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Testimony of George T. Frampton

Council on Environmental Quality
7/19/00 - as prepared for delivery before the
Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Water & Power Subcommittee

(NOTE: This hearing was not held and is to be rescheduled.)

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today regarding the Administration's program to restore Columbia River salmon and, in particular, our progress toward completion of an updated biological opinion on operation of the Columbia River hydropower system.

I am joined today by Will Stelle, Administrator of the Northwest Region of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Judi Johansen, Administrator and Chief Executive Officer for the Department of Energy's Bonneville Power Administration, Brigadier General Carl Strock representing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Bill Shake of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These officials have worked together with my agency and many representatives from state, tribal, and local governments, and dozens of stakeholder groups to frame our comprehensive approach to Columbia River salmon recovery.

To begin, we expect that in the coming weeks, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will release draft biological opinions on operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System for technical review by state and tribal scientists. The NMFS is developing a biological opinion for Pacific salmon and the FWS is developing a biological opinion for the Kootenai River sturgeon, bull trout and bald eagle. We also expect to release a revised draft of the so-called "All-H" paper at the same time. The term "All-H" is a catch-phrase referring to the four key factors affecting salmon survival, namely harvest, habitat, hatcheries, and hydropower. It is also a clumsy name for a strategy. So in the interest of clarity we are renaming the document the "Draft Comprehensive Basin-wide Federal-State-Tribal Salmon Recovery Strategy" or "Basin-wide Recovery Strategy." This document is an interagency plan that describes the Administration's overall proposal for Columbia River basin salmon recovery.

The draft biological opinions and draft Basin-wide Recovery Strategy are still in preparation, and not all details are complete. The biological opinion is a science-based determination, and it would be inappropriate to predict or prejudge its final form. We will, however, be able to share a number of key features with you today. My comments will cover the broader concepts, while my colleagues' testimony will present more details.

Mr. Chairman, this Administration recognizes and is committed to help sustain the special character of the Pacific Northwest's communities and natural resources. We are well aware that the people of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana expect the federal government to share their determination to protect the region's quality of life and to work in active partnership with them to achieve that goal. We will work to fulfill that expectation and work as partners.

Northwesterners have sent to Washington, and in fact to this Committee, some of the most thoughtful leaders in the struggle to reconcile the region's economic desires with its strongly held conservation values. The Columbia River basin and its salmon have been at the heart of that struggle for decades. Senators Jackson, Magnuson, McClure, Hatfield, and Evans, and many others lent their wisdom to legislation aimed at protecting the salmon, while also making use of the river's hydroelectric potential and other non-fishery economic uses. Other Northwesterners, such as Justice William O. Douglas, Senator Frank Church, Interior Secretary and Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus and Oregon Governor Tom McCall devoted years of effort to help the Federal government and the states find the right balance on the Columbia.

Mr. Chairman, most of your predecessors, while confronted by profoundly difficult issues, were not confronted with the burden that you, and we, face now. This Congress and this Administration today bear the responsibility to prevent extinction of Columbia River wild salmon runs. The fates of at least a dozen endangered wild stocks rest on our decisions and our actions. We must find the way to save these fish while continuing to sustain and improve the regional economy.

Four wild stocks of Snake River salmon, and eight stocks from the Columbia are listed under the ESA. The best science available today indicates that Snake River and Columbia River stocks could become extinct within our lifetimes.

The strong return of hatchery salmon to the Columbia River this year has offered hope that wild runs may also be improving. Improved ocean conditions should benefit hatchery and wild fish alike. But we cannot treat one year's surprising occurrence as anything like evidence that the problems are behind us. Actual returns of the endangered wild fish remain far below historic levels and far below the levels needed for recovery. Moreover, the strong hatchery runs may actually present increased problems because some hatchery fish may stray into the habitats of wild fish and compete for food and spawning areas.

Columbia River native salmon are on the brink because of the cumulative adverse effects of thousands of decisions made over the years regarding hydropower development, hatchery operations, harvest management, and habitat modification through forestry, farming, urban development, and water diversion.

