The state of Oregon and the Bonneville Power Administration are inviting public comment on a new draft agreement that defines the federal obligation in the state to mitigate the impacts of federal dams in the Willamette Basin on wildlife habitat.
The preliminary agreement between Oregon and BPA would resolve past differences over how much wildlife habitat the federal agency must protect to compensate for habitat that was lost to construction, operation and maintenance of federal dams and reservoirs in the Willamette River basin. Under the agreement, BPA would provide stable funding through fiscal 2025 for the state, tribes, nonprofits and others to acquire and protect at least 16,880 acres of rare and important wildlife habitat such as wetlands, oak savanna and bottomland forests.
Under the terms of the agreement Bonneville, which sells power generated at federal dams in the Columbia River basin, promises to provide $2.5 million per year in funding in fiscal years 2011-2013 and then $8 million annually thereafter through 2025. The total pledge is $103.5 million.
After extensive negotiations, BPA and Oregon settled on a compromise that would target the protection of 26,537 acres as mitigation for impacts on wildlife resulting from the Willamette Project operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project includes 13 multi-purpose dams and reservoirs.
To-date 6,699 acres have been protected and another 2,958 acres are near purchase closure. That would leave 16,880 acres to be targeted from 2011-2025. If the state is able to acquire more than 16,880 acres with the promised funding it will do so.
The acreage total is a compromise. An ODFW assessment pegged the necessary mitigation at 34,282 acres while Bonneville's estimate was 17,791.
The draft agreement will be open to public comment for 30 days. BPA and Oregon will consider the feedback and decide whether to sign a final agreement this fall.
"We are excited that we are close to resolving the long-standing issue of wildlife habitat mitigation in the Willamette Valley for the state of Oregon. We are also very optimistic that we will now have new resources to implement the Governor's Willamette River Legacy, and to assist the tribes, organizations, agencies, and thousands of individuals who have worked so hard in recent years to protect and restore these native habitats," said Roy Elicker, director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "It sets up an inclusive selection process so we can be sure that the projects we pursue represent a valuable and lasting legacy for the state and its wildlife."
Oregon would work with tribes, federal and local agencies and other stakeholders to develop objective criteria that would be used to select the most biologically valuable and cost-effective habitat protection projects. At least 10 percent of the protected habitat will benefit both terrestrial wildlife and fish, including salmon and steelhead, to help satisfy biological opinions that outline protections for Willamette fish species.
"This creates a new partnership between BPA and Oregon that has great value for fish and wildlife and for BPA ratepayers," said Lorri Bodi, acting vice president for Environment, Fish and Wildlife at BPA. "It would provide reliable funding for the protection of increasingly scarce Willamette habitat and at the same time provide new clarity for ratepayers on mitigation costs going forward."
For more information and to comment on the draft agreement, go to BPA's website at www.bpa.gov/comment and look for the entry on the Willamette Mitigation Settlement Agreement.
BPA will accept comments on the draft agreement through its website through Oct. 12. Comments may be submitted to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.