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NW Power/Conservation Council Approves New Columbia River Basin Fish And Wildlife Program
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2014 (PST)

Restoring ecosystems and wild fish are major themes spelled out in the latest version of the Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, a set of strategies developed by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council over the past year and approved Wednesday during the panel’s meeting in Pendleton, Ore.

 

“Our fish and wildlife program supports the restoration of ecosystems and wild fish by addressing a broad spectrum of the fish and wildlife life cycle including habitat, hatcheries, river flows, dam passage, invasive species, and climate change impacts,” said Council Chair Bill Bradbury.

 

The program amendment process just completed is dictated by Congress through its Northwest Power Act. The 1980 law directed the creation of the Council, an interstate compact agency with two representatives each appointed by the governors of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.

 

The Act requires the Council to develop a program to “protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife, including related spawning grounds and habitat, on the Columbia River and its tributaries … affected by the development, operation, and management of [hydroelectric projects] while assuring the Pacific Northwest an adequate, efficient, economical, and reliable power supply.”

 

The Act also says that the Council must update or amend the fish and wildlife program every five years, using the advice of federal, state and tribal fish and wildlife managers to take into account advancements in science. The Council must seek widespread public involvement in the formulation of regional power and fish and wildlife policies.

 

That has been done, according to NPCC Fish and Wildlife Division Director Tony Grover.

 

The newly unveiled program “is literally the combined work of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dedicated, passionate, experienced people,” Grover said of the input from managers, utility interests and conservation groups and other members of the public, as well as Council members and staff.

 

For more information about the newly approved program, go to:

http://www.nwcouncil.org/fw/program/2014-12

 

Since 1982, the Council’s program has directed the investment of more than $3 billion of electricity revenues to improve fish passage at hydropower dams, acquire and improve fish and wildlife habitat, boost fish production using hatcheries while also limiting hatchery impacts on wild fish, monitor and evaluate the success of these efforts, and improve scientific knowledge through research, according to a Council “message” prefacing the new program’s basinwide vision, scientific foundation, goals, objectives and strategies.

 

The Council’s program has helped direct as much as $250 million per year in recent years to mitigate for the impacts of hydropower dams in the Columbia-Snake river basin on fish and wildlife. The program is funded by the Bonneville Administration with funds collected from ratepayers. BPA markets power generated at the federal dams

 

Bradbury noted that salmon and steelhead returns have in recent years been on an upward arc, including a record – at least since the first of eight federal mainstem dams was built in 1938 – sockeye salmon run this year and near-record fall chinook in 2014 that comes on the heels of a record in 2013.

 

“The 2014 runs give us real hope that the efforts are paying off,” Bradbury said. “Now we’re starting to see a benefit from that money we’re spending.”

 

Of particular encouragement, Bradbury said is that “more and more of those fish are in fact wild fish that spawn on their own. That’s really our goal… to restore naturally spawning fish to the Columbia River system.”

 

Through the program, the Council works to restore healthy ecosystems and healthy populations of wild fish -- including those that go to the ocean, like salmon, and those that don’t, like bull trout -- throughout the basin. This work involves connecting areas of good habitat, removing fish-passage barriers, and improving water quality. Much of the work designed to boost wild fish also helps wildlife in the same ecosystems.

 

The program also supports using hatchery programs as tools to help rebuild fish populations that spawn in the wild, according to the Council. The program integrates hatcheries with habitat improvements, and works with fish and wildlife agencies and Indian tribes to define the scope and purposes of fish propagation, as well as appropriate management techniques consistent with current and evolving scientific principles.

 

Much of the program focus -- and roughly 70 percent of the funding -- is on salmon and steelhead, species that start their life in freshwater, -- either in hatcheries or the wild-- mature in the Pacific Ocean and return to freshwater to spawn. Wild portions of 13 Columbia River salmon and steelhead portions have become depleted, largely because of human development and, in the past, overfishing, to the point that they have required protection under the Endangered Species Act.

 

“The Council and the region recognize that many other species were adversely affected as well. Therefore in this program the Council included strategies specific to certain species including sturgeon, lamprey, and eulachon,” according to the NPCC message. Wildlife issues too are addressed in the program.

 

Following is a staff summary of some of the new program elements:

 

Habitat

 

-- Ecosystems: The program stresses the importance of restoring functioning ecosystems.

-- Strongholds: States and tribes may designate strongholds to help manage wild or naturally spawning fish.

-- Water quality: Support efforts to identify, assess, and reduce toxic contaminants.

-- Mainstem dam operations: Where there are demonstrated benefits for fish, manage flows to more closely approximate natural patterns.

-- Columbia River estuary: Assess opportunities for floodplain reconnection and removal or lowering of dikes and levees that block access to habitat.

--Climate change: Assess whether climate change effects are altering or are likely to alter critical river flows, water temperatures or habitat, evaluate possible actions to mitigate effects.

 

Fish:

 

-- Wild fish: Functioning ecosystems will support and protect wild fish.

-- Hatcheries: Defer to the agencies and tribes to define scope, purpose, methods, and appropriate management techniques, consistent with current and evolving scientific principles.

-- Reintroduction into blocked areas: Science-based, phased approach to put salmon back into historic habitats blocked by dams.

-- Resident fish: Preserve, enhance, and restore native fish in native habitats.

-- Non-native and invasive species: Detect their presence, respond early, minimize their spread, educate the public.

-- Sturgeon: Operate dams to provide flows that encourage sturgeon to spawn without harming ESA-listed salmon and steelhead.

-- Lamprey: Evaluate dam passage, passage efficiency, and direct mortality.

 

Wildlife:

 

-- Mitigation: Acquire and protect habitat units identified in loss assessments, encourage settlement agreements.

-- Protected areas: Protect 44,000 miles of river reaches from new hydroelectric development, provide for exemption where projects would have exceptional benefits for fish and wildlife.

 

The Program:

 

-- Adaptive management: Improve understanding of what efforts are working, evaluate program progress.

 

That adaptive management has become even more important in a rapidly changing world.

 

“While we are pleased that the Council’s program has played such an important role in recovering and rebuilding fish and wildlife species, we also note that many of the projects that implement the program are aging and are in need of additional operational and maintenance funding,” according to the Council message. “The Independent Scientific Advisory Board cautions that these investments may also be threatened by outside influences.

 

“These circumstances present unique challenges for the Council, and demonstrate the need to be flexible and responsive in a changing world. For example, the Council is aware of the impact, present and future, of non-native species, toxic contaminants, and climate change on fish and wildlife in the Columbia Basin.”

 

The amendment process began 13 months ago with the request from the Council to the region’s Indian tribes, state and federal fish and wildlife agencies, and others for amendment recommendations. The Council received 48 sets of recommendations from tribes and tribal coordinating entities, federal and state agencies, state supported agencies, customers, utilities and utility organizations and environmental groups. In addition the Council received recommendations from more than 350 individuals.

 

The Council and staff then developed a draft program, which it released for public comment in May.

 

During the 80-day comment period, the Council held 10 public hearings on the draft program amendments in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana and received oral testimony from 72 individuals and entities. The Council and Council staff also had 15 consultations with tribal and non-tribal entities around the Columbia River basin regarding the program amendments.

 

In addition to the hearings and consultations, the Council received 297 sets of written comments on the draft program which are also posted on the Council’s web site.

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The Columbia Basin Bulletin, Bend, Oregon. For information or comments call 541-312-8860.
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