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NWF.045/Oct.14.1997
[1] Lower Columbia Tribes Complain About Upcoming Scrutiny
[2] Washington Salmon Policy Looks for Common Ground
[3] Kitzhaber Calls for New Salmon Forum
[4] Bad News At Redfish Lake
[5] ESA Reform, Water Bills Move in Congress
[6] Former Idaho Senator Floats Dam Buyout Idea
[7] EL Nino Keeps Region In Hot Water

[1] TRIBES COMPLAIN ABOUT UPCOMING PROJECT SCRUTINY :: Umatilla tribal chair Don Sampson told the Power Council on Oct. 6 that lower Columbia tribes should have been consulted before the Council passed budget recommendations made at its meeting in Helena last month. The Council approved $90 million for next year's fish and wildlife program, but $33 million was held up for further review, and $24 million was deferred.

Sampson said the move has put on hold a master plan developed to improve fish and wildlife, which took ten years to put together and the past 15 years to implement. He said the tribes face great problems if funding is deferred for the final aspects of what he termed a success, pointing out that 2,300 fish have come back to the Umatilla River.

This "template of success" can be applied to the Walla Walla Basin, said Sampson, but Council action would put a hold on such activity until the strategies are reviewed for their scientific merit. This pending review of artificial production, according to Sampson, has tied up $30 million out of $40 million in tribal projects and "has implications elsewhere." He said the tribes are prepared to initiate the dispute resolution process outlined in the 1995 MOA (Memorandum of Agreement) to seek a solution. The MOA process calls for mediation through the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

This potential course of action was outlined in a letter Sampson gave the Council from Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission executive director Ted Strong. The letter says the tribes want to discuss the effects of the Council action on Commission projects within the next 30 days. Strong's letter pointed out that about $32 million in projects sponsored by CRITFC or its member tribes were delayed or deferred, while only about $1 million in state-sponsored projects were held up.

Washington council member Ken Casavant told Sampson that the review was color-blind. "We look to examine the effects of all the elements of the fish and wildlife program," he said, "not just the tribal elements." He said the Gorton Amendment has changed the way the Council does things. "The Independent Scientific Review Panel and the recommendations are the outcome of that." He admitted that some of the Council members were "aghast" at the prospect for budget scrutiny, but he thought the outcome for fish "is better than some alternatives."

Oregon member John Brogoitti echoed Casavant's remarks, pointing out that winnowing down the budget might seem hard on tribal programs. But he reminded Sampson that over $100 million of $144 million worth of proposals were sponsored by the tribes. "I feel bad that they may feel that there was some discrimination at them."

"It looks suspicious to us," said Sampson, mentioning the deferred funding for fish ladders and satellite hatchery facilities on the Umatilla. He suggested "your legal folks and our legal folks" should discuss those matters.

But council member Stan Grace of Montana said, "Deferred funding doesn't mean no funding." He said his primary responsibility is to the resource, but the region still doesn't know enough about mitigation to leave some things in the plan without focusing on them as well. "A lot of change may come next year from the ISRP," Grace cautioned.

But Sampson argued that "our total effort is to get the salmon back. We're not in it to save jobs. We're in it to save salmon." He said the rules were changing. "We have to have some institutional memory. We already agreed to 'criteria.' Are we now developing 'new' criteria?"

Grace said the process was one of "updating" criteria rather than creating new ones. "And it's been slow in coming."

Council chair John Etchart of Montana said the credibility of the fish and wildlife program is in jeopardy and that the Council was serious about the ISRP recommendations.

The next morning, some Council members questioned the budget process itself, since the tribes--through the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority--were already major players in the development of the draft FY '98 work plan.

Grace was clearly displeased with the tribal complaints about not being consulted. "It's a shell game kind of a thing," he said. "It's a consultation as long as they [CBFWA] agree."

Oregon Council member Joyce Cohen suggested that some understanding between individual tribes could be developed, but Mike Field of Idaho said "we can't have it both ways." It was decided that the "Fish Four"--the council's fish and wildlife subcommittee--would take up the question at its next meeting.

The Council also discussed development of the upcoming review of artificial production, which is scheduled to be completed by next summer. Lee Hillwig of the USFWS told the Council that his agency was interested in the scope of the upcoming review. He said it needs to address "protocols and processes" as well as scientific questions. He was also concerned about the policy implications and funding issues that may arise.

