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Testimony of Eric J. Bloch

Vice Chairman of the Northwest Power Planning Council
& Representing John A. Kitzhaber, Governor of Oregon
9/13/00 - Delivered before the Committee on Environment and Public
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works

Mr. Chairman, my name is Eric Bloch, and I am representing the Honorable John Kitzhaber, Governor of Oregon. I also am one of Governor Kitzhaber's two appointees to the Northwest Power Planning Council, and currently I am the Council's vice chairman. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on fish and wildlife recovery efforts in the Pacific Northwest, and specifically on the draft biological opinion issued recently by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

I would like to begin by commending the general approach to recovery articulated in the federal document, which I believe reflects the recognition that improvements in salmon survival must come through reducing mortality caused by hydrosystem operations, habitat degradation, harvesting and unscientific hatchery operations - the so-called "4 Hs". These key impacts on fish survival also are addressed in the recommendations for protection of Columbia River Basin fish, issued in July by the governors of Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Washington.

The Governors' recommendations constituted a substantial and meaningful commitment toward ecosystem restoration, while accounting for the importance of maintaining a strong economy in the Pacific Northwest. The agreement was a clear recognition that, although at this time there is not political consensus among the four Northwest Governors on the fate of the Lower Snake River Dams, there is still much that can be done to restore the Columbia River ecosystem, while dam breaching remains a potential future action to be further evaluated for its biological benefits, economic impacts, and engineering feasibility. So the recommendations reflect agreement among the Governors about actions that can be taken immediately to help the fish.

In the context of today's hearing, these areas of agreement in the Governor's document are worth highlighting. For example, the Governors called for significant efforts to restore habitat, acquire habitat and water conversation from willing sellers, and increase federal spending on incentives for private landowners to improve habitat voluntarily. The Governors support the full funding and implementation of the Lower Columbia River Basin Estuary Management Plan. They also recommended that fish harvest occur at levels commensurate with fish recovery and that fundamental changes be made in fish hatchery management and operation.

Finally, the Governors called for capital improvements at dams to improve fish passage and survival, consistent with their preference for natural river and biological processes.

Governor Kitzhaber hopes the federal agencies will review the Governors' recommendations as part of the process of finalizing the draft biological opinion. In some instances, the governors' recommendations are preferable to, and even more specific than, those in the biological opinion.

As I indicated at the outset, Governor Kitzhaber believes the overall "4-H" approach outlined in the draft biological opinions is commendable.

But after consideration of scientific analyses such as the state/federal/tribal PATH (Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses) and the Northwest Power Planning Council's Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment model, and a thorough technical review of the Biological Opinion, we believe the Biological Opinion generally underestimates the risk of extinction faced by salmon and steelhead in the Columbia/Snake basin listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Biological Opinion also generally underestimates the survival improvements needed to meet the ESA's legal requirement of insuring survival and recovery of the listed species.

To meet the legal mandate to insure both survival and recovery, the federal documents must be strengthened to reflect the true extinction risk and necessary level of survival improvements. It is worth noting in this regard that Governor Kitzhaber believes the Northwest Governors' recommendations also must be strengthened so that they, too, more accurately reflect the extinction risk and more closely approximate the breadth and intensity of effort required for an effective basinwide recovery plan.

Thus, Oregon offers the following specific proposals to strengthen the draft Biological Opinion.

First, on-the-ground actions in each of the four "H"s must be made more robust by adding actions not included in the federal documents and by increasing the intensity of some of the actions that are included.

Regarding hydropower operations, Governor Kitzhaber believes that the federal proposal appears to rely too heavily on technological fixes and fish barging rather than on improving inriver conditions for fish migration. As I said earlier, this is in contrast to the four Governors' recommendations, which assert stronger support for hydrosystem configurations and operations that more closely resemble natural river processes, recognize barging as an interim strategy, and call for additional investment to improve river conditions so that more fish can migrate the river.

