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NWF.143/May.17.2002
[1] Astronomical Goals Set For Puget Sound Salmon Recovery
[2] Federal Judge Accepts Consent Decree On Critical Habitat
[3] Locals, Feds Reach Final Methow Valley Water Agreement
[4] National Wildlife, Others May Sue Grant PUD Over Priest Rapids
[5] Little Evidence For Last Year's So-Called 'Salmon Massacre'
[6] Council Wrestles With Questions Over Mainstem Flow Policy
[7] FPC Oversight Board Appointed After Long Wait
[8] NHA, American Rivers Press Feds For Turbine Research Funding
[9] Action Agencies Say They're On Track With New BiOp

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[1] SHARED STRATEGY SETS ASTRONOMICAL GOALS FOR PUGET SOUND SALMON RECOVERY

Puget Sound salmon wonks got a look at planning ranges for salmon recovery efforts at an early May meeting of the Shared Strategy forum in Everett. The preliminary targets--developed by the state and tribal co-managers--set the bar at pretty high levels. The goals for the Skykomish watershed is 8,700- 39,000 spawners, while the average for 1996 through 2000 is about 1,700 spawning chinook. Other planning ranges are even higher. The planning target for the North Fork of the Nooksack, where spawner numbers have averaged 120 fish in recent years, is 3,800 to 16,000 chinook. Rivers like the Dungeness, with only 123 spawners on average in recent years, have a planning range 50 to 80 times that number if returning fish are only productive enough to replace them.

The ranges are meant to ensure sustainability of stocks over the next 100 years, allowing for treaty harvest obligations. "The ranges and targets are provided here primarily to give a sense of the magnitude of the effort necessary to return chinook populations to recovered, harvestable levels," said the document released at the meeting. Each target "predicts the abundance and productivity of a salmon population based on a fully functioning estuary, improved freshwater conditions, restored access to blocked habitats, and poor ocean conditions."

The numbers are intended to help watershed planning groups consider the options, along with social and economic costs, that must be weighed to develop strategies to improve salmon numbers far beyond the level of basic ESA jeopardy concerns.

The big targets also include maintaining levels of harvest in the 60 percent range, which could be a tough sell to watershed groups, where the next phase of the Shared Strategy will play out.

"We have no authority," said Jim Kramer, Shared Strategy's newly appointed executive director, who stressed the voluntary nature of the undertaking. Moving the recovery effort into the watersheds should raise the number of people involved in the recovery effort from several hundred to several thousand, Kramer said.

NMFS regional administrator Bob Lohn told the group May 2 that they should look at the large numbers beyond ESA threshold minimums. "If we planned only for a museum population, we would all have failed," he said.

Kramer said recovery goals involve much more than simply increasing numbers of returning fish. Besides abundance, there are other components that need to be improved, like productivity--how many fish are produced by each spawner; diversity--the variation in life histories; and spatial structure, where well-connected, functioning habitats are spread throughout the watershed.

The interim targets are based on the "best available science," fish managers said in a March 14 cover letter to William Ruckelshaus, chair of the Shared Strategy's development committee. The numbers "relate the quality and capacity of chinook habitat to the population response associated with recovered habitat conditions," the letter continued. It also said the targets were intended to stimulate watershed groups and local governments to work with the fish managers. But that may be a tougher sell than recovery wonks have planned.

"For elected officials to buy into these numbers, " said Roy Metzger, senior environmental planner from the city of Everett, "they're going to need a lot of questions answered about the basis for these numbers."

Timber interests were shocked by the numbers, saying privately that they had major concerns about how the ranges were developed given the dearth of data for most Puget Sound stocks.

The planning targets were estimated with the aid of a model called EDT, Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment, developed by consultant Lars Mobrand and his company, Mobrand Biometrics. After extensive development for use in the Columbia Basin, a group of scientists has been charged with trying to validate its outputs, but they aren't expected to have any results for the next six months. The EDT model, however, is already being used throughout the Northwest.

