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NW Fishletter #313, February 12, 2013

[9] Wash. Congressman Seeks Review Of NOAA Fish Recovery Assessment

Washington Congressman Doc Hastings (R) said Feb. 4 the House natural resources committee, which he chairs, will seek review of a new initiative announced late last year by NOAA Fisheries to survey Northwest stakeholders for what the agency called a "situation assessment," to "explore regional views about how best to approach comprehensive, long-term salmon recovery planning."

In a Feb. 4 letter to NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenko, Hastings said NOAA had failed to explain the scope or necessity for the process. "In my view," said Hastings, "NOAA's timing and rationale for launching yet another costly taxpayer-funded planning exercise is highly questionable amidst near-record salmon runs in the Columbia Basin."

Hastings also said he was concerned that the assessment could interfere with salmon recovery plans already approved by the federal agency, along with state and tribal hatchery programs. "Further, it could delay or undermine Congressionally-directed independent scientific review of highly questionable salmon biological opinion directives, which as written, would adversely impact the Columbia and Snake basin agriculture and use of crop protection products."

But, most important, he said, was that the assessment could undermine the successful collaboration between three Northwest states and some Basin tribes over the hydro BiOp. "The hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars NOAA plans to use for this "assessment" to solicit likely recycled opinions will add little, if any benefit, and worse, could potentially undo years of progress made to bring diverse Northwest entities together on these complex issues," said Hastings' letter. He called on NOAA to postpone the effort.

Last December, when NMFS announced the new move, NOAA Fisheries' regional administrator Barry Thom said his agency wanted to use the results "to better integrate existing and future recovery plans with Basin-wide strategies to address all elements of recovery."

The feds said they would use the Oregon Consensus Program at Portland State University and the William D. Ruckelshaus Center at the University of Washington, to conduct the "situation assessment." Both groups promote collaborative governance and consensus-based public policy. An assessment team will also be put together that includes experts from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Thom said a situation assessment was "an interview-based process undertaken to better understand and explore relevant issues and interests of involved parties and situation dynamics." Each interview was expected to last an hour.

Since Thom's announcement, drafts of both potential questions and an interview list of about 150 people have surfaced. The list includes four individuals from American Rivers, four high-ranking officials from BPA, two from the Corps of Engineers, 14 from NOAA Fisheries, (including three scientists from the agency's Seattle Science Center), several from each Basin tribe, 12 Congressional staffers from various Northwest delegations, three from Earthjustice, all members of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and representatives of state fish agencies, BPA customer groups, salmon advocates, conservation groups, and utilities, along with others from various federal and state agencies.

The draft questions included the following: How will you know the Columbia Basin salmon recovery process has been successful? What outcomes will you see? What will have happened/not happened 25, 50 or 75 years from now? What changes if any to the existing processes might you recommend for addressing salmon recovery in the long term? What do you think will happen if the "status quo" continues? How can science best be incorporated into recovery planning? What should we have asked that we did not? Do you have any questions for us?

It seems that Hastings has several questions of his own, but the process has been endorsed by several conservation groups and some BPA customer groups. Since the interviews will be confidential and no views will be attributed, the feds in December said regional parties could speak freely because the assessment will being conducted by a "neutral third party," so potential options would be identified in an objective way. -B. R.

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NW Fishletter 311

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