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[1] Fish Policy Prognosticators Predict Recovery Will Stay A Big Business
[2] Only Three Sockeye Return To Idaho's Sawtooth Valley
[3] Idaho's Wild Steelhead Show From 2001's Drought-Plagued Migration
[4] NOAA Weather Computer Says More, Less, Or Average Winter Due
[5] NOAA Fisheries Must Re-Do "Essential Fish Habitat" Designation
[6] Pollution Control Board Scuttles Water Rights Settlement
[7] Power Council's Cassidy Named Chair Of Pacific Salmon Commission
[8] National Research Council Weighs In On Klamath Basin Dams

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Salmon recovery efforts in the Northwest may be something most citizens in the region take for granted. But when measured on a larger scale, they likely comprise the "biggest conservation program in the world." Salmon recovery is also likely to stay that way for years to come, maintaining its status as a "full employment act" for attorneys.

That was the message Bonneville Power Administration Senior Policy Advisor Lorri Bodi delivered to a group of attorneys meeting in Seattle Oct. 24 for a continuing legal education seminar that focused on future power and fish issues in the Columbia Basin. She predicted stable funding levels for fish recovery, along with more wrangling over flow issues and general litigation.

In the last three years, Bodi said BPA has funded 17 major improvements at federal dams, along with 250 habitat projects in 20 tributaries. Bodi also made some pointed remarks about the big BPA budgets, which she pegged at around $400 million a year. "To be honest, we're hooked on the money," she said. Without naming names, Bodi said some agencies were more dependent than others on the steady flow of BPA's salmon recovery dollars.

Bodi brought in NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator Bob Lohn, who offered some tantalizing hints about his agency's thinking as it crafts a new biological opinion to guide hydro operations to satisfy a federal judge.

Lohn said his agency agrees with the Oregon judge who ruled that NOAA Fisheries did not properly apply the Endangered Species Act in the 2000 BiOp because the document called for many non-federal actions that weren't reasonably certain to occur.

"What does that mean?" Lohn asked. "It means on the mitigation side, we need to go back and look at those good things that we were counting on happening. But it also means in terms of the adverse future events that we included in our last biological opinion, we need to go back and look at whether or not those are reasonably certain to occur, as the judge ruled."

Lohn said that analysis is likely to exclude actions on both sides. Elements of the old BiOp that might have been considered to have future adverse effects on fish may not be properly considered at this time, he said.

Lohn said his agency has two choices. It could patch up the current BiOp with its 199 salmon recovery activities, redo the stock analysis and see what that brings. Or it could restructure the document with fish recovery measures set up in another way.

"Those are the sorts of discussions that are underway in the federal family," Lohn said. "I don't want to presume on the outcome, but I can say to those following the case, if it were to become a serious possibility that we were doing something more than revising the current opinion, the court would be advised early if that decision were made or underway."

Lohn strongly hinted that the new BiOp might contain a few surprises--namely, that some stocks may not warrant listing for ESA protection under the criteria now being developed.

He pointed to "an extraordinary confluence of events" that has allowed so many opportunities "to bring things together" at one time, backed by good ocean conditions for fish survival that the agency hopes may last for another 15 years.

The big question, Lohn said, is whether the region can develop priorities for each 'H' (harvest, hydro, habitat, hatcheries)--whether performance-based or outcome-based--and integrate them within the current framework. "The opportunity is there," he said. "We'll have to see what time brings."

On the harvest front, Lohn said a long-term agreement on harvest is being developed, but he wasn't at liberty to share details. It is still uncertain whether the agency can get more regional buy-in for a new harvest regime that will offer more support for weak runs while allowing more harvest of abundant stocks.

Hatchery operations are being reviewed to reduce adverse effects on wild stocks, Lohn said, but he acknowledged that major questions still exist over whether supplementing wild runs with hatchery fish really works. He said it would take decades to get the answer.

As for habitat improvement throughout the basin, Lohn said major uncertainties exist there as well, as sub-basin planning efforts begin to gauge potential productivity gains for fish populations. He said the feds want local constituencies to develop locally acceptable improvements.

"This has never been done before in the world on this kind of scale--a huge task," Lohn said, noting the area in question is about the size of France.

Subbasin Planning Panned

Consultant Curt Smitch, who recently retired from a position as Washington Gov. Gary Locke's point man on salmon recovery, crossed swords with Lohn over the sub-basin planning effort now underway. He cited the effort's lack of statutory backbone as a main factor for its probable failure and waste of money, since his state has already completed most of the analyses.

