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Opening Statement of Chairman Mike Crapo

9/13/00 - Delivered before the Committee on Environment and Public
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works

This hearing will come to order. This is the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water hearing to examine the Draft Biological Opinion on the Federal Columbia River Power System and the Federal Caucus Draft Basinwide Salmon Recovery Strategy.

The Pacific Northwest (PNW) region of the United States is home to several subspecies of culturally, economically and biologically significant species of anadromous fish fish that spawn in fresh water, migrate to the Pacific Ocean where they reach maturity, and then return to their freshwater birth place to spawn and die, their carcasses enriching the ecosystem that feeds the newly hatched young. Twelve of these subspecies of salmon and steelhead are currently listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Note there are also several ESA listed fish and wildlife species in the Pacific Northwest including bull trout and Kootenai River White Sturgeon. There are certainly many relationships among these various species, both aquatic and terrestrial, and their potential for extinction. However, the primary focus of this initial hearing must necessarily be on the ESA listed salmon and steelhead.

Several decades of work by Federal, State and Tribal governments and many organizations and individuals have failed to stop the steady decline of these fish. These efforts have cost taxpayers and electricity rate-payers an estimated 3 billion dollars; yet, the fish have continued to decline to the point where they may soon become extinct.

Extinction of these salmon and steelhead is culturally abhorrent to the Northwest and illegal under the ESA, and would violate tribal treaties and federal commitments to fisheries. Extinction must be avoided and recovery must happen. How to recover these fish is controversial and laden with economic impacts, cultural and spiritual emotion, scientific intrigue, courtroom maneuvering, and publicity spinning.

Let me state very clearly at this point that I do not see any evidence that any significant amount of flow augmentation will recovery these fish. Furthermore, I do not support the dam breaching alternative because the people of the Pacific Northwest are not convinced it will work and are not ready to make a fully-informed decision about dam breaching. No recovery plan will ever be implemented without public and political support.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the rest of the federal action agencies together known as the "Federal Caucus" have produced a draft biological opinion and a draft Basin-Wide Salmon Recovery Strategy. These draft documents will soon lead to the Biological Opinion and then a Recovery Plan that will dictate activities in the Pacific Northwest that seek to recover ESA listed anadromous fish.

Yesterday, my friend and colleague Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon held a hearing where many of the same federal caucus witnesses that are with us today testified. My understanding is that Senator Smith's hearing focused proper attention on regional energy and economic issues. Ultimately, Senator Smith's hearing may well be summarized by his posing the question to the federal caucus, "what sense does it make to have a policy where we spill fish over dams then club them to death when they come back?" Senator Smith makes a very good point that needs to be heard and understood throughout the region, but most particularly heard by members of the federal caucus. That message is the federal government must get this right and do things that make sense and work. Senator Smith and his colleagues on the Water and Power Subcommittee have made a very positive contribution to steering this process in the right direction, and I look forward to considerable consultation between the subcommittees as we move forward.

Very significantly, for the first time in history, the Governors of the four Pacific Northwest states Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington have jointly released a series of recommendations that outline the process the Governors feel must be followed to achieve anadromous fish recovery. Getting the four governors together to produce their recommendations, given the widely varied constituencies they each must represent, is remarkable and encouraging. Let me note the openness, transparency, and real collaboration that characterized the process used by the governors and their staffs in preparing their recommendations. The four governors have done a good job in identifying both the proper focus on where the real problems are and real balance among various solutions. The Federal Caucus would have done well to have followed the same type of process. Instead, I had to file a FOIA request to find out what the Federal Caucus was doing.

The Northwest Power Planning Council (NWPPC) has commenced a series of public hearings in the Pacific NorthWest to discuss draft amendments to its Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. The Northwest Power Planning Council is an interstate compact of the four Pacific NorthWest states, charged by the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act of 1980 to protect and enhance fish and wildlife while assuring the Pacific NorthWest's electric power supply. The Northwest Power Planning Council seeks to develop and monitor the implementation of this Fish and Wildlife Program by the Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. While the Northwest Power Planning Council Program deals with a wide range of species and habitats, the fact is that the primary focus is on the ESA listed anadromous fish and the effects of the hydroelectric system on these fish.

There are an enormous number of interests throughout the Pacific Northwest that must be heard and understood. These interests' perspectives must be given a thorough review and their recommendations about how we can recover these wild fish given equal consideration. I trust that all interests want to recover wild salmon and steelhead the debate is about how to best get the job done. We are particularly concerned that the cultural and economic interests must be satisfactorily considered. Without collaboration from economic interests and without great sensitivity to the cultural aspects of this issue, it is highly unlikely that any recovery plan will have enough public support to be implemented. Given these facts, I want everyone in the region to understand that this hearing is but the first, and we are now scheduling subsequent hearings, including field hearings in the Pacific Northwest. I want everyone to be heard by this Subcommittee.

The primary purpose of this Subcommittee hearing is to examine the science used to develop the draft bi-op and the draft recovery strategy. We will examine in detail the processes and assumptions used to develop the science. We will look at the implications of the scientific conclusion. The proposal's recovery standards, the balance of effort among the various measures aimed at each of the "H's" habitat, harvest, hatchery and hydro systems and the various aspects of the computer models used to assemble the draft documents will all be examined.

Let me describe the role of science as I see it. Science, economy, and culture will all be partners in recovering these wild anadromous fish. Recovery must first be based in science and we must get the science right. We must not fear good, accurate science. Some worry where good accurate science may lead us and as a result, many seek to manipulate scientific processes and mis-characterize scientific hypotheses and conclusions. Such activity is a disservice and can only bring further gridlock and severe penalties to the Pacific Northwest. I urge people from all perspectives to insist on good science and be willing to recognize it when we find it.

The approach I prefer is to understand the good science, then let the people and policymakers use that science to craft a recovery plan that gives the economic and cultural partners the trust they need to be advocates and participants in recovery.

The imposition of bad process and bad science will result in distrust and a retreat into self interests. Such a tragic path backwards will have severe penalties for the Pacific Northwest and ultimately result in the loss of these incredible fish. There is too much at stake to allow our limited resources to be applied to phony schemes and false solutions. We must get the science right.

Senator Mike Crapo
Chairman Mike Crapo Opening Statement
Committee on Environment and Public, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works - September 13, 2000

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