The Northwest Power and Conservation Council added a fish and wildlife protection plan for the Bitterroot River in western Montana to its Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program this week, paving the way for potential funding to improve fish and wildlife habitat and production.
"The Bitterroot Subbasin Plan is a framework for conserving and restoring fish and wildlife in the river basin, and we are pleased to add it to our fish and wildlife program," Council Chair Bruce Measure of Kalispell said.
The Bitterroot plan can be found on the Council's website at http://www.nwcouncil.org/fw/subbasinplanning/bb.htm
With addition of the Bitterroot plan, there are 57 subbasin plans in the Council's fish and wildlife program, including plans for two other river basins in Montana, the Flathead and Kootenai.
Subbasin plans include an assessment of fish, wildlife, and habitat and thus provide the context for the Council and its Independent Scientific Review Panel to evaluate and recommend projects for funding to implement the fish and wildlife program. The program is designed to mitigate the impacts of hydropower dams on fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin. The program also addresses impacts not caused by hydropower, such as in river basins like the Bitterroot.
The Northwest Power Act, the federal law that directs the Council's activities, authorizes off-site -- away from the dams -- protection and mitigation measures to compensate for fish and wildlife losses arising from the development and operation of the dams.
The Power Act also directs the Bonneville Power Administration to fund the projects that implement the Council's program. Bonneville is a federal agency that sells the output of federal hydropower dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries.
According to the Missoula-based Montana Water Trust, now part of the Clark Fork Coalition, which took the lead in developing the Bitterroot plan, over the last 100 years in unprotected parts of the basin humans have drastically altered riparian and wetland habitats. This occurred through actions such as residential development, road-building, agriculture, and streambank stabilization with rip-rap and other hard materials. These actions in turn have affected fish and wildlife populations.
Between 2002 and 2005, the Council led a regional planning effort to develop subbasin plans and amend them into the fish and wildlife program. Planners in a handful of tributaries did not complete subbasin plans at that time and the Council left open the possibility of further amending the program if subbasin plans were submitted at a later date. In September 2009, the Council received the proposed subbasin plan for the Bitterroot River. The science panel commented favorably on the plan.