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[1] NMFS Takes Issue With BPA's Low-Flow River Option
[2] Council Ends Year On Confused Note
[3] Scientists to Review Columbia River Hatcheries
[4] Protection Sought for Bonneville Hatchery Strays
[5] NWPPC's Casavant Announces Resignation
[6] Judge Orders USFWS to Reconsider ESA Listing For All Bull Trout
[7] WA's F&W Commission Adopts Wild Salmonid Policy



In a letter to acting BPA administrator Jack Robertson, NMFS regional administrator Will Stelle said he was "very troubled" that the power agency had funded presentation of a "reduced flow" option at a Spokane workshop. The Nov. 17 meeting brought together many regional interests to discuss potential costs of the BPA fish and wildlife program.

But Stelle said the power agency represented the low-flow option as merely part of the regional views "that deserved a full airing and was not associated with BPA." Stelle said BPA previously agreed that it wouldn't be affiliated with the type of exercise that presented options "that were not consistent with federal law."

Consultant Darryll Olsen made the Spokane presentation of the low-flow option, which was developed with the consulting firm Harza Northwest and Columbia Basin Research at the University of Washington.

Their analysis found an annual saving to BPA of $40 million to $60 million a year if flow augmentation is reduced and a full transport strategy of juvenile salmon in the basin is adopted, along with cutting some capital improvements at dams. Based on NMFS survival studies, Olsen said the combination would put overall juvenile survival to the estuary at around 60 percent.

But Stelle said Olsen had misinterpreted the NMFS data, pointing out that studies with fall chinook show a strong correlation between flow and survival from below Hells Canyon to Lower Granite Dam. He said that recent survival data is more complicated for spring and summer chinook, with a positive correlation between flow and survival when several years' data is lumped together, but no consistent correlation with individual years.

"None of these data suggests NMFS should reduce flow targets," Stelle wrote. "Indeed, the information from the fall chinook studies indicates failure to meet currently designated flow objective volumes may reduce the survival of summer-migrating smolts." One of Olsen's main points was that the high flows NMFS was asking for had very limited survival benefits.

Stelle said "it is not helpful to have BPA quietly funding alternative reviews and then floating them publicly through third parties. I recall your [Robinson's] admonition in our recent meeting for all of the federal agencies to avoid surprises. I concur."

BPA was working on a response to Stelle's letter, but it was not expected until the end of the week.

On Dec. 12, consultant Olsen said that "Mr. Stelle is well aware that the NMFS studies were not misrepresented at the Spokane workshop and that such workshops are an appropriate setting to present alternatives to existing river system operations. Mr. Stelle will have to decide whether he offers the region constructive leadership in the year ahead, as the review of the existing flow augmentation program will come forward in several technical and policy forums."

A recent report completed for BPA by consultants from BioAnalysts, Inc. of Boise, Idaho has taken a hard look at the strategy of flow augmentation in the Snake, and has found limitations with the "ability to translate smolt migration speed into predictions of smolt passage survival." They looked at a model developed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, which showed larger reductions in travel time for fall chinook with higher flows compared to the U.W. salmon passage model. The USFWS model predicted a 19-45 percent reduction in travel time over the years 1991-1995 from flow augmentation, but the consultants report that later versions of the model indicate no association between flow and travel time."No consistent characterization describing fall chinook migratory responses to environmental conditions has yet been adopted," the report said.

The consultants said they would have preferred another tool for comparison with the U.W.'s CRiSP passage model, but none is available. The report said the U.W. model showed that flow augmentation increased spring chinook survival from the head of Lower Granite Reservoir in a range of 0.5 to 3 percent. For fall chinook the improvement ranged from 0.5 to 2 percent.

The report also stated that current flow augmentation volumes "cannot regularly contribute sufficiently to achieve the NMFS flow targets. With water being limited, the consultants suggested it may be better to provide flow targets when ESA stocks are passing through the system, rather than augmenting flows when few fish are taking advantage of them. They said in 1992 none of the ESA stocks passed Lower Granite when the flow targets were being met, and in 1994 "few to none" of the ESA stocks encountered the flow targets. -Bill Rudolph


Last week's Portland meeting of the Northwest Power Planning Council turned into a therapy session when members admitted they were confused by the direction, or lack of it, their staff had taken in developing the framework for the Council's fish and wildlife program.