Since EDT is so data-intensive and so much of the region lacks the kind of information needed to flesh it out, the model relies on "expert opinion" when the data is missing, an element that some reviews have found troubling.

Model Concerns

In August 2001, the independent science panel that works for NMFS and the Power Planning Council, pointed to the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program's use of the EDT system as an example of a current fish recovery tool, one that will try to estimate salmon productivity for habitat restoration efforts in each watershed. However, since EDT has not been calibrated--and uses "expert" knowledge rather than statistical science at its core, "...the degree of validity of its results is unknown." Although it was a calculated risk, the science panel said it was better than nothing, and that validation of the model should be a high priority for the region.

Another group of scientists has been even more critical of the EDT methodology. The six nationally known professors convened by NMFS to periodically judge general fish recovery efforts say the model is too complicated. The panel, all well-regarded experts in evolutionary ecology, conservation biology and theoretical and mathematical ecology, met in Seattle in early December 2000 to hear from regional modelers.
How much more "properly" can the Snohomish estuary function for fish?

"The more complex models become," said the panel, "the more easily one can twist them to do almost anything, and the less reliable they become." They singled out EDT with its 45 habitat variables as a case in point: "...the incorporation of so many variables into a formal model renders the predictions of such a model virtually useless."

The panel said EDT "exemplifies how modeling should not be done. It is over-parameterized, includes key functional relationships that cannot be known and cannot be tested, creates a false sense of accuracy, yet introduces error and uncertainty. Its very complexity makes it difficult to determine the effect of various assumptions and parameter values on the model's behavior and relation to data. The attempt at quantification through subjective 'expert opinion' compounds these fatal weaknesses, especially the model's inability to confront and improve with confrontation of data."

WDFW's Jim Scott, a member of the NMFS Puget Sound technical recovery team that is developing planning targets as well, said EDT is just one tool in their arsenal, which includes population viability analysis and looking at historical numbers of fish abundance and habitat capacity. The team's report is going through internal review right now. Scott said that he wasn't aware of the EDT method being validated anywhere yet.

A NMFS review of EDT said the model was "filling a void" because it's the only tool that is ready to use for summarizing any habitat in terms of "predicted fish numbers." But the reviewers said that important limitations need to be recognized when it is used for recovery planning. "In most regions, the majority of the habitat descriptions that form the foundation of EDT will not be based on actual measured data," the January 29, 2001 memo said. "Instead, EDT will have to be built up from derived data (conclusions derived from measured data) or the best guesses of experts." They said EDT provided a "false sense of precision by using non-linear equations with coefficients involving several significant digits, when in fact there is no way 'expert opinion' could be so precise."

NMFS reviewers Peter Kareiva, who helped develop the CRI model, and John Stein, who heads the Northwest Science Center's Environmental Conservation division, said the limitations of EDT did not imply that it had no value. Instead, the limits "suggest that EDT should not be oversold as a recovery planning tool and that guidelines for its use are needed. In fact, this is true for any model."

When planning targets were announced at a May 16 meeting with folks from the Snohomish-Snoqualmie watershed planning group, EDT wasn't even mentioned until Jim Miller, engineering superintendent for the City of Everett asked if the methodology for reaching the numbers had been "ground-truthed." He questioned if fish had ever been this abundant when conditions were still pristine.

WDFW head Koenings said it hadn't been validated yet, but monitoring programs are being developed to ground truth the analysis. He said it was not a short-term process, since it could take up to six years for just one chinook brood cycle to be completed. "It's a grand experiment," said Koenings, who noted that the analyses looked at historical numbers of fish in the watershed, to see if the EDT model could come up with matching estimates. Managers were satisfied that numbers were close, though historical numbers are themselves estimates.

Concern over excessive harvest was expressed by some who attended a May 16 meeting in Monroe, those who also felt undue burdens were being place on those committed to watershed improvements. But Tulalip tribal spokesman Terry Williams said the tribes were taking significant harvest cuts now, "looking for robust fisheries in the future, but not "historic" watershed protection. He said the tribe wanted to return viability to the fishing economy.

