Crapo Hearing Focuses on BiOp Rewrite, Collaborationby CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 27, 2003
The head of federal salmon recovery efforts in the Pacific Northwest pledged this week to consult state and tribal officials on what changes need to be made to the 2000 biological opinion on the Columbia Basin federal hydropower system to satisfy a recent court decision rejecting the salmon recovery plan.
Regional Administrator Bob Lohn of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Division made the commitment to Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, during a Senate hearing on Tuesday. The subcommittee on fisheries, wildlife and water, which Crapo chairs, took testimony from federal, state and tribal officials and on the impacts of the court ruling and on implementation of the plan.
Lohn said the agency had begun to review the plan's legal flaws and to update the underlying scientific models and data on listed salmon and steelhead runs, whose annual spawning runs have increased the last two years. He said preliminary results should be ready in three to four months and promised to share them with state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies.
On May 7, U.S. District Judge James A. Redden in Portland agreed with environmental groups and other plaintiffs who sued NMFS that the 2000 BiOp was illegal and said he would remand it to the agency. It will then have one year to rewrite the document, which calls for measures to be taken to restore salmon and steelhead over 10 years and could increase Columbia Basin salmon recovery costs to as much as $1 billion per year.
While calling the judge's decision "basically a technical opinion," Lohn said that at a minimum, it will require "substantial changes" to be made to the biological opinion and could even mean providing it with "a new foundation." Upon completion of the legal review and scientific update, Lohn said he expected federal officials will make a major decision on how extensively to overhaul the plan.
Crapo urged Lohn and other federal agency officials in the region to collaborate with states and tribes on the revised plan and warned them against excluding them as during preparation of the 2000 BiOp. "I want to make sure that NMFS does not follow the same path it followed before -- to leave the states and tribes out of the process and fail to conduct itself in a collaborative manner," Crapo said.
Crapo said state and tribal biologists have on-the-ground knowledge and expertise that NOAA Fisheries staff do not and that it should be incorporated in the federal redrafting effort. He said he objected to the "closed door process" used by the National Marine Fisheries Service in the latter stages of the 2000 plan.
Lohn said that depending on what deadlines the court sets for rewriting the plan, he would be "very sensitive to that" desire for state and tribal biologists to review federal science and analysis and give their advice and expertise and will look for opportunities for greater regional collaboration and input in general.
Crapo said the judge's rejection of the plan for being too vague and relying on future measures that are not reasonably certain to occur will require federal officials to develop either stronger measures or greater certainty or a combination of both.
Lohn said NOAA Fisheries was looking at both kinds of changes. Attorneys and others are evaluating how and whether the BiOp 's recovery measures meet the judge's standard. Meanwhile, scientists are updating and improving the preciseness of computer models that predict the effects of off-site mitigation measures.
Lohn rejected suggestions by tribal officials to reconstitute a scientific advisory panel that worked on the 2000 salmon recovery plan -- the 11-member Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses, which involved biologists from state, tribal and federal agencies and independent scientists.
The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Idaho Department of Fish and Game and others complained NMFS departed from PATH's conclusions and from its peer review process. Federal officials' actions "appeared to be motivated by the fact that PATH had concluded that breaching the four lower Snake River dams was the best means for restoring Snake River salmon," Nez Perce Tribal Chairman Anthony Johnson told Crapo.
Lohn said PATH "had a value" in developing predictive models but that he did not agree with its outcome. PATH's main model probably would have predicted that the recent large returns of adult salmon were impossible, he said. Attempting to get a large scientific group to agree on modeling tools is difficult, he said.
But Lohn said he was willing to release NOAA Fisheries' updated data and models to state and tribal biologists and get their advice.
No other senators attended the hearing. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., last week, issued a statement supporting the current plan. "The Administration is currently working to address the deficiencies in the biological opinion. I remain committed to working with my colleagues, the Northwest governors, and the Administration to keep salmon recovery on track, while preserving the multiple benefits for the Pacific Northwest of the Federal Columbia River Power System."
"It is important to move forward with the reasonable and prudent alternatives," Smith said.
Written testimony from the subcommittee hearing is available on-line at: epw.senate.gov
Listen to 6/24/3 Senate Hearing Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water. Hearing to examine implementation of the National Marine Fisheries Service's 2000 Biological Opinion for listed anadromous fish regarding operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System.
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