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[1] Council's Science Board See-Saws On Supplementation
[2] Council Recommends $34 Million In Mainstem Spending
[3] Hydro Conference Focuses On Saving Dollars And Salmon
[4] Governors Unite Against New Dam Breaching Rhetoric
[5] Environmental Groups Make Case For BiOp's Immediate Demise
[6] Spring Run Beats Prediction; Jacks Signal Even Stronger Run Next Year
[7] Changes In Forest Service Policy May Speed Up Hydro Relicensing

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Building and operating hatcheries to raise fish that are added to streams in order to boost wild runs in Columbia Basin has been one of the biggest and most expensive priorities of BPA's fish and wildlife program. Yet, this strategy, which has consumed about 30 percent of BPA's direct program funding since 1978 and has cost ratepayers more than $300 million, has never been tested to see if it actually works.

It's still an "experiment" with "overwhelming uncertainties," said the Independent Scientific Advisory Board [ISAB], in a full-blown review of the fish supplementation strategy that went public at this week's meeting of the Power Planning Council in Boise. The ISAB said the strategy has credible potential to benefit some weak or declining populations, but also had the potential to harm a fish population of any size.

"Current information, however, does not allow accurate prediction of the magnitudes of the harm and benefit or of the net balance," says the report. The board noted that artificial production is likely to initially increase fish abundance, which can give rise to harvest rates that stay high when production declines. "This situation leads to excessive exploitation," they say, "when either freshwater or marine productivity go down."

And this is what the basin faces today, the scientists say. "Given the variation evident in marine survival rates, the time required to address freshwater habitats, and the evidence from past hatchery and supplementation programs, we must advise that it is unlikely that increased capacity and productivity of integrated populations (the stated goal of supplementation) will provide sustained benefits over the foreseeable future."

After looking at a number of supplementation efforts in the basin, they found that smolt-to-adult returns have been "substantially lower" than targets for performance standards. "There is no evidence that similar problems will not occur in the future," they say.

With so many questions still unanswered, the scientists said it should only be used in half the situations where it might aid fish recovery, "to spread the risk and set up a system of references."

Big Bets On Supplementation Effort No Sure Thing

The science panel that judges the merit of BPA-funded fish and wildlife proposals has given poor marks to a group of supplementation actions designed to pump up Idaho's wild salmon stocks with fish raised in hatcheries and released into under-utilized streams. The strategy is a cornerstone in the region's fish and wildlife program, but many scientists question its validity.

The science panel has serious concerns about whether the suite of projects in Idaho could shed light on one of the biggest unknowns in the basin's biggest fish recovery business---whether supplementation really works. It's been used as a major selling point to fund major tribal hatchery projects, even though such hatcheries are officially called "experimental."

"It seems unlikely that the ISS [Idaho Supplementation Studies] will contribute the compelling evidence for or against supplementation that managers in the region are expecting," the Independent Scientific Review Panel said in its May 22 review. BPA spends about $3 million annually on the five Idaho projects.

The panel said a major confounding issue was that other hatchery fish strayed into both control and treatment streams. In the Salmon River, stray rates were generally low, except for the South Fork, where it was about 67 percent, according to carcass surveys. Overall, stray rates were much higher in tributaries of the Clearwater Basin--on the order of 50 percent or more.

The scientists said another problem was that some streams, like Johnson Creek on the South Fork of the Salmon River, were originally designated as control streams, then re-classified as treatment streams. A supplementation effort was started at Johnson Creek as an emergency measure to aid a rapidly declining stock, part of an effort to increase its fish numbers as part of a legal agreement among federal and state agencies and tribes that spelled out future harvest opportunities for tribal fishers [US v. Oregon].

So, some streams are now designated as "partial treatment" streams, according to ISRP Chair Rick Williams. Williams said he still hopes that the analysis phase of the ISS projects will yield some "partial answers" to the big question: the value of supplementation.

Williams said another factor that could confound supplementation studies is the ongoing effort to improve habitat in many of the areas where these studies are being conducted. He wondered if that meant the region should hold off on implementing such habitat improvements while researchers try to gauge the effectiveness of fish supplementation efforts.