No one intended or fully foresaw this day of reckoning for the salmon, but it is undeniable that the day has arrived. There is no one cause and no single solution to this deeply entangled legacy. If they ever existed, we are out of easy answers. We know they will not work and the courts will not tolerate any pretense otherwise. In 1994, U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Marsh overturned an earlier NMFS biological opinion regarding the Columbia River hydropower system, and he wrote this:

NMFS has clearly made an effort to create a rational, reasoned process for determining how the action agencies are doing in their efforts to save the listed salmon species. But the process is seriously, "significantly," flawed because it is too heavily geared towards a status quo that has allowed all forms of river activity to proceed in a deficit situation-that is, relatively small steps, minor improvements and adjustments-when the situation literally cries out for a major overhaul. Instead of looking for what can be done to protect the species from jeopardy, NMFS and the action agencies have narrowly focused their attention on what the establishment is capable of handling with minimal disruption.

Judge Marsh had it right: The situation cries out for a major overhaul. In this respect, we are fortunate that our predecessors handed down to us an array of powerful tools to tackle the job.

Those tools include federal laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act (ESA), Northwest Power Act, Wilderness Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Clean Water Act, NFMA and FLPMA. Each of these statutes bears the fingerprints or actual authorship of Pacific Northwest lawmakers. And each of these statutes shows the determination of the people of the Northwest, and indeed the nation as a whole, that their government should act - and help them act - to conserve for all time the region's wild salmon and other natural assets, while honoring legitimate economic aspirations.

Federal law demands that we prevent extinction of the stocks. The ESA calls on all agencies to administer their programs to conserve both listed species and the ecosystems on which they depend. Federal land management laws provide for the preservation of biological diversity. Environmental statutes mandate clean rivers and estuaries. The Northwest Power Act commits hydrosystem revenues to restoration programs. Our moral obligation to future generations is the same as our legal duty today. This Administration and the region itself have invested heavily in salmon restoration efforts and in advancing salmon science. We are obliged to find ways to protect that investment.

We also know that the people of the Northwest want and expect all of us to succeed at this effort. Over the course of six weeks earlier this year, my colleagues from all nine involved federal agencies held 15 hearings on the Administration's salmon recovery program in five states, including Alaska. Nine thousand Northwest citizens attended these meetings, and more than 50,000 gave us their comments, written, e-mailed, recorded and in person. The overwhelming message they delivered was stark and direct: Bring back these fish.

There is not a single region-wide consensus on the pathway to that end, but there is clear consensus that we must reach it. As the Idaho Statesman editorialized late last year: "It is our lifestyle, pocketbooks and legacy to our grandchildren at stake." The Tri-City Herald offered a similar view, writing: "The situation begs for urgent action and for leadership. Snake spring and summer chinook 1/4cannot weather many more political battles."

We agree with those sentiments. President Clinton and Vice President Gore are determined to use all existing executive authorities, and to seek additional authorities where needed, to restore the Columbia's wild salmon. Legally, morally, extinction of these salmon is simply not an option.

Let me describe the documents we plan to release soon.

The first document, the draft Basin-wide Recovery Strategy, is a revised draft of what was previously called the "All-H Paper." This document will describe the Administration's overall strategy for salmon recovery in the Columbia River basin; it will apply to both listed salmon and steelhead stocks, and to resident fish. It will chart not only the steps that the federal agencies must take, but those we will call on states, tribes, the Congress, and other local stakeholders to undertake as well.

The second document is a draft biological opinion issued under the Endangered Species Act concerning operations of the Federal Columbia River Power System. This document conveys the expert opinion of the National Marine Fisheries Service on those reasonable and prudent measures that must be taken by the federal hydropower system to avoid jeopardizing the continued existence of wild salmon stocks listed under the ESA. The measures called for by the biological opinion for the hydropower system form a key part of the Basin-wide Recovery Strategy and are integrated within that strategy's comprehensive scope.

The biological opinion is a scientific document and we openly acknowledge that there is significant uncertainty in the science, and some good faith differences of opinion among experts. When released, the biological opinion will be a draft document. It will be conveyed to the Columbia River basin states and tribes for technical review and possible revision by NMFS in accord with their comments.

