The Northwest Power and Conservation Council on Wednesday recommended more than $30 million in limited, short-term funding for 40 research and monitoring projects aimed at improving knowledge about the status of fish and wildlife in the Columbia River basin.
The recommendation is for a group of projects that was parsed out of the overall “categorical” review of research, monitoring and evaluation/artificial propagation projects proposed for funding through the Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. The Council during its April monthly meeting recommended funding for a set of 100 fish and wildlife project proposals that are projected to draw an estimated $78 million in funding during fiscal year 2012.
The Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration, which makes the final funding/contracting decisions. BPA funds the program as mitigation for Columbia-Snake river hydro system impacts on fish and wildlife. Bonneville markets power generated in the Federal Columbia River Power System.
NPCC Fish and Wildlife Committee Chairman Bill Booth of Idaho said that the projects in the RM&E/artificial production category as a whole could draw up to $115 million during the 2012 fiscal year, which is more than half of the program’s $220 million budget.
The review of the projects by the Council and staff, BPA and the Council’s Independent Scientific Review Panel played out over nearly two years.
As a result, “we got a much better product from sponsors than we’ve ever gotten before,” Booth said.
The Council, in making its recommendation, stressed the experimental nature of the projects and the need for quarterly updates or reports over the next year to two years to demonstrate effectiveness as a condition of further funding.
For that reason, none of the projects approved this week would be funded initially for longer than two years. During that time, the Council will conduct extensive reviews of all the projects to determine whether they should continue in the longer term.
A list of the projects with details about their objectives and funding is posted on the Council’s website at the location http://www.nwcouncil.org/news/2011/06/ under Item 9.
Three projects regarding ocean research were held for further consideration and will be taken up by the Council in July.
The vote in favor of the project funding was 6-2, with Council Chair Bruce Measure of Montana and Idaho member Jim Yost voting no. Measure said that while he supported most of the projects, he was not convinced that they exclusively address impacts occasioned by the Columbia River Basin hydropower system, and accordingly those projects should be more closely scrutinized to determine whether they are the responsibility of Bonneville ratepayers.
Yost and Measure were particularly vexed by the proposed $3.7 million in spending planned for the long-running coded-wire tag programs involving the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife, the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The programs involve data collection and management conducted by ODFW, WDFW, and PSMFC that supports a coastwide stock identification system for coded-wire tagged salmonid fish. Within the Columbia Basin, the CWT is used extensively for identification of hatchery and wild anadromous salmonid stocks. The tag recovery data are used to assess a wide variety of studies designed to improve survival of hatchery-produced salmonids, as well as monitor the stock composition of fish harvested in the ocean.
Measure said that the coded wire tagging program has not shown the required “nexus” with the hydro system to make it eligible for funding. Yost also said that funding a program aimed at collecting ocean harvest data did not mitigate for hydro system impacts.
The NPCC’s Fish and Wildlife Program director, Tony Grover, said that the staff’s recommendation, which the Council ultimately approved, was that funding be provided for the next two years with the condition that the project sponsors work to develop an overarching plan for ISRP review to coordinate the tagging of salmon throughout the Columbia River Basin, including the recovery of coded-wire tags in the fisheries, on the spawning grounds and elsewhere.
“Based on the plan and the ISRP review, the Council will then work with Bonneville and the tagging agencies to revise the coded-wire tag projects for the appropriate level of future funding,” according to the Council staff’s draft decision memo.
“There are lots of assertions and counter assertions” about the value of the coded wire tagging program and who should pay for it, Grover said. The relatively short-term funding is designed to allow time to evaluate the long-term value of the program, and other programs sent forward this week.
The recommended projects address survival of salmon in the near-shore ocean and the Columbia River estuary, plus research on sturgeon and Pacific lamprey in the lower Columbia River, fish-tagging for research and harvest-enumeration purposes, and monitoring the effectiveness of projects designed to improve fish habitat. The projects would be implemented by Indian tribes, state fish and wildlife agencies, independent researchers, and others.
“Collectively, these projects comprise more than half of the roughly $220 million annual budget of our fish and wildlife program, which is why we have been so careful,” Booth said. “Future funding for these projects is not guaranteed. We achieved about $4.5 million in savings with the projects we’ve approved, and I expect that over the next two years we will we identify further efficiencies. Projects in this category have been significantly improved. We have better-focused projects, the project sponsors were asked to answer the ‘what-for’ and ‘so-what’ questions, and as a result we have better coordination and better efficiencies and the projects have been divided up logically so we will be able to keep better track of them through regular reporting by the sponsors.”
The Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program is largely based on habitat improvements, aiming to rebuild healthy, naturally producing fish and wildlife populations by protecting, mitigating, and restoring habitats and the biological systems within them.
The recommending funding package includes $15.5 million in fiscal year 2012 funding for a suite of proposed projects that will be monitored and evaluated to determine the effectiveness of habitat actions in ultimately improving the population characteristics of our key fish species, and to be able to use what is learned to adapt the implementation and management of the program.
“The existing projects and new proposals in the review include dozens of projects that are intended in some way to help to assess whether the habitat work is having the desired impact on fish populations. These assessments are to occur at the watershed or reach scale depending on the effectiveness they are testing, i.e., cause and effect at the population or watershed level (Intensively Monitored Watersheds or IMWs, part of the Integrated Status and Effectiveness Monitoring Program or ISEMP), habitat status and trends that can be correlated to fish status and trends at the watershed scale (e.g., the new Columbia Habitat Monitoring Program or CHaMP…,” according to the draft decision memo.