Specifically in the area of hydrosystem reform, we support:

-- Increasing spill at all projects. Study after study has shown spill to be not only the most normative mode of downstream dam passage for migrating juvenile salmon, but also the mode with the highest survival rates.

-- Increasing flow augmentation. At a minimum, the federal government should expeditiously purchase the 2 million acre feet of Canadian storage for Columbia River flows. For Snake River flows, the federal government should make the infrastructure changes at Owyhee Reservoir needed to access available storage there.

-- Continue to plan and, where necessary and appropriate, implement system reconfiguration improvements. For the tributaries, this mean removal of economically marginal projects, such as is occurring with Marmot Dam on the Sandy River in Oregon, Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in Washington state, and the Wapotox Dam on Washington's Naches River.

For the mainstem Columbia and Snake River, this means continuing to assess drawdown options for John Day and other mainstem dams. It also means continuing to assess the biological benefits, economic costs, mitigation requirements and engineering feasibility of by-passing removal of the four dams on the Lower Snake River. And it means timely planning and implementation to achieve Clean Water Act compliance at all the federal projects.

To add to and make more robust existing harvest actions, we support decreasing the level of impacts on threatened and endangered stocks, while still affording a reasonable sport and commercial fishing opportunities to both Indian and non-Indian fishers. This can be accomplished by lowering the harvest rates, particularly for the fall fisheries that impact listed Snake River Fall Chinook, license buy-backs, creating terminal fishing opportunities off the mainstem areas, and utilizing more selective gear types.

Regarding habitat, we support the federal government channeling its support to the existing state, tribal and regional efforts currently underway that will result in improvements to salmon-related habitat. A principle example is the effort ongoing in Oregon, Washington and Idaho to greatly improve water quality in the tributaries and the mainstem.

We also support, in the area of habitat, establishing a mechanism and fund to purchase water and habitat rights on a willing seller / willing buyer basis, and more "user- friendly" assistance to private parties to such things as protecting riparian areas and conserving water.

In addition to these new and more robust actions, a second approach to making the Biological Opinion stronger is to improve the efficacy of the proposed monitoring and evaluation process. This could be accomplished by:

1) Adjusting the timeframes for assessing compliance with established performance standards. The region should, frankly, be given less time than five years to get the required strategies and actions underway -- more like three years seems appropriate, but should also, in all fairness, be given more like 10 years (at least two salmon lifecycles) to demonstrate that the regional efforts are producing the desired increase in salmon survival.

2) Departing from the "self-critique" approach to progress monitoring. Having agencies monitor and critique their own progress has not proved timely or credible in the past, and there is no reason to expect it would be any different under the current Biological Opinion. Instead, all monitoring and evaluation must be done by an independent body, and scientific peer review must be the rule, not the exception.

3) Assuring that the consequences of failing to meet established objectives are credible and proportional. The Biological Opinion enumerates reinitiation of consultation and dam removal as the two consequences of failing to meet established performance standards. To both motivate action and fully inform the region, the federal government should enumerate consequences that are more credible and proportional. For example, if the region fails to achieve the requisite amount of riparian fencing, the consequences should involve taking other actions that will address the same temperature and sedimentation benefits that the riparian fencing would have otherwise provided.

Third, the means of collaboration with the region outlined in the federal documents must be made far more explicit. At present, the recovery plan outlined in the federal documents appears to rely upon regional collaboration, particularly with the Northwest Power Planning Council. But the collaboration exists on far too conceptual a level, given the importance of collaboration to achieving a plan that can be effectively and expeditiously implemented. Collaboration should occur in the following ways:

1) Use Existing State and Tribal Salmon Improvement Efforts. The states and tribes of the region already have underway strategies and actions intended to benefit salmon, many of which are called for in the federal documents. Development of TMDLs, efforts to enhance water monitoring capability, and working through local soil and water conservation districts and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to increase enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, are just three examples. These state and tribal actions have, to some extent, been hampered by a lack of support and collaboration from the federal agencies. Providing support for these already-existing programs, activities and authorities would accomplish the goal of ecosystem health and fish and wildlife protection and recovery in the most efficient and effective manner.