"When NMFS determines what salmon recovery plans are in the lower and upper Columbia Basin, that will be the blueprint that we will all push state, local and other federal processes into," Smitch said. As long as the current process continues, running planning through BPA and the Northwest Power Council, "the more you just have process," he said.

Smitch called the federal efforts to curb harvests of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead mere "tweaks" that waste many of the fish returning to his state's hatcheries--facilities that cost $50 million annually to run.

Smitch supported marking all hatchery fish and re-allocating harvests to give more of a share of the salmon pie to recreational fishers and any other group that practiced selective harvest methods by keeping only marked fish that are caught and releasing others.

But a spokesman for tribal interests, Rob Lothrop of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said member tribes do not support mass marking of hatchery fish.

Nor did the tribes seem very interested in having BPA buy out some of their potential harvest as a "conservation easement," Lothrop indicated. BPA's Bodi said such a partial buyout had been discussed with tribal interests.

Lothrop said the tribes see a role for marking many salmon "primarily for research purposes," and they are working very closely with other co-managers to find ways to use hatcheries for rebuilding salmon populations to "access more of the harvestable component without impacting our long-term rebuilding effort."

Lothrop said the tribes want a more aggressive use of fish propagation with certain salmon stocks and support a new memorandum of understanding with BPA that would assure adequate funding to achieve these ends. -Bill Rudolph


Most wild and hatchery salmon runs have improved rapidly in recent times, thanks largely to improved ocean conditions. But there is still one big exception: the Idaho sockeye run.

Only three descendants of the original Lonesome Larry returned to Idaho's Sawtooth Valley this year, home of the Redfish Lake sockeye, the first Northwest salmon stock listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1991. Twelve sockeye were counted at Lower Granite Dam by the end of August, but that last 450 miles to the Lake must have been too much for them.

Lonesome Larry was the lone sockeye that returned in 1992. His precious bodily fluids were frozen as part of a captive broodstock program that started in 1991, a last-ditch effort aimed at saving the run from extinction.

Idaho Fish and Game biologist Paul Kline said 30 adult fish were expected from the 30,000 smolts that emigrated in 2001. He did not speculate on the cause of the poor return.

All sockeye returning to Idaho since 1997 are products of an intense captive broodstock program. In 2002, 22 adult sockeye returned, while 26 of them showed up in the valley in 2001.

In 2000, biologists were shocked when nearly 260 sockeye returned from an out-migration of 38,000 smolts raised in the program, along with an unknown number of out-migrants resulting from the planting of nearly 150,000 pre-smolts in Redfish, Pettit and Alturas lakes.

This year's low numbers may have something to do with the poor migrating conditions for fish in the drought year 2001, when extremely low flows plagued the Columbia Basin, a dire situation compounded by the distances these fish had to cover. The Redfish Lake run is the southernmost sockeye stock on the West Coast, migrating farther and spawning at a higher altitude than any other. They swim almost 900 miles to reach the ocean, and another 900 miles back.

But some critics of the ESA listing still say the fish shouldn't even be protected, because there is no real distinction between the 5,000 to 10,000 resident spawning kokanee in Redfish Lake and the ones who go to sea.

They point to the fact that a dam blocked access to Redfish Lake for more than 20 years, and speculate that the fish migrating now are simply descendants of the freshwater residents with "a sporadic seaward drift."

However, another hypothesis speculates that operators of the dam in question may have occasionally helped fish get into the lake, which could have kept the stock from going extinct.

When the stock was originally listed under the ESA in 1991, only the sea-going component was protected. At the time, National Marine Fisheries Service scientists admitted they did not have enough information to make a satisfactory decision about whether the two components were different stocks.

Genetic analyses found that returning adults and out-migrants "were similar but distinct" from the freshwater kokanee, but newer analyses that have examined growth in the fishes' earbones found that many out-migrants have had a resident female parent.

Further investigation has found a small number of kokanee spawning about the same time and place as the sockeye. Most kokanee spawn up a local creek, while the sockeye spawn along a beach at Redfish Lake.

"NMFS will never make a judgment that will make kokanee part of the ESU [evolutionarily significant unit]," said hatchery expert and retired University of Idaho professor Ernie Brannon, who also studied Redfish Lake sockeye. "They have too much at stake."

Brannon said it would be better to simply determine if the kokanee population is viable, since it's likely that at intermittent intervals some of them leave the lake for the ocean. This likelihood was also suggested by Idaho consultant Don Chapman in a 1990 sockeye study commissioned by The Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee.

