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NW Fishletter #275, May 27, 2010

[2] Amended Salmon Plan Handed Back To Judge

NOAA Fisheries used every bit of its three-month allotment to tidy up the 2008 hydro BiOp before handing it back to U.S. District Judge James Redden May 20 for one last chance at coming up with a salmon plan that will pass legal muster.

The feds used the limited remand Redden granted to include the Adaptive Management Implementation Plan added by the Obama administration after its review of the BiOp last year. The Obama add-ons included a plan to study breaching the four lower Snake dams if fish runs decline too fast, and other recommendations the judge strongly hinted should be included before he would give it a passing grade, including a closer look at impacts of climate change.

Redden granted the limited remand because he wanted to make sure the additions were legal--he was clear that he didn't want the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hand the BiOp back to him on a technicality. The feds had simply wanted to tack the AMIP on to the existing BiOp. Instead, they have added another RPA [Reasonable, Prudent Alternative] to the 2008 BiOp that is the AMIP itself. Further, they amended six other RPAs of the 73 in the original plan, to reflect new salmon science gleaned since 2008.

"Two years into its implementation, the 2008 FCRPS BiOp remains consistent with the new information that has emerged," said a joint statement by Action Agencies and NOAA Fisheries. "This region's concerted efforts to protect salmon are appropriately precautionary and on course."

The agencies said the BiOp anticipated the short-term variations in fish numbers documented in the data, and that adult survival standards assure fish managers that the variations "will be monitored and addressed, as necessary."

The feds said 10-year average abundance increased of all listed populations for which new information was available.

On the downside, they pointed out, some populations of Upper Columbia chinook and steelhead, and Snake River spring/summer chinook, showed reduced natural productivity and increased extinction risk, compared to the BiOp's base period.

Survival of some listed steelhead and fall chinook have been reduced since the BiOp was released, due to higher cormorant predation in the estuary.

The amendments to existing RPAs--small tweaks in the scheme of things--include a call for the Corps of Engineers to study and report on how adult salmon use thermal refugia in the Columbia and Snake as way to cope with warm water--a topic that has to do with how well the fish can handle climate change.

But the amended BiOp said that NOAA Fisheries has completed a thorough review of new climate science and concluded "that the physical effects of climate change are likely to be within the range of effects considered in the 2008 BiOp."

The second addition mandates enhanced fish monitoring and the possibility, after completing a study, of installing PIT-tag detectors at The Dalles and John Day dams to improve inter-dam survival estimates.

The third amendment directs the Action Agencies to provide NOAA with past and future water temperature data to develop a regional database that will contribute to regional climate change impact evaluations.

Another amendment calls for Action Agencies to coordinate with NOAA in efforts to use existing studies of the effectiveness of tributary habitat and enhanced lifecycle modeling to track climate change impacts.

The amended BiOp also calls for a closer look at invasive species and toxicology issues by the expert panel that evaluates tributary habitat projects for implementation.

Beginning in December, the Action Agencies are directed to assist NOAA to develop more fully or modify existing studies that address the workgroup recommendations on fish supplementation and address the potential of density-dependent impacts of FCRPS hatchery releases on listed species. The goal is to develop ways to manage hatcheries that could reduce potential adverse hatchery effects.

This added focus on critical uncertainties with increased numbers of hatchery fish comes on top of a renewed commitment to fund more supplementation through the Fish Accords with several Columbia Basin tribes. BPA has said it will pay for nearly $370 million in supplementation efforts for the Yakama, Colville, Umatilla and Warm Springs tribes, more than 40 percent of the total funding committed in the Accords agreements signed two years ago.

Most of the Accords funding will pay for habitat restoration, and the generous spending helped get most Basin tribes to support the federal salmon plan. The amended BiOp pointed out that the agreements with tribes and states "address the certainty of implementation to achieve biological benefits," one of the Judge's main issues ever since he threw out the 2000 hydro BiOp many years back.

BPA says it has more than $60 million committed to Accords projects for FY 2010, while non-Accord F&W funding is about $125 million.

In FY 2009, BPA spent more than $40 million on Accords projects; in FY 2008, about $26 million, and in FY 2007, about $24 million.

The agreement calls for spending nearly a billion dollars on supplementation and habitat improvements over the 10-year life of the BiOp, essentially doubling the habitat program.

Now all parties are girding for another round of briefing, which some say could continue through next winter, since plaintiffs in the long litigation have given no indication they are satisfied by the changes to the salmon plan. -B. R.

The following links were mentioned in this story:

NW Fishletter 266

Supplemental BiOp

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