The science panel is expected to have developed specific questions about artificial production by next week. Because of the time crunch, there was discussion about using a private contractor to expedite the review, using experts to be named later.

Representatives of the Nez Perce, Shoshone Paiute, and Colville tribes expressed their concerns about project funding in their regions. Nez Perce tribal member Sam Penney told the Council that the supplementation projects being developed by his tribe "are really the same as what is being accomplished" at Vernita Bar on the Columbia River--a place, Penney said, that the Council's own science panel "likes so much." Si Whitman of the Nez Perce said the upcoming scrutiny of artificial production, as well as the Council's recommendation to cut the law enforcement program, "was a slap in the face."

But Washington member Mike Kreidler told the Nez Perce that "our goals are clearly the same. We don't want to be criticized a few years from now," Kreidler said, noting that he expected the artificial production program to pass muster as well.

Stan Grace said the Council had recently sent a letter to the tribes asking for help in the rulemaking process. Idaho Council member Mike Field said he thought the upcoming review wouldn't have much impact on tribal facilities, since they are the "most innovative." -Bill Rudolph

[2] SALMON POLICYMAKERS SEARCH FOR COMMON GROUND :: Washington's emerging wild salmon policy is slowly taking shape, but state tribes say they can't support it yet because of concerns over possible cuts in harvest and hatcheries.

Sam Wright of the Fish and Wildlife Department said the tribes are preparing to present the state with a list of proposed revisions, but it's not clear where salmon policy is headed. He said he hopes a policy will soon be in place that not only reflects ESA concerns over weak stocks, but also provides enough help to recover the runs to sustainable harvest levels. But fellow agency policymaker Bruce Crawford said meetings with tribes during the week of Oct. 6 indicated "the common denominator won't be where we want to be." Crawford said it looks like the new salmonid policy will have two parts, one that is a joint policy with the tribes, and another that comes more directly from the state's fish and wildlife commission. He said a joint working document will be discussed on Oct. 22 when public comment will be taken at a Seattle meeting.

With a big federal stick hanging over the region in the form of a probable ESA listing for Puget Sound wild chinook, state officials would like to have the new policy in place before the feds' announcement next winter.

But Tulalip tribal member Terry Williams, who has been instrumental in developing the new policy, said he doesn't expect anything will change directly if NMFS lists the fish. He said Hood Canal chum may be listed as well. "The new rules in the plan should put us on a path to de-listing the stocks," said Williams.

The "one size fits all" policy being developed by the state has the tribes concerned, he added. The tribes have complained that they have been left out of the process from the very beginning. As co-managers of the salmon resource, the tribes say their input is required.

But WDF&W's Wright said the state's Final EIS on the wild salmon policy, issued last month, is already obsolete because of tribal concerns. Williams, however, said there is still much to salvage from the document. "There's not a need for radical management change, but better information on survival rates." He said habitat damage in western Washington was increasing faster than can be accounted for in declining fish runs.

Lisa Pelly, chair of the state's Fish and Wildlife Commission, said her group and the tribes will sit down this week to discuss re-writing the policy. "There are fundamental differences," she said, "but I hope we can develop some format to encapsulate the issues we agree on, and what we don't agree on."

She said she is optimistic about the outcome because Gov. Gary Locke has really "bought off" on the salmon issue and developed his Natural Resources cabinet to deal with it seriously. She also said the legislature has created a committee that studies ESA issues.

But Tulalip spokesman Williams said the process has caused real confusion among the tribes. One of the main difficulties in reaching tribal consensus, he said, comes from different priorities and ongoing litigation. Coastal tribes have different concerns from Puget Sound tribes, and they are now working through mediation to settle a court case (Hoh v. Baldridge) that will attempt to sort out their ocean and river harvest issues.

With coastal tribes working through a court-appointed forum, Pelly said she can see why the process is not easy. But she hoped a statewide policy could be developed that at least covered habitat and water issues, with harvest and hatchery issues to be dealt with between the tribes and the state later on.

NMFS regional director Will Stelle sent a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Department on Sept. 30 that commented on the initial draft EIS on salmon policy, but his remarks were sent long after the deadline. In fact, the final EIS had already been issued.

Stelle's more general remarks focused on the state's resolve to implement the program outlined in its preferred alternative. "Because both the authorities and capabilities in matters of fisheries management are shared between state and tribal authorities and the federal government, implementation will require a broad set of commitments among the three sovereigns," wrote Stelle. "And since habitat protection authorities are broadly disbursed among state, local, tribal and federal governments, implementation of a successful habitat regime will require a broad set of commitments from among many."

