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[1] Nine More Salmon and Steelhead Stocks Added to ESA List
[2] Corps Says Claims for Breaching Inaccurate
[3] Chapman on Dam Breaching
[4] Operations Begin to Help Hanford Fry
[5] NMFS Pushes New Regional Forum to Help With '99 Decision
[6] Ninth Circuit Upholds '95 NMFS Biop
[7] Oregon Report Finds No Benefit From Hatchboxes in Streams
[8] Questions Over Spill Study At The Dalles
[9] BRIEFS: Salmon Hearings, IDFG Head Ousted And More

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NMFS Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Rollie Schmitten announced Mar. 16 in Seattle that nine more wild salmon and steelhead stocks have been added to the growing list of endangered and threatened runs on the West Coast. He said no single factor was responsible for the declines, but pointed out that dams were not a big factor. Habitat destruction, overharvest, and past hatchery practices all played a role, said Schmitten.

Washington state found itself coping with five new listings, including the ESA blockbuster dealing with Puget Sound chinook. Oregon got two more and the states shared two more. Decisions on several stocks under consideration in central California, southern Oregon and an extension of Snake river fall chinook were postponed because Schmitten said NMFS scientists needed a better understanding of the scientific issues. That brings the total West Coast listings up to 15 stocks, or Evolutionarily Significant Units, as NMFS calls them.

The announcement came a few days after the Pacific Fishery Management Council announced three fishing options that should offer improved sport and commercial salmon fishing off Washington's coast. Improved runs of Columbia River chinook are the impetus for the higher harvest options. But they attributed part of the boost to improved ocean conditions. Fish managers were careful to say that very few Puget Sound chinook would be caught in the coastal fishery. Last year, chinook returns to the Snohomish Basin, part of the newly listed Puget Sound ESU, achieved their highest spawning levels in a decade, exceeding the state's goal for the first time in 18 years, managers said in February. They attributed the good runs to reductions in Canadian harvest and better ocean conditions. However, in the recent past, overall Puget Sound chinook runs are down to about 30 percent of their historic highs.

But the question of ocean conditions didn't even come up during the press conference. The focus was all on habitat. The real story, said Schmitten, was not the new listings, but efforts underway by tribes, counties and states, along with timber interests, to recover the fish. With a dozen news cameras running, he told the packed press conference that this wasn't a "top-down" federal approach, but a chance for local input to make a difference.

"Don't miss the opportunity," Schmitten advised. He also cautioned however, that no one should mistake his comments to mean that the federal government lacked the commitment to recover the fish. "This partnership can showcase the flexibility of the ESA."

Schmitten said nine of the 13 ESUs will require protection. Eight of them, including Puget Sound, Lower Columbia and Upper Willamette chinook stocks, were listed as threatened. Upper Columbia chinook (Wenatchee River to Canada) were listed as endangered, where he noted that recent returns there were the lowest in the past 60 years. Steelhead stocks from the upper Willamette and Mid-Columbia (Wenatchee River to Hood River) , along with chum stocks in Hood Canal and the Columbia River, were also listed as threatened, along with the Lake Ozette sockeye on the Washington coast. Sockeye stocks from Baker Lake in the Washington Cascades were removed as a candidate from consideration.

Local Governments Focus on Habitat

Seattle Mayor Paul Schell expressed his city's intent to improve and buy important habitat, work on principles of "true science," and develop coordinated efforts to recover the fish, since stocks like Puget Sound chinook swim through 28 different jurisdictions in their cycles. "Even folks in Alaska will have to help," Schell said, while making no specific references to more harvest cuts for Southeast Alaska fishermen.

Snohomish County executive Bob Drewel spoke about the tri-county effort that has been developed to restore Puget Sound chinook stocks. He said it wouldn't be easy or cheap to bring back the fish, but local politicians decided early on to put their energy into recovering the stocks rather than fighting the listings. But he also pointed out the limitations of local efforts. County officials hope they can convince NMFS their proposed efforts will be enough forestall more restrictive actions dictated by the federal agency.

"Local government can only influence habitat condition," said Drewel, who noted the big challenge is managing growth with a population base of 2.9 million people while developing plans for each watershed in the basin. He said it would take decades to recover the fish.

Drewel said there was a process in place for the three counties to prioritize spending on habitat improvement, but NMFS coordinator Bob Turner said "conservation biology" tells you that the region must work collectively on all these watersheds together because each remnant population is important to maintain the ESU.

