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Scientists Review Basin Fish/Wildlife Program, Offer Recommendations For Improving
Posted on Friday, April 06, 2018 (PST)

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 process.


The Independent Scientific Advisory Board delivered the Program review last week, March 28, after considering the Program’s scientific merits (


“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 Outlined,”


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 recommendations:


--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 evaluation.


--“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 energy.”


--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.”


Also see:


-- CBB, Jan. 19, 2018, “Council Mulling Issues Likely To Arise During Coming Update Of Basin Fish And Wildlife Program”


--CBB, July 21, 2017, “Appeals Court Rejects Challenge To NW Power/Conservation Council’s Basin Fish/Wildlife Program,”


--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 Program,”


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