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[1] High Chinook Jack Count After 2001 Drought
[2] Power Planning Council Waits For More Mainstem Amendments
[3] Final Supplemental EIS Issued In Support Of Condit Dam Removal
[4] ESA Reform Bill Leaves House Committee
[5] Judge Says EPA Must Consult With NMFS Over Pesticides
[6] Groups Say Puget Sound Chinook Hatcheries Violate ESA
[7] Power Council Says No To Oregon Over Changing Chair Vote
[8] Researcher Disputes Accuracy Of NMFS Extinction Analysis

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The 3,900 jacks that have returned to the Snake River this year are sending a strong signal that last year's drought may have had little effect on the 2001 juvenile spring chinook migration from Idaho. That's the gist of a NMFS internal memo sent from agency scientists in Seattle to the agency's Portland-based hydro operations division last month.

Since most of last year's migration was barged from lower Snake dams to the estuary, some NMFS scientists had already speculated that damage to runs from the drought and low flows might not be nearly as catastrophic as some had predicted. In fact, the jacks, precocious males that return home a year earlier than most of the run, are returning at a slightly higher rate this year, as of June 30, than they did in 2000, when flows and spill regimes were fairly normal during their outmigration. Even before they reached the first dam, the fish survived amazingly well in the low flow year of 2001.

Bill Muir, a scientist at the National Marine Fisheries Service, told the Power Planning Council last winter that adult returns might not be as bad as predicted because most of the spring chinook and steelhead had been barged through the hydro system. But even before they reached the first dam the fish survived amazingly well in the low-flow year of 2001, he said. Muir told the council that survival of hatchery fish averaged about 60 percent to Lower Granite, the first dam on the lower Snake, which was about 10 percent higher than survival rates during the gully-washer year of 1997. In 2000, an average water year, survival averaged about 70 percent from the hatcheries to the dam.

NMFS' June 24 memo mentioned that earlier presentation to the council. "At that time," it said, "we stated that despite the poor migration conditions, the strength of the subsequent adult run would likely hinge mostly on conditions downstream from Bonneville Dam and in the ocean."

Fish managers had publicly agonized over what they called an impending fish disaster in the spring of 2001 from the low flows caused by the drought and little snowmelt. ODFW's Christine Mallette told The Seattle Times last April that smolts were "swimming backwards" and losing their sense of direction because of the slow-moving water. In the end, most found their way to the dam and a free ride downstream.

Idaho fish managers supported the maximized barging strategy, but other state agency and tribal managers wanted more water from Idaho to boost flows--water that irrigators weren't willing to part with.

Source: NMFS

Other managers called last year's migrants "the death brood" because of poor conditions in the river and near ocean environment, where the drought had produced a freshwater plume of paltry proportions--a situation that most scientists thought would increase mortality, since the young fish generally like to hang out in the plume. The fish typically thrive there because it is a region of concentrated nutrients and its water, turbid with river sediments, offers protection from predators. But less than 10 percent of the Snake River spring chinook and steelhead were still in the mainstem beyond the three lower Snake dams where fish were barged, and only about 26 percent of that number made it below Bonneville Dam.

"This was one-fifth lower than the estimated 33 percent average survival for hydropower system migrants during the 1993 and 1994 outmigrations," said the NMFS memo, "prior to the implementation of BiOp spill, and approximately one-half of the estimated 50-percent survival for hydropower system migrants during the 1995 through 2000 outmigrations."

Until the numbers of returning jacks were analyzed last month, fish managers had speculated that poor conditions in the estuary and plume might decimate the run. But the sizable spring chinook jack return rate (figured as a percentage of total spring and summer chinook released from Snake Basin hatcheries the previous year) has raised eyebrows. "Based on these data," the memo says, "we expect that the complete adult return rate from the 2001 outmigration will likely fall in the range of those from the last few years."

Further, the memo goes on to explain that the adult spring and summer return to the Snake in 2001 was the largest on record, with this year's return taking second place. The memo pointed out that those returns resulted primarily from large hatchery releases (nearly 11 million smolts in 1999 and 7 million smolts in 2000). The scientists said they expect considerably fewer adult fish to return next year, since the hatchery release that gave them their start only amounted to 4.1 million fish.