Heavy Opposition to State Plan

State officials were notably quiet at the press conference, as Gov. Locke's $201 million (half to be funded by the feds) salmon plan was foundering in the legislature. A 90-plus page bill that, in part,

Photo of the Duwamish River
Seattle's Duwamish River estuary,
home to some of NMFS' newest listed fish.
called for improvement in stream flows for listed fish and development of a water resource management system for agriculture, met with heavy opposition from agricultural interests.

Farm and business interests, who testified against the water policy bill two weeks ago, said NMFS must prove lack of water is a problem before such draconian measures are taken. They also took issue with bill language that required instream flows sufficient to recover fish to required ESA levels that was changed to flow levels that recovered fish "to harvestable levels." Representatives of Trout Unlimited and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission had supported the language change.

At that time, David Taylor, a spokesman for county and regional planning directors, suggested the legislature negotiate directly with the federal government and NMFS over the ESA issue, and make the state indemnify the counties for actions they have to take for fish recovery, like identifying critical habitat. "We will likely be taken to court by property holders or by those who say you haven't done enough for fish." By the time the Senate version of the water bill squeezed out of the Ways and Means Committee, it had been pared down to a couple of pages that dealt only with water transfers.

Gov. Locke's salmon advisor, Curt Smitch, said a bill that proposed changes to timber harvest was faring much better. He told NW Fishletter that both bills were very much alive and hoped legislators would take the initiative to show the federal government that the state is serious about salmon recovery. The proposed changes to forest practices to improve fish habitat were hammered out over the past two years by private timber interests, federal and state agencies, tribes and environmental groups. The environmentalists have withdrawn their support, but a majority of the state's tribes are on board with it.

In a press release issued a few hours after the new listings were announced, Locke said the overriding goal of the state plan is to "control our own destiny." He said it was "imperative that the Legislature support a salmon plan if we want to solve this problem ourselves at the state and local level-and not have solutions dictated to us by a federal judge in San Francisco or a federal official in Washington DC."

Possible Exemptions

NMFS coordinator for Washington state, ex-state fisheries head Bob Turner, said the first thing his agency will do is apply the "4(d) rule" of the ESA to specific activities that might harm threatened species. That section of the ESA calls for the Secretary of Commerce to issue such regulations as deemed necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of the species. Under the 4(d) rule, NMFS may also propose exemptions to the "take" prohibitions if such programs contribute to conserving the ESU in question or are governed by another entity "in a manner that is adequately protective of the listed species."

According to a NMFS draft proposal concerning steelhead stocks that are already listed, including one that affects the metropolitan Portland area, the kind of activities the agency might exempt includes: state and tribal fish management activities; state and tribal scientific research; broodstock collection programs; state, local, tribal, and private habitat restoration activities; road maintenance activities in Oregon; certain park maintenance activities in the City of Portland; certain development within the Portland metro area urban growth boundary; irrigation diversion devices; and timber harvest.

Developers and realtors are nervous about what may be ahead for them in the Puget Sound region. They may get a look into the near future by looking at what NMFS has drafted for potential development in the Portland metro region, where NMFS may make developers satisfy guidelines in a future plan to be evaluated and approved by the county government that minimizes the risk of take of listed steelhead.

These guidelines focus on nine issues, from avoiding stormwater discharge and requiring adequate riparian buffers of up to 200 feet, minimizing stream crossings, protecting wetlands, preserving intermittent streams, reducing fertilizer needs and watering, and controlling erosion, along with providing for all the enforcement, funding, reporting and implementation mechanisms needed to assure that any development follows the plan.

William Ruckelshaus, who represented a collaborative group of environmentalists and business leaders said the Puget Sound listing suggests changes of enormous significance to the Northwest. "We have forced the fish to adjust to us," he said. "Now, we will have to adjust to the fish."

Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, was hopeful the listing announcement would be a strong step toward salmon restoration.

"We cannot however, rely solely on the Endangered Species Act's species-by-species approach to prevent salmon from becoming extinct," he said in a prepared statement. "The treaty Indian tribes believe that our main goal must be to rebuild threatened wild salmon runs to historic levels that can again sustain harvest. Anything less should be unacceptable to everyone."

But officials from the state's Fish and Wildlife Department did not share in the carnival-like conference, and the state's wild fish policy was never mentioned. Dealing with hatchery practices, and both treaty and non-treaty harvest issues, especially in the Puget Sound region, was clearly not part of the day's agenda.