Many wild fish advocates say that adding hatchery fish to streams--even fish with wild parentage--will eventually dilute the fitness of wild stocks and reduce populations. Little long-term research has been conducted in this realm, as evidenced by a recent survey of peer-reviewed studies by NOAA Fisheries. However, some recent work with steelhead has shown that hatchery fish that mate with their own kind survive at about 80 percent the rate of wild fish. The feds have a vested interest in the Idaho studies, since the wild stocks being supplemented are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

But in places like Johnson Creek, the analysis has been further confounded by using a mixed broodstock of wild and hatchery origin. The Idaho researchers have revamped their study design to address some of the science panel's earlier concerns. But the science panel said the original study design has been so compromised that they have suggested more weirs be constructed on study streams to keep out non-ISS fish.

The scientists also noted that the ISS researchers were conducting carcass surveys on only a subset of streams in the study. They said all streams must be surveyed annually, or "it will not be possible to analyze even one measure of success, namely density of redds."

Williams said the basin's other science panel, the Independent Scientific Advisory Board, which reviews scientific issues related to the fish recovery effort, would surely stir more debate on the topic when it released its report on supplementation at the June meeting of the Northwest Power Planning Council in Boise. Some fish managers, especially tribal ones, have already criticized the panel for its "anti-hatchery" bias.

The ISAB has already gone on the record with a skeptical attitude towards the supplementation strategy. In 2001, the group noted that the region's main recovery strategies all assumed that supplementation "will succeed in accelerating the desired goal of salmon restoration," with the implication that increasing hatchery production was a way to overcome habitat shortcomings. "This is an assumption with little supporting evidence," the ISAB said at the time, and recommended a thorough assessment of supplementation efforts. The group said it was essential to devise a large-scale experiment to measure the impacts of supplementation on the Columbia River Basin.

One experiment already under way is the expensive, BPA-funded Yakama Nation fish hatchery on the Yakima River near Cle Elum. It was sold as an "experiment" to find out if supplementation works and has been operating long enough to be getting some adult returns.

But the ISRP has been critical of perceived lacks in the hatchery's monitoring and evaluation effort. Designed to gauge the value of the supplementation effort, it cost BPA $3.8 million in 2002 and is expected to cost at least that much in 2003. The scientists outlined a methodology in 2001 to improve the assessment. Without it, "there is a significant risk of not learning from this large-scale experiment," they said.

In comments to the ISRP, the Yakamas said supplementation was a potential tool that could "buy time" until habitat conditions had improved enough to support enhanced natural production. They expected that a rigorous evaluation "was likely to take up to 30 years." But the tribe's response to many of the ISRP 's concerns was "inadequate," according to the science panel.

Hood River Hatchery Supplementation

The ISAB has evaluated a steelhead supplementation experiment in Oregon's Hood River Basin, and presented their findings at a BPA research review in May 2003. The basin once was home to spring and fall chinook, coho, searun cutthroat, summer and winter steelhead, but all species except the steelhead are now extinct.

USFWS biologist Bill Ardren presented information on the hatchery supplementation experiment gathered since 1991. Monitoring takes place at Powerdale Dam four miles from the mouth of the river. Though built in 1923, the dam now has a fish pass and a trap to collect data for the hatchery experiment. The dam will be removed in 2010, ending the supplementation evaluation after the second generation (F2) has returned.

Ardren speculated that preferential mate selection was taking place among natural spawners. Proportionally, he said, wild-wild crosses among natural spawners produced more offspring than hatchery-hatchery crosses or hatchery-wild crosses.

The scientists had originally assumed that mating between hatchery and wild fish would be random. Biologists are now able to investigate this issue through a pedigree study that samples the DNA from each fish to match the juveniles to specific parents. "We observed more WxW matings than were predicted," Ardren said.

Another problem that has surfaced is the loss of genetic diversity in the population because a small proportion of hatchery fish are magnified in the adult run. This is called the Ryman-Laikre effect which predicts a small family structure in hatchery fish and a high survival rate from egg to smolt. Even though smolt-to-adult survival rates for hatchery fish are normally less than for wild fish, the hatchery fish return in greater numbers because more of them are released than produced by wild fish. Biologists are concerned that the hatchery fish are less diverse, yet numerically, they can dominate on the spawning grounds.

