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[1] NMFS Proposes More ESA Listings; Puget Sound Stocks Named
[2] NMFS Downgrades Threats to Snake River Fall Chinook
[3] Power Council Cuts Millions From F&W Budget
[4] Costs of Going 'Natural" at John Day Dam
[5] Salmon Passage Modelers Still At Odds
[6] Gorton's Elwha Bill Tied To Columbia, Snake Dams
[7] Idaho Threatens to Leave Three Sovereigns Process

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Wild salmon runs from Sacramento to the Skagit River have been proposed for protection under terms of the Endangered Species Act. The news came from NMFS regional administrator Will Stelle, who said in Seattle last week that this announcement has the largest "scope" of any present listing under the ESA.

The Feb. 26 NMFS proposal includes chinook runs from Puget Sound, where about 71,000 fish have been recently counted for escapement, significantly less than average runs, which were estimated at 240,000. Historical peak run size was almost 700,000 fish.

Other proposed listings include chinook on the Upper Willamette River, the Upper Columbia River spring run, expanded fall runs in the Snake, and three other "evolutionarily significant units" (ESUs) in Oregon and California. Two steelhead populations were also proposed for listing: the Middle Columbia stocks (which include fish in the Yakima, Umatilla and John Day basins) and wild steelhead populations in the Upper Willamette. Chum runs in Washington's Hood Canal and the Columbia River, along with a small sockeye population from Ozette Lake on the Olympic Peninsula, were also proposed.

"Today's announcement is the beginning of the end of a decade of effort," Stelle said. He told reporters that his agency has finally worked through the "rain of petitions" from the late 1980s and early 1990s, culminating in a decision to propose these ESUs for threatened or endangered status.

Stelle said the "enormously significant" proposal will begin a year-long process of in-depth study and meetings with state, county, tribal officials and tribal experts to assess the stocks before a public review process begins.

He said the talks will lead to long-term recovery plans that will reflect fundamental changes in the way land, water and fish resources are managed. And that includes changing the way hatcheries are run, to make sure they're not part of the problem, but part of the solution.

But Stelle said "the heart of the problem is habitat--the vascular system of salmon populations." He said the region will have to modify agricultural practices to restore streams passing through farmlands, and change the way roads are built, hydro systems are operated and land subdivided.

He said the feds will work with the state on plans to save the fish, and pointed out that Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Jennifer Belcher is committed to managing state forests to help streams and fish. Some private forestry companies have been working to develop habitat plans that include provisions for fish as well, Stelle said, and federal forest management in the Northwest is already "in sync" with NMFS.

"We do not have a lot of time and we do not have a lot of choices." He said that other changes could include modifying spill and flow regimes at hundreds of dams in the region.

Stelle told reporters that poor ocean conditions have been a factor in decimating runs, but he cautioned that those who think the problem is just the ocean are wrong.

NMFS researcher Robin Waples told reporters it is important to improve stocks now. "We have to make sure they have enough resilience," Waples said. Even though a more productive ocean regime may be on the way, he said the big worry is over how many fish runs could be lost during the next climactic downturn.

Stelle said Oregon's salmon restoration plan is a beginning and pointed out that Washington Gov. Gary Locke has started an effort of his own, one that includes a commitment from the three biggest counties in the Puget Sound region.

An hour and a half after Stelle's announcement, Locke held a press conference of his own at the Seattle Aquarium. Flanked by state and county officials, legislators and tribal representatives, Locke said the NMFS announcement was a warning that the region will lose its salmon if it doesn't take action now. "And if we don't, now, the feds will step in and we'll lose control of our own destiny."

Locke said the region's population will have grown by one million people this decade. "We are all part of the problem," he said, pointing out that 65 percent of the state's estuaries are polluted, along with 59 percent of state streams and 35 percent of the lakes. He has proposed $21 million to fund salmon restoration in this year's supplemental state budget.

Seattle mayor Paul Schell said the region has been ducking issues of the state's Growth Management Act, but dealing with the salmon crisis may help the Puget Sound economy grow in a sustainable way. By working together to save the salmon, Schell said, "it may be the salmon that saves us."

But just how far the region will go to restore the runs is a matter of conjecture. Though Puget Sound tribes shared the podium with politicians, they have their own views on salmon.

Billy Frank, Jr, chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, said it is a mistake to rely on the ESA's species-by species approach to preventing extinction. "We believe that these resources, and the ecosystems on which they depend, must be managed in a way that recognizes everything is connected. Recovery plans developed under the ESA must do more than just delay the extinction of salmon by preserving remnant runs. We must restore our wild salmon populations to healthy levels than can once again support fisheries. Anything less should be unacceptable to everyone."