Some mid-level NMFS scientists feel that concentrating on habitat issues neglects the serious problems with state hatchery practices and thorny issues over tribal harvests that could pit tribal treaty rights against the Endangered Species Act. One federal biologist, who did not wish to be named, recently told NW Fishletter of his concerns. "Instead of writing recovery plans," he said, "it seems that were doing our darndest to make sure the fish never recover." -Bill Rudolph


A draft economic study leaked to environmental groups that predicts huge economic benefits from breaching lower Snake dams was called "incomplete" by the Corps of Engineers, which is leading work to analyze social and economic effects of the breaching strategy. The Corps said news releases from the Sierra Club and other organizations that publicized the optimistic analysis have misrepresented the partially completed study.

In a March 4 press release, the Sierra Club claimed huge potential economic benefits--from $400 million to $5 billion annually--to the regional economy from increased recreational activities and an "existence" value worth $23 billion to the population at large for "just that the Snake River fish have recovered." And that doesn't even count the benefits from renewed sport angling for salmon and steelhead on the Columbia, or improved fishing for commercial and tribal harvesters, according to Sierra Club spokesman Jim Baker.

"Dam defenders claim that partial removal of the dams would bring economic catastrophe to the local area," said Sierra Club regional director Bill Arthur. "What this DREW [Drawdown Regional Economic Workgroup] analysis tells us is that, with mitigation installed to keep the current economy whole, the local area can actually look forward to a huge expansion of its economic base in the recreation sector. We need to bear in mind that the economic mitigation measures are one-time capital investments, while river recreation and sport angling would deliver major economic gains every year, year after year."

But the Corps of Engineers was quick to respond. The agency issued a press release the next day that took issue with the groups' actions. "This was unfair to the public and to the stakeholders in the region," said Corps program manager Greg Graham. "It was also unfair to the group of state and federal agencies, special interest groups and contractors that are working to provide the best scientific and engineering information to the region to base their decisions on for salmon recovery."

Brig. Gen. Robert Griffin, commander of the Corps' Northwestern Division, said his agency is committed to providing a factual report "that identifies all of the effects, both positive and negative, on river resources and uses."

Corps economist Dennis Wagner said the information in the enviro news releases was raw data taken out of context. It's from a study by contractor John Loomis, agricultural economist from Colorado State University.

According to the Sierra Club press release, the study placed the current non-fishing recreational value of the lower Snake with the dams in place at $31.6 million a year. Breaching the dams could boost that value into a range from $191 million to $3.7 billion a year. The value of recreational fishing could go from $2 million presently to a range of $207 million to over $5 billion annually. The middle forecast pegged the future fishing and non-fishing value at $1 billion per year.

Corps manager Graham said even if the dams were breached, it could take 10 to 15 years for the river ecosystem to stabilize, and another 25 to 50 years before salmon stocks could be delisted.

A press release from the coalition of environmental and fishing groups Save Our Wild Salmon was a bit more circumspect. It said the draft report indicated that breaching the dams would add about $1 billion in increased sportfishing and other river recreation annually to the Northwest.

"While this information is preliminary and subject to further analysis, it demonstrates that decision-makers should not rush to judgment about the costs and benefits of bypassing dams to save the salmon," said Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited.

Bruce Lovelin, executive director of the Columbia River Alliance, recommended the Corps restrict all draft documents to federal agencies, the NWPPC's Independent Economics Advisory Board and involved contractors. In a March 8 letter to the Corps, Lovelin said, "Tribal, state, environmental and even the CRA should not receive sensitive information that through release, could unfairly advance their position." One regional economist, who reviewed the partially completed study and wished to remain unidentified, said Loomis' report, especially the part setting the ranges of "existence value" for recovering stocks, was "skating on pretty thin ice." -Bill Rudolph


Idaho fish guru and longtime consultant Don Chapman spelled out his views on the biological benefits of breaching lower Snake dam breaching issue in early March at his state's chapter meeting of the American Fisheries Society.

"It is really the estuary and ocean that constitute the most limiting factor in the ecology of salmon. It doesn't matter if you breach or do not breach--the ocean remains the elephant sitting on the coffee table. Yet it is the least-studied salmon life stanza." After Chapman explained why he considered productivity in both the ocean and freshwater streams more important factors in improving Idaho salmon and steelhead runs, the group voted overwhelmingly to direct its executive committee to make some minor language changes in a resolution that calls for breaching the four dams. The breaching resolution is expected to be finalized by the end of April.

