the film
forum
library
tutorial
contact
Ecology and salmon related articles

Testimony of Edward C. Bowles
Anadromous Fish Manager, Idaho Department of Fish and Game

9/14/00 - Delivered before the Committee on Environment and Public
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works


Introduction

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Draft Biological Opinion (2000 BiOp) for operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) and the Federal Caucus Draft Basinwide Salmon Recovery Strategy (Recovery Strategy). These documents will shape the region's focus for recovery efforts and thus profoundly effect the very existence and future of wild salmon and steelhead in the Snake River Basin.

Your leadership on this issue, Mr. Chairman, is both refreshing and vital. I had the pleasure of testifying a couple times to your subcommittee in the House of Representatives, and found your approach thoughtful, open-minded and solution oriented. Your knowledge and first hand experience with the fish are unprecedented in Congress and reflect highly on your commitment to solve this decades-old tragedy. I think you would agree that there is something about personally watching wild salmon spawn or wrestling with a hatchery salmon on the end of your fishing line that helps make salmon recovery real and tangible.

The intent of this testimony is not to advocate specific management actions, but to help ensure the best possible science provides the analytical basis of the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy. The selection of recovery actions is a policy decision made in the context of biological and non-biological considerations. The role of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) is to help strengthen the scientific foundation from which various management alternatives are considered, and assess these alternatives from a biological and scientific basis. A strong scientific foundation for conservation decisions is a goal common to both the State of Idaho and the Federal Caucus.

My professional judgement is that the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy are doomed for failure on several fronts. For ecological, political and economic reasons, it is imperative that the 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy are set up for success, not failure. If the desire is to address all significant sources of "discretionary" mortality (short of using breach and additional Idaho water) to see if fish recovery can be secured without breach, then the 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy should focus on: 1) the primary sources of discretionary mortality, and 2) implement aggressive actions to address this mortality. I am concerned that the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy fail on both counts; the hydrosystem is no longer the focus and the proposed actions lack substance. This will waste significant time and resources on actions that cannot provide recovery because the actions do not address the primary sources of discretionary mortality. I believe this failure will eventually result in more draconian actions than may be necessary for success. This is a recipe for failure, with significant ecological, social and economic consequences.

NMFS' estimates of expected improvement provided by Reasonable and Prudent Actions (RPA) identified in the draft 2000 BiOp accentuate my concern that the 2000 BiOp is set up for failure. The draft 2000 BiOp concludes current FCRPS operations constitute jeopardy, and then identifies a RPA to avoid jeopardy. Surprisingly, the RPA measures associated with juvenile spring/summer chinook migration through the hydrosystem are only expected to improve survival by 1-2% over current operations (2000 BiOp, pages 6-76 and 9-161, Tables 6.3-2 and 9.7-6). NMFS then speculates on hoped for benefits in adult migration, habitat and hatcheries to make up the difference to get to no jeopardy. It is disappointing and perplexing that NMFS concentrates so little effort to improve survival associated with juvenile migration, when all other salmon managers in the Basin, and regional societies of professional fisheries scientists, are in agreement that this is the primary factor limiting the survival and recovery of listed Snake River salmon and steelhead. It is also disappointing and perplexing that NMFS stakes such high hopes on improvements in adult migration, habitat and hatcheries, when available data indicates these benefits are unlikely to be biologically feasible. NMFS has not assessed feasibility, and all other salmon managers in the Basin are in agreement that these areas of discretionary mortality are less significant than hydrosystem impacts on juveniles, and cannot add up to recovery.

If the decision to breach lower Snake River dams is deferred, I believe the Four Governors' Plan does a better job of keeping the primary sources of discretionary mortality in focus and embracing a conceptual approach to attempt to address these problems prior to breaching dams. Although there is no scientific basis for concluding Snake River salmon and steelhead are likely to recover with non-breach alternatives, interim actions focused on the primary sources of discretionary mortality can certainly benefit the fish. Available scientific analyses indicate these actions will help moderate extinction risk, will increase the frequency of rebuilding opportunities, and will increase the frequency of harvestable hatchery surpluses compared to current operations, even though they are unlikely to provide the magnitude of survival benefits required to secure recovery.

In general, the structure of the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy is adequate to frame the scientific information. The problem is that the underlying scientific information used in the documents has several fundamental errors and omissions. These errors and omissions alter the conclusions, accentuate uncertainty beyond the limits of scientific objectivity, and result in a misleading depiction of the fundamental choices that face the region if salmon recovery is to succeed. The technical information currently available is adequate to produce a biologically sound and scientifically defensible 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy. If the errors and omissions are corrected, we believe the documents can accurately represent the biological component of recovery options, which policy makers can consider along with important social and economic information in determining recovery actions.

The remainder of my comments will identify the procedural and technical aspects of the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy that heighten the risk of failure and identify changes necessary to promote success.

Collaboration

The draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy are federal products developed without true collaboration with state and tribal fisheries scientists. Many of the state and tribal technical concerns could have been addressed during development of these documents if NMFS would have allowed collaboration on its Cumulative Risk Initiative (CRI). The CRI analyses provide much of the scientific basis for the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy. The CRI analyses are also the primary source of the scientific errors and omissions in these federal documents, which result in misleading conclusions. Although the ramifications of these errors and omissions are significant, they can be easily corrected for the final federal documents if scientific collaboration is allowed.

Collaboration means working jointly on scientific issues to develop methodologies and analyses that embrace the full expertise of appropriate state, tribal, federal and independent scientists. True collaboration promotes defensible science through peer review, promotes broader acceptance and ownership of methodologies and results through active participation, and reduces the risk of institutional bias. Collaboration does not undermine the statutory authorities and responsibilities each participant brings to the process. Science developed collaboratively can provide a common foundation from which differing authorities and responsibilities can proceed accordingly.

