the film
Commentaries and editorials

Supporting Senator Craig
on Fish Passage Center

by John McKern
Columbia Basin Bulletin - July 1, 2005

On the issue of Senate language to prohibit the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) from funding the operation of the Fish Passage Center (FPC), the politically correct comments offered by others in the article (CBB, 6/24) merit a little expansion.

Under Michelle DeHart's direction, the FPC has had considerable power in controlling the operation of the Federal Columbia River Hydropower System (FCRPS). Originally established to advise FCRPS operators on how the fishery agencies wanted the Water Budget (flow augmentation) used to increase fish survival, the role of the FPC has expanded to include monitoring fish passage, assembling and disseminating fish passage information, sitting on interagency coordinating committees, and participating in policy decision making processes.

Many years ago, Michelle did succeed in greatly expanding the FPC power base by "volunteering" to chair and keep the minutes for the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority's Fish Passage Advisory Committee. This relieved the fishery agency representatives of the onerous tasks of rotating chairmanship and note keeping. In a sense, the fishery agencies also abrogated their legislated responsibilities by placing much of the decision making in Michelle's hands. Look at the records, if you will, of all the System Operation Requests (SORs) from the FPC to the FCRPS. If you are familiar with the scientific information about fish passage, flow, and dam operations, you will agree that the SORs were not always in the best interest of the fish. Often they were quite offensive and counterproductive to interagency cooperation.

When I first came to work for the Corps over three decades ago, we coordinated fish operations with the fishery agencies through an interagency committee that has since transformed into the Anadromous Fish Evaluation Program and its associated workgroups. We met face to face with representatives of the agencies and worked together on solutions to problems and situations. Decisions were formalized through an exchange of letters from the Corps to agency directors, and responses from the agency directors to the Corps.

Now, decisions are made in low level committees, and unless they are contested, they are never elevated to the next tier. If they are contested, they have to work their way up through three or four tiers before they ever reach the director and commander levels at the Executive Committee level. Under this system, a lot of poor decisions have been made simply because people did not want to go to the trouble of working up to the top decision making level. Oftentimes the directors and commanders are not even informed of what has transpired.

When Michelle got the job as sole director of the FPC, she did so in competition with me. Of the seven fishery agency director jobs at the time, six were filled and one was vacant. Three favored Michelle for the job, and three favored me. They postponed the decision until the seventh director's position was filled, then the tie was broken by his vote for Michelle.

While I am sure that many of your readers sighed in relief when a "pro dam" biologist did not get the job, this much I would guarantee. Personal power has never been my goal, but maximizing fish survival always has. Although my record is not as transparent as Michelle's, I was involved in a number of successful interagency coordination efforts, and even organized some of them. The Tri-Agency Team that implemented elk mitigation at Dworshak Dam and Reservoir, the Fish Transportation Oversight Team, implementation of the Lower Snake River Fish and Wildlife Compensation Plan are a few examples.

For what my opinion as a retired Corps biologist is worth, the regional fish management processes will be better off if the Fish Passage Center is closed. As stated, there are other sources for management of the fish data. It will be easier for the BPA and Corps to contract directly with less biased organizations like the University of Washington, Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, and others for data management and dissemination because those organizations won't have a political agenda like the FPC's. Scientific objectivity rather than political agendas should be the standard for analysis and use of the data. Decisions should be made based on the best scientific information, not the personal desires of interest groups.

As Judge Redden indicated, it is time for the fishery agencies and FCRPS managers to get back together and iron out the problems between fish and dams. Those solutions should come from the agencies involved, not from the courts. (bluefish notes: the Endangered Species Act puts the authority of issues regarding the ESA in the hands of the Judicial branch of the government, not in the hands of the Executive or Legislative branches.). I support Senator Craig's FPC solution.

John McKern, Fish Passage Solutions
Supporting Sen. Craig on Fish Passage Center
Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 1, 2005

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