On a more constructive note, council members reviewed drafts of proposed reviews for hatchery programs and future spending on fish passage facilities at the dams, heard a presentation by biologists that took a dim view of much high-cost habitat restoration, and OK'd spending for conservation rights to protect spawning areas for summer chinook in Idaho.

Washington member Ken Casavant also announced he did not wish to serve another term on the Council when his appointment ends in January (See story 4.)

Confusion developed over discussion of a schedule the council approved last month that calls for developing a scientific foundation for the F&W program by next April. The Council would then accept recommendations for amendments, with a final decision on the amended program by the summer of 1999. But questions remained whether the new framework would have to be formally adopted as an amendment to the present F&W program before the process could continue. Another option would be to develop the new framework while amendments were accepted, which would then serve as a kind of straw man process.

Admitted Lack of Direction

Jack Wong, the Council's F&W program director, said his staff has been suffering from a lack of direction. But he told Council members they "were doing what we thought you wanted...we are talking about a whole new fish and wildlife program." Senior counsel John Shurts said they were looking for guidance.

Oregon council member John Brogoitti was blunt. "The Council needs to take the bull by the horns, and tell the staff which way we want to go," he said. "We're flailing around."

Montana representative Stan Grace asked if the Council was following the independent scientists' recommendation to adopt a conceptual foundation. Wong responded by saying the scientific foundation "was not as contentious as you'd think," but he was contradicted by staff scientist Chip McConnaha, who said contention over the science shouldn't be downplayed. Shurts agreed that consensus on the science may not be reached.

But April 1998 remained the target date for a draft of the scientific foundation, with rulemaking scheduled to be completed between March and May of 1999.

At this point, Idaho Council member Todd Maddock said he didn't really understand what was going on. "Maybe we need Rulemaking 101."

Shurts explained the staff was developing a core set of principles, but Oregon's Brogoitti had had enough. "This whole discussion is proving my point," he said. "We don't know what we're doing."

Maddock said the Council should look into the legal restraints imposed by the Power Act. Wong suggested scheduling a discussion between the staff and Council members to satisfy their concerns.

Later, Council chair John Etchart stressed the importance of "getting this right," since the major salmon studies of the past few years have all indicated that a coherent science-based plan must be in place for salmon recovery to succeed.

The independent scientists who wrote the latest report, Return to the River, have suggested using their own conceptual foundation, which included the "normative river" concept, to serve as the basis for the fish and wildlife program's framework. But Idaho Council member Mike Field said it was important to use only peer-reviewed science as a basis. Some of the elements in Return to the River have not received such scrutiny, said Field. He could not accept them as part of the framework unless they are reviewed and accepted by the scientific community.

Upcoming Reviews of Hatcheries and Corps Projects

The Council also heard from staff on development of upcoming scientific reviews of Columbia Basin fish hatcheries and Corps of Engineers' fish passage projects. The interaction of wild and hatchery salmon is an issue that will be addressed, and other regional interests are concerned that money is being wasted on expensive dam modifications that do little to improve fish passage.

In the hatchery arena, staff proposed the scientific analysis of hatcheries be conducted by five scientists, three who serve on the Independent Scientific Advisory Board and two other members acceptable to them. Staff itself would perform tasks of a more inventory-like nature to speed the review, which Congress mandated must be finished by next June.

The review of mainstem passage facilities, another study mandated by Congress, is scheduled to be completed by June 30 as well. Its purpose is to look at multiple strategies to determine whether some of them could be modified or eliminated for technical reasons. It will most likely focus on several proposed projects: extended-length screens at John Day; further development and testing of the surface collector at Lower Granite; juvenile bypass improvements at Bonneville Dam, including the relocation of the bypass outfall; and the dissolved gas abatement program. The ISAB will conduct the review, but questions of policy in both studies will be addressed by the Council.

