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[1] Latest Spill Analysis: A Costly Strategy With Small Benefits For Fall Fish
[2] Montana Wants Fish Managers To Assess Benefits Of Hydro Operations
[3] Summer Chinook Numbers Get Big Boost
[4] BiOp Judge Calls For Meeting To Outline Expectations Over Remand
[5] Irrigators File Notice To Sue Feds Over Hydro Biop's 'Flaws'
[6] La Nia Likelihood Down From 70 Percent To Nearly Nada
[7] Yakama Nation Adds BPA To Suit Over Fish Funding
[8] New Paper Suggests Hatchery Fish Can Crowd Out Wild Stock
[9] Seattle Judge Calls For Interim Stream Buffers In Pesticide Use

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Several members of the Power Planning Council seemed surprised last week that Montana council members had struck out on their own to initiate a strategy to evaluate a reduced summer spill program. Montana says its just part of the program that the Northwest states had agreed to already.

Montana called for the evaluation of flow augmentation and spill at a July 2 meeting of the Technical Management Team, the forum of hydro and fish managers that meet weekly to set river operations. The request has now been elevated to the Implementation Team for more discussion at the policy level for this Thursday. "It's when heads will be counted," said Montana council member John Hines.

But after a staff presentation on economic and biological effects of reducing summer spill at last week's council meeting, it became obvious that Washington's council members were not aware that Montana had formally requested a reduced spill strategy, and like most other council members, weren't ready to support it.

The staff analysis estimated that cutting summer spill altogether in average flow years would reduce the future harvest of Hanford Reach chinook by a few thousand fish and have little effect on ESA-listed Snake River fish, while saving tens of millions of dollars' worth of water for power generation.

Based on numbers of Hanford fish migrating to sea this year, staffers said ending summer spill would reduce the numbers of returning adults by about 3,000 fish, and would cut the numbers reaching the spawning grounds by 3,800 fish. That's not much considering the average annual escapement of the healthy run over the past ten years has been more than 80,000 fish. In 2002, it was nearly twice that figure.

Nearly half the run is harvested each year by both ocean and inriver commercial and sport fisheries; yet even more would escape to spawn but for harvest constraints to ensure that enough the Snake fall chinook make it home. Before the fish were listed for protection under the ESA, about 80 percent of the Hanford Reach run was caught every year, according to council staffer Bruce Suzumoto.

The analysis found that only seven fewer ESA-listed Snake River fall chinook would be harvested from the no-summer-spill strategy and escapement would be reduced by eight fish. The 10-year average escapement of that run has now reached over 3,600 fish, boosted in large part by last year's return of more than 12,000 wild and hatchery fish.

But Washington council member Larry Cassidy said he wasn't ready to write off 3,800 adults. "Before we make a policy decision, we have to mitigate for losses," Cassidy said. "I gotta see equating benefits."

Council staffer John Fazio estimated summer spill would cost $90 million to $100 million this year. A simple math exercise by several council spectators had Cassidy's fish penciling out to about $15,000 apiece.

According to the council analysis, ending spill by August would save about $40 million a year and save about half the Hanford fish that would be lost if no summer spill took place. Such a strategy would add only five more Snake River fish than if no spill was initiated during the summer months. Most Snake fish are barged around the dams, hence changing spill strategies has little relative effect on their numbers.

However, Montana has only called for spill to be halted the last two weeks of August. BPA has already estimated the potential loss to both recreational and commercial fishermen from such a strategy at less than $8,000, but could save ratepayers up to $20 million a year.

Montana member John Hines explained that his state would support using "a substantial amount of money for relief" to aid listed stocks from any savings attributed to changes in the spill regime. He pointed out that the pikeminnow predation project could be increased to improve juvenile survival. As for now, the council has recommended that program's funding be cut in half.

Council staffer Suzumoto noted that ending spill could have a positive benefit by reducing fallback at dams. He said recent studies conducted by the University of Idaho suggested little or no fallback at all when spill was stopped at Bonneville Dam. Such a condition might actually improve the adult migration and automatically mitigate for juvenile losses, though no quantitative analysis was readily available to back up such a claim.

Members discussed what to do next, with council chair Judi Danielson noting that the group has called for spill studies in its mainstem program. She said that ratepayers "are extremely interested in this issue."

Hines suggested it was time to start working with utilities.

Washington's Tom Karier agreed that the council needed to follow up on its own program. "We've got to be sure we're not erring on the side of the fish," he said.

