As the Northwest Power and Conservation
Council prepares to amend its 2014 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife
Program, it will seek input from tribes, state and federal agencies and the
public. The Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee also had asked for a science review
of the current program to provide information that will be useful for the amendment
The Independent Scientific Advisory Board
delivered the Program review last week, March 28, after considering the
Program’s scientific merits (https://www.nwcouncil.org/media/7491618/isab-2018-3-review2014fwp23march.pdf).
“Overall the ISAB found that most sections of
the 2014 Program provide sound scientific guidance for actions to mitigate for
hydrosystem impacts and move toward recovery of fish and wildlife resources in
the Columbia River Basin,” the report says.
In its review, the 11-member ISAB cited as
strengths of the Program mainstem hydrosystem passage research (saying that
“most of this work is very thorough and well done”); protected areas, which
protect some 44,000 miles of rivers and streams from hydropower development;
the stronghold habitat strategy, which protects native, wild, and
natural-origin fish; the strategy for anadromous fish mitigation in blocked
areas (“... the first steps toward reestablishing salmon and steelhead in
one-third of their original habitat”); and life cycle modeling of specific fish
populations (“…key to evaluating many proposed changes in the system”).
However, the ISAB also found weaknesses in the
Program. The panel of independent scientists says in its report that the
majority of Program goals need corresponding objectives; key Program strategies
lack monitoring or evaluation plans or funding; and the Program provides
limited guidance on the use of adaptive management.
The ISAB notes that while the Program supports
cost-effective actions, the Council has not undertaken a cost-effectiveness
analysis “to rank and prioritize projects ... [to] choose actions that have the
greatest expected benefit per dollar and the highest likelihood for generating
those benefits in the shortest period,” according to a March 28 blog by John
Harrison of the Council.
The Program directs more than $250 million
annually ($254.7 million in Fiscal Year 2017 and $258.1 million in FY2016) to
mitigate the impacts of hydropower dams on fish and wildlife in the basin.
It is typically revised every five years and
was last revised in 2014. The Council asked for the ISAB review in September
2017. The next Program amendment process is expected to begin in May when the
Fish and Wildlife Committee will call for recommendations from state and
federal agencies, tribes and the public.
(See CBB, March 16, 2018, “Tentative Schedule
For Amending Four-State Columbia River Basin Fish And Wildlife Program
Under the Northwest Power Act of 1980 that
authorized the four Northwest states to form the Council, the Council created
the original Program in 1982, Harrison writes. The Program is revised every
five years based primarily on these recommendations. The period for submitting
recommendations lasts three to four months and, once the recommendation period
closes, the Council has a year to complete the amendment process.
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.
In its review, the ISAB acknowledges that the
Program is a “living document” that is “evolving to incorporate new information
and to meet ever changing conditions in the Basin.”
The scientists offer a number of
--Under Program-wide strategies, the ISAB says
the Program provides limited scientific guidance for adaptive management for
projects, saying it “should develop rigorous decision-making processes based on
regional strategies, address quantitative project objectives, develop
coordinated monitoring and evaluation, and incorporate outcomes (i.e., lessons
learned) into decision-making cycles that include project leaders, regional
technical teams, and local stakeholders.”
--It says that a fundamental problem is the
“spatial scale at which goals and objectives are developed. For example, the
objective of achieving 5 million salmon and steelhead in the entire Basin by
2025 is quantitative, but may not be useful if this leads to attempts to reach
this goal primarily with hatchery salmon. Goals for salmon and steelhead
abundance will be useful if they are based on inherent productivity, biological
capacity, genetic and life-history diversity, and density-dependence
relationships for specific subbasins.”
--Key Program strategies and measures, such as
those for habitat and wildlife, lack monitoring and evaluation plans and
adequate funding to address these important components of adaptive management,
the ISAB says.
--Under Specific Strategies, the ISAB says the
Program is a “habitat-based” plan, because restoration of salmon, steelhead,
and other native fish and wildlife populations cannot be successful without
adequate suitable habitat. However, it does not mention a landscape perspective
and does not have a landscape or subbasin context. Neither the Principles nor
General Measures of the Habitat strategy address research, monitoring, or
--“The scientific evidence is unequivocal that
humans are driving climate change and ocean acidification,” the ISAB says.
“Indeed, the Council should increase its efforts to promote public awareness,
convene science/policy workshops, and encourage the development of alternative
--The Program needs to address mainstem
habitat conditions and floodplain connectivity as elements in density-dependent
regulation of fish, the review says.
--The potential success of this Program
strategy is dependent on: (1) fish possessing genetic and phenotypic
characteristics well-suited for the natural environment, and (2) the capacities
of the environments receiving the fish to accommodate these new recruits. The
Program should also examine the total impact of fish releases made by diverse
programs. For instance, do cumulative releases of juvenile salmonids overwhelm
available food resources in subbasins, the mainstem, estuary, or ocean plume?
--A revised strategy should include measures
to increase habitat quality, increase the number of restored habitats across
watersheds, and increase connectivity throughout the hydrosystem, the ISAB says
about wild fish.
--Finally, the ISAB says that despite Program
guidance, “cost-effectiveness analysis has not been undertaken to rank and
prioritize projects. Prioritization should involve choosing actions that have
the greatest expected benefit per dollar and the highest likelihood for
generating those benefits in the shortest period.”
-- 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,”
-- CBB, October 10, 2014, “NW
Power/Conservation Council Approves New Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife