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Tentative Schedule For Amending Four-State Columbia River Basin Fish And Wildlife Program Outlined
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2018 (PST)

As it begins to amend its 2014 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, the Northwest Power Act (Section 4h) requires the Fish and Wildlife Committee of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council to solicit recommendations from tribes, state and federal agencies, and the public.

 

That is the first step in a process that will eventually incorporate a new Fish and Wildlife Program with a new draft Northwest Power Plan by the third quarter of 2020. It is a step that brought in 48 recommendations from tribes and fish and wildlife agencies prior to adopting the 2014 Plan.

 

According to Patty O’Toole of the Council’s Fish and Wildlife staff, the initial step to solicit recommendations could begin as soon as May.

 

She told the Committee at its meeting Tuesday, March 13 in Portland, that a draft letter asking for recommendations could be ready for review at the April meeting, with the intention of sending the letter out in May, triggering at least a three month process that could take as long as until September.

 

Others are allowed to submit recommendations as well, such as federal and regional water management agencies, the region’s electric power producers, Bonneville Power Administration customers and the public.

 

O’Toole said that once the recommendation process is complete – that could be as late as September this year – and comments on the recommendations have been received – perhaps November, she said – then the Fish and Wildlife Committee and staff will initiate the next steps. The Committee has one year from the completion of the recommendations and comments to complete the entire amendment process, but the exact schedule won’t be known until the recommendation step is complete, she said.

 

A sample schedule offered by O’Toole begins with soliciting recommendations in May, then asking for comments on the recommendation from September to November.

 

Under this sample schedule, a draft Program prepared by the staff with input from all its federal, state and tribal partners could be due in March 2019, amendments could be adopted by September 2019 and the final findings would be by November 2019.

 

Preparing a draft Program for review and consultation is not called for by the NW Power Act, O’Toole said, but it is a practical step and is consistent with the federal Administrative Procedures Act. The step, which will invite oral and written comments, as well as public hearings in the four Northwest states, will take several months.

 

There were 10 public hearings in the last amendment process, O’Toole said, and it sometimes can be controversial.

 

The draft Program review also includes consultations with tribes, agencies and Bonneville customers. Although there is no specified time to do this by statute, a reasonable time would be 60 days, O’Toole said.

 

Much of the remaining process – developing and adopting the final amendments and then producing the findings from the process – has strict legal guidelines.

 

The Committee and staff must adopt findings regarding its treatment of the recommendations and the comments received earlier in the process. The Council must explain in writing as part of the Fish and Wildlife Program any decisions it made regarding recommendations.

 

“This is important in case we get dragged into court in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,” O’Toole said.

 

Such an appeal was filed Jan. 14, 2016 regarding the 2014 Program by the Northwest Resource Information Center of Eagle, Idaho. The appeal was eventually denied by the court July 19, 2017.

 

The Fish and Wildlife amendment process is not officially over until the Council adopts the findings, O’Toole said. Once it adopts the Program and Findings, those are published in the Federal Register, triggering a 60-day period for potential judicial review with the Ninth Circuit.

 

Fish and Wildlife staff is not hearing that there are fundamental flaws in the current Fish and Wildlife Program or in its scientific principles, O’Toole said. “It will be interesting to see what we get in the door this time,” she said.

 

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.

 

Also see:

 

-- CBB, Jan. 19, 2018, “Council Mulling Issues Likely To Arise During Coming Update Of Basin Fish And Wildlife Program” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440106.aspx

 

--CBB, July 21, 2017, “Appeals Court Rejects Challenge To NW Power/Conservation Council’s Basin Fish/Wildlife Program,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439307.aspx

 

--CBB, January 22, 2016, “Group Sues Council In Ninth Circuit, Says 2014 Fish And Wildlife Program Fails To Protect Salmon,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435908.aspx

 

-- CBB, October 10, 2014, “NW Power/Conservation Council Approves New Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/432366.aspx

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