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NWF.047/Nov.11.1997
[1] Latest Survival Research Highlighted at IT Meeting
[2] Yakamas Threaten Lawsuit Over Council's Project Review
[3] Congress Allocates Funds to Buy Elwha Dams
[4] NMFS Sued Over Late Call on Coastal Chinook
[5] Washington State Salmon Policy Passes Another Hurdle
[6] Water Temperature Workshop Focuses on Columbia
[7] Wild Fish Win One-PFMC Passes Reduced Coho Harvest Option
[8] El Nino Update



[1] LATEST SURVIVAL RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTED AT IT MEETING

Last week's Portland meeting of the Implementation Team (IT) was a dress rehearsal for the next session of the Executive Committee, when the region's top fish and hydro managers will get together at the end of the month for updates on fish survival studies, the Three Sovereigns process, cost issues and other matters.

The IT previewed most of this information and gave mid-level managers a chance to hear each other's good or bad news. The presentations revealed the essentially unresolved nature of the situation--on the one hand, the newest science shows that fish aren't surviving any better with higher flows; yet other parties are stumping for huge increases in flow for years to come.

New Questions Over Barging and Flow Augmentation

NMFS policy manager Brian Brown, who has moved up to Donna Darm's spot as point person on Columbia River salmon recovery at NMFS, said the two big issues facing the region are both related to steelhead. Now that stocks in both the Columbia and Snake are listed, decisions must be made whether to barge more fish in 1998 and/or raise flow levels in the mid-Columbia. He said they need to act soon, because 1998 measures will be finalized by next February in the NMFS steelhead BiOp.

Brown said he didn't expect flow targets in the Snake to change because of the steelhead listing, but mid-Columbia flows were not yet settled. The issue of increasing fish transportation will be addressed--the possibility of barging from McNary in the spring of 1998 will be referred to the Independent Scientific Advisory Board for a review of its scientific merit. (NMFS studies have shown for years that steelhead, of all the salmonids, show the most benefits from the transportation program). He said that the federal agency is developing a straw man proposal for 1998 operations that would provide salmon managers with a report of "where we are at NMFS."

Tracking the Decision Process

NMFS consultant Ed Sheets gave a heads-up on a relatively new entity called the Decision Process Coordination Group. Formerly called PATH/IT, the group is wrestling with the timelines of different processes that will be completed over the next few years. Dam modification recommendations, for instance, which are slated to be finalized by late 1999 or early 2000, must be coordinated with completion of the Water Resources Development Act by late 2001, a resolution of the next MOA, and finalized steelhead and bull trout recovery plans.

Sheets said that draft goals are coming out of the multi-year planning process. So far, he said the main thrust is on restoring sustainable, natural runs to harvestable levels and picking hydro system effects that help reach these goals.

To this end, Sheets said the group feels that recovery alternatives other than the two options (expanded transportation or Snake River to natural river) now being studied by regional policymakers should be examined in more detail. These five other alternatives range from a natural Snake River/John Day Pool to spillway crest scenario to a strategy that calls for returning only John Day Pool to a natural river level.

Sheets said that "some think to meet treaty obligations we have to go to higher levels of recovery" than current goals. A letter was distributed that expressed concerns from Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission executive director Ted Strong to NMFS regional director Will Stelle. Strong feels that the alternatives in the US Army Corps of Engineers feasibility study "are not consistent with restoring tribal fisheries." He requested that NMFS and other federal agencies meet with the tribes "government-to-government" to address these questions.

Sheets also updated progress on the Three Sovereigns process that is working on development of a new basinwide authority that would deal with all the questions of power, fish and wildlife restoration, dam relicensing and endangered species listings. Different workgroups are meeting to focus on four main issues--principles, governance, fish and wildlife costs, and cost recovery.

Sheets said that principles were being developed by Columbia Basin tribes. The governance group has completed a draft report that's out for comment with the intention of developing a unified basin-wide plan.

He reported that all parties--the feds, states and tribes-- have expressed a "real willingness to try to work something out, but it's still very much up in the air." One big question is what kind of representation will be acceptable to all the tribes in the region. By January, he said, "we'll get some overall principles to tie [the questions] together."

On the issue of fish and wildlife costs, Sheets said the multi-year implementation plan is the key to future costs. Though he admitted they were his own numbers, he said total F&W costs could be as high as $637 million annually from 2002-2008, after the current MOA runs out in 2001, with a low range around $484 million. The current cap is $435 million. According to Sheets, the lowest annual costs are associated with an expanded fish transportation option.