The tribes have made sure they will get more say in the final policy. In July, they issued a briefing paper that said an emphasis on harvest should be retained, noting that "maintaining the resource and providing harvest are equal and inseparable goals."

The paper said the issue takes on even more importance because of the prospect of being managed by federal authorities under the ESA, "which places a high priority on preserving the fish but has no provisions for restoring fisheries." The paper also highlighted growing public sentiment for a "preservationist approach" to natural resource management and less support for harvest. The tribes made it clear that preserving fish at existing levels without providing for fishing is unacceptable.

Overall, Pelly said she was optimistic about the outcome of the policy, but worried about the potential cost. She said it will be difficult to get the state to pay for habitat improvement because legislation has capped spending. But she looked to the process going forward in Oregon for guidance as that state begins to implement its own salmon restoration plan. "I hope we can learn from them and avoid their mistakes." -B.R.

[3] KITZHABER CALLS FOR NEW SALMON FORUM :: On Oct. 3, Gov. Kitzhaber of Oregon addressed the Portland City Club and called for development of a new salmon forum made up of the three regional sovereigns, the states, federal entities, and the tribes, with a goal "to keep control of the Columbia River power generation in the Northwest, and to keep power costs as low as possible. At the same time, we need to lay out the real costs of fish recovery and--as a society--make clear, responsible and accountable decisions about the recovery of Northwest salmon."

Kitzhaber said over the past 16 years the region has spent more than $3 billion on an effort to recover salmon, but aside from employing 2,000 people, the effort has shown few results. He noted that there is a lack of agreement on the objectives of the recovery effort, lack of agreement on sound science, and no common plan of action. Furthermore, no one is accountable. Kitzhaber's Plan proposes to resolve these questions.

Liz Hamilton, who represents the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, was an enthusiastic supporter of the speech. "Most of us felt as if we were dreaming to hear Kitzhaber's speech," she said. "There was nothing 'politically correct' about what he was saying, but it was mostly right on - more right on than any other leader in the Columbia right now."

Dan Rolff, co-director of the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center, had a different response. "The Governor stopped far short of actually pledging to do anything in the river to improve things for salmon," he said. "If Kitzhaber is our best hope, I'm not overly optimistic about the salmon's future."

Kitzhaber did note a conflict between tribal harvest expectations and saving endangered salmon. "The tribes have harvest as their primary interest and are less concerned with whether they harvest native fish or hatchery fish than with ensuring that their treaty rights are honored," he said in his speech. The governor felt that a paradox exists between the Endangered Species Act and the federal responsibility to the tribes under treaty agreements.

Though there is nothing in the treaty or in the legal interpretations of those treaties that denies the tribes from practicing sound science and carrying out conservation plans as co-managers of the salmon resource, the governor pushed the idea that a conflict exists between the ESA and tribal treaty fishing rights. He told his audience that honoring treaty rights and enforcing the Endangered Species Act may be mutually exclusive.

"While the recovery plan must be based on sound science," said Kitzhaber, "the implementation of that plan will be based on practical politics driven by economics. It is time to acknowledge that." -Bill Bakke

[4] BAD NEWS AT REDFISH LAKE :: Buoyed by the count of 26 sockeye past lower Snake River dams by the end of August, biologists were cautiously optimistic that it was the beginning of payoff time for the captive broodstock program for the endangered Redfish Lake sockeye. Alas, it was not to be. No fish have shown up at the lake, over 400 miles past their last concrete obstacle.

This has led some to speculate that they weren't bound for Redfish Lake to begin with. "It's nothing to be alarmed about," said Paul Kline of Idaho Fish and Game, who works with the captive broodstock program at Eagle Hatchery. He said the expected return ranged from zero to nine fish, based on the numbers of migrating juveniles in 1995.

Some now think the mysterious sockeyes observed at the Snake River dams were kokanee, flushed from Dworshak reservoir in 1995 during heavy rains, that made it downstream to the ocean. Several stray sockeye have been observed in other Idaho streams, spawning at a time when Dworshak fish usually do, but too early for Redfish Lake sockeye.

NMFS' Tom Flagg said any sockeye bound for Redfish Lake should be there by now. He's not hopeful any will appear, but next year could be a much different story. Based on 1996 migrants, Flagg said up to 60 adults may return to the lake in 1998 -B.R.