Future work will tackle questions about the effect the hatchery program is having on the effective breeding population of wild fish. Since summer and winter runs overlap and the two races are not always easy to tell apart, biologists are wondering if the process for selecting adults for artificial spawning is hybridizing the two runs. They also want to know if just one trip through the hatchery breeding process will select for certain breeding traits.

In their review, the ISAB noted some problems as well. The hatchery master plan has achieved its 65.5 percent goal for egg-to-smolt survival since it's averaged 68 percent. However, the 4.5 percent smolt-to-adult [SAR] survival goal is not being met. The actual SAR rate has ranged from .3 percent to 1.3 percent. The ISAB notes that the average number of adult progeny produced per adult used in the hatchery program has been only 8.6 fish, well below the target of 50 fish set in the master plan.

By comparison, the naturally spawned fish had an average egg to adult survival rate of 1.2 percent and a SAR of 3.8 percent, and sometimes as high as 5.5 percent. But even though the hatchery fish have a lower SAR, their sheer number of returning fish exceeds the wild run. The percentage of hatchery-origin adults in the winter run ranged from 24.3 percent to 68.9 percent and averaged 44 percent.

Biologists are concerned about the potential for swamping the wild steelhead population with hatchery fish, leading to a loss of diversity and loss of reproductive fitness in the natural spawning population of both hatchery and wild fish. The researchers noted that the wild fish may be correcting for this by preferentially spawning with other wild fish instead of hatchery fish. -Bill Rudolph, Bill Bakke


The Northwest Power Planning Council voted unanimously this week to recommend that BPA fund nearly $34 million in fiscal year 2004 for fish and wildlife proposals focused on the mainstem Columbia River, the centerpiece of its $139 million program. The recommendations call for funding most projects for the next three years.

Federal and state agencies, along with tribes and other fish groups, initially submitted about $76 million in mainstem proposals to the Bonneville Power Administration. The proposals were then reviewed by fish and wildlife agencies, independent scientists and the council staff prior to last week's vote.

A lengthy discussion preceded the vote, which was taken during the council's three-day meeting in Boise. The session included a day-long meeting of the council's fish and wildlife committee, during which Therese Lamb, BPA's acting vice president for environment, fish and wildlife, asked for about $12 million more annually for the next three years to fund essential research and monitoring needed for the hydro Biological Opinion.

Some council members balked when they realized that approving BPA's request would likely mean additional pruning of the overall fish and wildlife budget, which has been trimmed by $40 million to accommodate BPA's fiscal crisis. To add to the difficulties, some of the requested proposals have not yet passed muster with the council's independent science panel. BPA's position is clear: the projects affected by the $12 million request must eventually be funded for 2004, but could undergo more refinement before a final decision is made.

Washington council member Larry Cassidy said the budget exercise that trimmed $40 million from the program had already combed out all non-essential elements. Asking regional sponsors for more cuts now would be a "hard sell," he said.

Idaho member and council Chair Judi Danielson was also discouraged. "We might as well close up subbasin planning," she said.

Lamb said there may be a way to create a more flexible budget over the next few years that would not require "re-prioritization," yet fund BPA's BiOp needs. She said discussion with fish and wildlife agencies would be directed towards that goal.

With the BPA requests on hold, the council followed many recommendations from the science panel and voted to cut a $500,000 project that continued the study of bird predation on salmon and steelhead. Council members also slashed funding for the pikeminnow predation program, cutting it to about $1.4 million annually. The panel said current efforts by fishermen, who receive a bounty for catching the pikeminnow, have likely reduced populations enough to stabilize benefits to migrating salmon. It is estimated that recreational anglers now catch enough pikeminnow each year to allow 3 million to 5 million additional hatchery and wild smolts to migrate successfully through the hydro system.

The council also whacked in half the core budget for the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority. CBFWA is the umbrella organization that coordinates activities of the region's federal, state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies ,and also makes annual funding recommendations for BPA's F&W program. Pared down to $1.2 million for next year, the council may boost the CBFWA budget later after further consultation.

A controversial $900,000 study of the effects of small-mesh nets on the harvest and release of fish listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act was canned as well. The project was designed to see if tanglenets would improve the survival of wild chinook, which must be released alive.