The effort to restore Puget Sound runs will need help from Canada as well. Coded wire tagging studies by the Pacific Salmon Commission have shown that Canadian commercial and sport fishermen traditionally catch up to 70 percent of some Puget Sound chinook stocks.

But doom and gloom scenarios headlined in Seattle-area papers don't seem to jibe with what some of the state's top fisheries officials are saying. Bern Shanks, director of the Fish and Wildlife Department, told sports fishermen last month that "it is likely we will have more fishing targeting on the 200 million salmon the WDFW hatcheries continue to produce annually."

In a column in The Reel News, Shanks said, thanks to mass hatchery marking of fish, Puget Sound fishermen would still be able to catch millions of "delayed release" chinook from hatcheries. He said the object of the state's upcoming hatchery review was to find ways to make sure hatchery stocks are genetically similar to wild fish spawning in adjacent rivers. Shanks said that would help protect the genetic integrity of the offspring produced by wild fish and straying hatchery salmon. "The object of the upcoming hatchery review is not production cuts," he stressed.

A recent study of chinook harvests in the state has taken issue with Shank's position. Dr. Steve Mathews of the University of Washington said many immature fish are killed during these long sport seasons, and he called for major restrictions to help save chinook populations (See related story in NW Fishletter 50).

The issue of hatchery versus wild stocks is something of a double standard. When the state's new wild salmonid policy was developed, a more lenient standard for defining wild stocks was created for watersheds where tribal treaties are in force, a standard that would count hatchery fish spawning in rivers as wild fish. But now that NMFS is doing the counting, the state policy is playing a definite second fiddle to the fed's.

Bill Wilkerson, director of the Washington Forest Protection Association, said his member companies are negotiating habitat plans to improve fish stocks, and part of that is developing a level of "taking" similar to what harvesters will be asking for. He said NMFS is actually more flexible in developing these plans than many originally thought.

"It should be quite an interesting year," said Wilkerson, who added that though his industry has plenty of time to negotiate over Puget Sound stocks, the imminent listing of Lower Columbia steelhead has created a sense of urgency for timber companies in the region. -Bill Rudolph


The National Marine Fisheries Service has reclassified Snake River chinook populations from endangered to threatened status under terms of the ESA because the fish are showing a modest upturn in population.

In 1992, Snake River spring, summer, and fall chinook were listed as threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. After continuing declines in the runs, NMFS published an emergency rule in 1994 that reclassifed these chinook populations as endangered. However, Congress placed a moratorium on listing actions and all work on reclassification of the Snake River chinook was terminated. New evidence of rebuilding has caused the feds to withdraw a proposed rule to reclassify the species. The agency not only cites increased adult returns of naturally spawning spring, summer, and fall chinook in the Snake River from 1994 to 1997, but notes regulatory changes that have contributed to the improved survival of these fish.

NMFS says that increased spill and natural flows at hydro dams, and modifications to the concrete have improved migration conditions. Seven of the eight mainstem dams in the fish’s way now have bypass systems that protect juveniles. The agency said habitat conditions have improved, too. More than 600 miles of roads have been eliminated from national forests in Idaho, which decreases sediment to spawning streams; all irrigation diversions in critical habitat in Washington’s part of the Snake
Idaho Biologist Rudy Ringe Holding Fall Chinook
Basin have been screened; and the successful compensation claim against the Blackbird mine will reopen over 100 miles of salmon habitat.

Incidental salmon harvests of listed fall chinook have been reduced to about 50 percent, but NMFS says that this effort has not reversed the decline of the species because of low run size from 1991 to 1993. However, returns of chinook have increased since then and harvest impacts have decreased.

The Southeast Alaska troll fishery restrictions have reduced the annual catch of fall chinook considerably from the early 1990 quotas. In addition, Canada has reduced its fishery impacts, and the Pacific Fishery Management Council has set specific constraints on U.S. fisheries to protect Snake River chinook. Reduced effort on mainstem Columbia River fisheries, NMFS says, will ensure, under most circumstances, that harvest rates will be 30 percent lower than the 1988-1993 average.

A more moderate climate has helped chinook runs, too. From 1990 to 1994 drought conditions persisted in the Columbia Basin, but changes in precipitation from 1995 through 1997 have provided above-average rainfall and good flow years.

The changed ocean environment since 1976 and persistent El Niños have an unknown effect on Snake chinook salmon but reduced productivity of other species and stocks and evidence of heavy predation from mackerel would suggest ocean survival may be affected.