Preliminary Migration Data

Michelle DeHart of the Fish Passage Center gave the group a report with "preliminary" data on salmon migration data and how well juveniles fared during the huge spill episodes last spring. She said that 51,000 juvenile salmon and steelhead had been examined for symptoms of gas bubble disease and only 4.9 percent had signs. The ISAB will be reviewing the biological monitoring program and its validity as part of a larger look at the Corps' gas abatement program, called DGAS.

DeHart said that 55 percent of the wild spring chinook and 50 percent of hatchery spring chinook in the Snake River were transported in 1997. Sixty-four percent of the wild steelhead went to sea by barge, along with 57 percent of hatchery steelhead.

1997 PIT-Tags Show No Flow/ Survival Link

The big water year may not have been as good for inriver fish as years with more moderate flows. NMFS researcher Steve Smith gave the group an update on PIT-tag survival data in the Snake. "It was a good year for water, but not for survival estimates," he told members.

The problem was a limited database: there were fewer yearling chinook in the river this year, and smaller numbers of detected fish were barged because high spill kept them from being routed through bypass systems.

As for yearling chinook, he said in-river survival was less this year than either 1995 or 1996. Steelhead survived better in 1995 than the last two years as well. He said it looked like survival from Lower Granite to hatcheries was lower in 1997 than the previous two years, too.

He reported that PIT-tag research at Little Goose Dam correlated almost perfectly with balloon-tag data on steelhead, where fish were released at various places in the dam forebay and recovered a few minutes later in the tailrace. Results showed that juvenile survival for steelhead was 100 percent at spillways without deflectors to reduce gas supersaturation, but when the fish passed spillways with deflectors already installed, it was another story--survival decreased into a range of 93 to 97 percent. Smith said turbine and bypass survivals were within the same range.

Smith said that PIT-tagged steelhead, which have shown a strong relationship with flow and travel time for the past two years, did not exhibit the same behavior in 1997. They did not travel any faster downriver despite higher flows than last year. He also said studies of 1997 PIT-tagged fish did not exhibit any relationship between flow and survival; similar results were obtained the previous two years.

Smith said that flow and travel time of the fish "always seems to correlate, but not with survival." As for a relationship between flow and survival, "If there is one, it's not very strong."

The NMFS researcher told IT members that the University of Washington's CRiSP salmon passage model has come up with similar results. Some observers at the meeting felt that the "caveats" of the research should be emphasized, reflecting the small numbers of detections this year and the limited part of the river studied.

Later on, some discussion was held about an ISAB review of barging more fish, including steelhead, next year. Tony Nigro, of Oregon Fish and Wildlife, objected to the fact that barging studies do not show adult survival to spawning beds, but only to the last dam where they were tallied. But NMFS' Mike Schiewe countered his remarks by saying the experiments were designed to get the best information they could, and there was no sense in asking for something that wasn't there. (Later, other NMFS sources said that Idaho officials have admitted there is no evidence that fish are somehow losing their homing instinct from the barging process. Dam to spawning beds conversion rates are the same as they were before the barging program started).

A report from BPA on 1997 economic costs of the fish and wildlife program was panned by several members because it did not contain any numbers at all. The agency had to buy power for a time because it had oversold contracts during last spring's hectic flow and spill program. BPA's Dan Daley said the agency was still churning out cost estimates, but they won't even be available when the Executive Committee meets Nov. 21 in Portland.

But NMFS' Brian Brown said it was important for agency managers to know the costs. For now, he said they will stay with the $180 million annual cost, since it's based on the past 50 years' worth of operations data. Daley told the IT that BPA is working with the Council to come up with an accounting system that's accepted by all agencies in the region and should have something by January or February, with an interim estimate possibly sooner than that. -Bill Rudolph



[2] YAKAMAS THREATEN LAWSUIT OVER PROJECT REVIEW

The Yakama Nation has announced it will take legal action against the Power Council for halting tribal fish projects. The projects have been deferred pending an upcoming scientific review of every fish and wildlife proposal in the Council's budget, including tribal programs.

But the Yakamas said that state programs were only looking at a $2 million to $3 million reduction, while they are faced with $30 million in proposed cuts. A recent letter from the Power Council to CRITFC executive director Ted Strong was careful to point out that these deferrals were not cuts. To that issue, the Council wrote, "Your letter also implies that the deferred or conditioned funding has been lost or, if not lost, will unduly disrupt implementation of tribal projects. Deferred or conditioned funding has not been lost or reallocated. The funding amounts associated with tribal habitat and production projects have not been reallocated, for example, only reserved pending review."