The net study was initially funded to reduce the economic plight of commercial fishermen and to encourage a spring gillnet harvest on hatchery salmon in the lower Columbia River. Sports fishermen have been highly critical of the project ever since large numbers of steelhead were caught incidentally last year when gillnetters tried using their old sockeye gear to catch chinook by entangling them. However, they caught large numbers of winter steelhead in the process. Washington member Cassidy said he had received more public comment on this particular issue than any other part of the program.

This year, the fishermen were forced to use even smaller-mesh nets, and it was reported that few steelhead were entangled. The council decided that such management activities should now be funded by the appropriate states.

One of the sleeper projects boosted into the fundable category was a $1.1 million project designed to tease out the potential delayed effects of dam passage on the survival of Snake River fish. NOAA Fisheries scientists sponsoring the project say the work could provide important answers to the effects of dams and barging fish that are now termed "critical uncertainties" in the hydro BiOp.

The council also recommended $3 million in capital spending for several projects that BPA has categorized as "expenses." It's an accounting issue that hasn't yet been resolved. -B. R.


A two-day meeting sponsored by hydro utilities and the Northwest Power Planning Council gave Mid-Columbia public utility districts a chance to strut their stuff last week and show off expensive new hardware designed to improve fish survival past their Columbia River dams. With NMFS and BPA policy folks also on hand, the June 3-4 meeting allowed for a frank discussion of fish costs and potential savings related to changing certain operations, notably mainstem spill in late summer.

First, the good news. Chelan County Public Utility District's $112 million fish bypass system for Rocky Reach Dam seems to be working well. It's attracting as much fish as attention these days, corralling about 60 percent of all the steelhead that approach the dam, according to PUD biologists. It's part of their "least-cost" approach to reach fish survival goals (no net impact) spelled out in the mid-Columbia Habitat Conservation Plan being implemented by Chelan County and Douglas County PUDs to satisfy their obligations to protect steelhead and chinook stocks listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Grant County PUD, though not a partner in the plan, reported on progress towards developing more fish-friendly turbines. A prototype is expected to be in place for testing at Wanapum Dam by spring 2005. The aim is to reach a 98 percent fish survival rate. If the prototype is successful, Grant expects to replace all nine turbines at the dam by 2012 at a cost of $120 million. After that, the 10 turbines at Priest Rapids Dam would also be replaced, allowing the utility to meet fish passage standards without costly spill measures now in place.

Fish go tubular at Rocky Reach. (Photo courtesy Chelan PUD)

It may have been strictly coincidence, but many attendees received the latest Wenatchee Basin redd counts in the mail June 3, when the conference began. Chelan PUD biologists reported that 2002 spring chinook returns were the third highest since 1954, totaling 1,139 redds. The record for this timeframe was set in 2001, when 1,876 redds were counted. The second highest count was taken in 1966, when 1,174 redds were tallied.

But improved fish survival tools weren't the conference's only focus. Financially strapped agencies like the Bonneville Power Administration are counting dollars as closely as fish these days, and fish operations are undergoing more scrutiny than ever before.

Power Council staffer John Fazio reviewed his latest cost analysis of these operations, which he said will help the council focus on where to spend research money, along with helping to prioritize measures if a future power emergency calls for cutting certain fish operations. He said the analysis also will help the group choose between different alternatives that achieve the same biological objective.

Fazio said his results show that in low-water years, flow augmentation costs mandated by the federal Biological Opinion are higher than those for bypass spill used to aid fish passage around dams. In wet years, Fazio said just the opposite is true, because spill levels mandated at some dams are based on a percentage of total flow rather than a certain target number.

He estimated that bypass spill is costly, especially at The Dalles and John Day dams, where summer spill costs alone have averaged about $40 million annually when estimated over 50 years under BiOp conditions. At Bonneville, summer spill--water over the dams from June through August--adds another $17 million, according to Fazio's analysis.

Greg Delwiche, BPA's vice president of generation supply, exhibited a graph (below) that tracked summer spill costs against the biological reality of steadily decreasing smolt abundance as the summer season progressed.