"The council needs to spend more than forty-five minutes to hash out this issue," said Oregon's Melinda Eden. She suggested that comments be accepted from other parties like the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority to help design experiments.

A July 9 letter from CBWFA to the council had already been distributed at the meeting that called for a new process to begin that would culminate in a joint technical recommendation from agencies and tribes for spill evaluation. Others have already observed that future research efforts may be thwarted by the small numbers of available fish and high water temperatures that make PIT-tagging fish unfeasible.

Montana member Ed Bartlett said he agreed with the points made by Karier and Eden. "We supported the TMT effort because we had the opportunity to start something," he said. "If it ends at the IT, fine."

An evaluation of the mainstem summer spill strategy is a major element in the council's recently adopted amendments to the region's fish and wildlife program However, since the strategy calls for potential changes to the hydro BiOp, federal agencies have been reluctant to support it while the biological opinion is being remanded. A federal judge ruled in May that the document be remanded for a year to allow federal authorities to re-write the section that deals with offsite mitigation efforts for fish recovery so they are more certain to occur.

Meanwhile, it has become evident that years of spilling water for half a year at a time is more than many dams were designed to do, Corps of Engineers biologist Jim Athearn told NW Fishletter. Athearn said stilling basins are deteriorating below spillways at some dams like Lower Monumental on the Snake, and the mainstem project at The Dalles, and may soon compromise the projects' structural integrity unless they are repaired or spill is reduced. Athearn said the dams were only designed to spill water for two months a year during the spring freshet. BiOp spill operations are simply wearing out the concrete, he said. Summer spill to aid fish passage now occurs from June through August at Ice Harbor Dam on the Lower Snake, and at John Day, The Dalles, and Bonneville dams. -Bill Rudolph


The state of Montana has officially asked Columbia River hydro and fish managers to implement a multi-year evaluation of the effects of stabilizing summer outflows from its federal reservoirs and reducing summer spill at some mainstem dams.

The request came after Montana members of the Northwest Power Planning Council grew frustrated with federal agencies' refusal to commit to implementing the council's mainstem plan, which calls for such evaluations.

"I am concerned that the federal agencies, because of inaction now, may be precluding the region from obtaining significant ratepayer and fish and wildlife benefits in the future," Montana council member John Hines said in a June 19 press release. "It amazes me that the fish managers in the lower Columbia region continue to ignore the needs of Montana reservoirs and rivers. The council reviewed these issues, and the four Northwest states unanimously decided that the Mainstem Plan was the way to go."

Consultant Jim Litchfield delivered Montana's official "systems operation request" to fish managers at the July 2 Technical Management Team meeting in Portland. He noted that a 2001 analysis from a fish passage model used by NOAA Fisheries scientists showed minuscule differences in fish survival from reduced spill.

Litchfield said the request is Montana's way of "trying to come up with a better, more balanced operation" for the hydro system that is consistent with the Power Planning Council's recently approved recommendations for mainstem operations.

Montana said the requested operation at Libby and Hungry Horse reservoirs would provide habitat in streams below the dams that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to designate as critical for bull trout listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The operation also would improve conditions for other resident fish in reservoirs and streams near the dams, the state said.

But fish managers like Ron Boyce of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife argued that Montana couldn't offer much in the way of proof for any biological benefits to its resident fish. However, Litchfield said Montana had already produced a two-megabyte report on them, but managers had never seemed inclined to read it.

After Litchfield's presentation, the TMT agreed to discuss the issue again at its next meeting in two weeks. Meanwhile, Litchfield was planning to take the same message to the basin's mid-level policy forum, the Implementation Team, the following day.

Benefits Questioned

Montana has long questioned the supposed benefits of drafting its reservoirs to augment flows in the Columbia River for fish passage, a key element in the 2000 federal hydro Biological Opinion.

The state's request calls for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to measure flow changes at key points in the system. "This will allow the determination of what anadromous fish would be exposed to the effects of flows from Montana and determine what amount of water is captured in storage reservoirs downstream of Montana," said the request, which also recommends looking at temperature and gas changes in the lower mainstem Columbia and differences in dissolved gas levels and plume sizes from reduced spill.

The state also called for an analysis of changes in water retention times behind Grand Coulee Dam associated with the Montana water releases. The issue has been raised by upriver tribes concerned about effects on food sources for resident fish in the reservoir.

