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Council Gets Update On BPA Efforts To Reduce Funding For Fish/Wildlife Program Projects
Posted on Friday, August 17, 2018 (PST)

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council this week identified additional reductions to the Bonneville Power Administration’s fish and wildlife program expenditures that total about $1 million.

 

BPA is proposing to cut funding for conference sponsorships by 50 percent in fiscal year 2019, which begins October 1, 2018, and then to eliminate funding for those sponsorships in FY2020. Among the cuts, BPA funding will be pulled from the popular Lake Roosevelt Forum most recently held April 24 – 25.

 

The agency already had reduced travel and registration fee payments for conference attendance by project sponsors in 2018.

 

Also, the federal power marketing agency is cutting funding for the Columbia Basin Bulletin for FY2019 by 50 percent and eliminating funding for the online newsletter in FY2020.

 

All three of the cuts would save BPA well over $1 million, said Bryan Mercier, executive director of BPA’s fish and wildlife division. Cuts to conference sponsorships and travel provide the bulk of the $1 million.

 

“I’m not personally happy with this, but it’s a matter of priorities. This is not a value judgement,” Mercier said.

 

BPA announced to the Council at its meeting in Portland June 12 that it must cut its direct spending for fish and wildlife programs by 10 percent from about $300 million a year due to the agency’s fiscal uncertainties. Bonneville funds regional fish and wildlife projects associated with the four-state Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife program. For more information about the Council, its regional fish and wildlife program and program projects go to https://www.nwcouncil.org/fish-and-wildlife.

 

“There are some obvious policy issues emerging and we can still develop alternatives for managing into the future,” Tony Grover, Director of the Council’s Fish and Wildlife section, told the Fish and Wildlife Committee at its meeting Tuesday, August 14. “All three share a policy impact: information that needs to get out will be more difficult to get out.”

 

He said “the Northwest Power Act requires a Power Plan, a Fish and Wildlife Program and to make it easy to see what’s going on (transparency and communications). If Bonneville can’t do it, the obligation doesn’t go away.”

 

The three cuts discussed by the Council this week all have to do with information dissemination and the transparency that Grover said is required by the Power Act. He said that, perhaps, Council staff could pick up some of the communications, but would first have to determine what level of public outreach and engagement is required by the Act. “When you go out with a public notice, is everything needed already there?” he asked rhetorically as a minimum level of communications.

 

The reduction and elimination of conference funding has the potential to weaken implementation of the 2014 Fish and Wildlife Programs’ Adaptive Management Strategy and the Public Engagement Strategy, according to an August 7 Council memorandum (https://www.nwcouncil.org/sites/default/files/f6_1.pdf).

 

“The Council’s comprehensive review of research, monitoring and evaluation in 2012 identified as a significant issue, the need to support obtaining, organizing, synthesizing, evaluating and reporting on implementation and biological results for the Program,” the memo says. “Also, the proposed reduction may take time to apply equitably throughout the Columbia basin because some conferences may not be identified as a line item in entity budgets.”

 

Similarly, the reduction to travel and registration fees is contrary to the Public Engagement Strategy Principle: “Support and champion organizations that effectively support productive partnerships among relevant sciences, between science, management and the public….” the memo says.

 

The Columbia Basin Bulletin – with funding slated to be cut in half in FY 2019, and eliminated in FY 2020 -- is an electronic newsletter with more than 10,000 subscribers distributed since 1998, the memo says. It reports on a wide range of Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead recovery issues. Elimination of funding would also weaken implementation of the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program public engagement strategy, which reads:

 

“On an ongoing basis, the Council will educate and involve Northwest citizens to develop, implement, and improve understanding of the fish and wildlife program and the Council, and to promote successful ecosystem management.” See the 2014 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, page 99, at https://www.nwcouncil.org/sites/default/files/2014-12_1.pdf

 

“How much of the Council Spotlight is indicative of what the CBB does?” asked Montana Council member Jennifer Anders. See www.nwcouncil.org.

 

“There is some overlap, but the region relies on broader news and more detail than what we’ve been doing in the Council Spotlight,” Grover said.

 

Grover updated the Fish and Wildlife Committee on several other programs with proposed cuts that were announced at the Council’s July meeting:

 

The partners of one proposed cut – the data management StreamNet program – “rose to the challenge,” Grover said and voluntarily offered over $82,000 in cuts.

 

BPA had announced reductions of $1 million to water transaction program funds and this month the agency said in the Council memo that cost reductions would be primarily administrative resulting from the consolidation of multiple programs into a single program.

 

BPA said it would eliminate Select Area Fisheries Enhancement funding for commercial gillnetters over a three-year period with an annual savings of $1,908,145. However, the SAFE project provides mitigation for lost harvest opportunities in the lower river for commercial gillnetters. Between 2003 and 2016 well over one million chinook and coho produced through the SAFE project were commercially harvested in the off-channel areas of the lower Columbia River.

 

Lower Snake River Compensation funding will be reduced by $2.3 million, but the effects will be minimal, according to BPA, as the budgeted funds have exceeded actual expenditures for several years. The funding for this program has been collected in BPA rates.

 

Also see:

 

--CBB, July 13, 2018, “Council F&W Committee Talks Policy About BPA Project Funding Cuts, Columbia Basin Fish Accords,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441105.aspx

 

--CBB, June 15, 2018, “Bonneville Power Looking At Spending Reductions In Columbia Basin Fish/Wildlife Spending,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440947.aspx

 

--CBB, May 18, 2018, “Draft Report On Columbia Basin Fish/Wildlife Costs In 2017 Out For Review; $450.4 Million,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440762.aspx

 

--CBB, February 2, 2018, “Bonneville Power Releases Five Year Strategic Plan, 2018-2023,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440159.aspx

 

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