Recovery decisions facing the region are important and controversial. Sound science must lay the foundation for these decisions. Broad ownership of this science through collaboration is a vital step in developing recovery actions that will withstand judicial challenge and garner regional support. NMFS embraced true collaboration in PATH, and has set up collaborative teams to develop recovery standards and plans for other listed salmon and steelhead ESUs in the Basin. It is disappointing and perplexing that NMFS chose to take a unilateral, non-collaborative approach in the Snake River Basin after PATH was discontinued. Inadequate time for collaboration is not a worthy excuse. PATH was a five-year collaborative effort. Time was short only after PATH was abandoned.

Regrettably, NMFS' track record for embracing collaboration with their state and tribal peers is dismal for Snake River science issues once PATH was discontinued. The current process is coordination, not collaboration. NMFS develops their methodologies and conducts their analyses unilaterally, then posts their information on a web page for comment, or holds a "workshop" to discuss their information. The states and tribes have spent considerable time and resources trying to insert their concerns and analyses into this process, but have little to show for their efforts. When corrections have been made, it often seems adjustments are made in other standards or analyses to compensate so general conclusions remain the same. For example, NMFS made some necessary corrections to the rate of population growth that accelerated projected declines, but then NMFS arbitrarily lowered the survival standard, resulting in little change to extinction risk and the amount of improvement needed to avoid jeopardy. We have been encouraged by attempts of some NMFS scientists to establish more collaboration with our scientists, but opportunities remain sparse. Without collaboration on the draft 2000 BiOp or Recovery Strategy, the states and tribes are forced to try to correct errors and omissions through the formal and brief comment period. To add to this difficulty, new analyses by NMFS relating to the 2000 BiOp have come out in the middle of this comment period (Toole 2000).

Scientific collaboration with state and tribal fisheries scientists was a key element of Judge Marsh's decision in IDFG v. NMFS , and a key provision in the 1995 and 1998 biological opinions for FCRPS operations (NMFS 1995; NMFS 1998). To NMFS' credit, PATH was created to meet these mandates and represents a truly collaborative scientific approach to sorting out the science associated with the long-term recovery decision for Snake River salmon and steelhead specified in the 1995 and 1998 FCRPS BiOps. NMFS and other Federal Caucus members were key participants in PATH.

As PATH conclusions began to clarify the science, NMFS suddenly and unilaterally began an alternative scientific process called CRI. Although the CRI analyses are non-collaborative, preliminary, and not fully analyzed or peer reviewed, CRI results became equal, if not greater, partners with PATH in defining the science in the Anadromous Fish Appendix of the Corps' Draft Environmental Impact Statement and the Federal Caucus' All-H Paper. This pattern continues in the latest draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy, which marginalize PATH results even further.

Although the PATH and CRI analyses reach similar conclusions on several key points, there are also several key differences. These differences accentuate the need for continuing a truly collaborative process to help identify and frame the differences and help promote a convergence of the science where possible. Accentuating the differences, without an honest attempt to resolve the differences through scientific collaboration, is a disservice to the decision process established in the 1995 and 1998 FCRPS BiOps.

I do not want to leave the impression that CRI is not constructive toward resolving conservation and recovery issues. The intent and general framework of CRI is to estimate extinction risks and identify and allocate opportunities for conservation. This is necessary for recovery discussions and decisions. Some of the CRI focus is in areas PATH did not focus, and thus brings new information for consideration. Other areas overlap, and provide an opportunity to corroborate results from the different scientific approaches. But for this effort to be constructive, the CRI analyses must be based on the best available information and incorporate state, tribal and independent expertise in helping resolve scientific disputes and uncertainties. We are confident that if NMFS and the Federal Caucus embrace this approach, PATH and CRI can be complementary rather than adversarial. If NMFS maintains an autonomous approach to CRI, the opportunity to clarify the science for recovery decisions will be lost and regional "ownership" diminished.

It is important that recovery decisions are not delayed unnecessarily while the science is sorted out once again. We believe most of our concerns regarding possible errors and omissions in the CRI analyses can be addressed quite easily and quickly through collaboration. We are committed to working collectively with NMFS scientists to move this process forward.

Scientific Objectivity

In IDFG v. NMFS, Judge Marsh was critical of "arbitrary and capricious" decision-making by NMFS in the 1993 FCRPS BiOp. Given this litigation history, it is perplexing why NMFS tended to select the most optimistic (i.e., least conservative) assumptions regarding extinction risk, lack of hydrosystem impacts, and the benefits of improving habitat and hatcheries in the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy. At best, this approach appears inconsistent with the ESA requirement to be risk-averse in the face of scientific uncertainty when protecting listed species. At worst, this approach is poor stewardship when non-conservative assumptions are accentuated and conservative assumptions ignored, in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary.

For example, NMFS usually selected non-conservative assumptions for factors affecting the amount of survival improvements needed to avoid jeopardy. NMFS selected the optimistic assumption that small, threatened populations face no threat of an extinction vortex, in spite of theoretical and empirical evidence to the contrary (Dennis 1991; BRWG 1994; Botsford 1997). NMFS also selected optimistic assumptions for their extinction and survival standard, recovery standard, FCRPS hydrosystem performance standard, definition of high risk, hatchery effectiveness, years for time series, and effect of fish density on population growth rates (Table 1).