The request pointed out that current flow augmentation operations have already been challenged by the Independent Scientific Advisory Board, the independent scientists who advise the Power Planning Council and NOAA Fisheries. Litchfield also pointed out to TMT members that the ISAB supported a policy that balances the needs of upstream resident fish "against those of juvenile salmon downstream," and has called the rule curves developed by Montana for drafting its reservoirs "reasonable approaches."

Perhaps even more controversial, Montana also called for evaluating effects from reducing summer spill for fish passage at Bonneville Dam to 50 kcfs, and from 40 percent to 30 percent of flow at The Dalles, ending spill altogether at the two dams on Aug. 15, two weeks earlier than the BiOp mandate. The request also calls for curtailing spill at John Day Dam at the end of July.

Litchfield said Montana's request included a graph developed by Power Council staff that showed most fall chinook smolts had passed Bonneville by late July. Since most ESA-listed fall chinook from the Snake River were barged anyway, spill for fish passage in August was "particularly ineffective," said the request.

But regional fish managers have disputed that characterization of the fall migration. "Plotting combined hatchery and wild chinook passage indices for subyearling chinook at various spill sites does not present a complete picture and is a shortcoming of the analysis conducted by the council staff," they said in a June 13 letter to the Power Council. They said jeopardized stocks were under-represented "when displayed in this fashion."

Fish managers also said the council analysis did not cover the effects of reduced or no spill on adult salmon. They suggested that fallback mortality of adults needed to be evaluated in the absence of spill. Fallback occurs when adult fish that have successfully swum up a dam's fish ladder, fall back below it via a spillway, turbine or juvenile bypass and must ascend the ladder again.

This issue may be something of a red herring, since an important radio-tag study the Corps completed in 2000 found that fallback levels at Bonneville Dam were lowest (between zero and 5 percent) with no spill.

Montana's proposal also cited a June 2001 analysis by NOAA and its SIMPAS passage model that showed significant reductions of bypass spill from BiOp levels had little negative impact on both Hanford Reach fall chinook and the Snake fish.

The difference in survival (McNary to Bonneville) of Hanford Reach fall chinook between BiOp spill levels and the no-spill level was only 1.3 percent, according to the 2001 NOAA analysis.

No one seemed to argue that the tiny differences in survival estimated by the model were too small for current tools to accurately determine. "Our ability to measure is beyond our ability," said Paul Wagner, NOAA Fisheries' TMT representative, though he seemed to support BiOp operations by simply pointing out that dramatic improvement in fish runs have taken place in the past few years, including some components of the fall run that likely migrated after summer spill operations had ended.

"It's a very complex system although we do know that flow and spill are very important to the fish," said ODFW's Ron Boyce.

Litchfield said he differed. "I don't think flow and spill are all that critical," he said, "and from what I've seen from the ISAB report, they don't think flow is all that critical. What we need to figure out is a much more rational operation."

BPA has said that cutting off spill at lower Columbia dams for the last two weeks in August would save the agency $17 million to $20 million a year. Total cost of summer spill is about $110 million a year. -B. R.


Columbia Basin harvest managers have boosted their estimate of the summer chinook run by 36 percent, an increase that allowed tribal fishers a three-day commercial gillnet opening last week. The new estimate of fish returning to the river mouth was announced July 8, raising the pre-season forecast from 87,600 to 120,000 fish.

Citing the fact that over 88,000 summer chinook had been tallied at Bonneville Dam by July 7, with three full weeks of counting still ahead, the harvest committee said the summer run will likely turn out to be the second largest since 1957. About 107, 000 summer chinook had been counted by July 20, with jack counts nearly triple last year's number.

The managers said the three-day tribal fishery, which began July 16, would primarily impact upper Columbia River fish, since most chinook bound for the Snake River have already passed by the tribal fishing grounds above Bonneville Dam. On average, they said, about 75 percent of the summer chinook pass Ice Harbor Dam on the lower Snake by July 2, while only 25 percent of the summer run heading for the mid-Columbia is generally over Priest Rapids Dam by then.

Lower Columbia tribal fishers will soon be able to improve the quality of their catches because of the increasing availability of ice. Two ice machines along with two trailers have been ordered by BPA to be shared by the four lower river tribes. BPA spokesman Mike Hansen said the $90,000 to pay for the machines came from his agency's economic development fund on the Power Business Line side of BPA, not from the agency's fish and wildlife budget. Hansen said the one-time investment will save money in the long run, since BPA has been buying ice for tribal fishers over the years.

