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Council FW Committee Moves Forward On Salmon Reintroduction Study Above Grand Coulee
Posted on Friday, March 11, 2016 (PST)

On a three-to-one vote, a study assessing habitat conditions in reaches of the Columbia River and tributaries upstream of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams was given the go-ahead Tuesday by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee.

 

The study will assess whether reintroducing salmon and steelhead into waters upstream of Grand Coulee Dam is feasible as it researches the potential habitat available to support spawning and juvenile rearing.

 

The contract for the assessment, not to exceed $200,000, if approved by the full Council at its April meeting in Missoula, Montana, will be given to the Spokane Tribe of Indians.

 

The Tribe, along with a collaborative group of co-managers, submitted the only research proposal the Council received from a request for proposals released jointly by the Council and the Bonneville Power Administration in mid-October, 2015 (see RFP at http://www.nwcouncil.org/fw/reviews/2016habitat/rfp/).

 

That group includes the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and with technical support from the U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia River Research Laboratory and NOAA Fisheries.

 

The Council received the proposal by the Dec. 15, 2015 deadline and then sent it to the Independent Science Review Panel for review.

 

The ISRP’s mostly positive report, “Review of Proposed Habitat Suitability Assessment for Anadromous Salmonid Reintroduction in the Blocked Areas of the U.S. portion of the Upper Columbia Basin,” is available at http://www.nwcouncil.org/fw/isrp/isrp2016-1/.

 

“This issue has been swirling around us for quite a while, and a lot of work has been done on it,” Committee Chair Jennifer Anders of Montana said at Tuesday’s meeting in Portland. “It’s been before us several times regarding its policy and financial aspects; it is the result of a lot of work, and it is supported by the ISRP.”

 

The Council has not voted on whether to support reintroduction upstream of the dams, but the assessment is the first step of a three-phase process preparing for that eventuality.

 

The only dissenting vote came from Idaho Council member Bill Booth who objected to the proposal because, he said, the Council had approved an RFP that would look at just the currently available habitat in reaches upstream of the dams, not the potential habitat.

 

Phase 1 of the Council’s plan to research the blocked area upstream of the two dams called for looking at just the existing conditions, he said, and then the plan follows logical, incremental steps to reintroduction, but only if warranted. The contract approved Tuesday by the Fish and Wildlife Committee goes beyond that first step, he said.

 

“This proposal does a GIS evaluation of where there potentially could be habitat and that goes far beyond what we should be doing in phase 1,” Booth said. “I cannot support this proposal.” (GIS is a geographic information system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage and present geographical data.)

 

When the Council amended its Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program in October 2014, it updated program provisions that included investigating the possibility of reintroducing anadromous fish back into blocked mainstem Columbia River reaches and tributaries.

 

The program calls for the pursuit of “a science-based, phased approach to investigating the reintroduction of anadromous fish above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams including juvenile and adult passage at the dams.” The approach includes three phases.

 

Phase 1, to be completed no later than the end of 2016, calls for evaluating information about passage studies at other blocked areas, as well as at Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams; evaluate habitat availability and suitability above Grand Coulee; and engage in  discussions with stakeholders about the reintroduction.

 

Phase 2, at the Council’s discretion and in collaboration with others, test and design reintroduction strategies, investigate alternative approaches to reintroduction, identify additional studies and embark on reintroduction pilot projects.

 

In Phase 3 the Council will decide how to proceed to implement and fund reintroduction.

 

See the Council’s 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program, Anadromous Fish Mitigation in Blocked Areas Strategy (http://www.nwcouncil.org/fw/program/2014-12/program/partthree_vision_foundation_goals_objectives_strategies/iv_strategies/c_other_strategies/3_anadromous_fish_mitigation_blocked_areas/).

 

The goals for the assessment, according to Council information, are to identify the potential geographic distribution of reintroduced chinook salmon and steelhead above the two dams, to identify stream reaches and estimate the area of habitat that would be available and suitable for the fish, and to compile existing habitat information into a database and identify the gaps or uncertainties in the information that will still need answers.

 

The RFP targeted just one element of the work that still needs to be done before fish are passed upstream of either dam – the investigation into the area’s habitat potential.

 

Among the specific tasks required by the RFP are:

--compile what is known about the area and species from existing studies, GIS information, reports and local knowledge.

--identify areas where information is weak or lacking

--identify and prioritize target reaches for potential field surveys

--perform field studies if needed in target areas to evaluate existing habitat condition and suitability for anadromous fish

--summarize and analyze previously existing and newly collected data to determine what species and life histories can be supported by the existing habitat, the salmon survival potential and species interaction, particularly with native and non-native fishes.