Chapman admitted that if the dams were breached, spring and summer chinook stocks could eventually improve by 30 to 40 percent, but not by the eightfold that's needed for recovery. He pointed out that breaching would have negative effects on river ecology for 10 or 20 years. Fish transportation would be ended as well-a net negative effect, and predators like squawfish would move downstream to McNary Pool, a key rearing area for subyearling fall chinook

"…I feel a little like the devil must when he visits an annual meeting of evangelical preachers," Chapman told the group, "perhaps a bit outnumbered, for I suspect a vote at this moment among you would overwhelmingly support breaching. The analogy of a religious meeting isn't actually too off-base. Breaching advocacy has become a belief system; a religion. Its tenets are faith, hope and very little clarity." Chapman confessed his biases, which included a tendency "to think icthyocentrifically instead of holistically," and a dislike of the "endless proclivities of politicians to support commodity interests to the exclusion of all else," along with the "endless drumbeating for dam breaching by people who either do not know what they are talking about, or who simply want to defeat the commodity interests." He said he also objected to activism in professional societies.

With that out of the way, Chapman presented a short analysis of how he figured potential gains in overall survival of smolts to adults of inriver migrants from breaching the dams. He concluded that such improvement could range from 30 to 46 percent, but he cautioned that the figures may be a bit high because losses at some dams may be less than the numbers he used.

Chapman estimated smolt-to-adult returns [SARs] before the dams were constructed, at about 3.4 percent. Then he posed a question. "What factors might account for the difference in smolt-to-adult survival between the early 1960s and the estimated rate if four dams were breached?" Since current SARs are so low, a 50 percent improvement would bring it up to only .44 percent, still eight time less than survival rates in the early 1960s. He pointed to some huge changes in the hydro system since then, including the creation of upriver storage in Canada, Montana and Idaho, which has reduced the spring freshet and transferred flow to fall and winter. This has changed the Columbia River plume, water temperatures in the lower river and sediment and nutrient dynamics in the estuary.

Other factors like dramatic increases in shad and walleye populations could possibly have important indirect effects on salmon, he said.

Marine mammal populations have gone up considerably since the early 1970s, which could have caused increased mortality among spring /summer adults.

Caspian terns and cormorants in the estuary are now estimated to consume up to 20 percent of spring migrating smolts, possibly 25 million a year. "By contrast," said Chapman, "squawfish control may account for three to five million saved smolts."

He pointed out that both offshore and inriver fishing for Snake River fish have been "drastically cut." Chapman said directed fishing, "the favorite whipping boy of many who oppose breaching, is not responsible for the large declines in smolt-to-adult survival in the last 35-40 years." He said the inriver tribal fisheries could not account for the dramatic declines either. "Actually, the total mortality that is dam-related essentially equals the fishing rate of 40-50 years ago."

Chapman said hatchery fish, which now comprise up to 85 percent of the salmon and steelhead outmigration, could be having adverse effects, "although the mechanisms are unclear." He said it could be related to disease that could reduce vitality in the stocks.

Another factor he cited, was the reduced nutrient base in streams from fewer spawned fish carcasses which could affect overwintering survival of pre-smolts.

Chapman also pointed to low ocean productivity in recent years, along with the unknown effects of "massive hatchery output along the Pacific rim," and interactions between salmon and other species, along with the possibility of negative effects on stocks from intense fishing effort on non-salmonids.

Chapman said the biggest limiting factor on the stocks is the ocean and estuarine phase of the fish, with survival of the overwintering life phase the next most important, and dam passage after that.

The Idaho AFS resolution stated that dams are the most important limiting factor. Chapman told them he considered that wrong.

"So the net effect of breaching on the current low SARs would be a little more stock buffering ability in the face of ocean productivity downturns." He pointed out that time lags in funding and action would not provide the "dramatic action" mentioned in the resolution. "I would guess 15 to 20 years would be required," Chapman said, "plus the time lags involved in the reset of the environment."

Congress would not support breaching the dams anyway, he said. He said voting for the AFS resolution was a futile exercise.

So what can be accomplished instead? Chapman suggested improving turbine design, continuing fish transportation and re-instituting it at McNary Dam, along with getting rid of the terns, and improving fisheries to release more wild fish unharmed.

He recommended pilot studies of streams fertilized with both salmon carcasses and inorganic nutrients as a way to begin improvement of overwintering survival. Bigger fish mean better survival all the way to the sea.

Headwaters habitat should be protected and improved, Chapman said, along with continuation of the current trend to re-dedicate hatcheries to stock gene conservation rather than producing fish for harvest. But he said the most important factor would be a return to improved ocean conditions. -B. R.


After several months of talks, power and fish managers have agreed to an operational proposal that reduces springtime river fluctuations in the Hanford Reach as a means to improve survival of juvenile fall chinook. Normal hydro operations can cause daily vertical fluctuations of 10 to 12 feet, which can strand young salmon fry feeding at the edges of the river.