The Yakama Nation doesn't see it that way. "To terminate or postpone tribal hatchery plans and habitat restoration projects is discriminatory," said Ross Sockzehigh, Yakama tribal chairman. "Not only will the salmon lose, but the entire Northwest will lose."

The tribe's complaints echoed Strong's Oct. 7 letter, which charged the Council had failed to comply with the Northwest Power Act and the Fish Cap MOA, and violated a 1994 Ninth Circuit decision that requires "high deference" to tribal program recommendations. But observers say the Ninth Circuit decision involved the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program, not the prioritization process that began under last year's amendment to the Power Act sponsored by Sen. Slade Gorton. However, tribal attorney Tim Weaver said "that deference is required because of Congressional recognition of the validity of tribal scientific staff."

According to the statement by the Yakamas, the Council's advice to "slice" tribal programs is not based on science but on "faulty" policy judgments. "The tribe has a vision for salmon restoration and a state-of-the-art scientific plan to carry it out," said Sockzehigh. "NWPPC budget cuts ignore tribal science, which is acknowledged as being the best in the Columbia Basin."

Yakama fisheries manager Lynn Hatcher questioned the "layers of review" faced by tribal programs. "Over the years," said Hatcher, "the tribes have given up several fisheries to help the fish. Now it is time for funding tribal projects to help rebuild those runs."

The Yakama statement pointed out that tribal hatchery programs were scientifically scrutinized for years before they were approved, and now face a lack of funding, while state programs with no scrutiny have maintained their budgets. Sockzehigh pulled no punches in his remarks. "As the NWPPC is composed of state-appointed representatives," he said, "one wonders if it is actually science or self-interest that drives their decisions."

The Council has not yet seen anything official regarding the threatened action, but it's expected that the lawsuit will be filed by the middle of November, with other lower river tribes joining in. It was reported that tribal authorities have told Nez Perce fishery managers not to cooperate with Council staff, but Council member Mike Field of Idaho was upbeat. While he was not pleased with the potential Yakama action, he said the Three Sovereigns talks were proceeding. "It's a totally different process," said Field. Though he admitted that some felt the Yakama lawsuit would color the river governance talks, he didn't think it would have any effect at all. "If anything, the Three Sovereigns talks should help to defuse the process." -B.R.



[3] INTERIOR BUDGET INCLUDES FUNDS TO BUY ELWHA DAMS

Money to purchase two dams on the Elwha River is included in the Department of the Interior's budget now waiting to be signed by President Clinton. Kay Gabriel, spokesperson for Sen. Slade Gorton(R-WA), said her boss added $18 million to Interior's budget to purchase the privately owned dams. Gorton is chairman of the Interior subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The money comes out of the $860 million pot in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which had $300 million in unspent funds available. Some environmental groups have urged Clinton not to sign the $13.8 billion budget bill because of other issues related to the Northwest Forest Plan and log exports.

Once the federal government owns the dams, Gorton is expected to introduce legislation to allow removal of the lower Elwha dam followed by 12 years of studying the impacts of removal before going ahead with of the other dam, eight miles upriver. Taking out the upper dam would open up most of the 236-mile watershed to spawning salmon.

Before that happens, Gorton plans on writing statutory legislation that will require Congress to approve removal of any dam. Once that passes, Gabriel said Gorton would be willing to look at the actual cost of removing the lower dam. Over the years, such estimates have ranged from $60 to $200 million, depending on whether the studies included one or both dams.

But Brian Winter, Elwha project leader at Olympic National Park, said Gorton's proposal would take longer, cost more, and force the Elwha to take "two environmental hits" rather than one. Winter said that taking out the lower dam first was part of an alternative already rejected in the environmental impact statement because it would subject the lower river to massive sediment loads twice rather than once, if both dams were removed simultaneously. Most of the sediment is behind the upper dam, so the second flush would do the most damage.

Winter said that just removing the lower dam wouldn't do much for improving fish numbers, either. He said it would add up to 30,000 more salmon, and that was a liberal estimate. Taking out the upper dam, on the other hand, new spawning habitat would be available to eventually add more than 350,000 more salmon.