NMFS also typically selected optimistic assumptions for factors affecting the amount of survival improvements attributed to existing and proposed measures in the 2000 BiOp. For example, NMFS selected the most optimistic assumptions to attribute hydrosystem improvements for any survival improvements of juvenile migrants since the 1995 BiOp, rather than balance this assumption with the possibility that model differences or high natural flow and spill from good water years could also account for these increases. In contrast, NMFS selected pessimistic assumptions regarding the effectiveness of breach on fish survival. NMFS assumed there is no delayed mortality associated with juveniles migrating inriver through the FCRPS, in spite of a wealth of information to the contrary (Marmorek et al. 1996; IDFG 1998, 1999, 2000a, 2000b; Marmorek and Peters 1998; SRP 1998; Bouwes et al. 1999; Congleton et al. 1999; Schaller et al. 1999; NMFS 2000a) and no NMFS data or analyses confirming their assumption.

The effect of NMFS accentuating non-conservative assumptions, regardless of scientific information questioning these assumptions, results in several fundamental errors in the Draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy: 1) underestimation of the actual extinction risk and overestimation of the probability of survival and recovery; 2) underestimation of the survival improvements necessary to avoid jeopardy and ensure survival and recovery of listed Snake River salmon and steelhead; and 3) overestimation of the ability of 2000 BiOp measures to provide necessary survival improvements.

The collaborative decision analysis approach adopted by PATH incorporated the full spectrum of assumptions, uncertainties and weight of evidence in order to more objectively characterize risks and conservation opportunities (Marmorek and Peter 1998; Marmorek et al. 1998; Peters et al. 1999).

The 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy should present a more objective characterization of PATH results and uncertainty as a decision-analysis tool, across the full range of scientific debate and uncertainty, without bias toward assumptions promoted by NMFS scientists. There is much evidence in PATH, the draft Anadromous Fish Appendix and the ESA record as a whole that the hydrosystem is a source of both direct and delayed mortality of transported and in-river juvenile migrants. NMFS presents an unbalanced view of sources of extra mortality, emphasizing uncertainty for one of the listed populations (spring/summer chinook). All Snake River anadromous salmonids are threatened or endangered or extinct (coho), and have hydropower impacts in common. Alternative, non-hydro explanations of extra mortality posited by NMFS in the federal documents should explain recruitment patterns for the entire suite of Snake River anadromous salmonids, but they do not.

IDFG disagrees with NMFS decision to disregard the PATH Weight of Evidence process and the Scientific Review Panel weighted analysis. Full disclosure of the weight of scientific evidence for key alternative hypotheses, across species lines, should be presented in the final 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy.

Objective Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is critical to ESA decision-making processes. There will always be ecological and scientific uncertainty. The key to objective risk assessment is determining how to best meet the biological needs of the fish in the face of these uncertainties. There should be a clear recognition that lack of a decision, or delay, is actually a conscious decision that the uncertainties are too great to act on, and that the listed populations can survive the delay and still retain enough inherent productivity and diversity to remain poised for recovery. To moderate the risk, this approach should be coupled with aggressive actions in all possible areas that can be agreed on, recognizing the greatest uncertainty may actually be whether there will be any fish left to save once all the questions are answered.

In my professional opinion, the amount of time available for decision makers to continue trying to sort out recovery options is largely dependent on the weather and the ocean. Available data indicate Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon can maintain current population levels, or even rebuild somewhat, when there are above average runoff conditions (e.g., high natural flow and uncontrolled spill) coupled with average or better ocean conditions (e.g., cool temperature and strong coastal upwelling) (Figures 1, 2 and 3). The same data indicate Snake River salmon can decline precipitously when runoff or ocean conditions are poor. The overall trend for salmon across the range of environmental conditions is downward. These environmental factors appear to influence adult returns and survival rates far more than any suite of management actions taken in recent years.

Improved adult returns this year and projected for next year are largely the result of good runoff and ocean conditions. As long as these environmental conditions remain above average, Snake River salmon populations will likely persist or even rebuild slightly; allowing society some additional time to debate and experiment with management options. Conversely, if these environmental conditions do not remain above average (or potentially good runoff conditions are dampened by FCRPS operations), then Snake River salmon populations will likely decline; making any additional delay risky for conservation and recovery of these fish. Dr. Petrosky, the lead fisheries scientist from IDFG on this issue, characterized NMFS' approach to salmon recovery thus: "If we can always average above average, things should average out okay." Regrettably, that is not the way nature works, therefore this is not a risk-averse approach to species conservation.

If additional aggressive actions to address the mainstem FCRPS are delayed, I recommend linking this decision to prevailing environmental conditions, particularly snowpack, runoff, mainstem water temperature and ocean temperature and upwelling. If these conditions deteriorate from what was observed for juveniles migrating during 1997-1999, then the FCRPS configuration decision should be revisited immediately and additional emergency actions taken in other sectors until FCRPS reconfiguration is authorized and implemented. These emergency actions should focus on actions with immediate and direct benefits to the fish, such as removing avian piscivores from the estuary, reducing pinniped predation, altering flood control operations to help maintain high springtime flows, increased mainstem spill, and additional harvest constraints.

It will be both regrettable and scientifically unprofessional if recent and future changes in fish survival and abundance are credited to management actions without first factoring out the influence of natural runoff and ocean conditions. For example, if new management actions are implemented which are actually beneficial, but environmental conditions deteriorate relative to the baseline, then it may appear these factors are not beneficial when in fact they may have eased the impact of these deteriorated environmental conditions. Conversely, if management actions are credited for an upswing in survival and abundance, which are actually the result of improved environmental conditions, then a false sense of security can result in further delay and elevated risk when environmental conditions deteriorate.