"Scientists should be studying the environmental factors that encourage the fish to migrate," Brannon said.

But the federal scientists' latest assessment of the sockeye stock has maintained the basic difference between the ocean-going and kokanee components. Pointing out that only 16 naturally produced adults have returned since the stock was listed, the NOAA Fisheries biological review team voted unanimously last February to keep it in the "in danger of extinction" category.

Most sockeye stocks in Idaho were extirpated on purpose, poisoned by Idaho Fish and Game years ago to keep the fish from eating the trout prized by sports fishermen. But Alturas and Redfish lakes were too deep for the poison to be used effectively, so the fish got a reprieve, said Rob Dillinger, a Portland-based consultant who worked for IDFG in the early 1990s.

Dillinger also said an effort to boost the lake's productivity failed when test corrals filled with fertilizer encouraged the growth of a type of plankton that fish wouldn't eat. It crowded out the plankton the fish preferred and the test fish starved.

"It's a murky, murky situation," Dillinger said. He thinks it is likely that some kokanee go to sea if given the chance. But he pointed out that the lineage of the present run may have been derived from "residual" fish that remain in fresh water while most go to sea, traits also evident in Lake Wenatchee's sockeye population.

The National Research Council also noted in its 1993 salmon study Upstream that the Redfish Lake run may have been made up of residual sockeye.

The Lake Wenatchee run is relatively healthy compared to Redfish Lake's. The Wenatchee fish swim hundreds of miles less, but more than 100,000 sockeye returned to the mid-Columbia in 2001. And this year, about 35,000 made it past Rock Island Dam on their way home.

Chuck Peven of Chelan PUD said the wild component of the 2001 Lake Wenatchee sockeye run had a smolt-to-adult return (SAR) rate of 2.1 percent, with hatchery fish displaying a return rate of 0.7 percent. The Redfish Lake return of 26 fish in 2001 showed a SAR of .05 percent to 0.14 percent.

In September, IDFG released 30 adult hatchery-raised sockeye into Redfish Lake to help maintain the run. Over 300 hatchery adults have been added over the past few years. Many have been raised in Washington state, at NOAA Fisheries' Manchester lab on Hood Canal.

NOAA Fisheries announced interim recovery targets for listed stocks more than a year ago, suggesting that 1,000 sockeye returning to one lake and 500 returning to another lake in the Sawtooth Valley would be an adequate productivity goal. -B. R.


Idaho's wild steelhead may have weathered the 2001 drought year in relatively fine style thanks to the all-out fish barging program put in place to get the fish past federal dams in the Columbia and Snake basins on their way to the ocean.

More than 6,000 wild 'B-run' steelhead have returned to Idaho this fall from the 2001 migration, along with about 20,000 hatchery B's, according to NOAA Fisheries biologists who sample the run every week at Lower Granite Dam. The run was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1997.

Most B-run steelhead spend two years in the ocean, while the majority of A run fish only forage for one year at sea before returning to fresh water. So many hatchery A's have returned from the 2002 migration that Idaho Fish and Game is trapping excess steelhead at Oxbow Hatchery below Hells Canyon dams, a barrier to further migration, and trucking them up to the Boise River for release, giving local residents a chance to eat steelhead this Thanksgiving instead of turkey.

Some had predicted the Idaho runs would teeter towards extinction despite the barging effort in 2001. "One will only have to wait until the adult returns start coming back from this year's migration to be reminded how grave the situation is for the salmon stocks in the Snake River," said Sharon Kiefer, IDFG's anadromous fish manager, back in March 2001.

Early last year, fish managers were still singing the same tune. Fish Passage Center head Michele DeHart wrote to federal biologists, saying, "Research has shown considerable interaction between flow and survival in the estuary. Despite the high proportion of Snake River fish transported from the 2001 out-migration it is unlikely that significant numbers of adults will return from this migration year because of the estuarine conditions."

Just last week, an IDFG press release that reported on the pre-Thanksgiving hatchery steelhead bonanza noted that "because 2001 was a poor runoff year, these larger steelhead will likely make up only a small portion of this year's steelhead run." Overall hatchery and wild steelhead numbers added up to about 175,000 fish this year, with about 44,000 in the wild category (some A-run fish are wild, too.). In 2002, nearly 220,000 steelhead were counted at the dam.

The 6,500 or so wild B-run steelhead returning to Idaho over the past two months is nearly twice the average return from 1995-1999, though much less than the previous year's run when about 32,000 wild B fish reached Bonneville Dam.

