next ten years. "This sounds like a lot of time and money, but given that this problem has been festering for over 50 years, this would be a good investment."

In a draft assessment by Multnomah County, the cost to replace the high priority culverts blocking ESA-listed salmonids is over $5 million. The cost for repairing all culvert blocks in the county is over $12 million.

The regional breakdown of blockage by culverts looks like this: Coastal 797 miles; Deschutes 73 miles; Grande Ronde 68 miles; John Day 155 miles; Lower Willamette 132 miles; Lower Columbia River 13 miles (for listed coho only); SE and Central Oregon 153 miles; Upper Willamette 301 miles.

Six hundred miles of blocked streams have been classified as high priority, another 357 miles as medium priority and 733 miles were put in a low priority category. -Bill Bakke


IDFG Director Rod Sando resigned Jan. 23 after several political skirmishes with hunters and cattle ranchers in his state. He served two years at the post before bowing to pressure from the state's F&G Commission. Sando's latest battle started when he refused to drop charges against a rancher who killed three mountain lions last fall, but soon developed into a political food fight centered on the legislature's delay in re-confirming a F&G commissioner who supported Sando.

According to the Idaho Statesman, one commissioner said staff members from Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's office wanted Sando out, but the Governor's office denies that, along with other commissioners.

The commissioners accepted Sando's resignation, and gave him six months' pay. A plan to vote one of their own, John Burns, to take over the beleaguered department, which spends $62 million annually to manage fish and wildlife resources in Idaho, had not come to pass by the end of the week. -Bill Rudolph


Oregon District Court judge Garr King has appointed former US attorney Sid Lezak as mediator in the BiOp lawsuit (National Wildlife Federation v. NMFS et al) where federal agencies are being sued by environmental and fishing groups, who allege that authorities have underestimated the risks of extinction to Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead and rely too much on offsite mitigation to bail the hydro system out of a jeopardy decision under terms of the ESA. An environmental mediation service had previously conferred with all parties and recommended that a mediation effort bore little promise of a successful outcome.

As a US attorney, Lezak was involved in the US v. Oregon litigation in the late 1960s that still provides the overall framework for discussion of hatchery and harvest issues important to Columbia Basin tribes and state and federal entities--a process that is still closed to public purview, though it hasn't been officially renewed in recent years.

The new attempt at mediation has changed the briefing schedule in the lawsuit to allow a month for the mediation attempt. Opening briefs will now required to be filed March 7, instead of Jan. 31. -B. R.


The long wait is over. After more than 14 months as acting administrator, Steve Wright has been named to head the Bonneville Power Administration. His appointment as administrator was met with cheers from the Northwest delegation, which has been lobbying on Wright's behalf for several months.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) credited Wright with guiding BPA "through one of the most difficult years--a year that included unprecedented drought and the failure of energy deregulation...He has done yeoman's work drawing together the diverse interests of the Northwest to support issues vital to the future of BPA and the region's economy."

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) praised Wright's "open and direct style of management" and said that Wright "has earned the respect of this Administration." Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) called Wright "the best person for the job," citing his "deep understanding of the agency, the unique concerns of the Northwest and how they fit within national energy policy as a whole."

In announcing the appointment, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham cited Bonneville's importance to the region's economy and credited Wright with "exert[ing] outstanding leadership through some of the most turbulent times for the electricity industry."

Wright was circumspect on his future plans, saying he will pursue a "stay-the-course theme."

"We're on [a course] that comes back to BPA's fundamental goals and concerns: preserving system benefits for the region, developing a scientifically credible and implementable regional fish plan, an RTO that benefits the region's consumers, and creating a strong energy/electricity infrastructure that helps us avoid the problems of last year," Wright said. -Lynn Francisco

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