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New F&W Program Gets Go-Ahead

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, October 23, 2014

In 1994, the Nez Perce tribe began using eggs from coho salmon in the lower Columbia River to restore the Idaho coho, shown here by Zach Penney, a Nez Perce tribal member who once ran the tribe's coho program. (CRITFC photo) After a lengthy process, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council voted Oct. 8 to adopt the newest revisions to its ongoing BPA-funded fish and wildlife program for the Columbia Basin. It's an exercise that takes place every five years, as mandated by the Northwest Power Act.

The latest update began in March 2013, when the Council called for recommendations. A draft was released in early May 2014, and another round of comments was accepted until July 25. Then members met numerous times to hash out final changes, including changes to language about hatchery goals that lower Columbia tribes disliked.

The final product calls for continued dedication to restoring ecosystems and wild fish populations, with new emphasis on reducing toxic contaminants and study of reintroduction of salmon and steelhead above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams.

"The great salmon returns of 2014, which continue a trend going back more than a decade, suggest that the extraordinary is becoming the ordinary," Council Chair Bill Bradbury said. "Our fish and wildlife program supports the restoration of ecosystems and wild fish by addressing a broad spectrum of the fish and wildlife life cycle including habitat, hatcheries, river flows, dam passage, invasive species, and climate change impacts."

The latest program maintains a long-term goal--bringing back 5 million salmon and steelhead to the basin by 2025, but says little about how it will manage that feat. Counting jacks, this year's record returns reached little more than half-way there, helped by more productive ocean conditions.

This year's big returns were led by more than 600,000 mostly wild sockeye heading to British Columbia. The sockeye were helped by improved water management since the mid-2000s, after a new provincial-federal agreement in B.C. was implemented to improve water quality in Lake Osoyoos for fish spawning and smolt survival, while satisfying irrigation needs and flood-control issues. The record return of upriver bright fall Chinook to the Hanford Reach, was aided by spring flow operations at Mid-C dams to keep redds covered in the most productive reach in the basin. It's an operation that has been in place since the late 1980s.

Like the draft released in May, the final program calls for more BPA funding for fish and wildlife spending in the future if targeted savings from the current program aren't enough to cover it.

A recent review by the region's Independent Economic Review Board (IEAB) called for ways to make the program more cost-effective. One of the IEAB's recommendations calls for the Council to consider "an external review of the future financial needs, the ability to meet those needs, and alternatives for financing those needs, for the entire fish and wildlife program that includes operation and maintenance, disaster management, and expected hydrosystem revenue base."

The latest language in the program says the Council will consider "whether and how" to implement those recommendations.

One big-ticket item left out was a recommendation from the state of Oregon for a 10-year spill "test" that failed to make the May draft. Proponents claimed the extra $100-million worth of spring spill every year could boost salmon rates to recovery levels. But critics, including the Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB), found significant faults with the proposal.

Northwest RiverPartners' Executive Director Terry Flores said she was pleased the Council kept language in its program requiring that any proposed spill experiment be scientifically based and follow the law."

However," Flores added, "we are sorely disappointed, especially after RiverPartners' members testified at every public meeting, that the Council still included measures that are not BPA's responsibility. Examples include toxics monitoring and measures, and terminal fisheries that are a harvest obligation. We also remain concerned that the plan's language on reintroduction of salmon above Chief Joe and Grand Coulee conflicts with the Regional Recommendation on the Columbia River Treaty."

The latest program language calls for the Council to support regional efforts to "identify, assess and reduce toxic contaminants in the Columbia River Basin," and that it may "initiate and will participate in, support, and coordinate periodic science/policy workshops on characterizing the state of the science related to toxic contaminant issues."

It also says federal action agencies should partner with ongoing efforts by all other agencies to "monitor, assess and map high priority toxic contaminant hot spots . . . and evaluate their relationship, if any, to the development and operation of the hydrosystem, along with identifying and assessing the effects of toxic contaminants, "alone or in combination with other stressors, on native fish, including sturgeon and lamprey, wildlife, and food webs in toxic hot spots in the Columbia River Basin."

The plan says action agencies should join with all other agencies' efforts "to conduct targeted monitoring in the Columbia River Basin of vulnerable native fish and wildlife species for specific, high-priority toxic contaminants and other priority contaminants of emerging concern, including in the middle and upper Columbia reaches and in the Snake River, and evaluate if toxic contaminants limit the reproductive success of native fish."

At the Oct. 8 Council meeting in Pendleton, NPPC staffer Patty O'Toole told members that the amendment process included 14 F&W committee work sessions under its chair, Phil Rockefeller, more than 11 Council work sessions, four toxic workgroup meetings, 3 RME [Research, Monitoring, Evaluation] work group meetings, and 10 public hearing. They heard from 72 people, held 15 consultations with various entities, received almost 300 sets of written comments, and over 25 sets of public comments at various Council meetings

Bill Rudolph
New F&W Program Gets Go-Ahead
NW Fishletter, October 23, 2014

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