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Feds' Recovery 'Implementation' Plan Yet to Congeal

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - January 12, 2001

A planned reliance on established regional funding and implementation processes to stoke federal Columbia Basin salmon recovery strategies had state officials wondering Thursday what role they would play in decision making for both prescribed hydrosystem and "off-site mitigation" actions.

A federal hydrosystem biological opinion was released Dec. 21 describing measures the National Marine Fisheries Service believes necessary to avoid jeopardizing eight listed Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead stocks. It describes in detail hydrosystem construction and operational actions felt necessary to improve salmon survival through the Columbia-Snake federal hydropower system. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dec. 21 BiOp details improvements needed to aid Endangered Species Act listed resident fish.

To bring the necessary improvements in salmon population growth necessary to avoid jeopardy, the BiOp and companion federal caucus Basinwide Salmon Recovery Strategy also describe necessary "off-site mitigation" that must carried out over the next 10 years. Those off-site measures include efforts aimed at habitat restoration and protection and improved hatchery operations and harvest practices.

The documents' release has left the region in a transitional mode, awaiting development of implementation plans by so-called federal "action agencies" obligated to respond to NMFS' "reasonable and prudent alternatives" to current hydro operations. The Bonneville Power Administration, Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation are charged in the BiOp with developing a five-year implementation plan by the end of March, as well as a more detailed one-year action plan.

The intent of the one- and five-year plans is to outline what the action agencies consider their obligation under the Endangered Species Act and NMFS' BiOp, said BPA's Dan Daley. The BiOp's hydro actions are detailed and prescriptive. The proposed off-site strategy is not as easy to measure, Daley said.

The BiOp anticipates that much of the off-site mitigation will be channeled through the Northwest Power Planning Council's fish and wildlife program project review process funded by BPA.

Implementation of the hydrosystem measures will be monitored by NMFS' state-federal Regional Forum -- which includes the Implementation Team, System Configuration Team and Technical Management Team.

"We are stepping up our participation in the Power Planning Council process and the CFWA process," NMFS' hydro chief Brian Brown told the IT Thursday. The Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority's fish and wildlife managers prepare an annual fish and wildlife program work plan, which the Council subjects to scientific review, then adopts all or in part in an annual funding recommendation. The program has for the past six years been funded at $127 million per year by BPA as mitigation for federal hydrosystem impacts to fish and wildlife.

NMFS will review the work plans to determine if it "covers the things that need to be done" to meet off-site mitigation expectations of the BiOp, Brown said.

Jim Yost, the Idaho Governor's Office representative to the IT, told Brown "Idaho has some concern about using that mechanism" because of CBFWA's limited membership.

If the CBFWA process is the launching point for implementation of off-site mitigation "then we have a problem here," Yost said. Just because action agencies have coordinated with the NWPPC and CBFWA "doesn't mean they've talked to Idaho. You can't get the perspective of other state agencies" aside from CBFWA member, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Yost said.

Yost, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Jim Nielson, also questioned whether broader representation might be appropriate in the IT's decision-making process.

Implementation issues and priorities might provide "a difference of opinion among agencies and a difference of opinion within one agency," Nielson said. It is difficult to represent with one voice the state's varied interests, he said.

Yost and Nielson also questioned if the federal agencies could achieve desired off-site mitigation implementation goals through a shared fish and wildlife program pot.

"There needs to be substantial additional money available rather than just redirecting the money that is available," Nielson said.

The fish and wildlife program funding memorandum of agreement that obligated BPA to $127 million in annual expenditures expires at the end of the current fiscal year.

BPA's thoughts now are that fish and wildlife costs will increase, but "there's going to be some default caps on how much we can spend," Daley said. Those caps may shift up and down, depending on BPA's cost and revenue picture.

"In critical or near critical years there may be caps that don't represent an increase," Daley said.

Barry Espenson
Feds' Recovery 'Implementation' Plan Yet to Congeal
Columbia Basin Bulletin, January 12, 2001

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