Hatchery production has been implicated in wild salmon declines as a result of genetic dilution of locally adapted native populations from interbreeding with hatchery fish. Also, ecological interactions between wild and hatchery fish can work against wild salmon survival. When hatcheries take wild salmon for broodstock, natural production goes down and diseases can be transmitted from hatchery fish to wild salmon.

But NMFS says changes in hatchery operations should decrease negative impacts on wild salmon. For example, the Umatilla River fall chinook reintroduction program, the Umatilla tribe's highly praised hatchery program, continues to be a major source of stray fish that affect Snake River wild fall chinook and other systems such as the Hanford Reach of the Columbia and theYakima River. Yet NMFS says new measures to reduce straying show promise. These measures include increased flows in the Umatilla River, marking hatchery fish so they can be diverted at dams, and acclimating hatchery fall chinook to Umatilla River water. Close monitoring is planned to make sure these measures work. -Bill Bakke


At last week's Power Council meeting, state and tribal fish managers left with millions of dollars worth of projects begging. For starters, the council laid down the law on spending for fish cops by deciding that law enforcement on the Columbia River should be paid for by state, tribal and federal fish managers. They rejected a $2.2 million request for fish cops in 1998, even though it was almost $2 million less than the original proposal, which the Council rejected last fall.

"It is the Council's collective judgment that continued law enforcement assistance is no longer an appropriate use of limited Bonneville ratepayer dollars," said Council chairman John Etchart. He said the money will be spent on other fish and wildlife recovery actions and that the Council would look at specific short-term requests for "transition support" to give fish managers a chance to find other sources of funding. They approved $500,000 for a 90-day phase-out.

After the Council decided last fall to end ratepayer funding for law enforcement, unspent funds from that budget were earmarked to provide a 90-day transition period that began last September. But regional fish and wildlife managers requested an additional three months to develop enforcement projects that could be funded by ratepayers, and that was where the Council drew the line.

"It is time for decisions, not delays," the Council said in a Feb 25. press release. "It is time to ensure that ratepayer dollars are invested in actions that directly address Bonneville's current fish and wildlife obligations."

Fisheries enforcement will be cut in half, according to Capt. John Johnson of the Inter-Tribal Enforcement program. He said a scientific evaluation of the program found it to be very effective, and the Council action was an improper amendment of its program.

"The Council is grandstanding," said Rob Lothrop, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "This isn't really about making hard decisions, as Mr. Etchart says. It's about the Council avoiding the truly hard decisions it must make by law. It's about creating a smoke screen to divert attention away from the Council's failure to consider adopting its own scientific report, Return to the River, as a framework for its fish and wildlife plan."

Lothrop said the decision may be elevated to the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the OMB, as specified in dispute resolution language spelled out in the BPA Fish Cap agreement.

The Council took a hard look at some other projects as well. Members pared funding for squawfish control by 11 percent, mainly by reducing administrative costs of dam angling and site-specific fisheries. The budget now stands at $3.3 million.

The Council OK'd around $10 million in funding for watershed projects approved by an independent panel that had winnowed out $13 million worth of proposals it felt were "without technical merit."

Members also recommended that the work of the hatchery operations team be included in the Council's review of artificial production in the basin, which just started, rather than provide more funding at this time.

Research into gas bubble disease was another questionable area. The scientists who reviewed the proposals last summer had recommended that funding be deferred until a research program was developed. The Council deferred itself and will take up the matter at its March meeting.

The Kootenai River white sturgeon hatchery got a new lease on life when the Council voted to approve nearly $2 million for rehabilitating the facility. Kootenai sturgeon have already been listed as an endangered species. -B.R.


A study by Power Council staffer John Fazio has taken a look at costs associated with breaching John Day Dam, which would be necessary to return the Columbia River to a natural river level behind the dam--one of the options now being studied by the Corps of Engineers.

Fazio said costs would fall into three categories: energy losses, capacity losses and transmission impacts. He estimated $100 million to $200 million a year would be lost in generation, along with another $25 million to $30 million a year because John Day's generators would no longer be able to save the region money by stabilizing the power system through voltage support. No estimate was available yet for Intertie upgrades to maintain reliability, but such costs were deemed "significant."

The study said doing nothing to replace the lost generation would leave the Northwest short on resources during high demand hours. But to replace all of John Day's 2500 MW capacity with combustion turbines, "the capital cost would be on the order of $1.25 billion." When amortized and added to operating costs, that would come to about $280 million a year, Fazio said. Such a solution would cost even more in the long run, he said, because the turbines don't respond to system disturbances the same way hydro machines do. -B.R.


After spending $2 million and three years on salmon modeling exercises, the region isn't much closer to an answer about which of two competing models does a better job of explaining past and future salmon runs in the Snake and Columbia River.