With over 50 percent of the land in the watershed in private hands, long-time conservationist John Sayre of Northwest Chinook Recovery said "more realistic" recovery goals might be more helpful at this point to get people on board. He noted that chinook escapement in the watershed last year was over 8,000 fish, the highest since the 1960's, and nearly three times the average of recent years' returns. -Bill Rudolph


[2] FEDERAL JUDGE ACCEPTS CONSENT DECREE ON CRITICAL HABITAT

A consent decree between the National Marine Fisheries Service and a slew of homebuilder groups and counties in three western states who sued the agency over its policy dealing with ESA-mandated "critical habitat" has been accepted by a DC Court.

US District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled April 30 that the feds can vacate their original designations of critical habitat for 19 listed stocks of salmon and steelhead on the West Coast and start all over again. The plaintiffs in the case went to court in November 1999, arguing that the designations were overly vague and failed to consider economic impacts as required by the ESA.

In March, NMFS agreed with the plaintiffs, citing a Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decision (New Mexico Cattle Growers vs. USFWS) that found the federal analysis of habitat for a listed bird species did not properly take economics into account. NMFS' policy for fish is similar to the US Fish and Wildlife Service's critical habitat designation for the southwest willow flycatcher, which the Tenth Circuit set aside, remanding the designation for completion of an economic analysis. Prior to agreeing with the plaintiffs, NMFS had justified its analyses earlier by simply ignoring economic effects.

Since NMFS had designated all of the fishes' current range as critical habitat, that meant all federal agencies had to consult with the fisheries agency before they considered any action that might jeopardize listed stocks. "NMFS does not anticipate that the designation will result in significant additional requirements for non-Federal interests," the agency said in the Federal Register.

But the National Association of Home Builders [NAHB] felt otherwise, and its view ultimately prevailed. "Judge Kollar-Kotelly's decision makes the NMFS settlement agreement official," said NAHB president Gary Garczynski. He said his group will now work with the feds, local governments, environmental organizations and local residents to create critical habitat designations that protect salmon, while considering economic impacts.

In a separate memo to environmental groups that had filed briefs in support of NMFS' old policy, the judge said she found the decision in the Tenth Circuit's case "to be persuasive." Although the decision disagreed with one made by a trial judge in her own district, Kollar-Kotelly said she was not bound to it because District Court decisions do not establish binding precedent.

The 1993 case she referred to was Trinity County Concerned Citizens vs. Babbitt, in which the judge "wrote that consideration of economic costs, that might have already been incurred as a result of the listing of a species, was improper in making the critical habitat designation."

The judge also said that vacating the critical habitat designations was in the public interest. Environmental groups had argued that current rules should be left intact while new rulemaking commenced.

The new policy could take two years to be completed, NMFS scientists have said. In the Northwest, the agency recently hired economist Mark Plummer to help analyze economic impacts of new critical habitat designations. He will reportedly be working with Donna Darm, regional head of NMFS' Protected Species Division, to develop the new policy.

Some say the flap over critical habitat is overblown and will not amount to much, even when the policy is revised. But others, like Seattle attorney Galen Schuler, who represented plaintiffs in the lawsuit, beg to differ. "It's especially important where NMFS has been consulting on activities in tributaries where fish can theoretically be reintroduced, or where what the agency calls 'ephemeral barriers' are removed," he said.

The plaintiffs took issue with this approach in a memo last fall, arguing that NMFS designated all accessible reaches of rivers as critical habitat, whether the areas were occupied by ESA-listed fish or not. The memo pointed out that NMFS' own words in the Federal Register considered barriers such as culverts and irrigation diversion dams as "ephemeral...that the agency does not view as impassable structures."

Environmental groups had cited a decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Sierra Club vs. USFWS) that contrasted with the Tenth Circuit's decision on the definition of jeopardy and adverse modification. They said the Tenth Circuit was wrong because it relied on a definition that "fails to recognize the distinct statutory benefits that can be provided by a listing and the designation of critical habitat, especially where the designation encompasses habitat beyond the species' present range."