Nevertheless, the high jack return rate continues a trend that took a dramatic jump in 1998, when returns climbed to six times the rates of the early 1990s, when ocean conditions were less productive. In 1999 and 2000 returns continued upward to a rate more than 10 times that of the early 1990s. A graph that accompanied the memo showed a dip in the returning jack rate in 2001 to about seven times that of the early 1990s, but it has shot back up this year to about 12 times the survival rate of the early 1990s. It is actually a bit better than the previous high for the 2000 jack return--a group of fish that found estuary conditions and an ocean plume generated from average spring flows, not the dismal local conditions facing last year's migrants, when flows from the Columbia River were about half of normal and the second-worst on record.

The hydro BiOp includes language to study the importance of the plume, which has been under way for several years now. Preliminary evidence suggests that the plume may play a more important role in the survival of fall chinook and coho migrants than for spring chinook.

Harvest managers saw coho jacks plummet last year, a fact they attribute largely to low survival in the small 2001 ocean plume (Coho jacks return only a few months after they migrate to sea). WDFW's Doug Milward said early indications from the ongoing coastal sport fishery show more than a five-to-one ratio of chinook to coho, which he said may bear out their reduced expectations for coho abundance this year. "By now, coho should be flooding Ilwaco and other areas," said Milward. "I've never seen it like this and I've been doing it for 12 years." -Bill Rudolph


The mainstem amendment process has been pushed ahead another month or so to allow Idaho and Montana NWPPC members time to prepare their own amendments to that part of the region's fish and wildlife program. Momentum has been building for states to weigh in with recommendations that may conflict with current operations as spelled out in the NMFS hydro BiOp. The council, meeting in Yakima this week, had allotted four hours in their agenda--nearly one-third of the entire meeting time--to discussion on mainstem amendments. But after Idaho and Montana said they were still working on proposed changes, discussion came to a grinding halt.

Council members weren't too specific about their proposed changes, but Montana representative John Hines said recently that his state was interested in providing recommendations that allowed for more flexibility in hydro operations. For years, Montana members have expressed dissatisfaction with the current flow augmentation effort, especially during the spring migration. They have supported efforts to keep water levels in major Montana reservoirs higher for a longer period of time over concerns for resident fish and lack of evidence for survival benefits to juvenile fish from increased flows in the mainstem Columbia.

Hines told other Council members that his state would have "substantial" additions ready in two weeks, which would allow members time to study them before the August meeting in Montana. He said they want to get them out as soon as they can because of the "potential significant changes" to the water management strategy.

"It would ripple through this document," said Hines, referring to the Council's fish and wildlife program.

Ed Bartlett, the state's other representative, said the additions would deal with flow augmentation and spill recommendations "beneficial to the region as well as Libby and Hungry Horse."

Idaho member Jim Kempton told NW Fishletter that his state will support a proposal already endorsed by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and IDFG that calls for releasing water from Dworshak Reservoir later in the summer than the BiOp now calls for. He wasn't ready to comment on other proposals until they were reviewed by state agencies, he said.

Though the Council had already been discussing the mainstem issues for months, there was talk of starting over, since agencies and tribes had already weighed in with their recommendations. But it was decided to proceed, since both Idaho and Montana members said the recommendations were within the "bookends" already established. Once a draft is completed, which won't be likely now until September, the Council will hold public hearings in all four states.

Council chair Larry Cassidy expressed some concern over the process. "What if we can't come to a draft agreement? Will the process break down?" He wasn't sure that his state had enough time to examine additional amendments before the next meeting, including the examination of how potential changes to mainstem operations may affect reliability of the power supply.

Though Oregon member Eric Bloch has already expressed concern over developing mainstem recommendations that could conflict with current BiOp-mandated operations, Oregon's other representative, John Brogoitti, who hails from the eastern part of the state, seemed more inclined to support the additions. "Since I've been on the Council, water resources has been a huge issue. I've always thought we should have looked at it."

In other business, Council members heard a report from their independent economic board on the costs of rearing fish in hatcheries. The board, led by UW professor Dan Huppert, found the cost of raising salmon varied widely. In the representative set of hatcheries they studied from more than 100 facilities in the Columbia Basin, the board found rearing costs ranged from eight cents to $2.60 per fish. Costs per fish harvested varied much more--from $23 per returning adult for fall chinook from the Priest Rapids hatchery, operated by WDFW with funding from Grant PUD, to more than $68,000 apiece for spring chinook from the Entiat hatchery in the USFWS' Leavenworth complex. Huppert told NW Fishletter that the results do not include data including the big boost in returns from the past two years because the latest information from coded wire tags hasn't been available.