Three Sovereigns Update

An update on the Three Sovereigns Process was delivered by Council attorney John Volkman, who discussed the preliminary draft of a memorandum of agreement that mapped out potential makeup, scope, and implementation of the process. Volkman said the process is being created to ensure that nobody in the region loses authority, and it "tries to be a serious process and not just jawboning." The draft document calls for development of a unified plan for rehabilitation of the Columbia Basin ecosystem.

But Idaho Council member Mike Field stressed that the river governance subgroup had not yet provided input, so the document's usefulness was extremely limited. Field said the draft seemed to be creating another entity with functions similar to the Power Council's. "I don't want to see two Power Councils in the region," said the Idaho representative.

But Washington council member Ken Casavant said "We've done the right thing," referring to inclusion of all three parties-- the feds, the states, and the tribes-- in the future decision-making process, rather than just the four states. Council chair Etchart, however, was cautious. "It goes in so many directions--if this is the product," he said, "its sheer breadth is going to be a problem."

High-Ticket Habitat Restoration Questioned

The Council was receptive to a presentation on ecosystem restoration by two Oregon State University scientists. Dr. J. Boone Kauffman told the Council it is impossible to "exactly recreate" a complex ecosystem, and the best to hope for is some potential natural system.

"Where's all the proof that restoration works?" Kauffman asked. "We really haven't got much because of the time frame." Kauffman said a study comparing managed and unmanaged riparian systems has concluded that unmanaged systems were much better off when it came to increasing number of pools per mile.

Dr. Robert Beschta said there needs to be a better understanding of the link between riparian and aquatic habitats. Beschta said the large structures constructed to create pools in streams don't really occur in natural settings. He said the high cost of such strategies, on the order of $1 million per mile, could pay for fencing out livestock on a hundred miles of streams. Both men said such low-cost strategies continually amaze ranchers because habitat rebuilds so quickly on its own from such simple methods. "But it doesn't have the pizzazz that active restoration does," said Beschta.

A discussion of the US v. Oregon case was canceled because staff was unable to receive tribal input in time. It was rescheduled for the January council meeting. When Etchart asked if the tribes' reluctance to take part was symptomatic of the tensions between the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and the Council, senior counsel John Shurts said, "yes." The tribes recently announced they will sue the Council, which has delayed funding for some fish and wildlife projects pending further review. Clearly dismayed, Etchart said he didn't know if that was very helpful.

In one of their last actions of the year, Council members gave two Northwest couples a great Christmas present when they voted to spend $450,000 for conservation rights to 94 acres of their land in Idaho to preserve spawning habitat for summer chinook. -B.R.


The level of controversy is increasing as the Power Council moves closer to a comprehensive review of all Columbia River hatcheries and their effect on the wild, native salmon of the basin. The Council's fish and wildlife program called for such a review in its 1994 salmon recovery program. Fish agencies and tribes responded with a study that took about five years and cost $1.5 million--and that was rejected as incomplete by scientist/reviewers, including the Independent Scientific Advisory Board.

In 1997 Congress also asked for a review of federal hatcheries on the Columbia, which has led to the proposed review and the Council's deferral of hatchery development funding until the review is completed next summer.

The scientific literature is clear about the risks hatcheries create for native salmonids and the contribution they make to declining salmon runs. A recent paper by Reginald Reisenbichler,of the National Biological Service, called "Genetic Factors Contributing to Declines of Anadromous Salmonids in the Pacific Northwest" (Chapman and Hall 1997), addresses this issue.

Reisenbichler describes the problem: "...gene flow from hatchery to wild fish populations...is deleterious because hatchery populations genetically adapt to the unnatural conditions of the hatchery environment at the expense of adaptation for living in natural streams.

"Any serious attempt to maintain or increase sustainable production of an anadromous salmonid species requires maintenance of the specie's genetic diversity," he wrote, pointing out that "existing data and population genetics theory strongly suggests that genetic change has reduced the productivity of salmon and steelhead populations."

Yet tribal leaders continue to advocate the use of hatcheries to restore wild salmon. Antone C. Minthorn, Chairman of the Umatilla Tribal Council, said in a Dec. 14 letter to The Oregonian, "The tribes propose to use hatcheries as a tool to integrate with, and assist, depressed natural production, thereby providing abundant, naturally producing fish and harvestable levels. It can be done."

