SALMON SPENDING AMENDMENT SAILS THROUGH SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE :: Fish mitigation costs may soon undergo careful scrutiny by an independent review panel, if Sen. Slade Gorton has anything to say about it. Gorton's amendment to the Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Act was approved by the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee on July 11 and passed by a unanimous vote of the full Appropriations Committee a week later.
The amendment would create a five-member independent scientific review panel to review proposed projects funded through BPA's fish and wildlife budget. The panel would be appointed from a list submitted by the National Academy of Sciences. No member could have a financial interest in the reviewed projects. Project recommendations must be based on sound scientific principles, benefit fish and wildlife, have a clear objective and outcome, with provision for monitoring and evaluation; and be cost-effective.
The amendment also directs the Power Council to "fully consider the findings of the panel when making its final recommendations of projects to be funded through BPA's annual fish and wildlife budget," and explain in writing if it excludes some panel recommendations. The language of the bill also calls for the Council to take into consideration the impact of ocean conditions on fish and wildlife populations in making its recommendations.
Gorton's amendment is the result of controversy over salmon mitigation costs funded by BPA, midst accusations that the foxes are guarding the henhouse--the foxes being state fisheries agencies and tribes, those fish managers who both rate annual funding proposals and receive the lion's share of funding. Critics contend that without an overall framework, much money is wasted on programs that have little to do with bringing back natural salmon runs and a lot to do with maintaining the status quo.
"The conflict of interest raised more than a few eyebrows throughout the Northwest. It's like having the Defense Department ask Boeing to decide which brand of aircraft the military will use," said Gorton in his press release.
In a July 16 letter to Sen. Mark Hatfield, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation took issue with Gorton's move. In part, the letter stated, "The amendment is flawed because it would disrupt the delicate balance established in the Regional Act that distinguished the planning function from the implementation function and recognized the responsibilities of the fish and wildlife agencies and tribes for protection and enhancement of fish and wildlife."
The tribes' letter said the amendment would create the likelihood of an impasse halting salmon recovery efforts by elevating the National Academy-nominated panel to the same status as the agencies and tribes, and said it was likely that such an impasse could only be resolved by the federal court.
In an earlier letter to Gorton, members of the NMFS Recovery Team expressed misgivings about how the new body would function alongside the Power Council's Independent Scientific Advisory Board.
This controversy has grown out of dissatisfaction with the region's haphazard spending habits on salmon. For the last two years, the Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Authority has prioritized projects for the Northwest Power Planning Council, which in turn makes its funding recommendations to BPA. This lengthy consultation process is part of a court mandate that BPA feels is necessary to comply with a court ruling that calls for consultation with state and tribal fish authorities in fish mitigation matters.
"We're are learning as we go," said Bob Lohn, BPA's director of Fish and Wildlife, at a May 22 public forum sponsored by the Public Power Council. But he expressed disappointment that funding for ocean and estuarine research, two big unknowns in the equation of salmon survival, was nowhere near the top of this year's list of funding priorities. BPA sent its own comments on regional prioritization to the Power Council in June.
In fact, of the $90 million to be carved up among the fish agencies, only $4 million was earmarked for research, monitoring and evaluation of any sort. That's half a million less than what the squawfish management program receives every year to reduce predators in the river systems--an activity that costs between $23 and $50 per squawfish, depending on whose program is doing the removal.
"Somehow, this process has excluded a major part of the brain trust...it looks suspect at the bottom line," said independent consultant Steve Cramer of Portland, who had submitted seven proposals and found them all rated at the lowest priority. Last year, Cramer's firm analyzed nitrogen supersaturation in the Snake and Columbia spill programs and found fish mortality increased during the voluntary spill program, a fact NMFS acknowledged, although the federal agency did not say that gas was the cause of the increased smolt mortality.
Prof. Jim Anderson of the University of Washington, developer of the CRiSP computer model of the Columbia and Snake river passage system, said it looked like the controversial issues were put at the bottom of the list.
Speaking for the feds on May 22, NMFS policymaker Donna Darm said it was important for managers to be involved. She added that her agency would be pleased to see comments on how to improve the ranking process.
NMFS researcher John Williams, who took part in the ranking, said the scoring system for evaluating proposals was skewed toward any project that directly increased fish production, namely, hatcheries and watershed improvement projects. Improving hatchery facilities is seen by some as a hypocritical activity, since both the Bevan plan for recovering endangered stocks and the National Research Council study recommended reducing hatchery production. So far, NMFS has only called for a cap on hatchery releases to 1994 levels.
