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[1] NW Senators Want To Triple Federal Salmon Recovery Budget
[2] Columbia's Spring Chinook Run Second Best On Record
[3] ISAB Reviews Mainstem Passage Report
[4] Kitzhaber Calls For Voting Changes At NWPPC, Bigger Role For Tribes
[5] NMFS Approves Corps Of Engineers' Lower Columbia Dredging Plan
[6] Okanogan County Appeals Ruling Over Flows For Fish
[7] Washington State's Point Man On Salmon, Curt Smitch, To Retire
[8] Sando Named To Head CBWFA

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A bill to boost West Coast salmon recovery spending to $350 million this year was aired in a Senate subcommittee hearing May 14 in Washington, DC, where reaction was generally positive. However, politicians may have to settle for considerably less since the Bush administration has budgeted only $90 million to fund recovery efforts for the coming fiscal year. If passed, the legislation would continue paying for recovery efforts that began with the renewal of the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the United States and Canada in 1999.

The bill, S. 1825, calls for funding to be distributed equally among Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and Idaho, with 15 percent going to West Coast tribes for restoration efforts. A similar bill passed by the House last year and sent to the Senate would have capped spending at $200 million annually through 2004. The bill reviewed by the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere and Fisheries calls for states to cough up 25 percent in matching funds.

The latest bill is being pushed hard by co-sponsors Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), who represent states that stand to reap millions more in recovery dollars than they now get. The proposal is also backed by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

"Despite the fact that we saw more fish return to the Columbia Basin last year than in any year since 1938, we must continue our efforts to restore salmon in Oregon and throughout the West," Smith said. He noted that the bill would ensure that each state with threatened fish populations would get the money it needed to put restoration plans in place.

The bill would also include Idaho for the first time. Crapo testified that unless each state fully participated, the recovery actions in other states would be jeopardized. With the $350 million, state and tribal fish programs could buy fish screens, fix habitat, pay for more research and monitoring, improve harvest techniques, retrofit hatcheries, buy more water for fish, improve fish passage and control birds that eat salmon, he said.

Alaska Cites Confusion Over Priorities

But Alaska senator Ted Stevens (R) opposed funding all states' efforts equally "because different states have different problems." He said salmon fishing was much more important to Alaska than to the rest of the states combined. He said the bill confuses priorities developed out of the salmon treaty renewed between the United States and Canada with concerns about ESA-listed fish stocks in the Lower 48 states.

"Providing the same amount of money to each eligible state ignores the true nature of the problem," the Alaska senator added. He said funding for the Salmon Recovery Act has been related to fish production under the terms of the US-Canadian Pacific Salmon Treaty, not over concern for ESA-listed fish.

"The reason we put this funding in place was because Alaska agreed to forfeit fish and regulate the harvest of salmon in southeast Alaska at a rate no other state has done," Stevens said. "To begin allocating between states is entirely wrong and I will not support it the way it is."

Washington and Oregon have received $143 million out of the $258 million authorized under the Salmon Recovery Act since 2000, according to a Stevens' press release. Testimony by fisherman Bob Thorstensen, a member of the salmon treaty's northern panel, catalogued how the state had spent its share, funding new research programs and habitat conservation efforts, along with mitigating the economic effects of fishery restrictions on the fleet to boost chinook and coho returns in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. He also said some funding has paid for hatchery spending in his state.

Thorstensen said some of the money has even been spent to pay for marketing efforts to sell more fish. "Faced with significant harvest reductions under the Treaty," he said in written testimony, "Alaska seeks to gain more value from the limited harvest." The fisherman said the Senate bill didn't include language contained in the House version that would let Alaska use funds to mitigate the treaty impacts or get together with other states to cooperatively fund some restoration efforts.

Thorstensen's testimony also noted that the Senate bill would add "a cumbersome and unnecessary" peer review program, an element that Washington state had concerns about as well, according to remarks by Laura Johnson, executive director of Washington's Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

Johnson said the added layer of review "will create delay and cost to our recovery participants. It is also not clear to us that the specific federal processes outlined in the measure will add accountability or criteria beyond that already included in the state's system." She suggested modifying the bill to avoid unnecessary duplication of plans and measures.