The history of debate on Snake River salmon recovery actually demonstrates this risk. Snake River salmon and steelhead declined precipitously in the late 1970s and ESA listing was avoided in 1980 when the Northwest Power Planning Act ushered in a new period of management planning and action. Good outmigration conditions in 1982-84 from high natural flow and spill at mainstem dams apparently resulted in an upturn in salmon survival and adult returns in the mid 1980s (Figure 1). At the time, this upturn was often equated with management actions (e.g, Raymond 1988). Environmental conditions shifted in the late 1980s and early 1990s, demonstrating that Snake River salmon and steelhead had not actually turned the corner toward recovery from the management actions. We are at risk of repeating this error again. Environmental conditions were once again above average during the late 1990s, resulting in an upturn in fish survival and abundance at the turn of the century. The draft 2000 BiOp credits much of this upturn to actions implemented with the 1995 and 1998 BiOps (Draft 2000 BiOp, pages 6-75 and 6-76, Tables 6.3-1 and 6.3-2). Fish survival during the next five, eight and ten years will be used to determine if the 2000 BiOp is successful, or if the breach alternative needs to be implemented to meet minimum needs of the fish. It is vital that the relative influence of environmental factors, such as above or below average natural runoff and ocean conditions, are factored out in the decision process. If decisions whether or not to breach are simply made based on annual population growth rates over a set number of years, then decision makers are basically playing breach roulette with the weather.

Another important aspect of risk assessment is determining the biological consequences of being wrong. This assessment requires determining which actions are likely to have the most positive biological response even if decisions are made based on false assumptions. This assessment helps determine the most risk-averse alternatives.

IDFG believes objective risk assessment in the final 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy will demonstrate: Snake River ESUs are imperiled, particularly at the population level; providing recovery requires a substantial improvement (e.g., three-fold) in overall life cycle survival; the most risk-averse actions, for all species and runs (recognizing the full range of scientific debate and uncertainty) must address direct and delayed effects of the FCRPS, coupled with immediate actions regarding harvest, predation, early ocean and estuary survival and degraded tributary habitat; and resolution of uncertainty adequate to change these conclusions is unlikely to be gained through an additional five or ten years of research.

The importance of the 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy to long-term recovery decisions accentuates the need for objective risk assessment. This is why a more collaborative approach should be embraced prior to completion of the 2000 BiOp, Recovery Strategy and Corps Lower Snake River Feasibility Study/EIS.

Scientific Approach for Assessing Jeopardy and Conservation Actions

There are several important scientific steps that must be taken to determine biologically defensible recovery strategies: 1) determine extinction risk and survival and recovery standards for jeopardy, 2) determine the amount of survival improvements needed to avoid extinction and meet survival and recovery standards, 3) determine fish mortality and allocate among life stages, 4) determine the amount of discretionary mortality above the natural baseline, 5) assess management opportunities to address this discretionary mortality, 6) select a suite of management actions that are likely to provide the necessary survival improvements, and 7) develop an aggressive monitoring and evaluation plan to assess effectiveness within the context of environmental variability.

None of these steps can be avoided.

As mentioned earlier, the general structure of the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy is adequate to frame the necessary scientific information. The problem is that the scientific information used in these steps has several fundamental errors and omissions, and some steps, such as determination of discretionary mortality and ability of management actions to address this mortality (i.e., biological feasibility), were not included in the NMFS analysis.

IDFG is currently preparing formal comments on the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy, which will hopefully be submitted as part of the official State of Idaho comments. These comments are due September 25, 2000. IDFG has commented extensively in the past on the federal scientific analyses used in the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy (IDFG 1999, 2000a, 2000b). We only provide a brief synopsis of these concerns in this document and request the Subcommittee refer to our prior documents, as well as the comments we will be completing this month, for more detailed discussion.

Step 1: Determine extinction risk and survival and recovery standards for jeopardy.

NMFS used optimistic assumptions to evaluate extinction risk and lowered the standards used for jeopardy relative to the 1995 and 1998 FCRPS BiOps. The effect of these errors is underestimation of actual extinction risk and reduction in the amount of survival improvements necessary to avoid jeopardy. To correct these errors, NMFS must include a more objective range of assumptions regarding extinction threshold, depensation, definition of high risk, hatchery effectiveness and density dependence.

NMFS should also adhere to the survival and recovery standards developed collaboratively as a result of IDFG v. NMFS (BRWG 1994; Marmorek et al. 1998) and the jeopardy standards established in the 1995 and 1998 FCRPS BiOps (NMFS 1995, 1998). NMFS apparently has shifted from a focus on recovery, to simply trying to avoid absolute extinction. The 2000 BiOp should develop a clear "crosswalk" linking the earlier jeopardy standard developed collaboratively to the standard currently proposed by NMFS. IDFG believed the standard developed for the 1995 BiOp was not conservative enough to protect Idaho's wild salmon populations, and objects to any attempts to "lower the bar" even farther.

For example, NMFS defined a "moderate to high probability of recovery" as only a 50:50 chance that the standard would be achieved within 48 years (NMFS 1995; 2000b). The IDFG v. NMFS collaborative process recommended 24 and 48 year recovery standards (BRWG 1994), but NMFS selected a standard for only the 48-year period (NMFS 1995). NMFS now states: "It may be unrealistic to expect populations to return to recovery abundance levels within this time period [48 years]," and therefore introduced a 100 year standard (draft 2000 BiOp, page 1-12).

Step 2: Determine the amount of survival improvements needed to avoid extinction and meet survival and recovery standards.

The problems identified in Step 1 carry over into Step 2. NMFS' use of optimistic assumptions regarding extinction risk, lowering of the jeopardy standard, and assumption that populations can grow exponentially result in the perception of less difference between the current productivity of the fish and the productivity necessary to avoid extinction and provide recovery. This narrowing of the gap by NMFS is not scientifically supportable.