The economists cautioned that the analysis looked at hatcheries with different aims; some were producing fish primarily to be caught, others were more experimental and trying to supplement wild runs. The board said further study could shed more light on the cost-effectiveness of these facilities, with emphasis on ESA-related objectives. The Council said they would support further study of the issue. In a related matter, the members OK'd $462,000 to complete modify a congressionally-mandated review of basin hatcheries to comply with offsite mitigation requirements called for in the 2000 hydro BiOp. Congress directed the NWPPC to conduct a thorough review of all federal hatchery programs in 1997. In November 2001, the Council had approved $869,000 for the original project. -B. R.


In its final word on removal of PacifiCorp's Condit Dam, FERC staff have come out in favor of the plan. "Benefits to anadromous fish, wildlife, and whitewater recreation outweigh the costs associated with the loss of Condit Dam and Northwestern Lake," they concluded in a 300-page document that supplements an earlier environmental impact statement that looked at different ways of dealing with the dam's future. They said the dam's removal was consistent with fish and wildlife management efforts to protect, enhance and restore salmonids throughout the Columbia River Basin.

After FERC made construction of $30 million in fish ladders part of its relicensing requirements, PacifiCorp decided it would be more cost-effective to surrender the license, shut the project down and remove it. Condit produced less than $3 million annually (78,000 MWh) in power benefits, according to the FERC document, and would have cost more than $11 million a year to operate with modifications.

FERC's supplemental EIS looked at several removal alternatives, including a proposal for the utility to construct a diversion tunnel to draw down the lake behind the dam and dredge sediments from the reservoir during demolition of the dam on Washington's White Salmon River, a tributary of the lower Columbia. The alternative was projected to cost nearly $10 million annually. Another option was a proposed settlement agreement that called for removing the dam after draining the reservoir through a 12-foot by 18-foot hole near its bottom, a strategy that would draw down the reservoir in six hours and sluice impounded sediments downstream. The projected cost was about $2.5 million annually.

FERC staff recommended a third alternative that it estimated would cost about the same to implement. It follows the basic outline of the settlement agreement, but adds detailed plans on how to manage debris and sediment during the one-year time frame for removal, as well as a $1 million contribution to the Yakama Nation's fish enhancement fund.

FERC staff concluded that benefits from the five-year process of dredging half the reservoir sediments, as the original 1996 removal alternative called for, did not outweigh the economic and environmental costs of the removal method, compared to the alternative they recommended.

Many local residents oppose removal of the Condit project (See NW Fishletter 145). Last week both Skamania and Klickitat counties said they would sue the state if the Washington Department of Ecology OKs the "blow and go" proposal. The DOE must issue a water quality permit before dam removal could begin, slated for 2006. -B. R.


The House Resources Committee has passed H.R. 4840, a bill that would require the federal government to rely on empirical data when making major decisions under the Endangered Species Act, and convincing evidence that a species is in peril before it can be petitioned for ESA listing. The measure also calls for scientific peer review of major ESA decisions and requires the federal government to look at the economic impact of an ESA listing.

Committee Chair James Hansen (R-UT) called the July 10 vote a first step in fixing the ESA. "This law has impacted millions of people and caused ruin for thousands more," he said in a press release.

Many environmental groups opposed the bill, including American Rivers, the National Audubon Society, Friends of the Earth and the National Wildlife Federation. The groups said the bill was designed to undermine the science behind the ESA.

"Under the guise of expanding scientific 'peer review,' the bill would effectively delay actions that are supported by sound science and necessary to protect species facing extinction," the groups said in a joint letter to congressional representatives. "The bill also seeks to make it virtually impossible for citizens to petition for a species listing, while at the same time giving special access and special rights to regulated industries and development permit applications."

In addition, 314 scientists signed a letter to Congress, expressing opposition to any changes to the ESA that could slow decision-making. "There are many species hovering on the brink of extinction and they need scientifically-based action to help in their recovery," the scientists said in the letter. -B. R.


A federal judge in Seattle ruled earlier this month that the Environmental Protection Agency must consult with NMFS over the potential effects of certain pesticides on ESA-listed salmonids in the Northwest. The July 2 ruling came down after a long consultation collapsed between EPA and plaintiffs, led by the Washington Toxics Coalition.

Earthjustice lawyer Patti Goldman, who represented the Washington coalition, the NW Coalition for Alternatives, and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association, called it a sweeping victory for people and salmon in the Northwest "EPA had flouted its legal obligation to stop harmful pesticide uses and the court put an end to that disregard of the law," Goldman said in an EJ press release.