Click to enlarge. (Courtesy of Bonneville Power Administration)

He told the group that summer spill costs averaged about $67 million annually at Ice Harbor, John Day, The Dalles and Bonneville dams. NMFS' own data, however, cited only about a 0.6 percent increase in survival of ESA-listed Snake River fall chinook from BiOp spill compared to no spill at all. Benefits are small because most Snake River fall chinook are barged through the hydro system.

NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Brian Brown, who heads the agency's Portland-based hydro operations group, said Delwiche's graph was "thought-provoking" and "could conceivably lead to an experiment in summer spill."

Brown had earlier explained how "flexible" the BiOp was, citing instances where operational changes were studied, such as reducing spill levels at John Day and spring flow augmentation from Dworshak. The results led to changes in BiOp operations at John Day that saved money by reducing spill levels, but passed similar numbers of fish. As for Dworshak, "we learned it didn't work," Brown said.

Brown noted that summer spill is an issue "that will continue to get pressure until it gets attention." But he said a study of summer transport must also be undertaken. Most Snake River fall chinook are barged, he said, which puts "that much more impact on such small numbers...without it ever having been studied." He implied that until the true impacts of barging the fish are known, the summer spill strategy would be maintained.

Power Planning Council member Tom Karier told the biologists and engineers at the conference how important it was to display their information in ways that attracted the attention of policy makers. As an example, and probably not coincidentally, he displayed a graph that tracked summer spill levels at Bonneville Dam with ever decreasing smolt levels. By August, it was easy to see that a lot of water was being spilled for very few fish. But NOAA's Brown did not respond.

Others pointed out that such an assessment of the summer spill strategy could be fraught with difficulties. US Army Corps of Engineers biologist Rock Peters told NW Fishletter that so few fish are still in the river by August that it would be difficult to develop a meaningful study. Adding to that, he said pit-tagging fish for survival studies during the summer can be lethal for juvenile fish when the water hits 70 degrees.

But momentum is building for some kind of spill assessment to begin this year. After the conference, Brown told NW Fishletter that he wasn't sure where things will end up, but his boss, regional administrator Bob Lohn, was "working the other execs"--the action agency heads responsible for dam operations--to get something going.

On May 30, four Northwest congressmen sent letters to Lohn, BPA and the Corps of Engineers, asking for their immediate consideration "so that meaningful tests could be conducted this summer." Oregon Reps. Greg Walden (R) and Peter DeFazio (D) , along with Reps. Doc Hastings (R-WA) and George Nethercutt (R-WA), said the Power Council's recommendation to examine summer spill "may lead to benefits to both fish and wildlife and to ratepayers in the region who have experienced large increases in wholesale power rates over the last two years."

PNGC Power had weighed in earlier in May with its own letter to BPA Administrator Steve Wright that called for tests this year. PNGC President Pat Reiten pointed out that summer spill was "primarily aimed at passage of a very healthy run of 'non-listed' fish that are subject to significant rates of harvest. Assisting passage of these fish in a more effective manner could provide a unique 'win-win' situation for fish and for ratepayers of the region," he said.

A BPA analysis requested by the Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee of biological and economic effects from reducing spill says that stopping spill in the lower Columbia for the last two weeks of August would increase revenues by at least $17 million, with negligible effects on ESA-listed fall chinook from the Snake River.

The analysis found that Columbia River fall chinook, mainly from the Hanford Reach area, would experience about 5 percent less survival. However, since only about 10 percent of the run is still migrating by the middle of August, the potential action would only decrease adult returns by around 600 fish. The analysis (assuming 11 million fall chinook survive to John Day Dam) says that would add up to only 41 fewer chinook for non-tribal fishermen to catch, worth about $4,100 to the economy, and 117 fewer chinook for tribal fishermen, worth about $7,600. The BPA analysis also noted that "there is no means this year to study the effects of curtailing spill by two weeks." -B. R.


The four Northwest governors met June 5 in Boise to display a new solidarity towards salmon recovery, including a united stand against breaching the four federal dams on the lower Snake River. It means a change of policy for Oregon, whose new governor Ted Kulongoski made clear that his state agreed with the others that breaching the dams must not be an option.

John Kitzhaber, Oregon's previous chief executive, had supported breaching, but the controversial recovery strategy was sidestepped in a series of recommendations made by the governors in 2000.

