Anticipating issues that could be included in
a nearly year-long process to update its Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife
Program, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council Fish and Wildlife
Committee at its meeting last week in Portland began to consider what might
become important issues during that effort.
The 1980 Northwest Power Act 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.
The Council will begin the process to amend
its 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program this spring. Before that Council staff has
suggested discussing issues that have arisen since the previous Program was
completed. That discussion could give the entire amendment process some context
as the Council prepares to invite amendment suggestions.
There have been 35 years of successes through
Council funded fish and wildlife programs and studies, but overall “we have
eluded our recovery goals,” Patty O’Toole, program implementation manager, told
the Fish and Wildlife Committee Tuesday, January 9.
Still, according to O’Toole and a January 3,
2018 Council memorandum (https://www.nwcouncil.org/media/7491485/f2.pdf), the 35 years of program development and implementation have
yielded successes, including:
-- Quantitative assessments of the loss of
anadromous fish attributable to the development and operation of hydropower in
-- Goals and objectives tied to these loss
assessments intended to represent at least interim success at protection and
-- Significant program planning over several
decades to identify actions for implementation to help achieve the broader
-- Protection and mitigation actions
implemented at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars annually; and
-- Improvement in abundance for some
anadromous fish populations, but overall numbers remain below Program goals
based on the hydrosystem loss assessments.
O’Toole invited the Committee to think through
some issues, such as how much more potential exists to improve fish runs given
the habitat remaining.
One question to consider is:
-- With better survival through the power
system, what more is possible? A recent court decision calls for more spill.
But, will that additional spill increase juvenile survival through the eight
lower Snake and Columbia river dams?
(See CBB, January 12, 2018, “Oregon U.S.
District Court Affirms Spill For Fish Plan; Final Decision Still With Appeals
“After 35 years of water management and
passage actions, are there additional hydrosystem protection actions that can
increase salmon survival through the hydrosystem? Have survival benefits gained
through hydrosystem protection actions been maximized so that additional
opportunities of improvements in survival through the mainstem are minimal?”
the memo asks.
Other questions are:
--After a remand by a U.S. District Court of
the 2014 federal Columbia River power system biological opinion in 2016,
federal agencies are redoing the BiOp as well as a National Environmental
Policy assessment. What more can be gained from the set of alternatives laid
out in the new BiOp and at what cost? the memo asks.
-- A review by the Independent Scientific
Review Board of the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program that could generate
additional questions is due in February, O’Toole said. The ISAB already has
issued a report raising concerns about density dependence. Is production of
salmon and steelhead limited by habitat? the memo asks.
-- How should the Council’s Fish and Wildlife
program address other threats, such as warming, non-native species and ocean
-- What more can be done to increase the
resiliency of salmon and steelhead?
--Finally, a parallel path taken by the
Columbia Basin Partnership, a task force organized by NOAA Fisheries that
includes many of the parties tasked with salmon and steelhead recovery in the
Columbia River basin, will have its own “vision for Columbia Basin salmon and
quantitative goals to meet conservation needs and provide harvest opportunities.”
These are big questions that may not be
answered soon, O’Toole said.
Montana Council member Jennifer Anders said
that the Columbia River Treaty should be a consideration. “They are looking at
flows throughout the system,” she said.
“We’ve handed the ISAB two huge questions,”
said Oregon member Bill Bradbury. “How much detail will they give us?”
“In some ways we all know we will get
information back (from the ISAB) that will be similar to what we’ve been
hearing for 30 years,” said Tony Grover, director of the Council’s Fish and
“But how much can we do?” Anders asked. “We
have a court that’s basically managing the river.”
“There is a limit to what we can do,” Grover
said. “We just need to identify where we can make progress. We’re way past the
generalities at this point.”
Bill Booth, Idaho member, said that fish and
wildlife funding could be limited over the next couple of years, given the
Bonneville Power Administration’s budget constraints.
“Is there a way to better focus our efforts
and energy on more specific places in the basin?” he asked.
“Yes, places that would give us a bigger bang,
but we also need to evaluate and look deeper into where we’ve succeeded,” said
Guy Norman of Washington.
Given how much has been done, Booth suggested
the Council “tell a better story” about its successes.
Nancy Leonard, fish, wildlife and ecosystem
M&E report manager, said the staff has heard this before and they have
worked with a public focus group to come up with ideas. Those ideas will be
presented to the Committee at its February meeting, she said.
Fish and Wildlife staff also believes the
Program will benefit from an update of the wildlife mitigation strategy, the
memo says. They are currently preparing an assessment of progress toward the
adopted wildlife losses in the Program.
For more information about the Council and its
Fish and Wildlife Program go to https://www.nwcouncil.org/fw/program/2014-12/program/
--CBB, December 8, 2017, “Agencies Outline
NEPA/EIS Progress Evaluating Columbia/Snake River Uses, Improvements For Fish,”
-- CBB, May 6, 2016, “Federal Court Again
Rejects Columbia Basin Salmon/Steelhead Recovery Plan; Orders New BiOp By