NOAA Releases Habitat Improvement Program BIOPby Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - August 15, 2003
NOAA Fisheries released its long-awaited Habitat Improvement Program (HIP) biological opinion that could speed up approvals of habitat projects and, in a limited way, it could address some of Judge James Redden's concerns that the Federal Columbia River Power System 2000 BiOp does not provide enough certainty that recovery actions will occur.
The HIP BiOp, which NOAA has been working on for the past 18 months, was designed to make it easier for projects funded by the Bonneville Power Administration to get BiOp approval. That will also speed up the process for approving habitat projects because not all proposed projects will have to go through a lengthy consultation with the federal fisheries agency, said Mike Crouse, deputy administrator of NOAA Fisheries Habitat Division in Portland. It also could be used as a template in the future by other federal agencies.
"This will greatly expedite a lot of projects that would normally come to us for consultation," Crouse said. "Those projects that fit within the sideboards of this BiOp will not need a project specific consultation with NOAA Fisheries and we're hoping it will expedite consultations."
"Frankly, we're proud of the BiOp, which we call the 'mother of all biological opinions,'" he said, largely due to its 400-page length. He said that the lead NOAA biologist, Nora Berwick, worked with BPA to develop criteria for 27 habitat improvement activities.
Kim Kratz, watershed policy advisor at NOAA Fisheries, said the HIP will address one of Redden's concerns in that it will increase the certainty that projects will happen in a timely manner. Still, it is not enough for NOAA Fisheries to take it to court and say it addresses all of the judge's concerns.
The HIP doesn't commit the funding. "It only says that if funded through the BPA program and it (a project) fits within these sideboards, it does provide ESA certainty," Kratz said.
He pointed to placing a structure in-stream as a typical habitat action. Even though adding structural elements to the stream may help fish, the action could also result in a take. Under a normal consultation with NOAA Fisheries, the agency would set terms and conditions to minimize that take.
"Those terms and conditions are all built into this BiOp and they don't need a special consultation," Kratz said. "That frees us up to concentrate on more complex projects."
If a project falls within one of 27 actions, meets the requirements of the BiOp and is funded by BPA, it can proceed.
The actions listed in the HIP fall into eight categories, including:
NOAA Fisheries intends to post sometime next week the HIP to its web page at www.nwr.noaa.gov.
NOAA Fisheries Northwest Regional Office: www.nwr.noaa.gov
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