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Deadline Extended For Amendments To Columbia River Basin Fish And Wildlife Program
Posted on Friday, August 17, 2018 (PST)

At its May meeting, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee released a letter soliciting recommendations from regional entities to amend its Columbia River Basin 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program. The recommendations were to be due to the Committee Sept. 14.

 

However, this week the Committee agreed to extend the period to receive recommendations 90 days to Dec. 13 after hearing from tribes, states and the Bonneville Power Administration that they all need more time to craft their messages. And the full Council approved the extension at its meeting Wednesday, Aug. 15.

 

There are a couple of processes in progress throughout the region in addition to the Council’s amendment solicitation for its Fish and Wildlife Program. One of those is the release of provisional goals by the Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force that has been out for comment for a month.

 

“The additional time would be useful in considering questions posed by the Council and in addressing other ongoing regional processes that intersect with the Fish and Wildlife Program (i.e. Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force, gas cap spill test, etc.),” said Dave Statler of the Nez Perce Tribe, just one of the tribes that asked the Committee for an extension at its Aug. 14 meeting in Portland. “The additional time would also be useful for Fish and Wildlife Managers to coordinate amendment recommendations.”

 

In addition, some of the agencies – tribes and states – have limited time due to smaller staffs to work on Program recommendations, especially during the summer field work season.

 

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’s current program has helped direct as much as $250 million per year in recent years to mitigate for the impacts of hydropower dams in the Columbia-Snake river basin on fish and wildlife. The program is funded by the Bonneville Administration with funds collected from ratepayers. BPA markets power generated at the federal dams.

 

In an Aug. 7 Council memorandum (https://www.nwcouncil.org/sites/default/files/f2_3.pdf) about the process of developing draft amendments to the Program, Fish and Wildlife staff said that it had received a request from the Spokane Tribe of Indians to extend the deadline 90 days.

 

BPA had requested a 30-day extension. “We currently have a number of ongoing initiatives that are consuming our time, including developing a new BiOp, negotiating potential extensions of Fish Accords, and collaborating with partners on budget reductions. The 90 days the Council adopted will help us wrap up some of these other work streams and put in a focused effort on the Program amendment,” said Bryan Mercier, executive director of BPA’s fish and wildlife division.

 

The list expanded at this week’s Committee meeting to include the Kalispell, Coeur d’Alene, Upper Columbia, Nez Perce and Kootenai tribes. They all asked for a 90 day extension, as did the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.

 

The Council’s amendment recommendations period opened on May 16, 2018. The Northwest Power Act directs the Council to provide 90 days for recommendations unless the Council opts to extend this period, which it did when the Committee initially extended the comment period to 120 days to Sept. 14.

 

However, with the additional 90 days just approved by the Council, the deadline bumps up against the deadline to complete the full Northwest Power Plan. Patty O’Toole of the Fish and Wildlife staff said that the Committee has to have the amendment process wrapped up before the Power Plan is done, but that the extension can likely be “absorbed.”

 

To do so will require staff to turn around within 24 hours and put the recommendations out for public comment. “It generally takes a year to arrive at the final amendment, which would be December 2019,” she said.

 

Under Section 4(h)(5) of the Northwest Power Act, the Council must decide on amendments to the Fish and Wildlife Program based upon the recommendations submitted to the Committee, the follow-up comments to those recommendations and the consultations on the recommendations, according to the memo.

 

The Council adds the step of preparing a public review draft, so it must also base its decision for the adoption of the final Program on the comments, public hearings and consultations on the draft Program, the memo says.

 

“It’s like building a layer cake,” O’Toole said at the Committee meeting, referring to the iterative process over the next nearly one-and-a-half years.

 

In the end, the Council will make its decision based on the full administrative record and not just on the recommendation of the Fish and Wildlife Committee.

 

Also see:

 

-- CBB, July 20, 2018, “Connecting Salmon Recovery Efforts: Columbia Basin Partnership Releases Vision Statement, Goals,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441138.aspx

 

--CBB, May 11, 2018, “Council Releases Recommendations Letter As First Step In Amending Basin Fish And Wildlife Program,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440702.aspx

 

--CBB, March 16, 2018, “Tentative Schedule For Amending Four-State Columbia River Basin Fish And Wildlife Program Outlined,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440359.aspx

 

-- 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, 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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