That word came down Feb. 19 from PATH facilitator David Marmorek, at a special meeting of mid-level regional managers in Portland. Marmorek, of Essa Technologies, based in Vancouver, BC, addressed a packed room at the Power Council's Portland offices for nearly four hours before he came up with the punch line--"key certainties are unlikely to be resolved with existing data."

The group of 25 to 30 scientists, who are grappling with competing computerized versions of salmon passage reality--the University of Washington-developed CRiSP (Columbia River Salmon Passage) model and the FLUSH (Fish Leaving Under Several Hypotheses) model developed by state and tribal scientists--have spent months crunching numbers, running thousands of routes through an intricate decision tree that maps out all the possible perambulations of salmon recovery.

The CRiSP model has incorporated some of the recent survival data of juvenile salmon developed from PIT tag research and other recent work and uses data from fish transport studies completed since 1980.

The FLUSH model has a single variable for juvenile survival: water particle travel time. The faster a fish migrates, the better chance it has to make it below Bonneville, say FLUSH modelers. But a relationship between flow and survival has never been established by any long-term studies, say critics. The FLUSH modelers also use data from earlier transport studies (1971-1989), which some say does not accurately reflect the much less lethal conditions found for fish today.

The CRiSP model says improved barging of fish will do more for endangered fish runs on the Snake than taking four dams out and returning the lower Snake to natural river level.

The FLUSH model says taking out the dams will do more to improve runs, but only if it happens soon and transition times to biological equilibrium take only a couple of years. Idaho consultant Don Chapman said such an assumption was "beyond realism." He said it would more likely take at least 25 years for the lower Snake to stabilize its banks with year-round vegetation after dams were breached. Since most of the trapped sediments would end up in McNary Pool, Chapman pointed out the uncertainties such a scenario would have on the survival of fall chinook there, since McNary Pool is a large nursery area for juvenile fall chinook.

PATH modelers are stumped over three "key" uncertainties--inriver survival, transportation assumptions and an extra mortality factor. They say there will have to be strong evidence on which hypothesis is correct "before any action is expected to meet all standards." But they say such evidence will probably not be achievable without well-planned, powerful experiments.

With the modelers pegging median returns of two percent to seven percent as necessary to recover the runs, they performed thousands of model runs of different combinations of recovery strategies and found that only 40 percent of the "aggregate hypotheses" met the 24-year, 48-year, or 100-year survival standard that NMFS has set as yardsticks for recovery.

"If it takes 25 years before you get a clear answer, maybe you should use your best guess," said Marmorek, who added that returns need an order of magnitude improvement to reach the recovery standards outlined by NMFS. A best guess may be the only thing NMFS will have to hang its salmon recovery hat on, since a late 1999 deadline for deciding the fate of lower Snake dams has long been part of the federal agency's BiOp.

The PATH modelers have been at it for three years now, and according to Marmorek are only at a "midway stop on spring/summer chinook." He said the group will not be able to complete their remaining work on spring/ summer chinook and analyses of both fall chinook and steelhead by the fall of 1998.

At present, neither model has gone head to head over pegging what current fish survivals are from Lower Granite to below Bonneville Dam

"It's a fairly broad net that we're casting," said Marmorek, who tried to explain some of the major hang-ups facing modelers, including where to assign extra mortality of juvenile salmon--the hydro system or poor ocean conditions. The PATH exercises do not include the latest transport data from the 1995 outmigration, a study which should be completed this year after wild fish complete their migration. The results may prove to be robust enough to resolve some of the uncertainties facing the elite group of modelers. -B.R.


Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) said he will be introducing a bill soon that provides funding for removal of the Elwha Dams--as long as Congress has final review and approval of any proposal to remove or alter any dam on the mainstem Columbia or Snake Rivers. While the potential for such a bill has been discussed before, Gorton announced his intention to actually introduce the measure during a Feb.19 luncheon address to a Law Seminars International Conference in Seattle.

The Clinton Administration budget has set aside $154 million to demolish the two dams on the Elwha River. Gorton has in the past indicated support for removal of only one of the dams. His bill is expected to authorize removal of the lower Elwha in exchange for a guarantee that Congress would have the authority to make the final decision on removing or breaching any dams on the Columbia or Snake Rivers. The bill could also call for completion of a 12-year study on how removing the lower dam impacts fish populations before any consideration is given to removing the upper dam, as well as a guarantee that Port Angeles' water supply be held harmless.