Thus the draft 2000 BiOp concludes that approximately a 30% improvement in lifecycle survival of Snake River spring/summer chinook is necessary to meet the 24-year jeopardy standard. Because the CRI approach includes such optimistic assumptions (Table 1), it is not surprising that this estimate is far lower than estimates for recovery that include less optimistic assumptions (IDFG 2000a, 2000b; Peters and Marmorek 2000). These assessments indicate a 170% or more improvement in lifecycle survival is needed for recovery of Snake River spring/summer chinook.

Step 3: Determine fish mortality and allocate among life stages.

The CRI analysis used in the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy does address one concern expressed by other Salmon Managers regarding allocation of overall lifecycle mortality of Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon (IDFG 2000a, 2000b; STUFA 2000). CRI now uses empirically derived estimates of smolt-to-adult survival to solve for egg-to-smolt survival, similar to the approach recommended by the Salmon Managers. Mortality allocation issues related to delayed hydrosystem mortality (smolt-to-adult) were not resolved in the CRI analysis.

Step 4: Determine the amount of discretionary mortality above the natural baseline.

NMFS failed to determine the amount of discretionary mortality for each life stage above the natural baseline. This step is crucial to developing recovery strategies because it allows decision makers to focus actions on the primary limiting factors that can be managed. The majority of mortality in the lifecycle of salmon and steelhead is natural mortality that has little chance of being improved by man. Effective recovery strategies will focus on the discretionary mortality beyond this natural baseline, which is usually the result of anthropogenic factors.

Available data indicate relatively little discretionary mortality of Snake River salmon and steelhead during the egg-to-smolt stage, and relatively large discretionary mortality during the smolt-to-adult stage. Potential survival improvements from addressing the discretionary mortality in the egg-to-smolt stage (i.e., spawning and rearing habitat) range from 0-34% for seven indicator populations (median 6%) (Marmorek et al. 1998; IDFG 2000a). Estimated potential survival improvements from addressing discretionary mortality during the smolt-to-adult stage is over 200%, based on survival trends of comparable upriver and downriver stocks (Figures 3 and 4) (Marmorek and Peters 1998; IDFG 2000a, 2000b; STUFA 2000).

The draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy imply much of this mortality in the smolt-to-adult life stage is not discretionary because smolt transportation has largely fixed the dams and NMFS assumes no delayed mortality of fish migrating inriver. NMFS assumes the extra mortality must be associated with non-discretionary ocean conditions, discretionary estuary conditions (e.g., estuary habitat and predators), and delayed effects of discretionary conditions during the egg-to-smolt stage (e.g., hatcheries and spawning and rearing habitat). Although the potential sources of discretionary mortality in the estuary (e.g., avian and pinniped predators) should be addressed, NMFS' assessment is not based on the weight of scientific evidence.

NMFS concurs that the level of delayed or "extra" mortality associated with the fishes' hydrosystem experience is pivotal to survival and recovery decisions for the Snake River ESUs (NMFS 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000b). Given the importance of this issue, NMFS should have devoted much of the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy to an objective and thorough assessment of the weight of scientific evidence supporting or not supporting this source of mortality. Regrettably, NMFS failed to take this approach and instead accentuated uncertainty and recommended more study.

The final 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy should include full disclosure of compelling scientific evidence for substantial delayed effects of the hydrosystem experience. This evidence includes:

The above points are discussed in more detail in prior IDFG comments (IDFG 2000a, 2000b). The final 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy should also explicitly incorporate previous assessments of the weight of scientific evidence associated with various models and assumptions relating to FCRPS and non-FCRPS sources of mortality (IDFG 1998, 1999, 2000; Marmorek and Peters 1998; SRP 1998). NMFS' disregard for the PATH weight of evidence analyses (Marmorek and Peters 1998; SRP 1998) is particularly discouraging.

The draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy also fail to provide a thorough and objective assessment of the weight of scientific evidence indicating other factors, not related to the hydrosystem, are primarily responsible for masking benefits of smolt transportation and other FCRPS measures, particularly within the context of the evidence described above. This line of reasoning and weight of evidence must be able to rationally address the full biological picture observed in the region.

The draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy should clearly describe the assumptions that must be true in order to conclude that current operations (e.g., smolt transportation, flow augmentation, spill, etc.) have successfully compensated for the adverse effects of the FCRPS. NMFS should then describe the weight of scientific evidence and theory for and against these assumptions.

For smolt transportation to provide survival benefits to offset the FCRPS related direct and delayed mortality, the following assumptions must be true:

  1. "extra" mortality apparent for upriver stocks (for all species and runs) originated about the same time the FCRPS was completed, but is not related to the dams;
  2. this extra mortality occurs in the estuary and ocean but is selective for Snake River fish (while excluding downriver stocks) and is not related to delayed effects of the dams or smolt collection and transport;
  3. upriver stocks (including Snake River) go to "worse" spots in the ocean than downriver stocks (particularly after poor outmigration conditions evidenced by low mainstem flow and spill), but this behavior began only after completion of the FSRPS and is unrelated to the hydrosystem experience;
  4. upriver stocks do not go to "worse" spots in the ocean when outmigration conditions are associated with high natural runoff and spill;
  5. if ocean conditions are not the cause of "extra" mortality, then elevated disease and/or poorer genetics and less productive freshwater habitat accounts for this mortality, but it is not expressed until fish arrive at the estuary or ocean, is not related to the hydrosystem experience, and is apparent only in upriver stocks; and
  6. extra or delayed mortality of Snake River stocks is not substantially higher for fish transported than those that migrated in-river and the delayed mortality of both groups is unrelated to the hydrosystem experience.