"This is actually one of the first times that the economic development fund was used for anything related to the tribes," Hansen told NW Fishletter.

Chinook at Pike Place Market

"The ice will ensure quality fish," said Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "It will boost the value of every fish in the river." He said tribal fishermen hope to have the ice machines working by the last week in August. So far, tribal fishers have caught 2107 summer chinook, Hudson said, and expected to catch about the same number in another three-day opening that began July 21.

Joe Hymer, harvest manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said sports fishermen had caught about 1,300 adult chinook in June during two weeks of fishing in the lower Columbia, which was less than their projected catch of 2,000 fish. Since Snake River summer chinook are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, non-Indian fisheries are allowed to catch 1 percent of the run, and the impact of Indian fisheries is limited to 5 percent. The count is officially tallied at Bonneville Dam from June 1 to the end of July, when counting begins for fall chinook.

The fall season is expected to be another wild affair, according to Hymer. Managers estimate 623,000 fish to return--not quite as many as last year's bonanza return of 727,000 chinook, which included 277,000 upriver brights headed for the Hanford Reach.

This year's Hanford run is actually predicted to come in a bit higher than last year's return, which was the best since 1988, when 340,000 fall chinook were headed that way.

The return of the Bonneville Pool hatchery stock, also known as tules, is expected at nearly 100,000 fish. Last year's return of about 160,000 tules was the largest since 1976.

Lower Columbia wild fall chinook, which are also listed under the ESA, are expected to show up in numbers similar to last year--about 25,000 fish, which was the highest since 1991.

Hatchery stocks in the lower river are expected to come in well above the recent 10-year average of 55,000 fish; their return is pegged at 117,000, not much less than 2002's 130,000-fish show, which turned out to be the best since 1988.

Down the coast, California commercial fishermen were celebrating huge chinook returns by giving away salmon on the Fourth of July. Landing over 440,000 chinook by the end of June, they called it the best return since 1988's record 1.3 million-fish season. They attributed the bounty to improved ocean conditions and habitat. Oregon trollers have landed about 173,000 chinook, while Washington has split a 124,000-chinook catch between commercial and sports fishermen.

Huge schools of herring south of Tatoosh Island off the northwestern tip of the state were being targeted by both fishermen and chinook salmon. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer called the fishing there "phenomenal."

Coho fishing should be great as well. NOAA Fisheries' March estimate for Oregon coastal coho and Columbia River Hatchery and wild coho add up to nearly one million fish, up nearly 200 percent over the 10-year average. Early estimates by harvest managers pegged Columbia River hatchery returns at around 688,000 coho.

But far to the north in Alaska's Bristol Bay, the world's biggest sockeye salmon fishery was turning out to be something of a bust--if a 14.4 million-fish harvest can be considered a bust. When Alaska fish managers predicted a harvest in the 17 million-fish range, many gillnetters who had sat out last year's fishery went back on the water, hoping more fish would make up for the miserable prices.

But the less-than-expected return is not altogether a surprise. For years, many oceanographers have pointed to evidence that shows Alaska runs go downhill when Pacific Coast salmon runs improve, all as part of the complex interaction between ocean and atmosphere in the northeastern Pacific that can last for 20 to 30 years at a time. -Bill Rudolph


Oregon federal District Court Judge James Redden presided over a July 21 conference for all parties in National Wildlife Federation v. NMFS to outline his expectations and consider their recommendations to ensure that the hydro Biological Opinion will be fixed by the one-year period Redden gave the federal fish agency to rewrite part of it.

It was reported that Justice Department attorney Fred Disheroon told the judge NOAA Fisheries wants to implement a two-track process to satisfy the judge's concerns over the BiOp. First the federal fish agency would complete consultations with other federal agencies over ESA Section 7 issues and firm up agreements with Northwest states over salmon recovery actions outside the hydro system.

The second track would be to refresh the agency's jeopardy analysis, updated with current fish status to reflect recent improvements in salmon runs.

In a supplemental order released July 8, Judge Redden said he would also ask whether the parties need a settlement judge or special master to help resolve the issues. He said the government's first progress report is due Oct. 1, to show how it is working to make sure that offsite fish mitigation actions "will be reasonably certain to occur. On July 21 Redden suggested creating a committee of ten or so attorneys to follow up the process.

Redden also noted in his July 8 order that the BiOp calls for a 2003 progress report that requires a "failure" if key actions spelled out in the opinion are insufficiently implemented. "The consequences of insufficient implementation," said the judge, "include hydropower mitigation actions, up to and including the breaching of Snake River dams."