Minthorn points to the success of reintroducing chinook salmon into the Umatilla River to support his claim. The use of hatcheries to supplement wild salmon and steelhead populations is the cornerstone of the tribal salmon recovery plan.

But Reisenbichler points to studies that show "egg-to-smolt survival for naturally rearing fish may be halved after only two generations in the hatchery. If the decline in fitness for natural rearing is of this magnitude, the likelihood of success for supplementation programs may be very low."

Adult returns from hatchery smolt releases are expected and most commercial fisheries, including those conducted by the tribes, count on this for their catches. However, when hatchery adults return and spawn in natural surroundings, their ability to produce the next generation of adult spawners is poor. An ongoing 20-year study on the Kalama River in Washington state has shown that it takes 10 hatchery adults to get as many adult progeny as those produced by two wild spawners. This research found that while hatchery spawners produced nearly 55 percent of the juvenile fish, the returning adult spawners were zero.

Based on this information Dan Rawding of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said, "We cannot rebuild wild runs with our hatchery programs."

Using hatchery fish to restore wild runs is experimental, requiring scientific evaluation to determine if it is successful and under what conditions it can be successful. This is one of the main reasons for the upcoming review of the basin's hatchery programs.

If hatcheries interfere with the biological diversity of wild salmon populations, their effect is to contribute to salmon decline. The hatchery program consumes 40 percent of the Power Council's funding, the single largest dedication of funds in the fish recovery program.

"Two strategies are available for reducing the deleterious genetic effects from hatchery fish interbreeding with wild fish," Reisenbichler concludes. "(1) reduce the amount of interbreeding, or (2) reduce the genetic differences between hatchery and wild fish before interbreeding."

In the early 1960s an angler and naturalist from British Columbia, Roderick Haig-Brown, made a comment that is still echoing throughout the Pacific Northwest. "Hatcheries are the easy way, the politically successful way,".He said. "Dependence on hatcheries reduces the will to attack and solve the real problems of natural production and absorbs far too much money that otherwise might be directed to these ends." -Bill Bakke


Regional resource managers are wrestling with a population of stray hatchery fish that have taken up residence below Bonneville Dam. Columbia Basin salmon managers have requested a minimum flow at the dam that would keep the salmon redds covered through next May, but it's a strategy that could cost BPA up to $20 million. It all depends on the weather, said BPA's Robyn MacKay.

Until now, BPA hasn't done anything special for these fish and they seem to have thrived.

The colony of fall chinook originally came from Bonneville hatchery. First noticed in 1993, it has now reached a population of 3,000 to 5,000 fish. The fish are using gravel beds to spawn on the Washington side of the river near Hamilton Creek and Ives Island. Tagged fish found there in previous years were upriver brights that had come from the Bonneville hatchery.

Salmon managers requested a 128.5 kcfs minimum instantaneous flow to protect the incubating eggs until the end of next May, but action agencies didn't reach agreement on that at last week's TMT meeting. A Dec. 4 conference call among policymakers on the Implementation Team settled the matter for now, when BPA agreed to the flow request "as long as the economic pain isn't too great," said BPA's Greg Delwiche. Delwiche told the IT that BPA would try to isolate hydro impacts to Bonneville.

Brian Brown of NMFS made it clear the matter was not linked to the BiOp and had nothing to do with ESA-listed fish, though his agency did support the request. Next spring, the strategy could affect BiOp flows, but the request stated specifically that lower Columbia River projects be used to meet flow requirements.

Delwiche said BPA could lose up to $1 million a week to provide the needed flows, especially during weekends when power demands are lower and the agency has more surplus to sell. When he asked for information about biological impacts on the redds for different flows, Fred Olney of USDFW said his staff was limited, and "we'd like to do more."

But fish managers figured that flows below 118 kcfs would expose gravel where the fish are spawning, and a rough estimate indicated reducing flow to around 100 kcfs would cut off the channel where the redds are located. Keeping the flows about 128.5 kcfs would maintain six inches of water over the shallowest redds, they said.