The weight of scientific evidence supporting this narrow set of assumptions is low (IDFG 1998, 1999, 2000; Marmorek and Peters 1998; SRP 1998). If NMFS chooses to accentuate this narrow set of assumptions, it must explain in detail why other assumptions were treated with less weight. NMFS must also convey the consequences of falsely accepting this narrow set of assumptions in alternative management options.

It is important to reiterate that the non-hydrosystem "masking" hypothesis requires two things to be true: high 'D'-value (i.e., very little difference in post-Bonneville mortality between inriver and transported fish) and little to no delayed mortality of inriver and transported smolts associated with their hydrosystem experience (e.g., cumulative stress and strain of collection, sorting, holding, loading, barging and releasing transported smolts; and cumulative stress and strain of delay, bioenergetic demand, disorientation, pressure changes, dissolved gas, etc. of passing through eight dams and reservoirs for in-river migrants). The draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy do not discuss the likelihood of both these points being true, within the context of the evidence described above.

The draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy should also clearly describe the management implications if 'D' is not high or "extra" mortality is hydrosystem related, and the management implications if 'D' and "extra" mortality are moderate. These assessments are critical to an objective risk analysis.

Step 5: Assess management opportunities to address this discretionary mortality.

If the 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy correct the errors and omissions outlined in steps 1 through 4, the documents will focus management actions on addressing the direct and delayed effects of the mainstem FCRPS, complemented with appropriate actions addressing freshwater and estuary habitat, predators, harvest and hatcheries.

It is apparent in the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy that NMFS is trying to shift the focus off the hydrosystem as a major source of mortality (i.e., it has been fixed) and putting the focus on tributary and estuary habitat. This approach is not scientifically defensible and is unlikely to secure the survival and recovery of Snake River salmon and steelhead. In an attempt to rationalize this approach, the 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy overestimates, or in some measures does not estimate, survival improvements expected from the Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA). NMFS makes the optimistic assumption that any improvements in survival since the 1995 BiOp are a result of BiOp measures, rather than improvements from higher natural flows. NMFS makes an assumption that the RPA will reduce FCRPS mortality of adults by 25% (which is estimated to improve survival by 7%), although no data or analyses are provided to support this claim. NMFS selects optimistic assumptions (e.g., minimal delayed mortality) regarding the level of impact attributable to the FCRPS, reducing the hydrosystem burden for conservation and recovery. NMFS shifts the conservation burden to habitat, harvest and hatcheries without a biological justification for this shift, or an equitable assessment of appropriate conservation burdens. NMFS makes this shift based on hypothetical "numeric experiments" that focus on total mortality in each life stage, rather than the discretionary mortality above the natural baseline. NMFS also failed to assess the biological feasibility of these actions, the feasibility of implementing these actions quickly, and the feasibility of near-term survival improvements once the actions are implemented. For example, the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy present an ambiguous message regarding spawning and rearing habitat in the Snake River basin. On one hand, NMFS shifts a primary focus for recovery to freshwater spawning and rearing habitat, but on the other hand assigns Snake River watersheds a lower priority for habitat measures because habitat measures offer little potential for improvement. The documents also fail to identify specific measures for implementation and a rational basis for assigning expected benefits.

Because NMFS inappropriately shifts the conservation burden away from the FCRPS, the draft 2000 BiOp RPA for hydrosystem actions does not significantly change from current operations. The RPA basically has the same spill, flow and transportation actions identified in the 1995 and 1998 FCRPS BiOps. As a representative of the Technical Management Team for the State of Idaho, I can attest that there were numerous times during the past five years that even these provisions were not met.

Step 6: Select a suite of management actions that are likely to provide the necessary survival improvements.

Selection of management actions to address discretionary mortality is a policy decision based on biological and non-biological factors. However, these actions must be based on sound science and address enough of the primary sources of mortality to meet survival and recovery standards. The draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy fail to identify specific management actions or thoroughly assess the expected contribution of these actions toward necessary survival improvements.

The draft 2000 BiOp concludes that a 30% increase in survival estimated from FCRPS improvements of the RPA result in no-jeopardy to Snake River spring/summer chinook, even though not all stocks meet the standard without additional survival improvements. It is not surprising that the CRI analysis indicates some stocks meet the standards because of the numerous optimistic assumptions incorporated into the analysis (Table 1). In contrast, PATH estimated recovery would require approximately a 170% increase in survival rates for Snake River spring/summer chinook (Peters and Marmorek 2000).

Our analyses indicate it is highly unlikely for non-breach alternatives alone to provide the necessary survival improvements required for survival and recovery of Snake River salmon and steelhead. Regrettably, the numbers just do not add up. Given the current unacceptablity of the natural river option, it is important to implement an aggressive suite of alternative management actions across the lifecycle of the fish, but focused on the mainstem FCRPS. This is important to not only test whether there are viable alternatives to breach, but also to protect and enhance salmon and steelhead as much as possible during the interim. Without these focused and aggressive actions, the 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy are more likely to fail because the conservation burden has been shifted to Hs that are incapable of providing the necessary survival improvements.

Through their annual migration plans and involvement in the Regional Forum, NPPC program, and Four Governors Plan, IDFG and the State of Idaho have identified several actions that would more aggressively address significant sources of direct and delayed discretionary mortality than the existing RPA.

Take immediate actions to improve survival and reduce stress associated with migration through the FCRPS. These actions should focus on improving inriver migration conditions, and spreading the risk among transported and inriver migrants depending on annual river conditions.

Improve reservoir passage: Shift flood control and reservoir operations to ensure flows in the lower Snake River do not drop below 100 kcfs during the spring migration period. Investigate alternatives to increase water velocity in the lower Snake (e.g., wing dams, artificial velocity gradients, natural migration channel, etc.).