Seattle federal court judge John Coughenour granted part of the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment agreeing with their claim that the EPA had failed to consult with NMFS about effects of registered pesticides on listed fish and their habitat. But he denied their claim that EPA had violated a section of the ESA that called for the agency to promote the conservation of threatened and endangered salmonids.

The judge approved a schedule for the federal agency to consult with NMFS over the effects of 55 active ingredients of pesticides, because plaintiffs "have provided some evidence of potential harm to the species of their interest, salmon." But he dismissed environmentalists' claims with respect to another 898 unidentified ingredients, saying they "submit absolutely no evidence in any form showing that EPA's respective actions are fairly traceable to an actual or threatened injury to threatened and endangered salmonids."

The plaintiffs cited evidence that included a 1999 report on "Salmon Declines and Pesticides." The report cited a USGS program that had examined 84 pesticides in the Columbia River Plateau and detected 45 of them. Five were found in high enough concentrations to be categorized as "exceeding aquatic life criteria," while noting that only 18 of the detected pesticides had any available aquatic life criteria in the first place.

Croplife America, an industry association which intervened on behalf of EPA, said that USGS advanced monitoring techniques have found pesticides at the "extreme limits of detection" in streams throughout the year in all major land-use settings.

"In most agricultural areas," Croplife says, "pesticides are detected as seasonal pulses lasting from a few days to several months during and following high-use periods...Overall, detections remain quite low although concerns have been raised about potential impacts on sensitive aquatic life exposed to such low levels when several different products are detected."

The industry says studies show that some aquatic creatures such as mosquito larvae and other insects can be thousands of times more sensitive to certain pesticide contaminants than fish or crayfish, snails or mammals, and they point out that such tiny "indicator" species used to determine overall health of rivers may lead to over-protective regulations unless site-specific conditions are taken into account.

NMFS scientists have investigated the effects of small levels of diazinon on salmon (one part per billion) and found the pesticide can disrupt the fishes' sense of smell. Diazinon is one of the pesticides found throughout the region. The compound has been used in lawn care products for over 40 years.

"Nominal exposure concentrations (0.1, 1.0, and 10.0 gL-1) were chosen to emulate diazinon pulses in the natural environment," says the study abstract in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. "In the antipredator study, diazinon had no effect on swimming behavior or visually guided food capture. However, the pesticide significantly inhibited olfactory-mediated alarm responses at concentrations as low as 1.0 gL-1. Similarly, homing behavior was impaired at 10.0 gL-1."

The industry website says over 99 percent of the monitored concentrations in Northwest waters were less than the sub-lethal levels (10 and 1 ppb) in the NMFS study. EPA has already begun to phase out diazinon use in the US, mainly over concern to children's' health. An industry spokesman said the 1999 report used by environmentalists is out of date because EPA has upgraded use restrictions on many pesticides since then.

The federal agency has already proposed a consent decree in another case about pesticides and the ESA. In a California-based lawsuit filed by environmentalists, all parties began court-ordered mediation in March 2001 that has resulted in a proposed agreement that calls for EPA to consult with the USFWS over potential effects of pesticides with eight certain active ingredients on endangered or threatened plants in California forests. The proposal also calls for EPA to consult with NMFS on potential effects of certain pesticides used in forest operations on endangered or threatened salmonids. -B. R.


Two Northwest fishing and conservation organizations have told the state of Washington they intend to sue over hatchery operations that result in an "unlawful take" of threatened Puget Sound wild salmon.

Washington Trout and the Native Fish Society claim the wild fish are adversely affected by hatcheries because those operations use wild fish and their eggs to mine broodstock. The groups claim that hatcheries raise too many fish which increases competition with wild stocks for food and boosts predation on smaller wild fish. They also say the wild fish suffer "deleterious genetic effects" from the hatchery program and are blocked from spawning grounds by the passage barriers at some hatcheries.

The groups' intend to sue letter lists 55 hatcheries operated by state, tribal, and federal governments, and private entities in the Puget Sound region, but only 18 state-operated facilities are being targeted by the lawsuit. The letter cites NMFS documents to claim that "scientists have concluded that use of hatchery supplementation will always produce a decline in natural reproductive fitness."

The groups say that artificial propagation of chinook in Puget Sound is likely to harm natural populations "long before there is any reasonable expectation of detection because differences in physiological or behavioral traits may not be discernable in an electrophoretic, nuclear DNA, or mitochondrial DNA analytical test, but may still have profound effects on genetic fitness and diversity."

