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Ecology and salmon related articles

Testimony of Dirk Kempthorne
Governor of Idaho

9/13/00 - Delivered before the Committee on Environment and Public
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today and articulate my perspective on one of the most complex issues of the day - salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest.


One week ago today, I was at Redfish Lake 900 river miles inland from the Pacific Ocean near Stanley, Idaho, just over the summit from Sun Valley. The name originated from the color of the beautiful salmon returning to spawn in their birthing waters. I was joined by the Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game, legislators, and school children from Filer and Stanley to observe and assist the 36 (26 natural 10 hatchery) marvelous salmon finish their return from the ocean. These wild and hatchery salmon had returned to spawn and start the cycle anew.

It is Idaho's intent and it is my intent and the intent of those school children to perpetuate this stock and all stocks of Idaho's fabulous salmon. Our commitment is unquestionable. The questionable part is whether the federal agencies are to help or to hinder our efforts. Conflicting federal laws and past haphazard coordination have substantially contributed to the decline of our salmon.

I. Idaho's Perspective on the Problem

Prior to the time I took office in January of 1999, my Administration began preparing for the upcoming decisions that have now been released for public review and comment to be made very soon by the federal agencies. And we have been preparing for a very compelling reason: we stand to lose nothing short of everything in the aftermath of the salmon recovery debate and, perhaps, ironically, with no recovery of the salmon.

Let me give you Idaho's common perspective on this issue as perhaps articulated by some of our stakeholders in this process.

The federal agencies charged with recovering the anadromous fish believe that they need Idaho water to help flush the fish out to the ocean. Some groups argue that the four Snake River dams, which support important transportation and agriculture components in Idaho, should be destroyed.

Meanwhile, some of the fish that leave Idaho in the spring are being eaten alive by birds in the estuary before they even have a chance to migrate to sea. Once out in the ocean, they might be harvested.

Several years later, if they are lucky, they will return and could be eaten by predators at the mouth of the estuary or, further up the river, subject to tribal harvest.

My point of all this is not to point the finger at any single component of this problem, but instead describe how from Idaho's perspective, sacrificing our state's water and voluntarily improving our native habitat may seem like a futile exercise when it is such a Herculean effort to get anadromous fish out and back to our state. Our state is ground zero in the recovery of these important species.

II. The Four Governor's Agreement

I would like to briefly describe what we see as our role in recovering the species and how we have contributed to this process.

I have long believed that only through a regional collaborative effort will there ever be a real chance for recovery of anadromous fish in the Pacific Northwest. In July of this year, I was pleased to join the other governors in the region in an unprecedented agreement on the essential principles for recovery and recommendations to implement these recommendations.

The agreement recognizes that every state in the region and all of the stakeholders impacted by this process must step forward and contribute. No one state can recover salmon alone, just as no single state can afford to shoulder a disproportionate burden of the process. Only through regional cooperation - not dictates by the federal government is there a chance to achieve real success.

The Four Governors strategy involves several key elements important to Idaho.

First, The federal agencies should document the benefits of flow augmentation and the precise attributes of flow that may make it beneficial.

Second, harvest impacts must be Reduced harvest impacts on listed, (wild natural) fish in the ocean, and Columbia River. (Idaho has been blessed with a great return of salmon this year, in fact (the most in nearly a quarter century-1976. Most were hatchery fish and therefore not counted toward Endangered Species Act listed salmon or for salmon recovery. We can get hatchery fish through the gauntlet of downstream impacts but we don't get the same with wild salmon. Why? Because our brood stock is limited in numbers and we are breeding the smallest of the salmon because the fishery nets only allow the smaller fish to escape upriver to spawn.)

Third, the region must implement actions now that can and should be done without breaching the four lower Snake River dams.

Finally, predation of all kinds, including terns, and marine mammals, must be limited.

I want to publicly express my appreciation to Governor Kitzhaber, Governor Racicot, and Governor Locke for their diligence and cooperation in achieving this historical milestone. And the gentlemen here today to speak on their behalf, Eric Bloch, John Etchart and Larry Cassidy, also played key roles along with Dr. Tom Karier and Bob Nichols from the State of Washington. I also want to acknowledge the work of Jim Yost and Michael Bogert of my staff.

I have enclosed a copy of the "Recommendations of the Governors of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington for the Protection and Restoration of Fish in the Columbia River Basin" Four Governors Recommendation for the Subcommittee members.

III. Idaho's Perspective and Contribution to Salmon Recovery

What can be done now and in the near-term to help the fish?

I believe that any effective program to recover the species must be supported by science, politically palatable, and economically feasible. My perspective on this problem is slightly different from the traditional "All-H" approach Habitat, Harvest, Hatcheries, and Hydropower. I start by adding one more H Humans.