Gorton is also a co-sponsor of S 1401, the Bumpers-Gorton bill. That measure includes a Northwest chapter, Gorton said, because he wants a "national bill of merit that provides for the unique challenges in the Pacific Northwest." One element of the Northwest chapter will call for functional separation of BPA's transmission and marketing functions, as agreed to in the Regional Review. Another will preserve regional preference for BPA.

An important element for the Northwest, said Gorton, is trading of renewable resource credits--and the assurance that hydropower is considered a renewable resource. "Any bill [that has] any chance of success will have a renewables requirement," Gorton said; and the most vital element in keeping power costs down for Northwest customers is a renewable energy credit for hydropower.

Gorton said his Northwest chapter also includes a river governance element, which is blank because there is no consensus on a new structure of regional governance for the Columbia River. "A host of questions remains unanswered," he said. -Jude Noland


The governance subcommittee of the Three Sovereigns process will convene soon to see if Idaho's participation in the process can be maintained. The senior staff group of the Three Sovereigns was on the verge of a decision to officially release their draft memorandum of agreement when the state threatened to pull out of the process.

In a Feb. 19 letter to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, Idaho Gov. Phil Batt said "proposed changes in the region's river governance procedure are moving into areas that I cannot agree to." He said that while the Three Sovereigns management proposal "has a certain appeal," the state of Idaho "is not willing to voluntarily cede its control over its vital resources to another entity."

Three Sovereigns senior staff met Feb 24 to discuss the letter and to receive reports about recent meetings among tribal, federal and state participants. The group was nearing a decision to release the MOA, which has already been delayed at least once, when Batt's letter rolled in.

"Some governments wanted to get the MOA out," said Howard Funke, attorney for the Spokane tribe and chairman of the governance subcommittee, "but one problem" was Batt's position that the MOA is a voluntary cession of control over its resources and water supplies.

"That is absolutely not the case," Funke asserted. "The MOA does not do that." He called Batt's interpretation "a misreading" of the MOA. "There is no attempt to have Idaho cede its control over its resources or water supply."

Ultimately, the group decided to hold off until Power Planning council member Mike Field, Idaho's representative in the Three Sovereigns process, had a chance to talk to Batt and report back. Additional meetings with other stakeholders were also to take place. Funke said no date had been set for the next governance subcommittee. "We want to see how things develop."

In his letter, Batt said the draft MOA proposals "are far too broad in scope. The Three Sovereigns process cannot summarily replace the authority of the four states in the Northwest Power Planning Council," nor would Idaho allow the Three Sovereigns "to dictate the management of its entire ecosystem, including our water policies in the upper Snake River."

After his meeting with Batt, Field said the governor wants to limit the MOA to fish issues.

Batt spokesperson Lindsay Nothern emphasized that Idaho has not pulled out of the process, but that "we have concerns because the [MOA] strays from a discussion on saving salmon into water policy, dam relicensing, watershed management, the FERC process, etc., and also talks about arbitration ideas to settle disputes, etc."

He said Batt believes "we need to just sit down and decide by talking through the process before we write lengthy MOAs."

Funke said if Idaho does leave, some members have suggested going ahead with finalization of the document and putting it out for signature. "Whichever governors wish to join" could do so. "If Idaho chose not to, it wouldn't be represented in the Three Sovereigns group."

The Three Sovereigns consist of representatives from 13 tribes, four states, and a number of federal agencies. The process was kicked off last June after a meeting of tribal officials and regional governors.

The current river "governance" situation is perceived by many to be in need of change. In his letter, Batt called the current structure "ineffective." Funke described it variously as "dysfunctional" and "schizophrenic."

The basic idea of the MOA, Funke said, is to "create in effect a safe room where all the governments can get together and try to develop a common approach to all the complex issues in the Basin," he said. "It sets up an ecosystem approach to looking at problems in the Basin. It also makes it clear that the agreement doesn't divest any government of its authority. Governments come to the table with all their authority intact, and the Three Sovereigns process cannot divest them of it."

The draft MOA contemplates a two-level governance structure. A policy-setting group would have one representative for each of the four states, 13 tribes and one federal representative. Below this would be an implementation group handling day-to-day matters and consisting of four state, four federal and four tribal members. The 13 tribes have been meeting to decide how to allocate the four tribal positions.

Various Three Sovereigns subcommittees have generated other work products. About a month ago, one group completed a set of stranded cost principles addressing ways to deal with that issue. The "stacking group" has assembled a schedule of the various pending policy decisions that will affect the Basin and is trying to "sequence them so they don't all work at cross purposes," Funke said.

Meanwhile, the fish and wildlife cost group is still finalizing its report aimed at sorting out the "true costs" for protecting those resources. The group will produce a range of costs depending on what options are exercised. -Ben Tansey

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