Fish managers reported that fry were beginning to emerge from gravel beds during the first week in March, about two weeks earlier than normal. The new strategy was scheduled to begin on March 8 at midnight.

Power managers spelled out the operation point by point at a March 5 meeting in Seattle. It represented their response to an earlier proposal by state, federal and tribal fish managers.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Keith Wolf said that while he is not endorsing this operation, he has no objection.

Doug Ancona of Grant PUD said his group's concern was that the fish managers' proposal assumed a water condition "that may or may not occur" and allowed for almost no load following. Other concerns of power managers related to dealing with resident fish and recreational and cultural resources in mid-Columbia pools.

"We need to know as much as possible before we come up with solutions," Ancona said, adding that fish managers have "perhaps misunderstood" elements of the power managers' original proposal, specifically the part that allowed for flow fluctuations of plus and minus 20 kcfs.

He said load following at Priest Rapids Dam would already be severely constrained because the project will be spilling 80 percent of its flow to aid migrating juvenile salmon this spring. That leaves only about 6 kcfs for load following capability at the project.

Ancona said his utility had not estimated the cost of the operation to help Hanford fish because it would require all seven mid-Columbia projects to work together. Others have pegged it in the "single-digit millions."

WDFW manager Wolf said the operation would save four to five million fish this year, though research last year could not produce a reliable estimate of potential mortality from stranding. Estimates of young fall chinook in the Reach range from 20 million to 40 million or more; it's the basin's most productive salmon run.

A key element of the new plan is to re-water pools before fish that might be stranded die from stress or predation. To that end, Ancona said minimum flows would last no longer than eight hours. Research last year found that fish stranded in pools for more than 12 hours before higher flows connected them once again with the main river suffered high mortality.

With these clarifications, Ancona said the power managers' operational proposal was "substantially closer" to the fish managers' proposal than they had thought, even though it wasn't designed for "zero mortality"--the ultimate goal stated by some fish managers like Bob Dach of NMFS.

It was decided that the group will use the weekly TMT forum to address spring flow issues, since the Hanford flow operation could be constrained by mandated BiOp conditions at Grand Coulee in regard to flood control and re-fill by June 30.

Fish managers wanted the new operation to begin over the March 6-7 weekend, but BPA's Bruce MacKay said power managers couldn't implement something that was developed that very morning. Ancona told fish managers that "waiting for your counter-proposal put us in a jam."

CRITFC spokesman Bob Heinith told the group that the stranding issue is very important to the Yakama Tribal Council, and he wanted the issue "elevated;" but it wasn't clear where it would be elevated to. As for the 1999 operation spelled out by power managers, "It's great, but it's not enough."

But others pointed out that a focus on helping fish in the Hanford Reach ignores fish in reservoirs upstream, "when you yo-yo the pools."

Fish Managers Balk At Original Proposal

On March 1, regional fish managers gave a solid thumbs down to the original proposal by hydro operators and asked for a springtime period of steadily increasing flows to reduce the stranding and entrapment problem in the Reach. Their response came after the power operators outlined their proposal at a Feb. 4 meeting in Seattle.

The original proposal called for weeks of fluctuating flows in the plus and minus 20 kcfs to 30 kcfs range, alternating with weeks when potential entrapment areas would be periodically re-watered. The operators said this scenario would result in fluctuations in the two-foot range.

On March 4, the day before both groups met again, Ancona said his utility was ready to spill 80 percent of the spring flows at Priest Rapids Dam to help migrating fish as proposed in the new BiOp NMFS has been writing for the mid-Columbia region. Presently, about 60 percent of spring flows are spilled at Priest Rapids.

Eighty percent spill would aim at getting 95 percent of migrating juvenile salmon past the dam without going through its turbines. Unless the dam is pretty much written off for generating much electricity over the spring period, such a strategy would have the potential for increasing river fluctuations and the potential for fish stranding downstream, said Grant PUD scientist Joe Lukas.

Researchers in 1998 found that over 90 percent of fish entrapment occurs in the first three feet of fluctuation, which typically ranges from 10 feet to 12 feet daily for load following activity at dams. Limited 1998 research that found 30,000 juvenile fish died from stranding. Fish managers have extrapolated those findings and say stranding and entrapment "likely results in the loss of millions of fish." The group's current estimate of the total migration of the river's best salmon run is 23 million to 43 million fish.

Part of the power managers' original proposal called for preserving load following opportunities while providing "substantially" more protection for juvenile fall chinook fry than occurred last year. The joint fish managers said they couldn't endorse the four main criteria of the proposal because they were "not congruent or attainable when taken together as a general strategy." They said 100 percent of the fish population would be at risk and a minimum of 33 percent of entrapped fish would die, along with an unknown amount of indirect mortality.