Improve dam passage: Implement 24-hour spill to the maximum allowable levels during the spring migration period. Begin research to assess full spill for summer migrants. Alter dams to reduce total dissolved gas. Reduce predators in the forebay and tailrace of the dams. Install Minimum Gap Runner turbines. Reduce adult fallback and passage duration (e.g, better attraction flows, more ladders, etc.). Improve fish bypass system at Lower Granite Dam modeled after the Little Goose Dam bypass system. Investigate and install surface bypass systems at lower Columbia River dams.

Immediate reduction of avian and pinniped piscivores in the Columbia River estuary to mid-1980s levels. These predator populations are currently robust, whereas salmon and steelhead populations are imperiled. Once fish populations increase, an ecologically appropriate balance of fish, birds and pinnipeds can be managed in the estuary.

Develop and implement selective fisheries to reduce the take of listed fish while maintaining or increasing access to non-listed or hatchery fisheries.

Implement more aggressive local watershed initiatives to improve tributary connectivity, flow, water temperature, sediment and nutrient inputs, barrier removal, riparian conditions, and additional irrigation screening and consolidation. Experiment with fertilization of selected spawning and rearing tributaries to assess potential improvement in fish survival and condition. Restore Columbia River estuary habitat and ecosystem functions.

Available scientific analyses indicate these actions will help moderate extinction risk, will increase the frequency of rebuilding opportunities, and will increase the frequency of harvestable hatchery surpluses compared to current operations, even though they are unlikely to provide the magnitude of survival benefits required to secure recovery. If environmental conditions (e.g., annual snowpack, ocean temperature, coastal upwelling) deteriorate during this interim period, then more aggressive actions than those described above should be immediately considered, including the natural river option.

Step 7: Develop an aggressive monitoring and evaluation plan to assess effectiveness within the context of environmental variability.

The draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy do not identify an adequate monitoring and evaluation program to assess the effectiveness of management actions within five, eight and ten years. It is not scientifically feasible to implement new actions, particularly focused on habitat improvement, and expect to evaluate the effect of these actions on population growth rates within one decade. Thus, many of the performance standards and measures in the 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy are relatively meaningless in the context of the breach decision.

Instead, the primary factors that will likely determine whether or not population growth rates are adequate during the next few years are the weather and ocean conditions. If snowpack and ocean conditions are favorable during the evaluation period, population growth rates may meet the standard. If these environmental conditions deteriorate, then it is unlikely population growth rates will meet the standard. Thus, it is very important that performance standards and measures capture the relative influence of these environmental variables.

IDFG is concerned that the draft 2000 BiOp and Recovery Strategy represents a fundamental shift away from an emphasis on recovery to an emphasis on simply avoiding extinction. Recovery standards and performance measures must all point toward the goal of sustainable and naturally diverse fish runs with inherent productivities adequate to meet the biological needs of the fish and provide societal benefits. Performance measures are the means of tracking progress toward recovery standards, and should be nested within a hierarchy to ensure a clear delineation toward recovery. For example, the Primary measure of success should be based on adult returns and overall life cycle survival (adult-to-adult) for naturally spawning indicator populations representing the diverse stock structure of the Snake River basin; Secondary measurements of success should include relative survival among upriver and downriver indicator stocks, smolt-to-adult survival, and egg-to-smolt survival; Tertiary measurements could include partitioning survival more finely within life stages (e.g., survival through the migration corridor) and achieving a desired condition for key ecosystem attributes, such as water quality, quantity and velocity, riparian health, predatory impacts, fish health and condition, etc. It is important that this hierarchical context remains clear, so that tertiary or secondary measurements do not become an "end unto themselves" but rather a means to our primary measures of success. Literature Cited

Botsford, L.W. 1997. Depensation, performance standards and probabilities of extinction for Columbia River spring/summer chinook salmon. Draft in D.R. Marmorek and C.N. Peters (eds. 1998. Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses (PATH): Retrospective and prospective analyses of spring/summer chinook reviewed in F?Y97. Compiled and edited by ESSA Technologies, Vancouver, B.C.

Bouwes, N., H. Schaller, P. Budy, C. Petrosky, R. Kiefer, P. Wilson, O. Langness, E. Weber, E. Tinus. 1999. An analysis of differential delayed mortality experienced by stream-type chinook salmon of the Snake River. A response by state, tribal, and USFWS technical staff to the 'D' analyses and discussion in the Anadromous Fish Appendix to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer' Lower Snake River Juvenile Salmonid Migration Feasibility Study. October 4, 1999. Submitted to NMFS for ESA record.

BRWG (Biological Requirements Work Group). 1989. Analytical Methods for Determining Requirements of Listed Snake River Salmon Relative to Survival and Recovery. Progress Report of the Biological Requirements Work Group, October 13, 1994. IDFG et al. v. NMFS et al.

Congleton, J.L., T. Welker and L. Haley. 1999. Evaluation of the effects of multiple dam passage on physiological condition of migrating juvenile salmon. In Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Annual Report, October 1, 1998 September 30, 1999. University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho.

Dennis, B. 1989. Allee effects: population growth, critical density, and the chance of extinction. Natural Resource Modeling 3:481-538.

IDFG 1998. Idaho's anadromous fish stocks: their status and recovery options. Report to the Director, May 1, 1998. Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Boise, Idaho.

IDFG 1999. Comments on the National Marine Fisheries Service's "An Assessment of Lower Snake River Hydrosystem Alternatives on Survival and Recovery of Snake River Salmonids" (Draft Anadromous Fish Appendix). August 30, 1999. Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Boise, Idaho.

IDFG 2000a. Technical Comments on the Scientific Analyses Used for the Federal Caucus Draft All-H Paper. March 17, 2000. Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Boise, Idaho.