But Schuler said Judge Kollar-Kotelly wouldn't buy that argument. He said her decision should change the way NMFS does business. Previously, the agency has treated the ESA jeopardy standard and "critical habitat" tests as one and the same. Once a species was listed and the jeopardy standard became effective, "critical habitat designations and their regulatory effects have been treated as relatively unimportant by NMFS and FWS," the plaintiffs said in their memo. "From this indifference has grown the 'incremental impact' approach to economic analysis in the critical habitat designation." -B. R.


[3] LOCALS, FEDS REACH FINAL METHOW VALLEY WATER AGREEMENT

A long-running feud over questions of water for people and ESA-listed fish has ended for now, after all sides in the dispute agreed last week to a new water regime for the Methow Valley Irrigation District. It took long hours of negotiations last month in Spokane, with NMFS regional administrator Bob Lohn presiding. He reportedly sprang for pizza just to keep the sides talking, late one evening in April.

The parties hammered out an amended consent decree that keeps the water flowing to the 250 water users in the water district, in return for major upgrades to the antiquated canals that withdraw water from the Methow and Twisp rivers. Part of the new deal calls for pumping water from the Methow if flows in the Twisp drop below certain levels. BPA and Washington state are expected to pay for the upgrades, along with pumping costs, for at least 25 years. A study is planned to determine how much water fish need in the Twisp.

The irrigation district has until April 1, 2003 to decide whether to comply with the terms of the rehab plan. If the district rejects the plan, it must rebuild its diversion screens by April 2004.

Other parties to the agreement include the Yakama Nation, the Washington State Department of Ecology, NMFS and BPA. The parties had reached an agreement "in principle" in October, but negotiations stalled until recently, when NMFS took the district back to court after an April 1 deadline for negotiating a settlement had passed. -B. R.


[4] NATIONAL WILDLIFE, OTHERS MAY SUE GRANT PUD OVER PRIEST RAPIDS

Barely a week after Grant County PUD was honored by the National Hydropower Association for its environmental commitments, the central Washington utility received a "notice of intent to sue" from the National Wildlife Federation, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the Institute for Fisheries Resources and the Western Watersheds Project. The groups say Grant County is violating the Endangered Species Act because it does not have an incidental take permit from NMFS for its Priest Rapids project. In addition, the groups say the PUD is mismanaging the project and contributing to the demise of chinook salmon and steelhead at rates the NWF says are higher than 20 percent a year.

Grant County officials expressed surprise at the intent notice, as none of the groups that signed it have been involved in the consultation process the utility initiated a year ago for FERC's relicensing of Priest Rapids. The groups also have not participated in discussions on a comprehensive plan the utility said it is developing for long-term operation of the project, in accordance with the Endangered Species Act. The other mid-Columbia PUDs, Chelan and Douglas, do not have incidental take permits, either. "Everyone is working with NMFS to apply for these, but the plans are very individual," said Grant PUD spokesman Gary Garnant.

"I'll believe it when I see it," said NWF attorney Jan Hasselman regarding Grant's work on a comprehensive plan that would lead to an incidental take permit. By contrast, Chelan and Douglas have almost completed work on their HCPs and are likely to receive incidental take permits before any court action could be taken, he said. "I'm not endorsing those HCPs," Hasselman told NW Fishletter, "but at least they made the effort to comply with the law."

Chelan has incidental take coverage through a Section 7 consultation for its Rocky Reach project, according to National Marine Fisheries Service general counsel Margaret Delp, while Douglas has an interim BiOp for its Wells project and is operating it accordingly. Both PUDs have submitted completed applications to NMFS, which should be processed by this fall she said.

Hasselman said NWF and the other groups decided to send Grant a letter of intent to sue because the PUD is "violating the law" and has shown a "consistent pattern of trying to sidestep the hard work necessary to recover these species."