Washington representatives also expressed concern that the funding formula in the bill should not be a "disincentive" to state commitments, since considerable funding has already been generated at that level.

According to S. 1825, federal funds would only be authorized after the Secretary of Commerce approved a state's or tribe's annual salmon plan. The bill includes general guidelines that focus effort on ESA-listed fish and provide support for hatcheries that are used only to supplement wild runs.

Fishing groups from California to Washington supported both House and Senate bills, said Glen Spain, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. Spain stressed the need for getting improvements started. "Don't let the funding bog down in procedural complexities and side issues that, ultimately, are irrelevant," he said. Spain pointed out that Alaska, Oregon and Washington should have no trouble meeting minimal federal requirements for having workable salmon plans. But he noted that it might not be so easy for California. "Unfortunately, even today California has no statewide salmon and steelhead restoration plan, though several counties have combined to create a regional plan," he said.

Spain told the subcommittee that $350 million in annual funding for the next five years "is the correct amount," but that the funding should not be seen as replacing separate funding for Columbia River fish recovery or the CALFED process in northern California.

Economic Benefits of Salmon Harvest Pushed

Spain testified that the recovery goal should be described as the House bill defined it: protecting and restoring salmon and other aquatic species to "sustainable and harvestable levels." He said reinvestment in Northwest watersheds "makes economic sense," and cited a 1992 study by the Pacific Rivers Council which reported that as recently as 1988, the sport and commercial salmon industry "brought more than $1.2 billion to the West Coast economy outside of Alaska, supporting some 62,750 wage jobs. Though many of these jobs have now been lost or are at risk, a wise investment in this resource will now bring many of them back, helping to revitalize a whole region's coastal economy, and producing a multitude of other economic benefits for all."

The Pacific Fishery Management Council has pegged economic benefits at about one-fifth as much as the study Spain cited for 1988. More recently, the PFMC estimated that last year's banner salmon year was worth only about $66 million to the West Coast economy (in 2001 dollars) from sports and commercial ocean fishing.

The economic argument for salmon recovery may not hold much water these days, at least for commercial fishermen, due to the "paradigm shift" from the influx of farmed salmon to both domestic and world markets. Oregon-based seafood consultant Howard Johnson told NW Fishletter that his latest figures show farmed Atlantic salmon now account for 72 percent of sales of fresh and frozen salmon, and 86 percent of the fresh market alone. As for the future, he points to the struggle now faced by the Alaska salmon industry, which is trying to cope with the likelihood of more farmed salmon than ever on the horizon. Chile, said Johnson, has an entirely new region set aside for expanding its farmed salmon industry. In 20 years, Johnson said, there won't be any salmon fisheries as we know them now, "since it will just cost too much to chase fish." -Bill Rudolph


Although it's a long way from last year's record run of nearly 400,000 spring chinook, this year's upper Columbia run has climbed into the number two spot with a return of about 270,000 spring chinook counted at Bonneville Dam. A lot fewer fish are heading for the Snake River this year, however, since the 2000 juvenile migration that provided most of this year's adults was a lot smaller than the one that set last year's record.

Idaho fish managers will actually get more fish back than the 50,000 springers they expected once the count is officially over at Lower Granite Dam on June 17. Fifty-four thousand fish had been counted by May 30, and more were in the pipeline. About 74,000 spring chinook have passed Ice Harbor Dam, the lowest dam on the Snake, which means Idaho should expect about 50 percent more fish than originally estimated. Idaho spring chinook numbers topped 172,000 fish last year.

Upper Columbia chinook numbers are optimistic again this year as well. Counts are not up to date at Priest Rapids Dam, but by May 13, over 23,000 chinook had been tallied, down from last year's 43,000 count by that date, but still twice the 10-year average. It's a number that tracks with the reduced smolt outmigration in 2000, which was about half of 1999's outbound run, according to smolt index numbers at McNary Dam.

Far up the Columbia River at Wells Dam, about 5,200 spring chinook have been counted, down from last year's 7,800 fish, but a healthy bump from 2000's count of about 1,600 fish.