Michelle DeHart of the Fish Passage Center reminded the group that besides economic arguments, they should consider the fact that there are not a lot of mainstem spawning areas left in the system. Tony Nigro of ODFW said the salmon managers would consider the loss of one redd "significant."

But spawning surveys were sketchy at best, and the managers said they estimated reducing flow to 120 percent would leave about 27 percent of the gravel, what they called the "wetted perimeter," uncovered. It was really unknown how much of the wetted area was being used for spawning, though one biologist said the entire area was pretty much solid redds.

Jim Nielsen from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife agreed that the fish came originally from Bonneville hatchery. But over 900 carcasses were examined this fall, and none showed evidence of coming from a hatchery, Nielsen said, which means "the stock is now a naturally spawning population."

A WDFW report published last April said the fish were discovered by accident in November 1993, when two state fishery employees were sturgeon fishing in the area and noticed two salmon carcasses floating in the river. Studies since then have estimated that over 5,000 fish spawned there in 1996, but "efforts to count redds have been largely unsuccessful: the water is too deep and redds too dark."

Meanwhile, BPA and the Corps of Engineers said they will work together to keep hydro impacts on the rest of the system to a minimum. The Corps' Cindy Henriksen said they would take it on a "week-by-week" basis, and Delwiche assured IT members that BPA would make their best effort, alerting fish managers if economic costs made it necessary to re-address the issue.

A preliminary analysis showed that the agencies had a 15 percent chance of not meeting a monthly flow average of 130 kcfs at Bonneville if faced with poor water conditions in late February. Delwiche said that the agency, on its own, had imposed a minimum flow of 100 kcfs to protect the fish over Thanksgiving. -Bill Rudolph


Eastern Washington Power Planning Council member Ken Casavant announced his resignation last week. In a letter, Casavant asked Washington Gov. Gary Locke not to consider reappointing him. "I have decided to give my family the only Christmas present they requested, my release from the commitments of the Northwest Power Planning Council," Casavant wrote.

Casavant was appointed to the Council by Gov. Mike Lowry in 1994. He said he would return to teaching and research at Washington State University--"my home for almost 30 years"--from which he obtained a Ph.D. in agricultural economics. He said his experiences on the Council "will be an important part of my future writings and professional activities" at WSU. -Ben Tansey


A Portland federal judge has ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to once again consider ESA listing for bull trout throughout its range. The feds had warranted Columbia and Klamath basin bull trout for listing, but decided three other populations were not warranted.

Federal district court judge Robert Jones found on Dec. 8 the feds arbitrary and capricious on five different issues and said they had acted improperly by trying to retrofit a new 1996 policy onto the 1994 administrative record. The court also found that USFWS had implemented a "sudden switch in tactics" by analyzing only five population segments, ignoring its earlier findings that the trout were warranted for listing throughout the country.

"This is a big win for bull trout," said Mike Bader with Alliance for the Wild Rockies. "No matter how many times the Fish and Wildlife Service tries to reshuffle the deck and inject politics into the process, the record shows, and the court agrees, they have ignored critical information showing that bull trout deserve Endangered Species Act protection throughout their range in the US." -Bill Rudolph.


The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously Dec. 5 to approve the state's new wild salmonid policy. The new policy represents only partial agreement between the state and tribes, but has much stricter guidelines where non-treaty watersheds are involved and calls on
Stream restoration on the Olympic
Peninsula's Little Hoko River
other state agencies to implement new standards to improve fish habitat.

WDFW director Bern Shanks said restoration would require sacrifices from everyone, but his department will continue to release millions of marked hatchery fish for on-going commercial and sport fishing.

Commission chair Lisa Pelly said she hoped agreement with the tribes would be reached soon. A recent letter to the commission from members of the Yakama tribe, however, said they were disappointed "to see the state's continued adherence to what we consider to be a failed concept of creating separate hatchery and wild strains of salmonids." They said the state's prescription for salmon restoration was unlikely to restore wild salmon runs "in a time frame meaningful to human beings" and they weren't prepared to subordinate their efforts to accommodate new state policies "we believe to be based on a narrow or flawed view of salmon biology." -B.R.

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