Model Predicts More Protection for Fish

But Grant PUD biologist Lukas said he has analyzed what the plus and minus 20 kcfs flow constraints would do for fish. Using laser survey data from 1998, he said the flow constraint "will provide a substantial increase in protection for fall chinook fry when compared to 1998 operations. The 55 percent reduction in the number of entrapments created should translate to a greatly reduced impact to fall chinook as a result of stranding and thermal mortality. These findings directly refute the Joint Fish Managers' (JFM) assertion that this operation does not result in substantially more protection for fall chinook fry. The JFM provide no data or analysis in their March 1, 1999 document to support any of their assertions that 100 percent of the population is at risk and that mortality is in the range of millions of fish."

The fish managers had earlier requested that Power Planning Council staff determine whether the water forecast for 1999 would allow for a steady and increasing flow scenario if some refill flexibility at Grand Coulee is allowed. Council staffers complied, and the fish managers pointed to the NWPPC analysis to show that their increasing flow option would be attainable this year.

But a follow-up memo from Power Council staffers John Fazio and Jim Ruff, posted the day after the fish managers' announcement, said that their analysis, which was computed in monthly average flows, wasn't that optimistic.

"The general conclusion was that, for water years similar to what is expected this year, Grand Coulee's end-of-June refill probability would not be affected by monthly releases to maintain monthly average flows of 135 kcfs at Priest Rapids," Ruff and Fazio's March 2 memo to the entire policy group said. "It cannot be concluded, however, that Grand Coulee's end-of-June refill probability is unaffected under a 'steadily increasing flow' option as defined at earlier meetings."

They said a re-analysis of the operation for five years when runoff was similar to what is expected this year found that Grand Coulee water was not needed to augment flows to 135 kcfs on a monthly basis, but some water was drafted during June to meet BiOp targets at McNary. They pointed out that the results don't mean that daily or weekly average flows will always be above 135 kcfs, and that more water would be needed to maintain a weekly average at 135 kcfs--and even more water to maintain a daily average at 135 kcfs.

But Ruff and Fazio said the analysis was limited. "The Council does not have the system models to assess how much more storage volume would be required to maintain a weekly or daily average of 135 kcfs or to determine if it would be possible."

New Operation Spelled Out

The main elements of the river operators' proposal include the following:

Consultant Al Wright, representing Grant PUD, said it's the good water year that drove the PUD to offer this proposal. He said there was little evidence of fish stranding in 1997 when flows were high, and this year's operation was designed to try to mimic those conditions.

But the operation has been OK'd for 1999 only. In the future, during average or below average water years, the consensus is that it will be much more difficult to provide enough water to reduce fish stranding. Michael Newsom of the Bureau of Reclamation said looking at the 60-year water record, one constraint or another will often be violated to maintain steady flows for juvenile fish at Hanford. -B. R.


The Columbia River Basin Forum, aka The Three Sovereigns Process, bulked up last week with the addition of Idaho to the group. It now includes four Northwest states, 11 or 12 tribes, and four federal agencies. Though some consider the body only a "working group," it's clear that other participants intend the Forum to become the intergovernmental coordination body for fish and wildlife issues. According to some observers, such a role could effectively trump the work of the Power Planning Council and the ongoing framework process.

Idaho representative Mike Field carried a letter from his state's new governor, Dirk Kempthorne, that said joining the Forum does not mean he has changed his position that breaching lower Snake dams and additional flow augmentation of Idaho water "are not practical solutions to salmon recovery." Kempthorne said he hoped the dialogue in the Forum will help those entities with responsibility for fish recovery to come up with a "unified plan."

Each state and federal agency has one representative to the Forum. The basin's 13 tribes have four.

On that score, attendees at the March 10 meeting were given copies of a recent memo sent to the "Federal Caucus" from NMFS, BPA, the Corps, USFWS and the Bureau of Reclamation. The Federal Caucus is a group of Federal agencies with F&W responsibilities. The memo spelled out the way federal agencies are groping towards a 1999 decision. The memo said the goal is not simply about breaching dams or barging fish, but will be a new consultation for the federal power system that will cover multiple species (salmon, steelhead, bull trout, sturgeon and snails) as well as both hydro operations and off-site mitigation for hydro impacts funded by federal action agencies, including BPA.

"The goal," according to the Feb. 16 memo, "is to develop a proposed action that will meet Endangered Species Act requirements as well as addressing applicable provisions of other Federal laws such as the Northwest Power Act and the Clean Water Act."