They contend that most of the state's hatchery stock for Puget Sound comes from the Green River drainage and have been planted throughout the region, which "continue to adversely affect the genetic fitness" of the threatened chinook. -B R.


The Power Planning Council voted 6-2 against an Oregon motion to change the way the group picks its chair, an issue that has festered since January, when members changed bylaws to vote Washington member Larry Cassidy a third term as chairman. It had been customary for the vice chair to move up to the chairman position. Oregon member Eric Bloch, then vice chair, protested the change, but to no avail.

Since then, Bloch has led a campaign to have the chair rotate equally among the four states. In May, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber sent letters to other Northwest governors trying to drum up support for the change. But the other governors told him they thought the current process was just fine.

After a recent meeting with Kitzhaber, Bloch said his state was considering withdrawing from the Council if it couldn't get the rotation measure passed. In 1990, Oregon Gov. Neil Goldschmidt removed his two members from the NWPPC for two months after a similar fight. They returned with the promise that one would be elected chair the following year.

At this week's Council session in Yakima, however, Bloch downplayed the threat. "It's an option we will consider with other options," he said. "I can't even guess as to its percentage chance."

Bloch's remark came after Washington member Tom Karier said he was "very troubled" by Oregon's position. "It's a thinly veiled message that if we don't pass it, Oregon may leave the Council. I won't let it inform my decision."

Montana members were also content with the status quo. Though rotation was a "principle to strive for," Ed Bartlett said "we have rotation in a way that makes sense to us. The way it works now is just fine." Idaho member Jim Kempton pointed out the response from his governor didn't support the change. "We need the strongest leader possible in the chair," he said.

Cassidy himself said Bloch failed to make a case that Oregon has suffered because he didn't win the chair. "I've worked as hard on Oregon stuff as much as anybody," he said.

He told Bloch that the Oregon member had made a case in January that Oregon had been rejected because of the state's talk about breaching lower Snake dams. But he reminded Bloch that, two years ago, the Oregon member voted along with the rest of the Council to take the breaching issue off the table for five years while developing the latest fish and wildlife program.

Bloch made a last-ditch plea before the vote, after an attempt by Oregon to table the motion until next month's meeting was voted down. "The sovereignty issue is important," he said. "We need a strong Council. We believe this is the way to achieve it through rotation." He pointed out that several other commissions in the country rotated chairs equally, including the Delaware River Basin Commission, the Chesapeake Bay Commission, and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Most basin tribes supported Bloch's position, though several from the upper Snake region in Idaho did not.

"Forced rotation is not a healthy way to run this body," Cassidy said just before the Council voted against the change, with only Oregon supporting it. After the vote, he expressed interest in exploring the rotation issue further, but "not to leave us with something we were forced to do." -B. R.


The Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences has published a paper (only available online at present) by Seattle fisheries consultant Rich Hinrichsen that questions the accuracy of the NMFS model used to determine growth rates of salmon populations. The peer-reviewed paper reports on a study funded by BPA that examines four alternative estimators of stochastic growth rates for salmon populations.

"Like the approaches used in this paper," says Hinrichsen, "the Kareiva et al. (2000) analysis [used by NMFS] was density-independent; however, it used data from brood years 1990-1999 only, ignoring years of high productivity in the early 1980s. The severe population decline indicated by Kareiva et al. (2000) matrix analysis is not evident when the spawner data of 1980-1999 are used instead."

Hinrichsen's analysis of several index stocks for Snake River spring chinook showed all but one to actually be improving, and that one (Marsh Creek) was not declining either, but staying the same.

He said the ocean regime shifts that occur every 30 years or so can have large effects on salmon numbers, but modeling these shifts and their uncertain effects on fish populations is difficult. Hinrichsen also pointed out that effects of hatchery-reared spawners is another important unknown for estimation growth rates.

Hinrichsen said the single growth rate estimator used by NMFS to examine extinction risk of the 12 evolutionarily significant units listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA is the first time an assessment of the stocks was analyzed in a standardized way. "However," he says, " this type of analysis has come at a price."

By ignoring populations rich in age-structured data, the paper says loss of accuracy can be great. "In fact," says the researcher, "because of the large errors of estimating stochastic growth rate, the primary goal of NMFS in their broad analysis, identifying the stocks with greatest population decline, may be thwarted. A one-size-fits-all approach is not needed to compare risk." -B. R.

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