He said Gorton's proposal would cost more as well. Adding 12 years worth of study and then removing the upper dam would cost around $140 million (1995 dollars), said Winter. Taking out both dams at once would take about $113 million (1995 dollars).

To get an idea of the scope of the sediment problem, Winter said about 18 million cubic yards of sediment is trapped behind the two dams. In the Toutle River, near Mt. Saint Helens, about 3 billion yards of sediment has washed downstream since the mountain erupted. Winter said it took only a couple of years before steelhead were re-colonizing the Toutle. -B.R.



[4] NMFS SUED OVER LATE CALLS ON COASTAL CHINOOK

Environmental and fishing groups have sued the National Marine Fisheries Service because the federal agency has passed deadlines for pronouncing judgment on the fate of coastal chinook stocks. NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman said the government is two years late coming to a decision, but expects an announcement in January.

The original petition, which said that spring and summer chinook are already extinct in over 60 percent of their historic range, was filed nearly two years ago by the Oregon Natural Resources Council. It called for protection of 197 chinook stocks in the western US. Since then, NMFS has developed more than a dozen evolutionarily significant units (ESUs) to review the status of the chinook stocks.

"Under the deadlines proposed by law," said Earthjustice Legal Fund lawyer Amy Sinden, "the protections of the Endangered Species Act should have been in place nine months ago. Because of the government's disregard for the law, the chinook remain unprotected and vulnerable to extinction." Sinden said they were putting NMFS' feet to the fire, to ensure they act soon.

Commercial fisherman Pete Knutson, representing the Puget Sound Gillnetters Association, said "chinook runs are in big trouble up and down the Pacific coast. The chinook are critical to the Pacific salmon fishing industry--if their populations continue to whither, the local fishing industry will follow."

Besides the gillnetters, plaintiffs include the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, Oregon Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers, California Sportsfishing Protection Alliance, The Bay Institute, and the Oregon Natural Resources Defense Counsel. -B.R.



[5] WASHINGTON SALMON POLICY PASSES ANOTHER HURDLE

Last week, Washington tribes and state officials hammered out the last major details of a new wild salmonid policy. The next step requires 20 tribes as well as the governor's office, to each endorse the new policy.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and state fisheries officials played major roles in brokering the agreement with members of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. The Fish and Wildlife Commission expects to approve the policy on Dec. 5.

A major sticking point proved to be how spawning salmon would be counted towards escapement goals in streams--Tribes wanted to count hatchery fish coming back to a stream as part of the wild run if they were genetically equivalent, but state officials would not budge on the issue. Counting hatchery fish as part of a stream's spawning escapement
Puget Sound gillnetter at Point Roberts in the 1950s.
could allow a higher level of harvest than the stricter approach favored by the state.

WDFW spokesman Steve Phelps said the trouble with counting hatchery fish is that they may return to their stream of origin, but will not necessarily spawn where wild fish do. At one point in the discussions, the tribes suggested having two hatchery fish count as the equivalent as one wild spawner, but that wasn't acceptable to the state, either.

Phelps said ultimately, both sides deferred on the matter. He said every stream and every tribe would have to be dealt with on an individual basis, but the state will use the stricter policy in waters where management responsibilities are not shared with the tribes.

The state policy is not expected to head off a federal listing for Puget Sound chinook--NMFS has promised an announcement by next January--and it remains to be seen how the feds will react to the joint state policy. Phelps said NMFS has only counted hatchery fish as "wild" if they not only have the same genetic makeup, but have also proved successful at spawning in the wild. He said NMFS calls this a "naturally" spawning fish as opposed to a truly "wild" one.

Another factor that may confound the situation is that the federal government has agreed that tribal restoration plans may substitute for ESA recovery mandates on tribal lands.

The latest version of the proposed state policy can be obtained by contacting Steve Phelps at wildsal@dfw.gov. -B.R.



[6] WATER TEMPERATURE WORKSHOP FOCUSES ON COLUMBIA

By leading a water temperature workshop last week in Portland, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency entered discussions about Columbia River salmon recovery in a big way.

Chuck Clark of EPA opened the workshop. "The ESA listing of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake rivers is a sign of failure to do a good job setting standards that support a healthy ecosystem," he said, "The EPA has had four water quality lawsuits brought against it in the four Northwest states and lost them all. This tells me we are not doing our job." Clark encouraged the participants, mostly scientists, to create a small box for decision makers, so they have less flexibility and room to maneuver.