Harvest managers reviewed their estimate of the upriver run once again and reduced it to 292,000 fish, a number they were sticking with through the end of last week, according to WDFW's Cindy LeFleur.

The latest revision means that lower Columbia tribes had over-harvested their share by about 900 fish, according to the pre-season agreement that pegs their catch percentage to the total run size. The tribal share went down from 12 percent to 11 percent of the upriver run when predictions dipped below 300,000 fish. Originally, the fish managers had estimated about 340,000 upriver fish would enter the river this spring. At one point, they revised their estimate down to 238,000 fish, but the situation improved shortly thereafter.

Tribal fishers reportedly caught nearly 33,000 spring chinook in four commercial openings that ended May 18. Commercial buyers were offering only about 75 cents a pound for the springers, which were selling for 15 times as much by the time they were filleted and displayed in Seattle fish markets. Non-Indian commercial fishermen caught over 14,000 springers in an experimental tangle net fishery that was designed to harvest only hatchery fish.

Jack counts at Bonneville have remained robust as well, averaging over 100 a day by the end of the month, totaling about 6,500 for the spring. That's about 15 percent above the 10-year average, which likely signals a spring run next year of more than 100,000 fish.

Meanwhile, the region was gearing up for the monster fall chinook run that's expected to begin showing soon. Ocean recreational fishing began last week off the Washington coast, where sporties were mostly limiting in the early fishery that will close for a bit and then open again later in the summer, offering Northwest anglers another chance to hook some of the 675,000 fall chinook predicted to return to the Columbia River. -B. R.


The Independent Scientific Advisory Board has released its review of a report on mainstem Columbia fish passage strategies. The report was commissioned to help the Power Planning Council amend the section of its fish and wildlife program that deals with how best to use water for migrating fish. The ISAB said the report did a good job explaining current strategies and uncertainties of the program, which is used to help fish move through the federal hydro system.

Since 1980, when the four-state Power Council was created out of the NW Power Act, the group has been responsible for helping fish runs through a "water budget," which dedicates a certain amount of water for improving flows. That budget has risen over the years since salmon and steelhead stocks were listed under the ESA. But the jury's still out on just how beneficial the strategy has been for Columbia Basin fish populations.

The Council itself has estimated that from 1978 until 1998, BPA spent nearly $1.4 billion on the flow augmentation strategy through a combination of foregone revenues ($698 million) and power purchases ($668 million) needed to meet load demands that the hydro system would have been able to handle if not for the fish obligation.

Consultant Al Giorgi presented his own report to the Council last January, which said 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 wasn't really news. With salmon stocks showing a 10-fold increase in survival rates over the past 10 years, Giorgi said 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.

Giorgi's remarks drew a slew of comments from fish and wildlife managers and environmentalists, whose flow-based fish recovery agendas seemed threatened by the results of federal survival studies. In fact, the flow targets in the feds' own hydro BiOp seemed to be on shaky scientific ground. The Council debated whether it should send Giorgi's report out for independent peer review and decided to get the ISAB to take a look at it.

The ISAB's review, released June 4, supports most of Giorgi's conclusions. "The comments from the public and agencies provided additional useful technical information," said the ISAB, "usually amplifying points made in the Giorgi et al. report, but often, it is our impression, from more of an advocacy position for certain management strategies. Contrary to what was suggested in some of the comments, we did not see any pervasive tendency for selective use of data or misinterpretation of results by authors of the Giorgi et al. report. Genuine technical disagreements occur over possible interpretations of available information for methods of analysis and implementation measures. Giorgi et al. were criticized for not providing the full range of scientific 'opinion' on the key issues, yet the intent of the report was to summarize information, not opinion."

But the ISAB also said the Giorgi report's "statistical conservatism affects its value as a synthesis of current understanding." The panel said "tests that fail to show statistical significance in data can be definitive in stating that no effect was found, yet these tests do not definitely prove the absence of effect." The science panel went on to say that it was possible that new studies or "further rigorous analysis" of existing data "could generate statistically significant results or a different answer."