The returning fish have vindicated the federal agencies, who decided to go for mass barging in 2001 when they were faced with the second-worst water year in modern memory. More than 90 percent of the juvenile spring chinook (more than 4 million) and steelhead (6.7 million) were given a free ride in barges that environmentalists used to call "steel coffins," down rivers plagued with some of the lowest flows on record, flows so low they spelled disaster for the few fish left to migrate in them.

Only about 4 percent of the steelhead that stayed in the river in 2001 made it all the way past Bonneville Dam. But it wasn't simply low flows that crippled the inriver migration. A tern colony near Pasco consumed about 15 percent of them that year. By June, when waters began warming, most of the steelhead left likely quit migrating altogether and hung out in reservoirs, a phenomenon known as "residualization." Sports fishermen found a surprisingly good rainbow trout fishery in the lower Snake that year, most likely due to the residualized migrants from Idaho.

But the poor inriver survivals for juvenile salmon and steelhead migrating in 2001 have given flow augmentation proponents more ammunition in the endless debate over adding more water to aid fish migrations.

Last March, the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority made a presentation to a National Academy of Sciences panel charged with studying flow and fish survival issues in the Columbia Basin. They cited PIT-tag data from 2001 as evidence of poor smolt-to-adult survivals, but their analysis never mentioned that most of the PIT-tagged fish were purposefully routed to migrate inriver, while more than 90 percent of the chinook and steelhead coming out of Idaho that year were barged.

NOAA Fisheries' Jerry Harmon, who leads the technical crew that monitors fish passage at Lower Granite Dam, said most PIT-tagged salmon were put in the river because they expected inriver survivals too be pretty low and wanted to make sure they could obtain enough data from those migrants to complete a rigorous analysis of flow and survival that year.

The 4 percent inriver survival rate for 2001 steelhead estimated from that strategy contrasts sharply with the 31-percent survival rate estimated for 2003 migrants, who migrated in a pretty much normal water year.-B. R.


Without an El Niņo or La Niņa event likely to influence weather patterns any time soon, NOAA weather forecasters say there's about a 33 percent chance that temperatures in the far West, Alaska and the Southern Plains will be above normal this coming winter.

This winter will mark the first time in the last six years that the forecast won't be influenced by an El Niņo or La Niņa, although the agency does hedge its bet a bit, saying weak El Niņo conditions "are possible" by the end of November, though minimal effects are expected.

"Our forecast tools imply large uncertainty in the northern and eastern U.S., while a clearer picture emerges elsewhere," said Ed O'Lenic, senior meteorologist and lead forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

For the rest of the country, NOAA forecasters say the odds are pretty even that temperatures will be above normal, below normal, or near-normal.

The outlook for precipitation is pretty much the same, with equal chances of more--or less--of it from December through next February.

The Oct. 16 forecast says drought impacts should ease through eastern Washington and northern Idaho, and to a lesser extent in western Montana and central Idaho, but will persist through middle Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, most of Nevada and Arizona.

University of Washington climate researcher Nate Mantua said the federal forecast for a warmer winter is based on the averages. "It's been warmer for the last 25 years," Mantua said. He also noted that it's still too early to say if there has been a "regime shift" towards wetter, cooler winters in the Northwest.

An updated streamflow forecast from the UW's Climate Impacts Group calls for "an elevated likelihood" of near-normal flow conditions in the Columbia River.

The cooler near-shore waters in the Pacific Ocean generated by the La Niņa of a few years back could be masking a real shift, Mantua said, but conditions in the Gulf of Alaska haven't changed much. He said Alaska salmon runs are holding up pretty well. If a regime shift has occurred, ocean productivity off Alaska should decline significantly.

"Most of the north Pacific is still pretty warm," Mantua said, though recently some bands of warm and cold water have started showing up. With the Bering Sea maintaining its heat as well, he said the notion of a Pacific Decadal Oscillation, in which atmospheric and ocean conditions shift in tandem between the West Coast and Alaska in 20- to 30-year cycles, may just be "too simple."

Mantua is one of the principal investigators of that hypothesis. He said winter winds in the north are showing different patterns from those expected if a real climatic regime shift had occurred.-B. R.


A federal judge in Idaho has told NOAA Fisheries that it must run its essential fish habitat (EFH) designation for Pacific salmon through the normal rulemaking process. The Oct. 1 ruling came in Idaho County et al. v. Evans, in which two Idaho counties, a homebuilders association and two forestry groups sued the Department of Commerce, claiming that the actions taken by NMFS to implement the essential fish habitat designation for salmon were "overreaching and unduly burdensome."

