NOAA Fisheries Service says that a new biological opinion
issued today serves to confirm that its plan for improving salmon and steelhead
survival through the Federal Columbia River Power System on the Columbia and
Snake rivers is working, and that efforts to rehabilitate habitat for the fish
will indeed help dodge extinction for species listed under the Endangered
NOAA Fisheries in a press notice released today says that
planned actions at the dams and elsewhere are benefiting federally protected
salmon and steelhead as much as or more than anticipated five years ago.
The new findings say that the ongoing strategies outlined in
the 2008/2010 BiOps have been effective. The new supplemental BiOp analyzed
research and monitoring results from the first five years of work under the
original biological opinions.
"This supplemental biological opinion confirms we are
on the right track when it comes to ensuring the survival of salmon and
steelhead species in the Columbia River system now and well into the
future," said Will Stelle, West Coast regional administrator for NOAA
Fisheries. “Lots of hard work and collaboration across the region made this
Biological opinions determine if a federal action such as
the operation of the FCRPS is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a
species listed under the ESA. If an action is found to jeopardize a species, a
“reasonable and prudent alternative” is developed detailing actions to avoid
the likelihood of jeopardizing the continued existence of listed species or
resulting in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.
The 2014 Supplemental FCRPS Biological Opinion concludes
that the RPA, as amended, is sufficient and is not likely to jeopardize the
continued existence of the listed species or destroy or adversely modify their
Additional mitigation actions are therefore not necessary to
satisfy the requirements of ESA, says the new BiOP.
NOAA Fisheries issued a biological opinion for the FCRPS in
2008 with a RPA outlining more than 70 actions necessary to protect 13
ESA-listed salmon and steelhead species through 2018. In 2010 NOAA Fisheries
reexamined and reaffirmed the 2008 biological opinion.
Today’s supplemental “BiOp” released by NOAA Fisheries comes
in response to a federal court that has in the past found salmon recovery plans
Judge James A. Redden ruled in May 2011 that NOAA Fisheries
2008/2010 FCRPS BiOp, which was to prevail for 10 years, was illegal and
ordered that its flaws be corrected by Jan. 1, 2014. BiOps are required under
the ESA to evaluate whether federal actions, such as the operation of the dams,
jeopardize listed stocks.
A total of 13 salmon and steelhead stocks that spawn in the
Columbia-Snake river basin have been listed since 1991.
“I struck the 2000 BiOp, and the 2004 BiOp, and the
2008/2011 BiOp,” Redden, who was assigned the case in February 2003, said in
November 2011 in announcing that he was resigning as magistrate in the FCRPS
In May 2003 Judge Redden granted motions for summary
judgment invalidating a 2000 NOAA FCRPS strategy, which was replaced by a 2004
BiOp. On May 2005 Redden declared the 2004 BiOp arbitrary and capricious. It
was eventually replaced by the 2008 BiOp, which was supplemented in 2010.
In an Aug. 2, 2011, opinion and order regarding the validity
of the agency’s 2008/2010 BiOp, Redden said that “Federal Defendants have
failed, however, to identify specific mitigation plans to be implemented beyond
2013. Because the 2008/2010 BiOp’s no jeopardy conclusion is based on
unidentified habitat mitigation measures, NOAA Fisheries’ opinion that the
FCRPS operations after 2013 will not jeopardize listed species is arbitrary and
“The ESA prohibits NOAA Fisheries from relying on the
effects of uncertain and speculative actions that are not ‘reasonably certain
to occur,’” Redden wrote.
The judge ordered a court-monitored remand with Jan. 1,
2014, due date (which was later extended) for production of “a new biological
opinion that reevaluates the efficacy of the RPAs in avoiding jeopardy,
identifies reasonably specific mitigation plans for the life of the biological
opinion, and considers whether more aggressive action, such as dam removal
and/or additional flow augmentation and reservoir modifications are necessary
to avoid jeopardy.”
Redden said in that 2011 opinion that not only was post-2013
mitigation largely unidentified, but the benefits from current and future
actions are also unknown.
The long-running lawsuit has pitted a coalition of fishing
and conservation groups led by the National Wildlife Federation and, more
recently, the state of Oregon, against the federal government but has also
involved tribes, utility interests, irrigators, navigators and others with a
vested interest in the fish and/or other river resources.
The three FCRPS “action agencies” are the Army Corps of
Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, which operate the dams, and the
Bonneville Power Administration, which markets power generated in the system.
The FCRPS BiOp guides the agencies in operating the FCRPS
and requires a series of mitigation measures, called reasonable and prudent
alternatives that are intended to avoid jeopardy to the listed species that
migrate through the hydro system.
NOAA Fisheries said the supplemental biological opinion
issued this week addresses the remand order.
“Based on a thorough review of the best available scientific
data and information, with additional project definition, analysis, and amended
RPA actions NOAA Fisheries has recommended to the FCRPS Action Agencies, NOAA
Fisheries concludes that the 2008 FCRPS Biological Opinion’s analysis and
conclusions, as supplemented in 2010, remain valid. The 2014 Supplemental FCRPS
Biological Opinion concludes that the RPA, as amended, is sufficient and is not
likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the listed species or destroy
or adversely modify their critical habitat.”
The supplemental BiOp can be found online at
Specifically, NOAA Fisheries says its newly released FCRPS
supplemental biological opinion:
-- Addresses the court’s remand order by identifying
specific tributary and habitat actions through 2018.
-- Verifies that effects of the RPA actions will be as or,
for some populations, more beneficial than anticipated in the 2008 FCRPS
-- Determines the best science available was used by the
action agencies (The Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration
and the Bureau of Reclamation) for determining the efficacy of their habitat
actions. The Corps and Bureau operate hydro projects in the Snake and Columbia
river basins; BPA markets power generated at the dams.
-- Finds the adaptive management components of the RPA have
performed as expected, facilitating more efficient and effective
-- Concludes that the 2008 FCRPS biological Opinion analysis
and conclusions, as supplemented in 2010, remain valid; and that the RPA, as
amended, is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the listed
species and destroy or adversely modify
designated critical habitat.
For more background, see:
-- CBB, Sept. 13, 2013, “NOAA Fisheries Releases Draft 2013
Salmon/Steelhead BiOp, Says 2008 Biological Analysis ‘Still Valid” http://www.cbbulletin.com/428331.aspx
-- CBB, Aug. 5, 2011, “Redden Orders New Salmon BiOp By 2014;
Says Post-2013 Mitigation, Benefits Unidentified” http://www.cbbulletin.com/411336.aspx
-- CBB, Aug. 23, 2013, “Federal Agencies Release Draft Plan
Detailing 2014-2018 Actions To Meet BiOP Salmon Survival Targets” http://www.cbbulletin.com/428028.aspx