[5] ESA REFORM, WATER BILLS MOVE IN CONGRESS :: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed the bipartisan ESA reform legislation proposed recently by Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-ID). The 15-to-3 vote means the Endangered Species Recovery Act bill (S.1180) can move on to the full Senate.

The Clinton administration reportedly confirmed its support for the measure during the Sept. 30 markup session. And the ESA Recovery Act picked up a number of endorsements just prior to the committee vote. The National Governors Association and the Western Governors Association announced their support for the bill, as did the Endangered Species Coordinating Council and the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. So did the National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition, which is being represented by former Idaho Sen. Jim McClure, who helped draft the original ESA measure in 1973.

Kempthorne spokesman Mark Snider said the Environment and Public Works Committee hoped to submit its report on the bill by next week, so the Senate would have time to vote on the measure before the Nov. 7 end of the session. The measure would move to the House next year, Snider said.

The House approved a compromise 1998 energy and water appropriations budget. The agreement includes $95 million for the Columbia River fish mitigation program--$10 million more than that proposed by the House and $22 million less than the budget proposed by the Senate. In addition, conferees requested the Power Council, with assistance from the Independent Scientific Advisory Board and NMFS, conduct a review of the major fish mitigation capital construction projects proposed for the Columbia River System-- including those called for in NMFS' 1995 Biological Opinion on Snake River salmon. That study is due by June 30, 1998 and should be used by the Corps of Engineers in seeking regional recommendations as called for in BPA's Sept. 16, 1996 fish and wildlife MOA. The conferees also want the review sent to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

Conferees granted Bonneville $3.75 million in borrowing authority and commended the agency for its cost reduction efforts. At the same time, the committee directed BPA and the Power Council to prepare a report with specific recommendations for additional cost reductions in all of Bonneville's non-debt service spending. The report, to be submitted to the Senate and House Appropriations Committees by March 1, 1998, is to include consideration of "which current programs and functions Bonneville should continue to perform in a competitive market, and not focus merely on improved management efficiency." -Jude Noland

[6] FORMER IDAHO SENATOR FLOATS DAM BUYOUT IDEA :: It's still in the conceptual stage, but former Idaho Sen. Jim McClure thinks it's an idea with a great deal of merit that the region ought to discuss: formation of an organization similar to a public utility district, but comprised of the four Northwest states and the region's 13 Indian tribes, that would purchase and operate the federal hydro system on the lower Snake and Columbia Rivers. "It deserves consideration," McClure said. "It solves a lot of problems, but it creates a lot of problems, too."

McClure said he has mentioned the idea to Idaho's Congressional delegation. In addition, Idaho NW Power Council member Mike Field has been exploring it with his River Governance subcommittee of the Idaho Governor's Council on Hydroelectric and River Resources--of which McClure is chairman. "It's the kind of idea that should spark a lot of discussion," McClure said.

He brought it up most recently at an Oct. 1 meeting of the state legislative interim committee that's studying restructuring. Staffer Mike Nugent said the committee is still in the information-gathering stage and hasn't yet had time to discuss the idea. But he pointed out that McClure's proposal is similar in concept to a measure proposed by Sen. Laird Noh during Idaho's last legislative session, which would have authorized the state to form a domestic and rural power authority to own and operate Idaho hydro resources.

Field said his River Governance subcommittee is developing a strawman proposal that incorporates the concepts suggested by McClure. At this point, it involves formation of a public utility or power authority whose membership includes the four Northwest states and the region's 13 Indian tribes. The four states would each have a 20 percent ownership share in the new entity, while the 13 tribes would jointly own the remaining 20 percent. Together, they would purchase the hydro system on the Lower Snake and Lower Columbia River systems--"those dams that impact salmon," according to Field--along with Hungry Horse, Dworshak, Libby, Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph, and operate that system for the benefit of the region.

Field stressed that the buyout would not include any dams owned by investor-owned utilities--only federal and public utility dams. In addition, the proposal would only affect generation and "has nothing to do with transmission." The authority would assume the system's debt (including WPPSS) along with ownership and operation of the system, Field added.

McClure said to really manage the Columbia River system for the benefit of the people within the Northwest, the region ought to own the system. Under the current arrangement, interest groups that make demands on the system have nothing to lose, according to Field. "But if they're owners, they have responsibility as well," since they have to cover the costs of meeting any demands they approve.

