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Science Panel Issues Final Review by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 8, 2006

The so-called "fix-it loop" allowed proponents of 151 Columbia River Basin fish and wildlife projects to further state their case and win a thumbs up from the Independent Scientific Review Panel.

The ISRP final review of projects is one of the key inputs the Northwest Power and Conservation Council will use when it in October recommends how its fish and wildlife program budget will be spent during fiscal years 2007-2009. The Bonneville Power Administration has said it will make available $143 million annually for project expense and another $36 million each year for capital projects. BPA markets power generated in the federal Columbia/Snake river hydrosystem. It funds the program with revenues from ratepayers as mitigation for hydrosystem impacts on fish and wildlife.

The ISRP's final review can be found at

A January solicitation deadline produced 540 project proposals seeking slightly more than $1 billion in funding over the three-year period. About half that amount would be available if the capital account is fully utilized.

In its June 2 preliminary review the ISRP, which considered the technical merits and potential benefits of each proposal, found that 218 proposals are fundable or fundable in part (41 percent), 210 proposals need a response before the ISRP could make its final recommendation (39 percent), 104 proposals are not fundable (19 percent), and eight proposals are primarily administrative in nature (1 percent).

That review triggered a response loop during which sponsors answered ISRP questions about the scientific merit of their proposals. The scientific panel received and reviewed 219 responses before drafting its final recommendations.

The Aug. 31 final review found that: 369 proposals are fundable or fundable in part (69 percent); 118 proposals are not fundable (22 percent); eight proposals are primarily administrative in nature (1 percent); and 45 proposals needed a response for the ISRP to make its final recommendation, but responses were not provided (8 percent).

The ISRP's final review said that the panel continues to see a general improvement in the quality of the proposals and the scientific basis of the Fish and Wildlife Program. However, it said further directed effort is needed in certain areas especially prioritization of habitat actions, monitoring and evaluation, and reporting of results.

The 11-member ISRP was created in response to a 1996 amendment to the Northwest Power Act to provide scientific review of projects funded by BPA. The amendment requires that Council fully consider ISRP recommendations when making its funding recommendations and provide an explanation in writing where its recommendations diverge from those of the ISRP.

An example of that potential divergence is the Redfish Lake sockeye broodstock program, which has for the past 15 years kept alive through artificial production that endangered salmon stock. The ISRP has said the Idaho Department of Fish and Game project, asking for $3.3 million over the three-year period is not fundable. Likewise, a related NOAA Fisheries research program, requesting $2.6 million, got a "do not fund" recommendation, as did a $6.7 million IDFG request to complete an expansion of hatchery facilities for the program.

"The sponsors have not made the case that the program is working -- which was our original concern," the ISRP wrote in its final report. "There are a lot of data about the thousands of fry and smolts produced by the captive broodstock program, but only meager adult returns to the Stanley Basin.

"The central point the ISRP emphasizes for the sponsor and Council is that the ISRP cannot deduce from the data provided that the population can ever progress from captive broodstock to conventional anadromous hatchery to supplementation supported and finally to naturally self sustained. This is the goal of the program."

The ISRP noted a "bleak outlook that significant environmental change is likely in the near future" that could improve the program's chances of success.

The Council signaled support for the program in June when it recommended the expenditure of $2.7 million this summer to begin the renovation and expansion of facilities that will allow an increase in Snake River sockeye production of up to 150,000 smolts.

The sockeye stock was in 1991 listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Since that time only 19 naturally produced sockeye spawners have returned to the Sawtooth Valley's Redfish Lake, the last in 1998. Hatchery managers began in 1991 taking wild spawners into the hatchery to produce offspring that might perpetuate the species.

Sockeye returns have not exceeded 26 fish except in 2000 when 257 returned.

A "not fundable" ISRP recommendation is not necessarily the death knell for a project though the scientists' view does carry considerable weight, according to Patty O'Toole, the NPCC's program implementation manager. That advice will be weighed against policy considerations of the eight NPCC members from the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

Fish and wildlife agency representatives and hydro managers that convened as the Mainstem/Systemwide Review Team in late July provided their ranking of projects in the mainstem on-the-ground and basinwide categories. State/local entities ranked projects geographically in the Columbia Basin's 11 provinces. The Council allocated a share of the total budget to each of the provinces and the two other categories of projects.

Council staff spent midweek comparing the ISRP recommendations and priority lists and readying its recommendations to the NPCC's Fish and Wildlife Committee. The committee meets Tuesday in Astoria. It is expected to forward draft funding recommendations for the full Council to consider Wednesday and Thursday.

"We're hoping to have it postable (on the Council web site) by Friday," O'Toole said of those draft recommendations.

Final funding recommendations could be approved in October.

Science Panel Issues Final Review for Basin Fish Projects
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 9, 2006

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