In his latest meeting, Redden pointed out that any breaching of dams would likely require authorization by Congress. "I summarized, perhaps, ineptly," he told participants at the July 21 conference, referring to his earlier order.

In his July 8 order, Redden said the court "does not intend to delve into the science during the remand period." During this week's conference, he remained ambiguous on that issue. -B. R.


Two irrigator groups have filed a notice of intent to sue NOAA Fisheries and other federal agencies including the Bonneville Power Administration, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation. The groups, which filed the notice July 15, want the feds to fix structural flaws in the federal Biological Opinion. The groups said the flaws "create false standards for measuring hydro system impacts and place unrealistic conditions on what is defined as the 'risk of extinction' for ESA-listed fish runs."

The Columbia-Snake Irrigators Association and the Eastern Oregon Irrigators Association listed nine key elements they said should be fixed, including the arbitrary time frame for abundance data that exaggerated risk to the species and neglected to include the huge fish runs of the past several years.

The groups said federal authorities based the BiOp on an "Orwellian re-definition of the 'risk of extinction,'" and that Snake River spring/summer chinook "were considered extinct if computer projections showed that more than one of 43 runs dipped to zero at any point in the future."

The irrigators said it is wrong for the feds to give dam operators sole responsibility for guaranteeing salmon recovery. The BiOp pretends that virtually every fish that dies while migrating in the Columbia River is the result of "discretionary choices of the dam operators," the groups said, an assumption they called absurd, given the enormous natural mortality of migrating fish in both dammed and undammed rivers. -B. R.


What a difference a month makes in the climate business! The National Weather Service has abruptly changed its mind over the odds of a colder, wetter-than-average winter to come. Its June forecast, which called for a 70 percent chance of a La Nia event showing up in a few months, was based largely on extensive ocean cooling in the central and eastern tropical Pacific observed last May. The forecast was featured last month in Science magazine.

But the forecast wasn't even official before the ocean began warming to normal levels for this time of year. At a July 10 El Nio/Southern Oscillation diagnostic discussion, scientists at the Climate Prediction Center said the latest sea surface and subsurface temperature data do not support the development of La Nia conditions over the next few months.

Instead, the model forecasts "indicate considerable uncertainty during the next few months," said Vernon Kousky, ENSO specialist at NOAA. Most scientists are predicting near-neutral conditions during the last half of 2003." -B. R.


The Yakama Nation on June 27 filed suit against the Bonneville Power Administration over funding for fish programs. The lawsuit, filed in the Ninth Circuit Court is essentially the same as one filed June 2 against the Northwest Power Planning Council. Earlier this year, the council complied with a BPA request to reduce funding for direct programs for fish to $139 million from $180 million.

Yakama Nation attorney Tim Weaver said that under the Northwest Power Planning Act, neither BPA nor the council has the authority to reduce the funding. He said he attached to his filing a March 28 letter BPA sent the council, "telling the council the way things are going to be."

"BPA can't unilaterally decide that they are going to limit the amount of money that the council can spend in order to fulfill both their obligations under the Act, which requires that BPA act in a manner to provide equitable treatment to fish and wildlife," Weaver said. The agency cannot simply say "we screwed up financially and so you have got to cut."

Weaver said he met with council attorneys in late June to discuss ways of resolving the matter, but nothing specific emerged. He expects the two cases to be consolidated. "It's a long way from going anywhere," he said. -Ben Tansey


To enhance the sports fishery, hatchery-raised summer steelhead were first added to Oregon's Clackamas River in 1971, but it has taken over thirty years for biologists to get around to evaluating the effects of this strategy on the river's wild stock. The results were recently published in Transactions of the American Fisheries Society (vol. 132 No. 4, pp. 780-790) by Kathryn Kostow(ODFW), Anne Marshall(WDFW), and the late Stevan R. Phelps(WDFW).

The authors reported that hatchery fish made up 60-70 percent of the natural spawners and produced 36-53 percent of the naturally-produced smolts. However, the survival from smolt to adult was poor. "Very few natural-origin summer adults were observed, suggesting high mortality ... following emigration," they said. An evaluation of two brood years showed that hatchery fish produced one-third the number of smolts per parent that wild fish did and one-tenth as many adults per parent as the wild steelhead.