The Power Council got an earful on the subject at its meeting in Spokane June 5. "I think it's clear that about 90 percent of the funding goes non-competitively to the fishery agencies and tribes," retired biologist and member of the NMFS expert gas bubble panel Gerry Bouck told the group. "And they're good people, I don't have anything against them. But that's the government taking the money out of one pocket and putting it in another, and there is this nagging question whether that's a conflict of interest or not. And basically, I think it's a bad practice whether it's a conflict of interest or not, because it tends to destroy public confidence in it, and furthermore it excludes the regional universities and all that brain power that sits there."
While Gorton's staff was working on the amendment, NMFS' Donna Darm met with Kay Gabriel from Gorton's Bellevue office to discuss the pending amendment. Gabriel said Darm told her that the senator's idea wouldn't work because the prioritization process "isn't based on science." Darm told Clearing Up that Gabriel's read was oversimplified. The NMFS policymaker said scientists have a legitimate place to judge research, but when it comes to prioritizing the value of educational projects and coordination programs, the fish managers are best qualified to make those judgments. Gorton staffers admitted the amendment was no long-term solution, but called it a stop-gap measure to be used until the Northwest comes up with a framework for salmon recovery that is acceptable to the region.
On July 18 , Stan Grace, chair of the Power Council's Fish and Wildlife Committee sent a letter to Gorton outlining the evolution of the prioritization process over the past two years. He told Gorton that fish managers have proposed to revise their recommended priorities in a "variety of respects," and reminded the senator that BPA still retains the authority to select project contractors, and to negotiate budgets and contact terms. Grace said the Council is committed to provide a better bidding process next year.
As NW Fishletter went to online on July 26, the full Senate was debating the energy and water funding bill where Gorton had introduced several modifications to his original amendment after consulting with other Northwest lawmakers and constituents [Bill Rudolph].
 NMFS TO ANNOUNCE STEELHEAD DECISION ON JULY 30 :: NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman said his agency plans to announce their decision on the proposal to list wild steelhead stocks as endangered or threatened species at a press conference in Portland on July 30. An announcement will also be made on Umpqua River sea-run cutthroat trout.
Gorman said the decision will consider steelhead populations from The Canadian border to California, and encompasses the largest geographic area of any ESA proposal so far.
The hurry-up announcement was precipitated by a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against NMFS. In late June, a federal judge ordered the fish agency to act on steelhead by July 31. NMFS had earlier projected a decision by the end of the year.
Some steelhead stocks may not warrant a listing, but river watchers feel that most wild steelhead runs are in dire shape. In a 1994 report on mid-Columbia summer steelhead by Don Chapman and Associates, the main causes of decline were noted as overfishing before the 1950s, and in the 1970s, a combination of sport fishing and management policy, loss of habitat, mainstem dams, and the possibility that hatcheries have contributed to the stock decline. The report recommended that steelhead passing Rock Island Dam form an "evolutionarily significant unit," but that escapement of steelhead to tributaries was substantial and did not warrant threatened or endangered status.
Biologist Al Giorgi, who helped prepare the report, said significant mortality may occur while the fish are at the smolt stage, when hooked incidentally in the trout fishery. He noted that to aid wild steelhead, trout are no longer planted in the Wenatchee River. Giorgi said steelhead smolts in the mid-Columbia may stay in the streams up to three years before they migrate seaward. By then, they may be only six inches long.
Though steelhead populations are sustained by hatcheries on the mid-Columbia, Giorgi said that wild stocks in the region account for 5-10 percent of the region's steelhead, "maybe 20 percent at the upper end."
Sorting out natural populations is difficult. For instance, extensive hatchery production in the Snake River has raised the possibility that strays may have contributed to both hatchery brood stock and wild populations on the Columbia. In other parts of the Columbia and Snake Basins, huge numbers of steelhead are raised in hatcheries.
BPA's Fish and Wildlife director Bob Lohn said he didn't expect the hydro system would change much if wild steelhead are listed. "The 1995 Biological Opinion gave consideration to the needs of steelhead," said Lohn. He noted that projects to improve fish habitat are already underway that should help wild steelhead throughout the region.
More than 7 million juvenile steelhead, mostly hatchery bred, were barged downstream from the Snake and Columbia this year. If Idaho stocks are listed, there will be heavy pressure to reduce hatchery production, with detrimental effects on the local sportsfishing industry.
How do Idaho residents feel about all this? Dave Tonn of Lewiston, who owns Dave's Husky Sport Shop, said fishermen in his part of the world know that wild and hatchery stocks have co-mingled for so long that local residents consider the ESA mandate a ridiculous and futile exercise. "Wild steelhead? There's no such thing anymore," said the frustrated sportsman [Bill Rudolph].