Regardless of what Grant might be doing in association with the FERC relicensing process, the ESA is a separate requirement "that is not being adhered to here," Hasselman said. "In the interim, before the relicense, we have this ESA issue that everyone is pretending isn't there."

Hasselman said Grant PUD walked away from the HCP meetings that also involved Douglas and Chelan PUDs. Spokeswoman Christine Stallard confirmed that Grant dropped out of the HCP process in the spring of 1998, but said it was because Chelan and Douglas were in different positions in terms of making commitments. "Rather than hold up the HCP process, we told the other PUDs to continue with the negotiations while we step back and look at what we can do," Stallard said. "We didn't want to be an impediment to their finishing their discussions."

According to Bill Dobbins, general manager of Douglas County PUD, it was Grant PUD's idea to develop the Habitat Conservation Plans in the first place. "The original idea was to take all the things the PUDs were doing [for fish recovery], package it together, plug the holes and satisfy the ESA," he told NW Fishletter. The whole process started in 1993, Dobbins added, before upper Columbia fish had even been listed for protection under the ESA.

"When Grant dropped out, they didn't stop doing anything," Dobbins said. "They redirected their path to something they thought they could achieve. They just haven't found the key to success just yet."

Since withdrawing from the HCP discussions, Grant has tested a surface bypass system for moving fish, reached a five-year agreement on spill and is now testing top spill devices, Stallard said.

Chelan and Douglas expect to file their HCPs with FERC sometime this summer. Among the elements in Douglas' HCP, Dobbins said, is a 95 percent survival standard for fish passage at the PUD's Wells Dam and 92 percent to 93 percent throughout the project, with strategies for mitigation.

Grant PUD signed a memorandum of agreement in 2000 that also sets a 95 percent fish survival goal. In addition, the five-year MOA requires the PUD to spill an average of 50 percent of river flows during spring and summer fish migration. Garnant said the PUD maintained its spring spill program last year, in spite of the drought and high power prices. The PUD cut spill in the summer, "for power generation needs in the region," including the needs of utilities that purchase output from Priest Rapids, Garnant said. The summer spill does not help ESA-listed species.

A study conducted last summer set survival rates at about 90 percent, Garnant said. To improve that figure, the PUD is testing top-spill devices to direct juvenile fish over the dam rather than through the turbines. One has been installed at Wanapum and another is being tested at Priest Rapids.

NMFS' Delp said the agency has been working actively with Grant on these improvements, but discussions on a longer-term plan are "very preliminary in nature." She said the PUD has proposed negotiating a settlement that includes standards similar to those set in Chelan's and Douglas' HCPs, but "those negotiations have not yet begun."

NWF attorney Hasselman said there are a number of measures Grant could take to reduce the project's impact on ESA-listed fish, such as extending the spring spill season so that it starts earlier and ends later. Hasselman said such additional spill would help solve the problem of adult fallback through the turbines, which occurs when adult fish swimming up the fish ladders end up drifting back through the turbines rather than continuing their journey upstream. Another proposal is for Grant to run its turbines within 1 percent of peak efficiency--as opposed to peak power production--during juvenile migration season.

In the long term, "we need to find the best way to pass fish through spill," Hasselman said. That could involve structural improvements to the dams and the turbines. "We don't know what the best configuration is," he said. But Grant can make changes now "on the basis of certain knowledge that spill is better for fish than going through turbines." -Jude Noland


[5] LITTLE EVIDENCE OF LAST YEAR'S 'SALMON MASSACRE'

Jack counts at Bonneville Dam have surprised harvest managers this year. The number of precocious males passing the dam is a lot higher than they had expected, said WDFW's Joe Hymer. The jacks return a year ahead of the normal run. Generally, they are a pretty good signal of next year's run strength.

After last year's drought, low flows and little spill in the hydro system, environmentalists and some fish managers called last year's migration a "salmon massacre," leading several groups to sue BPA over last year's hydro operations.