Many participants were pleased that EPA has finally stepped into the Columbia River to test the water, because they see the Clean Water Act as a powerful tool that can used to help solve ecological problems for native salmon.

Mel Karr of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission presented data that showed natural stream temperatures compared to a stream controlled by upstream reservoirs. The natural stream is cooler in the spring, and may reach a higher peak temperature in summer, but cools faster in the autumn. It is more variable all year long than a stream influenced by a reservoir upstream. Native salmonids are adapted to the natural river and do poorly in a controlled river that has an overall warmer flow throughout the year. He used the example of the Snake River (controlled) and the Salmon River (natural).

ISAB member Dr. Charles Coutant noted that salmon are weakened by high temperatures, but die of other causes such as disease and predation. Temperature overdoses are cumulative and can result in delayed mortality even when fish are returned to cool waters.

Sally Sauter of the US Geological Survey made a very clear statement about smolt response to temperature. She said salmon experience thermal shock at 68 degrees F. and die when the temperature reaches 75 degrees. This summer, water in the Columbia River reached a high of 72 degrees for several weeks. The Oregon standard for Columbia River surface temperature is an upper limit of 68 degrees. However, the optimum water temperature for salmon, trout, and steelhead is from 45 to 60 degrees.

There is strong evidence that the Columbia River and its tributaries, especially the Snake, have become hotter since the 1950s. Don Martin of EPA told the group that "we are not providing the temperature conditions endangered populations of salmonids require to be recovered to a healthy condition. The water temperature criteria is not being implemented by EPA." Martin advised the group to get the science aligned and develop "biologically-based criteria."

Workshop participants developed priorities, which included: enforcing existing laws; removing the dams; improving coordination, enforcement, and information flow, and finding ways to break through agency "turf." -Bill Bakke



[7] WILD FISH WIN ONE-- PFMC PASSES REDUCED HARVEST OPTION FOR COHO

At last week's Portland meeting of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, members battled over two options to a proposed harvest measure called Amendment 13. One version, called the" Go Fishing Option," was advanced by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and called for a higher harvest on coho stocks when their populations reached 50% of the rebuilding goal. The other option would keep fisheries impacts low until coho reached full seeding abundance.

California delegates did not favor Amendment 13 because, it would cost fishery reductions. The measure failed on the first vote. Voting was then reopened and a motion to adopt the full seeding option failed for lack of a "second." With the states unwilling to commit to full protection for wild coho, a compromise was worked out and adopted by Council members. The agreement will hold wild coho harvest to a level of 10 to13 percent for the next three years, and calls for a complete risk analysis of the amendment and its full scientific evaluation before adoption.

But the exercise shows that the PFMC was prepared to ignore the conclusions of its two scientific committees, which had both rejected option one as proposed by ODFW harvest management staff and supported by Ore. Gov. Kitzhaber.

Oregon PFMC member Hans Radtke said he was told the Governor's office was not happy with the way he was voting, but Radtke replied that he was following the science.

Roy Hemmingway, the Oregon governor's salmon advisor, confirmed that his boss was not happy with Radtke's vote. Hemmingway said Kitzhaber's coho plan is constructed around option one and he wanted it to be adopted by the PFMC.

But Radtke said, "I am pleased to have assurance from the National Marine Fisheries Service that they will support full seeding for wild coho salmon over the next three years and a full review by scientists before opening a fishery."

Paul Engelmeyer of Yachats a member of PFMC's salmon panel, said "getting a discussion going on full seeding is important and a major step forward for the Council. We have set the tone about discussion on full seeding and coho salmon recovery for the whole coast. I consider this a victory for wild fish." -B.B.



[8] SEATTLE SETS RECORD-- EL NINO UPDATE

The latest advisory from the Climate Prediction Center says model forecasts indicate that strong warm episode conditions will continue through February and April of next year. The advisory cautions that smaller differences from normal conditions expected next spring don't mean the El Nino has weakened, but simply shows a seasonal function in the tropical eastern Pacific.

Models predict a greater area of sea surface temperatures above 28 degrees C. next spring than was evident early last winter. By May, temperature anomalies should begin an "accelerated decrease."

Forecasters are still calling for wetter-than normal conditions over California and the US southern tier, with warmer-than- normal conditions along the northern tier. A reality check found Seattle basking in sunshine on Nov. 9, with the temperature at 63 degrees, setting a record for the date. The previous record was 61 degrees in 1953. -Bill Rudolph

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