2) Provide Increased Technical and Financial Assistance to Private Citizens. There are private citizens all across this region who have been hard at work to restore wild salmon and steelhead to the Columbia Basin. Whether landowners changing their farming and ranching practices or fishers exploring new opportunities for more selective harvest, all need to receive greater assistance and true collaboration from the federal government. The federal documents must specify how this needed change can be brought about.

Finally, as all four of the region's governors clearly stated in their consensus recommendations, the recovery effort we face will be very costly. Without adequate funding, we will never restore the health of the Columbia Basin ecosystem and the salmon runs. To be credible, the recovery plan outlined in the federal documents should provide a detailed budget and a funding strategy. Such a budget and funding strategy should include the following elements.

1) Increase rate payer funding. The Bonneville Power Administration, which currently obligates up to $435 million per year in expenditures and foregone power system revenues, must provide more resources. The BPA Administrator has repeatedly indicated the rates being set for the 2002-2006 period give the agency the ability to meet this increased fish and wildlife funding obligation.

2) Account for all existing fish and wildlife related federal appropriated funds. Many of the federal departments and agencies currently receive funds that are earmarked for activities that, directly or indirectly, relate to restoration of ecosystem health and salmon populations in the Columbia Basin. This includes everything from NMFS' appropriations for ESA activities, to funds given to the U.S. Geological Service to monitor snow pack and run-off. To maximize the efficient and effective use of this existing funding, a summary accounting should be done.

3) Remove barriers to best use of existing federal appropriated funds. Barriers exist because of inter-agency "turf" concerns, as well as rules that are not "user friendly". An example of these problems can be seen in the CREP program, administered under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A focussed effort must be made to identify and remove these barriers by making the administration of the fish and wildlife programs more streamlined, and the rules governing their use more flexible and goal oriented.

4) Increase the Level of Appropriated Funds. The effort to restore the Columbia Basin ecosystem and restore salmon protects a national resource in satisfaction of national obligations, such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and Indian treaties. Therefore, appropriated funds are both proper and necessary to contribute to the regional recovery effort.

5) Provide funds, in the short term, through a FY 2001 Supplemental Appropriations, to be acted upon in early 2001, and the FY 2002 Regular Appropriations Bill.

6) Pursue new authority for a "Columbia-Snake River Regional Salmon Recovery Program". As was done with the Everglades and the California recovery effort known as Cal/Fed, this mechanism would provide for regular appropriations to the federal agencies involved in the recovery effort, as well as direct and pass-through appropriations to Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and other regional entities.

On these funding issues, we look forward to working closely with Congress and the Administration to insure that the opportunity to implement a recovery strategy that does not require removal of the four lower Snake River dams is not jeopardized by a lack of resources.

In conclusion, let me remind the Committee of something that Governor Kitzhaber said in a speech he gave in Eugene last February to the Oregon chapter of the American Fisheries Society, "There is no doubt in my mind that we can move ahead with salmon recovery without breaching the dams. All I am saying to you today is that we have to stop deluding ourselves into believing that our choices will be easier and cheaper if we just leave the dams alone." What we have heard so far this morning, and will likely hear over the next two days of hearings, will generally bear out that prediction.

But we can not shrink from this challenge of salmon restoration in the Columbia Basin. As Governor Kitzhaber as also noted on a number of occasions, unless we restore our degraded Columbia River Basin ecosystem, unless we find the way to utilize the bountiful resources of the Columbia in a sustainable fashion -- sustainable ecologically, economically and socially -- we will truly be mortgaging our children's futures.

Thank you again, Mr. Chairman for the opportunity to testify today. 

Eric J. Bloch, Vice Chairman NW Power Planning Council & Representing John Kitzhaber, Governor Oregon
Testimony of Eric J. Bloch
Committee on Environment and Public, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works - September 13, 2000

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