This biological opinion will be the third such issued since 1994 when Judge Marsh ordered the federal government to take much more direct and comprehensive actions to protect listed salmon from the effects of the hydropower system. In tandem with the actions described in the Basin-wide Recovery Strategy, implementation of the measures in this biological opinion will achieve continued solid progress toward achieving the "complete overhaul" of the system sought by the federal court, as well as the balance and partnership demanded by the region.

Mr. Chairman, here is what I am able to tell you today about the details of the proposed, draft Basin-wide Recovery Strategy.

First, it will contain a broad array of aggressive actions that must be taken in all four of the "H's", centering on those measures that offer the most immediate, short- as well as long-term benefits for all twelve listed runs, as well as resident fish.

Second, as mentioned above, the federal government cannot restore Columbia River salmon acting alone--much less the Executive Branch of the federal government. So the actions called for in our draft proposed Strategy will be broken down into "action plans" outlining what the federal agencies must do, what we believe the Congress must do, what the states must do, what tribes must do, and what other stakeholders must do. Only through a partnership of all the participants who must cooperate to achieve restoration will we be able to achieve our goals.

Third, the draft proposed strategy will contain cost estimates for these important new actions. It will also contain a list of possible new authorizations Congress may be called upon to enact in order to implement these actions.

Fourth, as part of the proposed strategy, we are developing performance standards by which we will be able to evaluate, objectively, whether our restoration efforts are moving in the right direction, or not.

Let me say quite clearly that the draft proposed strategy will not recommend an immediate petition to Congress to authorize breaching of the Snake River Dams. This document will not subscribe to the premise championed by some that the region faces a simple, binary choice between breaching and not breaching these dams, and that salmon recovery hinges on that decision. That is not the choice, and this binary approach is not a scientifically supportable framework for addressing the challenge of recovering listed Columbia River runs.

Dam breaching is one step among many that holds promise for recovering the Snake River runs. All our modeling and predictions indicate that it would be very helpful to four of the listed runs that migrate up the Snake river - - although no restoration of this type has every been attempted, and there are certainly major uncertainties and risks that would be involved.

But it is also clear that breaching the Snake River dams may not be essential to recovering these runs, and probably would not be sufficient. And it would do nothing for the other listed stocks on the mainstem of the Columbia, some of which are at greater risk today than Snake River stocks.

Moreover, dam breaching will require Congressional authorization, funding, detailed planning and execution - - over an uncertain period that is not likely to be less than a decade, and perhaps much longer. And it could excessively divert extensive resources from other actions.

While it is tempting to think of a "silver bullet" solution - - a single, visible, tangible action that by itself will solve all our problems - - it is ultimately a disservice to the challenge we face to embrace such a simplistic approach.

The proposed draft strategy will therefore focus on those actions that will give the greatest short term impact on survival and restoration, and will incorporate performance standards that we will propose to apply at five to ten years from the commencement of the program to evaluate the actual trends in overall survival, and adjust course if necessary. We contemplate that these biological and associated physical performance standards will consist of a "safety net" and a "report card." The report card will allow us to evaluate whether the various actors, including the federal government, have in fact taken the actions laid out in the Basin-wide Recovery Strategy and biological opinion. The safety net will check objectively whether the trend of overall life-cycle survival is moving in the right direction, or not. If not, then reconsideration of the strategy and the possibility of seeking authorization for dam breaching may well be necessary.

Fifth, the proposed strategy will envision a new collaborative science effort over the next ten years, and an independent peer review/evaluation of the performance standards, so that by the time (in five years) they must be applied, they will command broad scientific consensus.

Sixth, the federal agencies will propose economic mitigation studies to evaluate the costs of various proposed actions, how to mitigate those costs, and how to spread their imposition. Such studies will include mitigation studies for costs of dam breaching, should performance standards drive us to such a course. In addition, engineering studies to more finely evaluate the dam breaching alternative will be undertaken.

This will be a demanding program. Under the biological opinion, the federal hydropower system probably will be called upon to make major operational changes, including increased flows. The system probably will have to make major structural changes, as well, in order to improve juvenile fish passage. The federal hydropower system will probably serve as one of the primary sources of funding to achieve many of the restoration-related measures.