 NWPPC LAYS GROUNDWORK FOR INDEPENDENT ECONOMIC BOARD :: "How do you put a dollar sign on a wild critter," asked Joyce Cohen at the July 16 Power Council meeting. But how to get the most bang for its fish and wildlife buck is a question the NWPPC is just starting to wrestle with as the Independent Scientific Group is nearly finished with its recommendations for fish recovery in the Columbia and Snake river drainage.
At their work session in Portland, council members expressed some urgency as they discussed formulation of an independent economic analysis board to help evaluate soon-to-be proposed measures for the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program.
In a memo to other council members, Ken Casavant, John Brogoitti, and Todd Maddock spelled out the reasons behind the new economic board. "Proper management of the "fish budget" will require cost analyses that will assist the Council in using salmon recovery funds in the most cost-efficient manner," the memo states. "It should be stressed that our intent is not to use economic analysis to stall salmon recovery, but instead reaffirm the need to spend ALL of he fish budget efficiently."
The memo spelled out several objectives for the new board, including to develop an economic framework for cost determination and impact analysis; presenting a comprehensive review of literature available on total costs of alternative recovery measures; providing unbiased information and analysis to evaluate alternative measures that include mitigation of affected parties; and providing information and analysis to assist the Council in determining the inclusion or exclusion of certain recovery measures in the Fish and Wildlife Program.
Earlier discussion among Council members showed some confusion in regard to just how many salmon recovery plans are available for analysis, and no consensus was reached. In fact, Stan Grace, Council member from Montana, said he felt the situation has never been more up in the air. As for the Council's own Fish and Wildlife Program, Grace said, "Too many times we've amended it-it's confusing."
The memo calls for a board of at least six economists, and possibly a sociologist, economic historian, and community development specialist. Terms are designed for three years. An initial budget estimate was pegged at $100,000 for this year, and around $200,000 in subsequent years.
Executive Director Steve Crow told the Council that he could assign at least one person to serve as staff and possibly one or two people from the power division after the comprehensive review winds down.
But Council member Casavant felt that the council should maintain a minimum presence in the board's work. He said "We're asking for independent analysis, so keep the work out there" [Bill Rudolph].
 FISHING AND CONSERVATION GROUPS MAY LEAD MOA COURT CHALLENGE :: Nine fishing and conservation groups may soon go to court to fight the upcoming funding agreement between five government agencies and Northwest tribes. They say it may slash salmon spending by nearly $100 million.
In a July 23 press release the groups say the Memorandum of Agreement(MOA) will create a loophole for the Clinton Administration that excuses BPA from spending the money necessary to protect salmon. How so? They say by splitting $425 million in salmon restoration funds into two separate accounts--capital expenditures and foregone hydropower revenue.
The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund says the Administration welched on another promise as well, funding for a planned drawdown of John Day Reservoir this year. The drawdown scenario could cost as much as $160 million to implement.
"Cutting the money he promised for salmon and breaking his promise of a John Day drawdown paints the President into a corner where he cannot comply with his own salmon protection plan," said Liz Hamilton, of the Northwest Sport fishing Industry Association, one of the plaintiffs.
But BPA attorney Sarah McNary said the groups seriously misunderstand the terms of the memorandum.
The draft MOA states that funds required to operate the John Day reservoir must be approved by Congress, and be appropriated to the Corps of Engineers, with BPA paying the hydro share of the principal, interest and annual operating costs, with the power agency also incurring the resulting revenue losses from the change in operation, "as costs that are above and beyond, and not charged to, the Bonneville fish and wildlife budget commitment described in this Agreement."
McNary said the MOA figure of $435 million is not a cap on spending, but a ballpark figure made up of two parts, with $252 million pegged for the Power Council's fish and Wildlife Program, reimbursibles(where BPA pays back other federal agencies), and capital investment costs which pay for Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation programs, amortization, depreciation and interest payments.
The second part of the $435 million is an estimate of the cost of implementing the BiOp, which has been penciled in at $183 million with the understanding that the cost could go up to $300 million in some years.
"Some years, it's going to cost us less," said McNary who noted the variability in the two main components, the cost of purchased power and the foregone revenues.
Part of the pending Agreement is a Fish Cost Contingency Fund which consists of credits against Treasury repayment up to $325 million available to Bonneville under terms of the Northwest Power Act, to pay for costs due to adverse water conditions, future court-ordered actions, and "contingencies relating to the costs resulting from certain unforeseen or unexpected events-natural disasters, unexpected financial impacts of new ESA listings, new activities stemming from significantly changed circumstances, and regional decisions to pursue different or additional system operations."