Federal law says that federal fishery management councils, under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, must designate essential fish habitat to protect marine fisheries. The plaintiffs allege that the EFH designation for salmon, finalized in 2000, has the effect of subjecting "all manner" of upland non-fishing activities in the Northwest and most of Alaska to consultation over EFH designation to decide whether such activities adversely affected salmon habitat.

Idaho District Court Judge Edward J. Lodge disagreed with the plaintiffs on several other points, but said they were entitled to more opportunity for comment than they were given before the EFH amendment was adopted. He said the plaintiffs had standing because of an economic interest in the form of increased costs and delays by the alleged "overlord" definition of EFH.

Boise-based attorney Robert Maynard, who represented the plaintiffs, said he hoped the ruling would reduce the scope of EFH in the future, noting that presently it includes everywhere "from the tip of Washington to Pt. Conception and out to the 200-mile limit of the fishery councils' jurisdictions.

"These consultations require substantial budgets and costs to rural communities," Maynard told NW Fishletter. Currently, federal agencies use their ESA Section 7 consultations to satisfy the EFH consultation requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. -B. R.


The Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board ruled Oct. 31 that five new water rights granted by the Department of Ecology to several Eastern Washington public and private entities must by remanded to the agency for further consultation with the Nez Perce and Umatilla Tribes before they can be granted, even though other tribes had provided input earlier in the process.

The applicants, who include the Kennewick hospital district, a local irrigation district and carrot king Bud Mercer, fought with the Ecology Department for years over a small share of water in the Columbia River that had been set aside for irrigation use long ago. But the state had argued that any future withdrawals could harm fish populations unless a similar amount of water was taken out of use--the so-called "no net loss" water policy that federal fishery officials had touted as part of its mandate to recover ESA-listed salmon stocks.

The Ecology Department finally granted the permits, but they were conditioned by target flows set by federal authorities in the hydro BiOp, which could potentially keep the applicants from withdrawing water during the peak of the growing season. Ecology granted the permits with no strings attached only after they lost a lawsuit over the issue in Benton County Superior Court.

The hearings board said just because Ecology lost in court didn't absolve them consulting with the tribes "regarding alternatives designed to protect endangered salmonid runs before they issued these water rights decisions."

But Benton County Superior Court is likely the place where the dispute is headed once again. Four of the permittees have decided to appeal the board's decision.

Water consultant Darryll Olsen called the board's decision an extraordinarily poor piece of legal work. He told The Tri-City Herald last week that "the Pollution Control Hearings Board will have their heads handed to them by Superior Court." -B. R.


Larry Cassidy, long-time sports fishing activist and Washington state representative to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, has been appointed to chair the Pacific Salmon Commission in 2004, beginning next January. The Commission is made up of Canadian and US members who are jointly charged with implementing the terms of the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

Cassidy said it was an honor to be selected. "Salmon fishing in the Pacific Ocean is an important economic activity for both countries, and the Commission provides the critical information needed by the states, the province and the federal governments to ensure that harvest seasons are set that maximize the economic activity while protecting and conserving the fish resource."

Cassidy was appointed to the Salmon Commission earlier this year by President Bush, representing the states of Washington and Oregon. He has chaired the Power Council for three years and still serves on its fish and wildlife committee. -B. R.


The National Research Council has recommended the removal of three dams in the Klamath Basin be considered as a way of restoring threatened fish in the basin. In a report released last month, the 12-member committee suggested the Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River and Dwinnell Dam on the Shasta River be evaluated for removal, and that Chiloquin Dam on the Sprague River be removed.

Iron Gate is one of seven dams that make up PacifiCorp's 151 MW Klamath Hydroelectric Project. PacifiCorp is expected to file its formal relicensing application for the project in March. Iron Gate Dam produces 18 MW (CU No. 1105 [1/12]). Dwinnell Dam and Chiloquin Dam are both diversion dams.

The council report also recommended spending between $25 million and $35 million to improve conditions for coho in the Klamath River and endangered sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake. And it concluded that low flows and high water temperatures couldn't conclusively be blamed for the massive fish kill that took place on the Klamath in the summer 2002.

The council's report, which was commissioned by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, also recommended shutting down the Iron Gate Hatchery for three years to see how native coho might benefit from the lack of competition from hatchery-raised chinook fish. The hatchery produces five million to six million chinook a year, in addition to 75,000 coho and 200,000 steelhead in the spring.-Steve Ernst

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