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NW Fishletter #367, March 6, 2017

[2] Council Continues to Question Columbia Basin Habitat-Monitoring Projects

During December and February meetings the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, members discussed the BPA and fish and wildlife program approach to assessing the effectiveness of habitat-restoration actions.

Two NWPCC-approved habitat-monitoring projects and one BPA monitoring project have been slow to explain if they are helping guide fish managers' habitat work, according to several Council members.

Washington Council member Tom Karier said, with some frustration, that after 13 years and $75 million, the Council needed to understand the results of this investment.

The centerpiece of the Council's Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program is habitat rehabilitation and conservation.

Rebuilding "healthy, naturally producing fish and wildlife populations by protecting, mitigating and restoring habitats and the biological systems within them," is how the 2014 program describes this central strategy.

Guy Norman, Washington's other Council member, said it is extremely important to know whether habitat projects are doing what they are supposed to do and informing future work.

However, he cautioned, the Council needs to recognize that habitat-effectiveness assessments are not going to give answers on an annual basis.

The three projects are the Integrated Status and Effectiveness Monitoring Program (ISEMP), the Columbia Habitat Monitoring Program (CHaMP) and the Action Effectiveness Monitoring (AEM) project.

The first two are part of the fish and wildlife program, while the third is a BPA initiative.

The ISEMP, CHaMP and AEM projects are part of the 2008-2014 BiOp on the FCRPS.

The BiOp's conclusions assume these monitoring efforts will provide quantifiable estimates of the life-stage survival improvements gained from tributary, main-stem and estuary habitat actions.

At a December Council meeting, Karier asked Lorri Bodi, BPA vice-president for Environment, Fish and Wildlife, whether the habitat-monitoring programs have helped and whether there were preliminary results about benefits to fish abundance, productivity and diversity.

Bodi said that these were the right questions and acknowledged an increasing emphasis on results. She said BPA was doing another synthesis of tributary enhancement benefits that would be available this spring.

When the Council returned to the topic again this month, Karier was clearly still not satisfied.

Salmonid life cycle
CHaMP data describes salmonid habitat for all life stages. Credit: Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

He said salmon managers have made the case that measuring some things is necessary, but questioned whether other monitoring and assessment activities were essential to continue to research.

Karier thought some of the activities were duplicative of others' efforts. "We already know that fencing to keep livestock out of streams and riparian areas works," he said as an example.

Council staff responded that they didn't know yet whether such analyses were duplicative.

As indicated in a Dec. 6 memo, the Council is waiting to hear from Bonneville on the status of eight of 13 conditions sent to the power-marketing agency in a June 2013 NWPCC decision letter.

The conditions requested that projects transition from a pilot effort to monitoring and assessing how actions directly affect local habitat; integrate project data with existing information to avoid differing metrics; report how certain juvenile fish data is being used to evaluate habitat actions; and other conditions.

The 2013 decision letter dates back to recommendations made by the Council in 2011 and to a 2013 appraisal of ISEMP, CHaMP and BPA's AEM by the Independent Scientific Review Panel.

Karier commented that more scientific review was not needed. The concerns are policy ones, he said.

In December, BPA staff proposed to submit the three projects to the Council for ISRP review and Council recommendations this April.

While the ISRP previously reviewed these projects, the science panel has not made an assessment of BPA's Tributary Habitat Framework, which aims to integrate the actions and results of the three monitoring projects.

Bonneville did not propose ISRP review of the framework.

"We need to ask the salmon managers what's essential and what's important to continue in research," Karier said. "We have other uses for the funds if these are not essential."

Norman said he supports working with fish managers to sharpen habitat-research efforts.

Bill Booth, Idaho Council member, said he shared Karier's concerns and recommended that the staff come back next month with new options.

"We included the monitoring projects in the BiOp, but they didn't influence the court," Booth said.

In May 2016, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon rejected the BiOp, saying in part that to recover salmon and steelhead populations the federal agencies had relied on what amounted to uncertain benefits from habitat actions.

The judge said the Endangered Species Act required habitat-improvement projects "to achieve some amount of survival benefit beyond the minimum required to avoid jeopardy."

During her December presentation to the Council, BPA's Bodi said she expected the AEM project to be used in the 2018 proposed actions and BiOp analytical framework.

Council Chair Henry Lorenzen of Oregon asked the NWPCC staff for a timeline and objectives by the March Council meeting. -Laura Berg

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