The memo said the Federal Caucus will develop alternative proposals for hydro operations, and alternative actions in other areas affecting anadromous fish and habitat, harvest and hatcheries. Then the Caucus will combine actions in the different H's into comprehensive multi-species plans "akin to a recovery plan framework," with the scope but not the detail of a recovery plan. To these ends, the memo outlined creation of a series of committees to deal with everything from legal issues and the 4 H's, to research, monitoring and evaluation. It also spelled out the Forum's future role "ensuring coordination among Federal, State and Tribal parties in planning and implementing existing and future processes."

Meanwhile, Oregon representative Erich Bloch was elected chair of the Forum. He told participants that the new process is a chance to depart from the mistakes of the past and reconcile the differences of many groups involved. Where some felt disrespect, "I hope for a better way and a better day in our future," Bloch said.

The group's next task is to develop, under Bloch's direction, a work plan that will create a product completed in time to provide input into the 1999 decision for recovery of the region's fish and wildlife.

That left participants who supported the framework process unclear as to their own role. Montana member Stan Grace said the Forum process, which is supposed to reduce duplicative effort, "seems to be creating more duplicative effort than ever before."

But Corps of Engineers spokesman Witt Anderson, who represented his agency at the Forum meeting, said after a March 11 briefing on the Framework process by Power Council staffers John Volkmann and Chip McConnaha, he sees how the framework could provide a valuable addition to the 1999 decision process outlined in the NMFS memo, provided that it is completed soon. -B.R.


The Ninth Circuit Court on March 8 rejected an appeal by American Rivers and other fishing and environmental groups that claimed NMFS failed to use proper standards in the 1995 Biological Opinion to assess the impact of the hydro system on endangered salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

In a 3-0 ruling the court said NMFS adequately studied impacts of the dams on fish, and didn't have to use a stricter standard to study the dams' impact on habitat. The Niners also ruled that NMFS was correct in its decision not to draw down John Day reservoir to minimum operating pool. The measure was part of the 1995 BiOp, but funding for the controversial drawdown was never authorized by Congress.

Environmentalists were unhappy about the ruling. They said the NMFS policy is too risky for fish, because it gives the salmon a 50-50 chance of going extinct in the next 48 years. American Rivers appealed the case after losing in federal district court in Portland in April, 1997, when Judge Malcolm Marsh ruled in favor of the federal defendants. -B.R.


A report that examines the effectiveness of an Oregon program that uses volunteer labor and streamside incubation boxes, known as hatchboxes, has found little value in the strategy. The study took place on the Siuslaw River on Oregon's mid-Coast, using eggs taken from late spawning coho in the Coos and Coquille rivers. While these coho are not native to the Siuslaw, the habitat conditions are similar.

The results of this study are: 1) "Results from sampling juvenile coho abundance and outmigration suggest that the hatchbox program was not effective at increasing the rearing density of juvenile coho salmon in the treatment streams as a result of stocking fry for two years in the six study streams. 2) there is little evidence that egg-to-fry survival rates are limiting the adult production of most salmonid fishes."

The program began in the early 1980s, with the goal of restoring native salmonid stocks to their historic levels of abundance. Excess hatchery eggs were used in the incubation boxes. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife developed administrative rules to guide the program so it would only be used in streams where salmon were gone or populations were underseeded. One purpose was to use hatchboxes so they would not have a "detrimental effect on the local population."

In 1986, coho salmon fingerlings releases were evaluated for the first time. In that study, ODFW researcher Tom Nickelson concluded "the hatchery pre-smolts reduced the wild populations through competition." Streams stocked with hatchery pre-smolt coho ended up with 50 percent fewer adults than the streams that were not stocked. Evaluations of fingerling and fry releases by Nickelson and McGee suggested "that the release of large numbers of fingerling and fry into coastal streams does not result in increased adult production." In fact, the scientists said, "our introduction of hatchery pre-smolts has hurt coastal coho salmon populations rather than helped them."

"Knowing what I know now," said Nickelson, "I wouldn't do the study the way we did it at all. I would go to a place where the habitat was improved and underseeded by the salmon to do the hatchbox study. We now know more about the value of habitat, especially over-winter habitat for coho salmon. We need to link the use of hatchboxes to habitat restoration."

The studies already show that increasing the numbers of fry in underseeded streams without improving the capacity of the habitat to produce the smolt life stage does not increase numbers of either smolts or adults.

The Oregon Legislature wants to increase hatchbox use on coastal streams and have the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife provide the support. The Legislature and the legislation (SB 130) does not address the scientific findings that adding more salmon fry to a stream without fixing the habitat is a zero sum activity.