"Though, it's too early to tell, it doesn't look like last year's migration was the "death brood" that some people thought," Hymer told NW Fishletter. He said managers would know a lot more in a few weeks, when more jack counts will be available from upstream dams on the Snake and upper Columbia. Last year, most spring chinook were barged from the Snake. Most vulnerable to mortality were migrating juveniles from the upper Columbia, which had to pass as many as nine dams in the second worst water year on record.

So far, around 4,500 jacks have been counted at Bonneville, which currently tracks pretty closely with the 1999 jack count--precursor to an adult spring chinook run of nearly 180,000 fish. Even if last year's outmigration had experienced normal conditions, their return would be expected smaller than those of the last two years, since overall numbers of migrating hatchery and wild smolts were down considerably in 2001.

Meanwhile, this year's adult run finally seems to be slowing down. Just days after state and tribal harvest managers had recently downsized their forecast of the spring chinook run on the Columbia River, they bumped the number back up, from 238,000 to 293,000 fish, then up to 309,000, based on rising counts at the dams. On Monday they ratcheted their estimate down to 303,000. The run seems late this year, with only 58,000 chinook counted by April 23, when managers were still holding to their original estimate of 334,000 fish. Since then, another 180,000 fish have poured past the dam. Managers figure that the run is about 85 percent complete.

Tribal fishermen have landed nearly 32,000 chinook this spring, with about 4,600 fish left to harvest under guidelines that allow them 12 percent of the upriver run.

Managers decided to give sports fishermen another crack at the springers below Bonneville Dam, starting May 4 and continuing for four days. With fish numbers still climbing, the sporties' season was extended to May 15. Fishing was already open above Bonneville and in the lower Snake River for hatchery chinook.

April went out with a bang; over 26,000 fish were counted at the dam on the last day of the month. More than 20,000 showed up for May Day. According to PIT-tag data detections at Bonneville, many returning adults were heading for the Snake, where Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials announced April 29 they expected about 50,000 spring chinook to return. About 17,000 of those fish are estimated to be wild. With the latest surge in fish counts, Idaho may have to revise its estimate. -B. R.


[6] POWER PLANNING COUNCIL WRESTLES WITH QUESTIONS OVER MAINSTEM FLOW POLICY

Members of the Northwest Power Planning Council are still trying to figure out how to handle river operations in their new fish and wildlife program. Specifically, they are trying to reconcile the NMFS-mandated flow augmentation program, which the federal agency readily admits it can't back up after seven years of scientific study--a point consultant Al Giorgi recently re-iterated to the Council in a February report.

The flow augmentation issue was raised at the NWPPC meeting this week in Whitefish, Montana. During a confab with staffers over the latest draft on the mainstem amendments, Washington member Tom Karier brought up the issue when he reminded the group that Giorgi's report said NMFS had found little evidence of a flow/survival relationship across the years for juvenile salmon migrating through the hydro system.

Oregon member Erich Bloch thought it was "premature" to take a position on the matter. He said reliance on the report "overlooks" comments from the region's fish and wildlife managers. He said the weight of opinion favors flow augmentation. "If we go down this road, we're opening the BiOp," Bloch said.

Karier said he was looking for evidence to counter Giorgi's findings, but seemed frustrated that there didn't seem to be much scientific support for augmenting flows. The report, which reviewed the state of the science on mainstem issues, was commissioned by the Council itself. Now it seems the Giorgi report will be scrutinized by the panel of independent scientists who judge such scientific matters for NMFS and the Council.

Staffer John Shurts pointed out that many parts of the new BiOp need vigorous evaluation, but Bloch said he would not support language that called for an evaluation of flow augmentation.

Karier said other elements of new flow operations need review as well, including investigation into new flood control operations. "The Corps needs to study downstream impacts," Karier said.

Doug Marker, the head of the Council's F&W staff, said the document should also deal with hydro operations in low water years.