IDFG 2000b. Technical Comments on NMFS' Draft Anadromous Fish Appendix. April 29, 2000. Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Boise, Idaho.

Marmorek, D.R. and Peters, C. (eds.). 1998. Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses (PATH): Weight of Evidence Report. ESSA Technologies, Ltd. 1765 West 8th Avenue, Suite 300. Vancouver BC, V6J 5C6. 116 pp. + Appendices.

Marmorek, D.R., C.N. Peters and I. Parnell. 1998. Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses (PATH): Final Report for Fiscal Year 1998. ESSA Technologies, Ltd. 1765 West 8th Avenue, Suite 300. Vancouver BC, V6J 5C6. 263 pp.

NMFS 1995. Reinitiation of consultation on 1994-1998 operation of the federal Columbia River power system and juvenile transportation program in 1995 and future years. Biological Opinion. National Marine Fisheries Service. Seattle, Washington.

NMFS 1998. Operation of the federal Columbia River power system including smolt monitoring program and the juvenile fish transportation program: a supplement to the biological opinion signed on March 2, 1995, for the same projects. National Marine Fisheries Service, Seattle, Washington.

NMFS 1999. Draft lower Snake River juvenile salmon migration feasibility report/ environmental impact statement, Appendix A, anadromous fish. Produced by National Marine Fisheries Service for US Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla, Washington.

NMFS 2000a. NMFS White Papers: (1) salmonid travel time and survival related to flow in the Columbia River basin; (2) summary of research related to transportation of juvenile anadromous salmonids around Snake and Columbia River dams; (3) passage of juvenile and adult salmonids past Columbia and Snake River dams; (4) predation on salmonids relative to the federal Columbia River power system. March 2000

NMFS 2000b. Draft Biological Opinion on Operation of the federal Columbia River power system including the juvenile fish transportation program and the Bureau of Reclamation's 31 project, including the entire Columbia Basin Project. July 27, 2000 (draft). National Marine Fisheries Service, Seattle, Washington.

Peters, C.N., D.R. Marmorek.and I. Parnell. 1999. PATH Decision Analysis Report for Snake River Fall Chinook, September 1999. ESSA Technologies, Ltd. 1765 West 8th Avenue, Suite 300. Vancouver BC, V6J 5C6. 332 pp.

Peters, C.N., and D.R. Marmorek. 2000. PATH Preliminary Evaluation of the Learning Opportunities and Biological Consequences of Monitoring and Experimental Management Actions. April 11, 2000. ESSA Technologies, Ltd. 1765 West 8th Avenue, Suite 300. Vancouver BC, V6J 5C6. 154 pp.

Raymond, H.A. 1988. Effects of hydroelectric development and fisheries enhancement on spring and summer chinook salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin. N. Am. J. Fish. Manage. 8:1-24.

Schaller, H.A., C.E. Petrosky and O.P. Langness. 1999b. Contrasting patterns of productivity and survival rates for stream-type chinook salmon (Oncorynchus tshawytscha) populations of the Snake and Columbia rivers. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 56:1031-1045.

SRP (Scientific Review Panel). 1998. Conclusions and Recommendations from the PATH Weight of Evidence Workshop. September 8-10, 1998. Vancouver, BC Canada. PATH Scientific Review Panel (S. Carpenter, J. Collie, S. Saila, C. Walters). Edited by C. Peters, D. Marmorek, R. Gregory, T. Eppel. ESSA Technologies, Ltd. 1765 West 8th Avenue, Suite 300. Vancouver BC, V6J 5C6. 32 pp.

STUFA (State and Tribal and U.S. Fisheries Agencies). 2000. A technical review of the National Marine Fisheries Service Leslie matrix model of Snake River spring and summer chinook populations. April 28, 2000. Submitted to NMFS for ESA Record.

Toole, C. 2000. Email memorandum to L. Krasnow and 9 others, September 5, 2000. Subject: [Fwd: New AppB posted]

Table 1. Assumptions considered by NMFS (grouped from optimistic to pessimistic) and used (shaded) in the draft 2000 Biological Opinion for action agencies' responsibility to achieve survival and recovery of listed Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon. Recommended assumptions are presented in column on right.

Figure 1. Natural log of ratio of recruits to spawning grounds divided by parent spawners (ln(S:S)) for seven index stocks of Snake River spring/summer chinook used in PATH compared to average flow and spill at Lower Granite Dam (kcfs at LGR) experienced during the springtime smolt migration, 1977-1996. The populations increase when ln(S:S) > 0 and decrease when ln(S:S) < 0.

Figure 2. Average spawner to spawner ratio + 2 SE for seven index stocks of Snake River spring/summer chinook, smolt years 1977-1996, compared to average flow categories at Lower Granite Dam (LGR). 1995 BiOp flow targets are 85-100 kcfs, which are associated with returns averaging less than replacement. The populations increase when S:S > 1 and decrease when S:S < 1.

Figure 3. Survival rate index comparisons for Snake River spring/summer chinook and lower Columbia River spring chinook (stream-type), brood years 1959-1990. Survival index values of 0, -1, -2 and 3, represent relative survival of 100%, 37%, 14% and 5% that of the pre-1970 era. Source: Schaller et al. 1999.

Figure 4. Smolt-to-adult return rate (SAR) and smolts per spawner (log scale) for wild Snake River spring/summer chinook, 1964-1994 migration years. Estimates for 1984-1990 based on predicted wild smolt yield from PATH retrospective analyses. Source: STUFA 2000.


Edward C. Bowles, Idaho Department of Fish and Game
Testimony of Edward C. Bowles
Committee on Environment and Public, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works - September 14, 2000

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation