Columbia River

Columbia River.

Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana issued a notice July 13 clarifying their criteria for picking who will have seats on the new Columbia Basin Collaborative and on the working groups that will investigate specific topics.

The notice comes in advance of a July 31 deadline for nominating members to serve on the collaborative, and after some early comments criticized the makeup as unbalanced or off-topic.

The collaborative is expected to include 20 to 30 members representing states, tribes, federal agencies and stakeholders who will develop recommendations for achieving "healthy and harvestable" salmon and steelhead returns to the Columbia Basin through consensus.

States held a second organizational workshop on June 10 (CU No. 2008 [11]), and invited stakeholders to nominate up to eight collaborative members including two from utilities, two from river economies, two from nontribal fisheries and two from conservation groups. Tribes, states and federal agencies will select their own members.

In an email to those attending the workshop, the states clarified membership criteria, saying that anyone serving on the collaborative's main body—called the Implementation/Recommendations Group—should have specific qualifications including a demonstrated leadership in their sector, a willingness to work with other sovereigns and stakeholders to find solutions and reach consensus, and the ability to provide input that is strategic and science-based and will reflect a basinwide perspective and long-term view.

"Our preference is for each sector described above to nominate two representatives who meet the membership criteria. If the sector does not provide nominees or there are more than two nominated, the ad hoc convening committee will select two representatives (based on the membership criteria) who have been nominated by individuals in the sector or themselves," the notice states.

Working group membership will be decided by the collaborative members after it convenes. Criteria for working group members include a commitment to consider biological criteria and analyze actions that will increase salmon and steelhead numbers while balancing cultural, social, economic and ecological considerations; a demonstrated willingness to work with other stakeholders to find solutions and reach consensus; and knowledge and a recognized expertise in the topic area. The working group together should represent the geographic diversity of the Columbia Basin, the notice says.

The notice says that the ad hoc representatives from states have identified eight potential topic-specific working groups, but those will be discussed and finalized by the collaborative members, and subgroups may also be formed to address specific topics within the categories. "It is the intent of the CBC not to duplicate existing efforts but instead build upon the good work being done by these efforts and coordinate."

The eight potential topic areas include predation, hydropower, hatcheries, harvest, habitat, blocked areas, marine influences and environmental constraints.

In picking the working groups, collaborative members "will work to ensure the groups are balanced and have the right number of members to be effective," the notice states.

The notice comes after Northwest RiverPartners and the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association sent letters to representatives of the four states expressing concerns about the makeup of the collaborative's main group and its working groups.

RiverPartners said the proposed membership of the collaborative is heavily weighted toward tribes and groups that have publicly endorsed breaching the four lower Snake River dams.

In an interview with Clearing Up, Miller noted that the collaborative's structure sets aside 13 to 14 spots for tribal representatives, and it will be up to the tribes how many of those seats to fill. He noted that those tribes are represented in the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, which passed a resolution in May asking the Biden administration to implement measures in a plan to breach the dams, as proposed by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) (CU No. 2007 [9.2]).

The remaining seats include one seat for each of the four states, up to four seats for federal agencies, and eight seats for stakeholders, half of which are for nontribal fisheries and conservation groups.

Miller said the makeup of the collaborative became weighted in favor of dam removal when the states boosted tribal representation to include a seat for each of the tribes. "We're not opposed to having all the tribal nations represented—they have a big stake in these issues," he said. But the makeup of the collaborative and its working groups should be representative of the numerous viewpoints that exist in the basin, he said. He suggested that representation by groups who do not support breaching the dams should have increased accordingly.

Miller said he is also concerned about the membership on the working groups, which are more likely to be filled by people who have time and resources to devote.

"I just feel like it's really set up to fail, unless one of their goals is breaching the dams. It's not set up to be a truly collaborative, truly consensus-building process," he said.

In its letter to the states, RiverPartners also said that participants—including the State of Oregon—should be asked to drop legal challenges as a precondition for being part of the collaborative. "If this is to be a collaborative process, participants and their affiliates should be asked to de-escalate," the letter states. "Litigants should be asked to shelve their lawsuits in order to participate, otherwise their participation can only be viewed as a reconnaissance opportunity to support their litigious efforts, which is not what a sincerely collaborative process should represent or allow."

By contrast, Darryll Olsen, board representative for CSRIA, contends that only parties involved in the lawsuit, National Wildlife Federation et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service et al. [01-640], should have a seat on the collaborative. "If you're not in litigation now, you don't have a dog in the fight," he told Clearing Up.

He said the October 2020 letter from the four governors announcing the collaborative's formation (CU No. 1974 [17]) mentioned their differences in their views on the adequacy of the Columbia River System Operations EIS, BiOp and record of decision, and resolving the lawsuit is why they formed the collaborative. "There is no other reason. Their objective is to respond to the litigation, not to do another fish and wildlife process," he said.

In its July 6 letter to the state representatives, CSRIA wrote, "The CBC objective should reflect the reason for its formation: 1) to respond to the 'unacceptable' preferred alternative in the Columbia River System Operations (CRSO) BiOp-EIS; and 2) to focus the CBC response to deal with the motions/orders emerging from the current litigation. This should appreciably narrow the CBC scope of work."

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K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.