The Council is scheduled to vote on the mainstem amendments at its next meeting in June and then ask for public comment. Some, like irrigators' groups, have asked for wholesale changes to flow augmentation policy, citing NMFS' own science which can't prove that flow offers survival benefits to fish, specially in spring

"The Council has had over five years to review the current Columbia River flow targets," said consultant Darryll Olsen, "and most Council members are no doubt aware of the flow targets' substantial hydrologic, biological, and economic flaws. Inaction now by the Council to correct water mismanagement will haunt the regional economy for years to come--much like the WPPSS debacle 20 years ago--and leave the Council appearing inept and irresponsible."

On the other hand, lower basin tribes have asked for operations that mimic a more natural hydrograph; they call for augmenting flows with more water from Canadian storage reservoirs.

The flow/survival question may get the royal treatment by the state of Washington, which is ready to pony up $285,000 for a National Research Council review of salmon and water issues. "Using these data and findings," the state says in a draft letter to the NRC, "the NRC committee will assess the range of risks to salmonids at critical stages in their life cycles resulting from additional water withdrawals from the Columbia River in the context of historical and present hydrological conditions." The language is being shopped about agencies and some stakeholders. It's expected to be finalized by June.

The draft calls for an interim report to be expected in nine months, with the final report to be completed nine months later. The review is part of a state Department of Ecology initiative to reform Columbia River water programs, which was largely unfunded by the state legislature last year, but money has been delegated for the review out of DOE funds, said agency spokesman Gerry O'Keefe, who expected an initial report about a year from now if all goes as planned. -B. R.


[7] FPC OVERSIGHT BOARD APPOINTED AFTER LONG WAIT

The Power Planning Council completed a chore begun months ago--creation of a new board to oversee activities of the Fish Passage Center, which has been seen in some circles as more of an advocacy group than the data collection and information center that has long been its main charge.

After stalling for weeks, Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority members finally announced their choice to participate, though fish managers said they would only participate on a trial basis. Some FPC employees have long championed expensive flow augmentation and spill measures for juvenile salmon--a stance that seems to have less scientific credibility than ever, since NMFS biologists admit they have been unable to detect much of a relationship between more flows and higher survivals in migrating salmon.

The new board was pushed by several Council members, including chair Larry Cassidy, who will sit on it himself. Before the final action, Cassidy said there was strong support to eliminate the Fish Passage Center altogether. "The alternative is a lot darker than what we've got for you," he told FPC supporters at last Tuesday's meeting of the Council's fish and wildlife committee.

"The credibility of the Fish Passage Center is at an all time low, " said Idaho Council member Judi Danielson. "Our goal is to raise it."

The old board, appointed by CBWFA members and created at the behest of the Council a few years ago after criticism in the same general vein, was not ready to go quietly into that good night. Some fish managers recommended that it be used to transition to the new board. The issue was not resolved at the meeting, though some NWPPC members clearly felt the old board served at their pleasure.

An April 3 letter from CBFWA to the Council raised questions over the status of the old board. Some members of the earlier body felt they were not being disbanded. CBFWA also wanted more time to appoint tribal representatives, so they were unable to provide nominations as requested by the Council. Council chair Larry Cassidy met with the group last week, but by Tuesday's meeting of the NWPPC's fish and wildlife committee, CBFWA had still not submitted any names. However, the situation had changed by the next day.

On Wednesday, the Council appointed Public Power Council staffer Rob Walton and sports fishing industry spokesperson Liz Hamilton to the new at-large positions. Spokane tribal representative Keith Underwood was appointed to represent upriver tribes, while Rob Lothrop of CRITFC will represent lower Columbia tribes. John Ferguson, salmon passage program manager, will represent NMFS, and Dr. Greg Schildwachter of the Idaho Office of Species will fill in the science position. ODFW's Tony Nigro will represent the fish managers. -B. R.


[8] NHA, AMERICAN RIVERS PRESS FEDS FOR TURBINE RESEARCH FUNDING

In an unusual example of industry and environmentalists working together, the National Hydropower Association and American Rivers are lobbying in tandem for $11 million in federal funding for research and development of hydropower turbines that kill fewer fish.

In particular, the groups are pressing the US Department of Energy to fully support the agency's Advanced Hydropower Turbine System program, an effort to redesign turbines and modify the way they're operated to improve the survival of fish, particularly anadromous populations, that have to pass through them.

With more than 240 dams up for relicense in the next 15 years, the groups are urging the government to move quickly. Dam operators generally make equipment changes during relicensing to mitigate environmental impacts. As most licenses last from 30 to 50 years, the time to introduce new technology is between licenses.

"This is the tip of the iceberg of what we should be doing for the fisheries," said David Tuft, a spokesman for the NHA, a hydropower industry organization based in Washington, DC. "This really should be a much bigger project."

The goal of the turbine research project is to improve fish passage at dams from current levels of between 85 and 95 percent, to 98 percent while also boosting the electrical output of hydroelectric facilities. Program researchers are working to develop new turbine technology and improve existing turbine designs.

"It's not just American Rivers' position that improved turbine technology is a good thing for everyone," said Eric Eckl of the environmental advocacy group American Rivers. "There's broad consensus for this." About 600 environmental and citizen groups from all 50 states have endorsed full funding for the program, he said. The wider the program's appeal, the better chances it will receive the funding it needs. "If it's something where we see eye-to-eye with the industry, we hope it'll be something of particular interest to decision-makers," Eckl said.

In addition to the $11 million, the NHA is calling on Congress to match the hydropower industry's spending on fish-passage technology, about $75 million over the past 10 years. Federal spending on turbine technology would meet a pressing need for the industry and the environment, and would create a national standard for turbine research.

The groups are lobbying Congressional appropriations committees, Office of Management and Budget officials and Energy Department staff, as well as testifying at various budget hearings. The Bush administration has requested $7 million for the program in its preliminary budget. -Cassandra Sweet


[9] ACTION AGENCIES SAY THEY'RE ON TRACK WITH NEW BIOP

BPA and other action agencies [BuRec, COE] have released their first progress report on implementation of the hydro BiOp that was finalized in December, 2000. They say they're on track and expect to meet 2003 benchmarks, though some schedules may have slipped because of last year's drought and power emergencies.

Under less than optimal conditions, a lot was accomplished in 2001," said BPA Administrator Steve Wright. "Substantial progress was made toward achieving structural improvements to benefit endangered fish. Despite the second worst water year in recorded history, adult survival through the dams was the best ever and juvenile survival, with the exception of some steelhead stocks, was within the range recommended by scientists as necessary to avoid extinction."

The report catalogs hydro actions taken to improve juvenile and adult passage, along with acquiring more habitat and securing water increases to add migrating fish. Hatchery improvements are under way to reduce possible harm to ESA stocks, along with improvements in harvest techniques to reduce the catch of wild fish while boosting hatchery catches. A huge monitoring and evaluation program is also being created to assess the benefits of BiOp actions and develop performance standards that must be met to keep lower Snake dam breaching studies from being automatically triggered in a few years.

The report contradicts an earlier study by environmental groups who gave the agencies failing grades for getting on with the new BiOp. They based their analyses on how far along they judged completion of the 199 different measures spelled out in the BiOp, said Nicole Cordan, who represented Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition of conservation and fishing groups. Last March, she had said that the government had failed to implement 75 percent of the measures in its plan during its first year and criticized hydro operators last year for the "complete and utter failure" at helping salmon during last year's drought. She went before the Power Planning Council to tell members that "partial removal" of the four dams on the lower Snake was necessary for recovering the fish.

The dam breaching drumbeat was picked up recently by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, who put Cordan's message in an April 30 speech delivered at a Columbia River ecosystem conference in Spokane. "The fact is that if we look at the policy trade-offs involved--at the other choices we must make if we choose to leave the dams intact," Kitzhaber said, "breaching emerges as a responsible and cost-effective option. It is not the only option, but it is a responsible one that should not be disregarded out of hand."

"This is not a par three hole," said BPA spokesman Ed Mosey. It's a par five." He said the agencies give themselves an A on the salmon report card towards implementing the BiOp. "Some of these folks expect a hole in one." -B. R.

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