Northwest tribal leaders will be going to Washington D.C. next week to discuss the MOA with the Clinton Administration.
BPA attorney McNary is optimistic about a final draft of the Agreement soon, but sportsfishing industry spokeswoman Hamilton said the Northwest fishing industry won't stand for it. "You can bet we will put this issue before the court in short order" [Bill Rudolph].
*This document is available for download in MS Word 6.0 format.
 PRELIMINARY FINDINGS FROM LOWER GRANITE DAM'S SURFACE COLLECTOR :: Preliminary biological information has started to trickle in from studies of the Surface Bypass/Collector at Lower Granite Dam this spring and the exercise seems to be a muted success. Corps biologist Dan Kenney told Clearing Up that the purpose of these studies is to provide information for a 1999 decision on the long-term configuration of the lower Snake River dams.
According to Kenney, it's uncertain whether information to be gained by a full-powerhouse extension of the SBC would be worth the $8 million cost. That has led the Corps to propose that it not be installed for 1997. With much yet to learn from the existing collector as evaluation techniques improve and minor improvements are made to the structure itself, Kenney said the Corps is also concerned about some measure of fish guidance efficiency in one of the units that may not be related to the SBC.
Construction of the full powerhouse extension will be considered for 1998 as well as several other options, including the possibility of moving the 1996 structure (which weighs in at 4 million pounds) further out into the forebay.
At a meeting last week, technical representatives from the states and NMFS agreed with the Corps' proposal not to proceed with the full powerhouse in 1997.
Modifications likely next year include the addition of an overflow weir to the middle slot, installation of attraction lighting, and assurance that slot gates are functioning properly.
Of 344 radio-tagged chinook detected at LGR in the study, 10 percent passed through the SBC, 37 percent were guided by the extended length screens into the fish gallery, 28 percent passed through spill, and 2 percent went through the turbines. The 23 percent "unknowns" exited the dam either through spill or turbine. Kenney said the Corps will soon be able to determine the actual passage route of these fish [Bill Rudolph].
 AMERICAN RIVERS ET AL AND NMFS REACH LIMITED AGREEMENT OVER BIOP :: Fishing and environmental groups announced a limited agreement in American Rivers et. al. v. NMFS in which the plaintiffs have agreed to forego a hearing on a preliminary injunction set for Aug. 12. The agreement stipulates that for the summer salmon migration season there will be spill through Aug. 31, 1996 as defined in the 1995 BiOp unless there is a consensus among members of the Technical Management Team or members of the Implementation Team to curtail spill earlier. The agreement defines consensus to mean "no objection from any member of the TMT or IT."
The agreement also requires that all reservoir volumes identified in the 1995 BiOp from Hungry Horse, Libby, Dworshak, Grand Coulee, and Brownlee will be used, before, on, or after Aug. 31 to meet flow objectives in the BiOp unless a consensus of the TMT or IT feels that the policy is unnecessary; or if NMFS, after consulting with the TMT and IT certifies in writing that the water is not needed.
The limited agreement does not waive any claim or argument by either party in this litigation, and is not an admission by plaintiffs that they are not entitled to a preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs include American Rivers, the Federation of Fly Fishers, Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Sierra Club and Trout Unlimited. The states of Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, as well as the Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce, Warm Springs, Spokane and Colville Tribes have joined the lawsuit as friends of the court.
Just how valuable was the limited agreement? Portland attorney James Buchal, who represents the Columbia River Alliance, said "the stipulation adds nothing to the B.O. All it did was allow the plaintiffs to save face and avoid almost certain defeat in court"[Bill Rudolph].
 HIGH FLOWS THREATEN EARLY FRASER STOCKS :: The Pacific Salmon Commission reported an agreement between U.S. and Canadian fish managers over this year's harvest of Fraser River sockeye. There will be no commercial fishery.
With a total run predicted to be only 1,556,000 fish, fishermen on both sides of the border will have to wait this one out. U.S. Treaty Indian fishers however, will be allowed to harvest up to 50,000 sockeye to meet basic needs. If more abundance becomes evident, there is a chance that commercial fishermen will get a crack at them.
Low abundance of returning fish has worried biologists, and present indicators suggest that the Early Stuart return will be close to the pre-run forecast of 90,000 fish.
Commission staff are concerned about high water levels in the Fraser that may make it tough for migrating sockeye. Similar high river water levels in the 1960s and 1970s on this cycle were associated with reduced escapements. Commission records show that five out of the seven lowest escapements of early Stuart sockeye since 1982 occurred in the years of high July discharge [Bill Rudolph].
THE ARCHIVE :: Previous NW Fishletter issues and supporting documents.
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Last modified: July 26, 1996