We are not going to leave the success or failure of these or the Basin-wide Recovery Strategy measures up to chance. We will define performance standards and we will commit to a specific timetable within which to decide whether additional or different actions need to be taken to achieve recovery of the stocks.

We fully intend to continue planning for the possibility that the Snake River dams will need to be breached. This means that we will continue engineering planning and assessment of the economic and other mitigation actions that should be performed if the dams are breached.

It is important to emphasize something here: The degree to which the Federal hydropower system has to be modified, even in some possible cases breached, will be driven by the success or failure of actions we, the states, and tribes take with regard to the other H's - namely, habitat, hatcheries, and harvest. Everything affecting salmon survival is connected. One does not have to be able to draw precise numeric correlations among the H's to understand that the better we do in one area, the less pressure there should be to act in others.

We fully intend to use our authorities to reduce all sources of mortalities across the board. We believe our approach can work without undue economic cost, and is properly balanced. But the federal government controls only part of the range of factors that affect salmon survival. States and tribes govern the rest, especially private land and water uses.

The Basin-wide Recovery Strategy outlines steps we believe must be taken by states and tribes, and, because we all have run out of easy choices, many of these choices will be hard and controversial.

Habitat will be a major element to recovery. Protecting and restoring habitat is more difficult than breaching dams. Breaching dams does not necessarily depend upon winning the cooperation of all the state and local governments and landowners throughout the region; it is separate from the workings of most people. But habitat touches all of them. It's less glamorous or exciting than removal of dams.

We believe the measures we have outlined for non-federal leadership will need to be taken, and if they are not, or if they fail, the federal hydropower system and federal land, hatchery, and harvest managers will have no choice but to try to take up the slack by implementing whatever difficult or unpopular measures are still on the table. If it comes to that, we may have no choice but to ask you to decide to breach the dams.

Salmon science is still evolving, and there is considerable uncertainty regarding many things. The imperiled status of the stocks demands that we take strong actions now and for the foreseeable future. Uncertainty is not a reason to stand still, but it is a reason to move forward with care, humility, and in strong partnerships with others seeking the same ends as we. Our approach will be driven by the best available science, but it will also be tailored to advance the state of scientific understanding.

The program is not based on any single constituency's wish list. It is being developed through an open process that includes wide public and agency participation. It will reflect an unprecedented federal effort to balance recovery burdens and benefits between the upper and lower basins. It will grant a new level of respect to cultural resources, resident fish and reservoir levels. We expect that the program will improve Columbia River water quality.

We have designed the program consciously to help reinforce similar or complementary state and tribal programs, including particularly the Northwest Power Planning Council's fish and wildlife program. We focused on a sequence of measures that would have immediate results - in part as a way to build faith within the region and to draw in even greater cooperation and support.

This is a deliberate strategy of involvement. It is a strategy meant to engage the people and the governments of the Pacific Northwest - because recovery of salmon stocks will require cooperation on a massive level. This means cooperation at every level of government. And it means cooperation between governments, private landowners and private citizens.

This program will require cooperation between the Administration and Congress. The Administration and the Northwest delegation will need to work together to win the understanding and support of the full Congress for the funding required to implement all aspects of this program, including, as appropriate, support for state, tribal, and local projects.

In addition, we all must be willing to allow the program and its funding to follow science where it leads. This program will only succeed if it is driven by the real needs of the fish, and not by human preconceptions of the right or wrong answers or the blame game.

We find ourselves confronted by this crisis because our predecessors followed well-intended, but ultimately inadequate and unscientific concepts about the effects of dams, benefits of hatcheries, tolerance of salmon populations to harvest, and the place of salmon in responsible land and water management. We know better now. We can do better if we use the information we have, take full advantage of the laws written by the Senate Energy Committee and others, and bear always in mind that the people of the Pacific Northwest unequivocally expect us to save the salmon.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify.

Jr. Acting Chair, Council on Environmental Quality
Testimony of George T. Frampton
Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Water & Power Subcommittee - July 19, 2000

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