In a June 5 letter to President Bush that included 13 pages of recommendations, the governors said they would continue "to pursue full implementation of the biological opinions to recover our salmon, steelhead and freshwater species because it is not only the right thing to do, but also because the failure to do so can jeopardize the federal hydropower system and re-ignite the controversy over dam breaching."

The governors also noted that the pace of the federal salmon recovery effort in the interior Columbia region is "not well synchronized" with each state's planning effort that is being spearheaded by the Power Planning Council and its 62-subbasin planning program. They recommended that products of the technical recovery team [TRT] process led by NOAA Fisheries be coordinated with the states before release.

"We need to avoid a situation," said the governors, "where the subbasin plans are finished on schedule next spring only to find that they do not adequately address new or different recovery goals set forth in the TRT process that appears to be disconnected from and on a slower schedule than subbasin planning."

The recommendations included a commitment to protect the federal hydro system and BPA. The governors urged the power agency's public and private customers to reach agreement on sharing BPA's benefits. But the executives supported BPA's cost reductions, though they expressed concern that recovery progress could be jeopardized, putting the agency at legal and financial risk. They called for BPA, in consultation with the council, to prioritize operations [like summer spill] and report back in a year on the progress of this effort.

Environmental groups were not impressed. Citing the recent federal court decision that has invalidated the hydro BiOp, they said the ruling shows that the recovery effort could not be implemented. "Dam removal will never be 'off the table' until wild salmon are restored to abundance without it," said Pat Ford executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon coalition. "No one has proven how to restore salmon without breaching the dams and if this isn't done soon we could be facing the decision of a God Squad," Ford said.

The governors supported continued ESA coverage for the fish while Oregon federal judge James Redden deals with the issue of vacating the BiOp. He has given the feds a year to make changes that ensure some fish recovery actions, mainly outside the hydro system, are more certain to occur. The governors said the feds "should address the court's concerns by taking positive, measurable and cost-effective steps to benefit fish." -B. R.


Earthjustice lawyers filed their latest brief in US District Court in Oregon [National Wildlife Federation v. NMFS], arguing that the hydro BiOp should be set aside immediately because that action is routine after a biological opinion is declared invalid in cases involving the Endangered Species Act.

Federal Judge James Redden ruled last month that the Columbia Basin BiOp was invalid because it contained too many fish recovery actions, especially those outside the hydro system, that weren't reasonably certain to occur.

Since the feds relied on off-site mitigation to give dam operations a "no jeopardy" decision, Earthjustice and the other environmental groups involved in the suit said that what's left of the BiOp is a substantive violation of the ESA. They also argued that unless the BiOp is set aside, federal agencies could declare emergencies for "financial and other reasons" and suspend some fish-saving operations, putting the fish at further risk.

The environmental groups said that setting aside the BiOp wouldn't create chaos in the hydro system, as federal lawyers claim, because the agencies must abide by records of decision that use the BiOp as their foundation.

Federal attorneys have until June 13 to file their response. Then plaintiffs have another five days to reply. After that, Judge Redden will rule on the issue.

If the BiOp stays in effect, environmental groups cannot use the court to seek changes or additions to the plan. If the judge throws it out entirely, they may seek changes they think will better protect fish. -B. R.


With the 2003 spring chinook count at Bonneville Dam officially over June 1, the spring chinook run came in at 196,000, not like the barn burners of the past few years, yet still one of the best returns in the past ten years. It was only four short years ago when the spring run was barely one-fifth the size of this year's return.

Tribal fishers were able to get another three-day gillnet period in May after harvest managers bumped up the run estimate to 203,000 chinook (to the mouth of the Columbia). Tribal fishermen got an extra break--when the run estimate tops 200,000, harvest rules bump up their percentage of the catch.

But even better news is the current jack count that has signaled next year's run could be a monster like 2001 and 2002. Nearly 400,000 springers showed up in 2001, and 269,000 fish appeared the following year. Next year could potentially top 2002 and become the second best count since the dam was completed in 1938.