"It evokes some real interest," McClure added, "but I have to be cautionary about it: it will be infinitely difficult to do." In addition, while the idea may be an answer to some of the region's problems with restructuring, it's not a short-term answer. "Anything like this is a long-term proposal," not something that can be accomplished next year. -J.N.

[7] CURRENT EL NINO KEEPS REGION IN HOT WATER :: At last week's presidential panel on global warming, Bill Clinton asked his hand-picked panel of climate experts the big question-whether El Ninos are increasing in frequency because of increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The answer was a collective "we don't know," but the panel did claim the frequency and intensity of the phenomenon seemed to be changing as greenhouse gases build.

But other scientists have looked at the variability of the sun for possible answers. Physicists Judith Lean and David Rind, in a recent paper, described problems with present climate models. "Ambiguities regarding projected greenhouse warming call in much the same way for clearer information regarding the role of the Sun, as a possibly important contributor to the current warming trend. Climate simulations using only greenhouse gas changes predict a warming that exceeds the 0.5C that is documented in the instrumental record of the past 140 years. To reconcile the difference between the observed and the predicted values, either the models are wrong or other, natural and anthropogenic forcings must be properly factored in."

Still, there's no doubt that the current ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) event is a humdinger with far-reaching effects on Pacific fisheries, both positive
Ocean sunfish caught during 1993 El Nino
in SE Alaska
and negative. Officials in Peru and Chile cut their anchovy seasons drastically, while thousands of miles to the north, US fishermen were unloading albacore in Kodiak, Alaska, caught only 1,200 miles south of the port.

The latest ENSO advisory, issued on Oct. 10, reports that strong warm episode conditions will continue into the March-May 1998 season. Rainfall is expected to be heavy throughout the winter in the southern US, but temperatures warmer than normal over the northern part of the country, from the Rockies to the Great Lakes.

Computer models are coming up with mixed messages. One shows El Nino conditions remaining in place off South America through next February, followed by a strong cold event in late 1998. An Australian model shows a peak this fall, with a return to normal by June, 1998 and below normal conditions by February, 1999.

Closer to home, the latest El Nino's effects on birds off the Washington coast appears to be nil. The water is still plenty warm, a second marlin was caught last week. Observations made this year at Tatoosh Island showed bird populations to be as high as any year in the 1990s, with no signs of starvation among chicks or adults, according to University of Washington researcher Julia Parrish. The birds are catching the same kinds of fish before the El Nino appeared, and with radio telemetry to track them, Parrish said they didn't seem to be flying more than seven to 10 km. for their meals, which indicates no lack of food. She said effects on bird populations by the El Nino may not show up until next year, but so far, the gulls, cormorants and common murres seem to be in good shape.

As for the fate of juvenile salmon who went to sea earlier this year, little can yet be determined. The wild salmon from Idaho that migrated last spring are the progeny of the unlucky 1993 migration that ran into thick schools of mackerel once they reached the ocean. The mackerel were there again this year, following the warm water up the coast all the way to the northern border between Alaska and BC, and in large enough numbers that Canadian trollers were targeting them, and freezing them at sea for a reported $2 a pound.

Dennis Smith of BC's provincial fisheries department said about 250,000 lb. of mackerel was caught commercially off their coast this year, mostly taken as bycatch by trawlers in the offshore hake fishery. Mackerel devastated juvenile chinook from some Vancouver Island hatchery releases in 1992 and 1993.

Smith said that predation by mackerel on young salmon didn't seem to be as bad in Vancouver Island's Barkeley Sound this year, except where the salmon were totally bottled up, such as the hatchery fish released at Ucluelet. "It was like shooting fish in a barrel, said Smith. "We may have to go to some form of transportation to get these hatchery salmon by them."

The province has put mackerel in the "developmental fishery" category, which has created a fair amount of interest. Smith said large schools of pilchard (Pacific sardines) have also appeared off the coast of BC and a commercial fishery may be developed for them as well.

But researcher Dan Ware, of the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, said these fish could disappear fast once the water cools down. Ware said that even though global mean temperatures have gone up .22 degrees C. above the 1961-1990 average, in 1996 extratropical areas of the northern hemisphere were actually cooler than normal for the first time since 1985.

Since 1957, Ware added, three El Ninos of the last six "have pretty much fizzled" as far as affecting the Northwest, including the 1972-73 warm episode, which has tracked pretty close with the present ENSO event. "It will be real interesting to see how this one plays out," said Ware. "It cranked up so fast, it pretty much caught everybody by surprise." -Bill Rudolph

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