 

The ISRP in its report added two qualifications to their review. The qualifications are associated with expectation of future stability of the habitat and additional detail regarding the modeling approach to be used to assess the habitat suitability.

 

“Given the long-term nature of this reintroduction project, serious consideration must be given to expectations of future suitability, beyond current conditions, of habitat in blocked areas,” said the ISRP. “The methodology should allow incorporation of information about expected patterns of land development and climate change.”

 

Regarding the second qualification, the ISRP said “Intrinsic Potential” modeling will be used to assess the suitability of tributary habitats to support Chinook and steelhead within the blocked areas. However, the proposal does not adequately justify the use of IP modeling or consider the limitations of using habitat surveys for resident species to evaluate habitat potential for Chinook and steelhead. A more detailed description of the proposed IP modeling approach (including its assumptions, limitations, and the specific metrics to be obtained from existing GIS data or from other sources) would likely ameliorate these concerns.”

 

In its overall support of the effort, the ISRP said, “the key components for an effective assessment seem to be in place: cooperation and cost-sharing, workshops to compile expert opinion, remote sensing and GIS, modeling of intrinsic potential, analysis of migration barriers and EDT. With strong leadership, cooperation, and skilled analysts, this approach could provide a robust assessment to guide future decisions.”

 

The Fish and Wildlife Committee approved moving the Tribe’s proposal and contract to the full Council with the understanding that the ISRP qualifications will be addressed in contracting, that the budget will not exceed $200,000, not including in-kind contribution from their partners, and the Tribes will submit a report for Council and ISRP review by the end of 2017.

 

The excitement created among communities by the potential of reintroducing salmon and steelhead upstream of Grand Coulee Dam was apparent in a presentation to the full Council Tuesday by the Reardan, Washington High School Agricultural Issues team of the school’s Future Farmers of America Chapter.

 

The six FFA students debated whether to reintroduce the salmon. The debate is a part of local, state and national competitions in which the students build a portfolio of presentations on controversial topics. As of this week, the Reardan students are in first place in their district and heading to a state competition. They hope to move on to the national competition in Annapolis in the fall.

 

Also at the Fish and Wildlife Committee meeting, Laura Robinson of the Council staff said she is beginning a review of fish passage studies at high-head hydropower dams – those dams with 175 feet of water above turbine entrances or greater) like Chief Joseph (178 feet) and Grand Coulee (380 feet), the Pelton-Round Butte projects on the Deschutes River, and Willamette River projects.

 

The review includes design options and information about environmental, social, economic, and biological effects of passage. Robinson said a draft white paper will be produced by summer 2016, with a final paper at the end of 2016. The white paper is intended to help with passage options, costs and, ultimately, will help the Council decide whether to support reintroduction.

 

Reintroduction of salmon and steelhead upstream of dams that block passage, whether the fish are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act or not, was foreseen in the Northwest Power Act (sections 839b(h)(10)(A) and 839b(h)(11)(A)(i)) and further outlined in the Council’s 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program.

 

The Council has legally supported this guidance from the Northwest Power Act in Appendix S (pp 300-301, http://www.nwcouncil.org/media/7148624/2014-12.pdf) of its 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program, saying:

 

“Section 4(h) of the Northwest Power Act and the Council’s fish and wildlife program are premised on the idea of mitigation for the loss of anadromous and resident fish due to the development and operation of the federal and non-federal hydroelectric facilities, including of course Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams. There is no legal reason that the investigation and, if warranted, implementation  of reintroduction and passage measures cannot be considered one  of the many tools in the program’s mitigation, protection and enhancement toolbox, to be evaluated and used where  appropriate to meet the mitigation obligations under the Act.”

 

“At the same time, the Council agrees that responsibility for the complete investigation and implementation of passage and reintroduction at these major blockages is ultimately a major policy decision for the region and nation and a shared responsibility that should not fall just on Bonneville and the ratepayers.”

 

Also see:

 

-- CBB, Feb. 5, 2016, “Washington Legislature Considers Memorial For Salmon Re-Introduction In Upper Columbia Blocked Areas” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435982.aspx

 

-- CBB, December 18, 2015, “Council Moves Proposal For Evaluating Salmon Habitat Above Grand Coulee To Science Review,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435731.aspx

 

-- CBB, October 16, 2015, “Can Salmon, Steelhead Survive Above Grand Coulee Dam? Council Investigation May Provide Answer,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435273.aspx

 

-- CBB, September 18, 2015, “Council Moves Ahead With Plan To Assess Potential Salmon Habitat Blocked By Grand Coulee,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435022.aspx

 

-- CBB, Jan. 16, 2015, “Tribes Lay Out Process For Investigating Feasibility Of Salmon Reintroduction Above Grand Coulee Dam” http://www.cbbulletin.com/432935.aspx

 

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