Jim Myron of Oregon Trout has asked the legislative committee to amend the bill to include independent scientific review by the Oregon Salmon Plan, to ensure the program is consistent with the goals of the plan and to establish firm direction for the use of hatchboxes as a salmon recovery effort.

"It's never been proven that hatchboxes do any good," said Myron, "so it's been frustrating to sink so much time on this bill when all indications are that hatchboxes are a total waste of effort and time to begin with." But hatchboxes are popular in Oregon, primarily on the southwest coast. Throughout the state, there are 674 hatchbox-type programs involving 5,000 volunteers who contributed 47,000 hours of labor and donated nearly $100,000 in financial support. This was matched by ODFW funds of $17,000. This commitment of time, labor, belief, and money is one reason the Legislature has viewed the hatchbox program as a fix for declining salmon runs. This is exactly the kind of program called for in Governor Kitzhaber's Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds.

In testimony to the state legislature, Charles Huntington, speaking for the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, said, "...available evidence suggest that we should not place much hope in STEP [Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program] hatchboxes as a major tool in our efforts to restore salmon."

Dr. Bill Pearcy stated in his 1992 book, Ocean Ecology of North Pacific Salmonids, "...long term trends indicate that hatcheries in Oregon have not increased production of ... coho. Despite increased smolt releases from hatcheries, the number of adults produced has not improved relative to historical levels. This raises doubt not only about the effectiveness of hatchery practices, but also about the basic premise of enhancement programs-- that the fundamental limitation to Pacific salmon production occurs in freshwater and not in the ocean."

In a draft letter from Gov. John Kitzhaber to the legislature, he cited Nickelson's research findings and said the "lack of summer and winter rearing areas appear to be more significant factors in the decline of fish populations throughout the state... not egg-to-fry survival, which hatchboxes improve. The hatchbox program, while having educational value, does not appear to add significant numbers of adult fish to streams... As a result, we should be skeptical of providing additional amounts of state resources to this program." --Bill Bakke


Questions over future study of fish survival at The Dalles were debated at the March 4 IT meeting in Portland. NMFS researchers have found over the past two years a 10-15 percent higher survival rate for juvenile fish when the dam is at 32 percent spill rather than when it’s at the BiOp-mandated 64 percent.

But state agency fish managers want the 1999 study to concentrate on measuring survival at the 64 percent rate, rather than alternating spill levels every few days as had been done during the studies over the past two years. They say the results show too much variability and low precision. And they want to include adult return rates in the study. CRITFC spokesman Bob Heinith suggested that NMFS couldn’t cut spill levels without re-consultation over the BiOp.

But NMFS scientists said they think their concerns have a valid statistical basis and adult returns are too low to find meaningful differences between different groups of fish. Policymakers agreed to look at the theoretical levels of statistical precision from both angles and suggested the ISAB look at the study design. Idaho’s Jim Yost said his state supported the NMFS design -Bill Rudolph


Northwest senators will be holding hearings in the next few weeks that deal with regional salmon recovery issues. Mary Healy, press secretary to Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) said her boss will be conducting a field hearing on Columbia River issues, including the PATH process, at either Hood River or The Dalles on April 6. The PATH process is a loose collaboration of scientists, using two different passage models, who have been investigating major uncertainties about salmon recovery. A year-end report by PATH said breaching lower Snake dams offered the best chance for recovery of Idaho's spring/summer chinook stocks, but a minority view within the group took issue with the findings and the independent review of the process.

Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) and Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) announced a "salmon summit" slated for April 7 in either Seattle or Tacoma, made up of government officials, tribes and citizens' groups from California to Alaska. The two politicians pledged to work together on salmon issues. Both hold important committee positions that could bring more federal dollars for fish to the region.

Idaho's Fish and Game Director was fired on March 4 by the state's F&G commission, who voted 4-3 to dump Steve Mealey. The former director had taken heat from constituents recently for muzzling IDFG employees who have been speaking before public groups about the agency's support for breaching lower Snake dams. It was reported that Idaho's new governor Dirk Kempthorne was unhappy with the agency's stand. Kempthorne has long supported keeping the controversial dams in place. Kempthorne will appoint four new commissioners in April. Three of the four who voted to oust Mealey will not likely be re-appointed.

The Environment New Service reported that the World Commission on Dams will include Grand Coulee Dam in a study about the impacts of dams. The late February announcement was made at a meeting in Capetown, South Africa. The independent study of 10 major world dams due to be completed in June 2000, will chronicle effects on people, the environment, and economies as well as impacts on sustainable development. -Bill Rudolph

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