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Commentaries and editorials

Tribes, Oregon, Others Comment
on BiOp 2003 Check-in Report

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - November 21, 2003

Tribes, Oregon and conservation groups gave the Columbia River action agencies a much lower score for their efforts to meet NOAA Fisheries' 2000 biological opinion for the Federal Columbia River Power System than the agencies claimed for themselves.

The action agencies -- Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation -- reported in a "Citizen Update" in October that the majority of actions called for in the BiOp are "on track and expected to meet 2003 benchmarks." They found that 117 of 124 reasonable and prudent alternatives were either on track or under way. The action agencies are required by the BiOp to assess their progress in the check-in years 2003, 2005 and 2008.

However, four sets of comments that NOAA Fisheries has received regarding the action agencies' report largely disagreed with this assessment. American Rivers, which has issued report cards for federal agencies' implementation of the BiOp in 2001 and 2002, said during those years the action agencies had "meaningfully implemented only 25 and 30 percent, respectively, of the actions called for in the BiOp."

"(W)e conclude that the insufficiency of the Action Agencies' BiOp implementation cannot be remedied through changes to the 1- and 5-year plans, and that it cannot be fully remedied by actions within the current authority of these agencies," according to a 10-page letter sent to NOAA Fisheries Nov. 14, 2003.

The letter recommends that NOAA Fisheries issue a "failure report" in its findings letter due out in mid-December and "to direct the Action Agencies to seek and obtain additional authority form Congress," including authority to partially remove four lower Snake River dams. The letter was signed by American Rivers, Save Our Wild Salmon, Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, National Wildlife Federation, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Sierra Club and Trout Unlimited.

"First, we find it troubling that we are commenting on the Action Agencies' "check in" for implementing a Biological Opinion which the Federal District Court has declared invalid," wrote Anthony D. Johnson, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe. He added that the tribe believes the BiOp did not provide the "major overhaul" of the hydro system necessary, and that NOAA and the action agencies "should be actively pursuing [and] obtaining additional authority from Congress to ensure that all options are on the table for salmon recovery."

The tribe, as well as the conservation groups, further said it was concerned that NOAA would develop the new BiOp based on information contained in the action agencies' report, which the tribe said is an "inaccurate characterization" of the situation.

"The Action Agencies' assertion is hard to square with the reality that flow objectives have not been met and that no additional protective measures for salmon were provided to offset this situation," Johnson said. He went on to complain that during the three year period of the check-in BPA had reduced fish and wildlife funding, there had been no "significant" additional federal appropriations for salmon restoration and that few habitat restoration activities are underway.

The conservation groups' letter expressed some of the same concerns. Asking whether the needed federal funding for salmon restoration had been obtained, whether adequate monitoring and evaluation projects were underway, whether agencies had adopted biological and physical performance standards and whether subbasin assessments and hatchery management plans were complete, it answered "no."

Mary Verner, executive director, Upper Columbia United Tribes, said that the action agencies in their document confused budget figures with actual expenditures.

"The text uses 'budget' figures interchangeably with implied 'expenditures,' when BPA actually did not SPEND the amounts budgeted," she said. "The Report should be edited to reflect BPA's actual expenditures and to clearly distinguish amounts actually SPENT for each budget category.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the action agencies' report fell short of meeting ODFW's expectations, saying that the action agencies have not resolved "issues hindering the implementation of several important actions" required by the BiOp. Those include development of habitat improvement plans in the subbasin planning process, securing adequate funding for all programs, and completion of a research, monitoring and evaluation plan.

"[A]lthough the Action Agencies and NOAA Fisheries deem these actions as critical to the successful implementation of the Biological Opinion, the Action Agencies do not describe whether and how they will resolve these constraints," said Ed Bowles, Fish Division administrator at ODFW, in a Nov, 14, 2003, letter to NOAA. "They also fail to explain how these, and other, setbacks affect their ability to satisfy the requirements of the Biological Opinion."

Comments from the conservation groups, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Upper Columbia United Tribes and ODFW are available on the web at www.salmonrecovery.gov.

NOAA Fisheries expects comments from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which asked for a time extension.


Mike O'Bryant
Tribes, Oregon, Others Comment on BiOp 2003 Check-in Report
Columbia Basin Bulletin, November 21, 2003

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