However, a recent paper in the peer-reviewed North American Journal of Fisheries Management (Smith et al, 22:385-405, 2002) by NMFS scientists found little correlation between flow or travel time to fish survival through impounded sections of the lower Snake-- "neither strong (within or between years) nor consistent from year to year." The scientists said they used PIT-tag data from 1995 through 1999 because 1995 was the first year the detection system was sufficiently developed to allow survival estimates to McNary Dam from the lower Snake.

NMFS Weighs In

Yet NMFS itself, in comments to the Council, says the Giorgi report is "fairly complete, factual, and supports the short-term Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives" in its hydro BiOp, which includes the current flow augmentation strategy. The agency even cited the Smith et al paper, pointing it out as "a comprehensive analysis related to travel time and river conditions for spring migrants." But the May 28 NMFS letter signed by Brian Brown, assistant regional administrator for the agency's hydro program, took issue with Giorgi's characterization of the value of spring flow.

"The comment that 'there is little evidence supporting a flow/survival relationship across the water years experienced from 1993-2000' followed by a discussion of the negative survival impacts of the low flows in 2001 stops short of the next step," said the agency, "and is thus incomplete, potentially leaving the reader with the impression that it has been demonstrated there is no flow/survival relationship. There was only one low flow year in the 1993-2000 period. Now, with 1994 and 2001 providing two low flow years, additional analysis can and is being conducted."

The ISAB agreed with Giorgi's conclusion to expand NMFS' PIT-tag based survival studies to help answer other questions raised by commentors about possible delayed mortality effects from passage through the hydro system. But they pointed out that the studies reviewed in the Giorgi report were "aimed at estimating mortality within the hydro system, not outside it."

The value of flow augmentation is still a matter of debate and drew more comments than any other part of Giorgi's report, the ISAB said. Some Power Planning Council members want an evaluation of flow augmentation added to their mainstem amendment package because of the apparent disconnect between current policy and scientific support for the strategy.

The ISAB paraphrased Giorgi's conclusion as follows: "Surprisingly few, if any, comprehensive evaluations of flow augmentation have been published, which address all or even most of the significant issues. The annual reports of the Fish Passage Center are deficient in that they fail to estimate the extent to which flow augmentation, increased water velocity or decreased water temperature, as compared to base condition; nor do they predict the magnitude of fish response in terms of smolt migration speed or survival, as attributable to that incremental change in flow and temperature. The NMFS BO is deficient in this regard, as well. The BO specifies volumes (MAF) for flow augmentation, and prescribes seasonal flow (KCFS) targets, but provides no quantitative analysis describing changes in water velocity, smolt speed or survival benefits that are to be expected as a result of flow augmentation."

Other uncertainties about augmented flows that Giorgi mentioned 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.

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 threshold, 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." -B. R.


Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has asked his fellow Northwest governors to consider amending bylaws of the Northwest Power Planning Council that would give an automatic two-year term to the council member who is voted chair of the eight-member body, a position that would be rotated among the four states. He outlined the proposal in a May 15 letter that also called for affording "a high degree of deference to the Tribes' interpretations of the [Power] Act's fish and wildlife provisions and their recommendations for program measures."

In January, the NWPPC changed its bylaws to allow another vote to give council chair Larry Cassidy of Washington state a third term, bypassing vice chair Eric Bloch of Oregon. Bloch complained loudly over the move, since it had been customary for the vice chair to move up to chair, though not specified by rule.

Montana Governor Judy Martz responded to Kitzhaber's proposals in a May 24 letter, saying she didn't consider the proposed changes "necessary or even supportive to making the Council's work more beneficial to the region." She said she also believed the council was "diligently" following the requirements of the Northwest Power Act in fulfilling responsibilities to the tribes and that she was "troubled" by inferences in Kitzhaber's letter that called for the council "to be courteous and respectful to tribal representatives at all times."

"For example, one can infer from your proposal that the Council currently is not courteous and respectful of tribes," Martz wrote. "This is not the case. The Council shows deference to the tribes on project measures and recommendations, and works hard to ensure proper tribal involvement in all the Council's processes and decisions."

Washington state responded in a May 30 letter to Kitzhaber, when Gov. Gary Locke said an "institutional change" shouldn't be made because of the Council's January vote to put Cassidy in the top spot for another year. Locke said that Washington Council members "already take very seriously their relationship with the Columbia Basin tribal governments and will continue to do so in the future," though he added that he was "always willing to explore even greater consultation with the tribes." -B. R.


Federal authorities released biological opinions May 20 that would allow the Corps of Engineers to begin a nearly $200 million project to deepen the 103-mile-long lower Columbia River shipping channel. Both the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service found that the action wouldn't jeopardize ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks.

After strong criticism and a lawsuit by environmentalists, NMFS withdrew a 1999 opinion that also gave the project a no-jeopardy ruling. The agency spent the past 18 months completing a new analysis, including extensive computer modeling. The Corps of Engineers will include some habitat restoration work in its project to remove 23 million cubic yards of river-bottom.

"This has been one of the most detailed, intensely analyzed, and thoroughly science-based biological opinions we've ever done," said NMFS regional administrator Bob Lohn. He said a strong monitoring effort would validate the findings and allow for modifications if they are needed.

The new finding has drawn more criticism from tribes and environmental groups, but strong praise from local port authorities who say the project will improve the efficiency of Columbia River ports by allowing larger container vessels upriver. -B. R.


Seattle attorney Galen Schuler said Okanogan County will appeal a March judgment by the US District Court in Spokane that found federal authorities on the winning side in a dispute over water in Washington's Methow Valley. A ditch company, several individuals and Okanogan County had taken the Forest Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to court. The plaintiffs argued that by reducing instream flows in ditches across federal land that flowed into private irrigation projects, the USFS was indirectly claiming a water right. NMFS required the reduced flows to help endangered fish in the watershed.

Judge Robert Whaley said the issue was not one of water rights, but of rights-of-way through public lands. He didn't buy the plaintiffs' argument that the NMFS "Habitat Approach" was illegal because the agency did not allow for public comment, an element of the rulemaking process. He said the federal approach was not a rule because NMFS does not always use it.

The feds set flow levels based on flows they estimated had occurred before settlers moved to the Methow Valley; plaintiffs argued that the baseline used in the biological opinion should account for current water withdrawals.

Whaley also approved the NMFS policy of equating the "jeopardy" standard with "properly functioning conditions" or recovery. He said the record in this case supported a finding that "actions that would ensure the species survival might be the same (or at least are an important factor to consider) as those needed to achieve recovery."

Attorney Schuler said the appeal will consider all these points as it goes to the Ninth Circuit Court. Briefs are scheduled to be filed in August. -B. R.


Washington Gov. Gary Locke announced May 28 that his top natural resource advisor, Curt Smitch, will retire at the end of June. Smitch has led the state's Joint Natural Resource Cabinet since its inception in 1997 to coordinate the effort to recover salmon and deal with related issues of water use and agriculture. He worked closely with the state's salmon recovery office on a statewide response to ESA listings for salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

Locke said he would miss Smitch. "He has provided a wealth of knowledge and experience to the state and me on natural resources management and policy issues," said Locke, "particularly on salmon, water, and the Endangered Species Act."

Smitch has served the state in several capacities, including assistant director in the Department of Fisheries, director of the Department of Wildlife, and chair of the Pacific Salmon Commission. Smitch said he plans to join the Thompson Consulting Group of Olympia, which is facilitating the state-sponsored talks between agricultural interests, agencies and environmental groups over fish and water issues. -B. R.


The Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority has named ex-IDFG head Rod Sando to become its next executive director. Sando served as commissioner of Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources for eight years before coming west. While heading up the Idaho department, he chaired CBFWA, which is made up of representatives of four states, two federal agencies and the 13 Tribes in the basin.

Sando resigned from his IDFG post 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 last 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.

In January, Sando's predecessor at CBFWA, Brian Allee, moved to a new position at the Power Planning Council, where he is coordinating subbasin planning efforts and ESA recovery for the Basin's fish and wildlife program. -B. R.

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