The paper notes that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife was focused on decreasing the interbreeding between hatchery and wild fish and the "low apparent breeding success by the hatchery fish has often been assumed to indicate low risk to the wild fish." Fortunately, the 160,000 hatchery steelhead released into the river were marked so they could be identified. The ODFW "... assumed that these fish did not spawn successfully," say the authors. "It was also assumed that life history differences ... precluded interbreeding between summer and winter runs. Risks to wild winter steelhead from the hatchery summer steelhead program were assumed to be very low," said the authors.

However, the authors hypothesize that the hatchery summer steelhead were successfully spawning and producing juveniles that exhibited poor survival to adulthood. Even though summer and winter steelhead show distinct differences in adult life histories, such as time of spawning, the paper says "their juvenile life histories and habitat requirements are thought to be similar" and this would "maximize competitive interactions between them."

Because the summer steelhead adults spawn earlier than wild winter steelhead, the juveniles would emerge earlier and occupy the best feeding territories and place winter steelhead at a disadvantage.

But even with the advantage of more adult spawners, a competitive edge at the juvenile stage, and more juvenile production, the hatchery fish still produced one-third the number of smolts per female than did wild steelhead. This finding is corroborated by research on other streams such as Washington's Kalama River where wild fish outperformed hatchery steelhead at every life stage, but since hatchery steelhead adults were more plentiful, they predominated.

Based on genetic analysis, the authors found that the Clackamas wild and hatchery steelhead did not interbreed to any great extent, which means that reproductive isolation was high. So, the recorded decline in the wild steelhead was not a result of interbreeding and genetic effects on the wild fish.

"Whatever interbreeding may have occurred between hatchery and wild fish," say the authors, "it has not diminished the genetic and biological distinctiveness of the wild winter steelhead population, and the productivity of the wild population. The decline in wild winter steelhead abundance was not likely due to diminished reproductive success of a greatly hybridized population. "

However, this decline in wild steelhead was masked by the presence of summer steelhead smolts in the total counts at the dam where they are tallied as they migrate out of the upper basin. The authors concluded that "even though naturally spawning hatchery steelhead may experience poor reproductive success, they and their juvenile progeny may be abundant enough to occupy substantial portions of spawning and rearing habitat to the detriment of wild fish populations."

The authors say the "smolt offspring of hatchery fish appear to have wasted the production from natural habitat because very few survived to return as adults," and caution fish managers about drawing conclusions about the success of supplementation efforts by looking at natural spawning and smolt production by hatchery fish.

"Evidence for success," they say, "must also include adult offspring and no depression of wild fish productivity," pointing out that "supplementation programs should be attuned to basin carrying capacities so that they do not reduce wild fish productivity through competition for resources." -Bill Bakke


Seattle District Court Judge John Coughenour has ruled that, for the time being, he will go along with environmentalists' recommendations that call for buffer zones along streams to keep pesticides from harming wild salmonids listed under the ESA. The July 16 ruling said the plaintiffs had demonstrated "with reasonable scientific certainty" that the buffers, 20 yards for ground applications and 100 yards for aerial applications, "will, unlike the status quo, substantially contribute to the prevention of jeopardy."

The ruling comes a year after Coughenour decided for plaintiffs in Washington Toxics Coalition et al v. EPA, which required that EPA must consult with NMFS over the potential effects of 54 different pesticides on ESA-listed salmonids in the Northwest. See NW Fishletter 146). The July 2, 2002 ruling came down after a long consultation collapsed between EPA and plaintiffs, led by the toxics coalition.

"It makes no sense to keep poisoning salmon in our rivers, while trying to protect them," said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "As the judge said, buffer zones to keep chemicals out of streams is a logical and already much used technique. It's also a logical step toward restoring a billion-dollar salmon fishing industry to our region."

The judge said neither EPA nor intervenor-defendant Croplife had demonstrated that ongoing agency actions were non-jeopardizing to threatened and endangered salmonids. Oral arguments are scheduled for August 14 where defendants may debate the size of the buffers, the judge said. But he said arguments will be limited because EPA failed to propose interim mitigation measures or make counter recommendations to those of the environmentalists.

Coughenour also said NMFS' participation "is contingent on its cooperation with all parties. That is, NMFS shall not participate as a witness for any particular party, but may act akin to an informal Court-appointed expert."

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 g/L) were chosen to emulate diazinon pulses in the natural environment," says the NMFS 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 g/L. Similarly, homing behavior was impaired at 10.0 g/L."

The industry 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. -B. R.

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