Jacks are precocious males that return to spawn a year before the main body of the run shows up and pinning one's predictions on jack counts alone has become a somewhat dicey proposition. WDFW harvest manager Cindy LeFleur said state and tribal folks use these jack counts to estimate the coming year's 2-ocean component of the spring run, then estimate the 3-ocean component from the size of the 2-ocean return. In the last ten years, it's a ratio that's been around 15 percent.

But this year's 200,000-fish-plus spring run was made up of an unusually large percentage of three-ocean springers. They have accounted for about 50 percent of the run instead of 15 percent to 25 percent seen in other recent years.

If next year's return maintains the high proportion of fish that return to the river after three years in the ocean, the 14,000-plus jacks so far counted at Bonneville Dam (more than twice the 10-year average) suggest the possibility that next year's run could be over 300,000 fish, which would make it the second best count ever recorded at the dam.

The high jack counts track with upriver dams as well. At Lower Granite on the Snake River, about 6,400 jacks have been counted so far this spring, more than three times the 10-year average, along with 58,000 adults. This year's low adult numbers, compared to the previous two years (75,000 in 2002, 172,000 in 2001) reflects the fact that about one-third as many fish were released from Snake Basin hatcheries in 2001 than in the earlier years that produced the big numbers.

But some experts say these excellent jack numbers could mean that the Snake may be home to more than 200,000 spring chinook next year. Only nine years ago, a paltry 43 spring jacks were counted at Lower Granite, a dismal precursor to an adult run that numbered only 1,105 spring chinook.

Meanwhile, harvest managers announced that the Columbia River's summer run, estimated at nearly 88,000 chinook, is pegged as the second largest since 1969. It's good enough to open recreational fishing between the lower Columbia and Pasco, only the second time it's occurred since 1973. A fishery occurred last year as well. -B. R.


With hundreds of hydroelectric projects up for relicensing in the next few years, federal agencies are facing pressure to speed up the process. The US Forest Service recently bowed to that pressure, sending out notice that it would no longer conduct in-house reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. Instead, it will rely on the NEPA review conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The Forest Service also promised to "harmonize" its hydro analysis with other resource agencies, putting all reviews on the same timeline. In addition, the agency will eliminate applicants' right to appeal resource-protecting license conditions.

While some applicants may lament the loss of the appeal process, the reduction in bureaucratic processes and the simultaneous analysis by all resource agencies should meet with approval.

"Even though they've lost the right to appeal, these decisions seem to be an improvement for license applicants," said Michael Swiger, a hydro attorney with Van Ness Feldman in Washington, DC.

The May 12 notice from the Forest Service concerns sections 4(e) and 18 of the Federal Power Act, which give resource agencies authority to impose conditions on hydro licenses that are intended to protect fish, wildlife and surrounding habitat. Under its new policy, the Forest Service will now provide its 4(e) conditions before FERC issues its final NEPA document.

The elimination of the right to appeal a Forest Service ruling will leave unhappy license holders no choice but to go to court. Swiger said that in past rulings, courts have noted that the mandatory conditioning "is a strange statute," but the courts have declined to challenge the statute itself.

Another Forest Service policy statement, issued in March, may provide hydro project owners more solace. In that notice, the USFS promised to strike a balance among competing resource management policies and "be mindful of [its] responsibilities to foster the economic well-being of the many people, industries and communities that are dependent on these hydropower projects."

Hydro project owners have chafed under the resource agencies' mandatory license conditions for several years. This year, they successfully added provisions to the House and Senate energy bills that give them more clout in the process. Language added by Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) would allow utilities and other project owners to propose alternative ways to meet the conditioning mandates. The resource agency would be required to evaluate those alternatives using economic criteria in addition to environmental considerations.

The National Hydropower Association supports the Senate language, while environmental and fish protection groups strongly oppose it. The environmentalists' arguments appear to have convinced the major newspaper in Craig's state, the Idaho Statesman, which recently accused Craig of "going too far" in his proposal.

"Craig wants to hand too much power to the utilities, taking it away from the people who count on federal agencies to protect their fish and their rivers," said the May 18 editorial.

Craig has staunchly defended his relicensing language, saying it "restores balance" to the licensing process.

Senate Democrats, including Maria Cantwell (D-WA), are gearing up to fight the hydro language, insisting that it adds bureaucracy and uncertainty to the process. -Lynn Francisco

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