A. Humans

From my vantage point, much of Idaho's culture and economy are at stake in the Biological Opinion and the All-H documents to be discussed before in this subcommittee today

No singular component of the salmon recovery burden should be borne on the backs of any single stakeholder to the process, including the states. Let me give you the most recent example of this problem.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers recently estimated that over 640,000 listed salmon and tens of millions of hatchery stock are eaten alive at the mouth of the Columbia River estuary during the spring migration season. The culprits: the world's largest colony of voracious fish-eating Caspian terns who just happen to be nesting on federally-created Rice Island at the time the young salmon and steelhead are attempting to make their way to sea.

Idaho participated in a collaborative process involving the states and federal agencies, including the Corps and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. This process resulted in a plan that involved providing alternative nesting habitat for these birds, which happen to be protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The plan that was developed included a component that included harassing these birds from the most critical of areas where the endangered fish are slaughtered by the birds.

Not surprisingly, a group of environmentalists brought a lawsuit a few weeks ago and claimed that the Corps had failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and asked that the harassment strategy be halted immediately.

Their key piece of evidence? Written comments by the Fish and Wildlife Service that science had yet to prove that saving 15-25 million smolts, of which 640,000 are ESA listed smolts, had any proven benefit to salmon recovery. A federal judge bought the argument and endangered fish are now being consumed by non-endangered birds with the willing assistance of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

I submit that this is a paradigm of dysfunction. As a matter of fundamental science, a protected young salmon that is eaten alive by a bird is not going to come back to Idaho to spawn.

However, My prospective is a bit more focused. At the same time that Fish and Wildlife is telling us that saving 640,000 listed fish will do nothing to recover these endangered species, the federal government is assessing how much Idaho water is needed to seemingly make fish migration easier. The answer to this question goes to the very life blood of Idaho's agricultural economy in the Upper Snake River Basin.

My initial reaction is how dare the federal government tell Idaho and the world that preventing the outright slaughter of hundreds of thousands of endangered young salmon in the Columbia River estuary will have no impact on the problem, and then in the same breath tell us that more water from our state is needed to get the fish out to sea? I appreciate the committee's brief indulgence for this moment of righteous indignation. Notwithstanding the current position of Fish and Wildlife on predator control, I shudder to think of what the federal government would do to the unfortunate soul on a rafting trip who accidentally floats his boat over a salmon spawning bed during the height of their reproductive season. I wonder if he could use Fish and Wildlife's current position on Caspian terns as a legal defense?

We should us the example of the four fish observed dead or dying in the Lemhi and the action being considered by the feds instead of the floaters. Several weeks ago, I received a report that during the height of both the summer migration and irrigation seasons in the Lemhi Basin, there didn't seem to be enough water to go around. I sent my staff over to talk to the irrigators and see what could be done to accommodate both their rights to irrigation water and the needs of the fish.

Their message? Governor, you tell us when the fish need the water and we will make it available. They also told us that no one knows or cares about these salmon more than those who have been living in that basin all of their lives.

The aftermath of this has been a renewed spirit of cooperation between the locals, the state, and the federal government. Our discussions to resolve this problem represent a model of inter-governmental relationships, and I am optimistic that we will achieve success.

But I remain firm that the only way we will see results in the region is if state law is respected and the locals are brought into the process from the beginning.

I use this example to highlight the contributions from all of the stakeholders that must occur in order for there to be any chance of progress in salmon recovery. With this, I will quickly move on to our perspective on the other H's.

B. Habitat

My perspective on habitat improvement is that the Endangered Species Act, as currently implemented, provides no safe harbors if private landowners voluntarily improve conditions for salmon. Through Idaho's own initiative, Idaho stakeholders have joined together to conserve important habitat. One example is Burgdorf Meadows, where over 51% of critical spawning for summer chinook has been preserved. Burgdorf Meadows is a classic example of Idaho stakeholders working together to achieve a common goal.

Stakeholders would voluntarily undertake habitat improvements if there were some safeguards in place so that after those improvements were implemented, the federal agencies or private law suits by enviros, or concerned citizen would not try to take a second bite of the apple or demand that they make additional improvements. After assuming a voluntary load, this final straw may break the back of even an economically viable camel.

But I also understand that we can make important additional habitat improvement in Idaho. I am committed to identifying things we can do immediately, such as diversion screening and water quality improvement, in order to make things better for fish in Idaho.

On the other hand, as we move forward on these things, we expect that the region will look seriously at predator control and improvement in the estuary conditions.

Recent studies and salmon returns suggest that ocean habitat is a significant factor influencing salmon survival. NMFS should work with the region to conduct an intensive study to address the role of the ocean in fish recovery, including the relative impact fish of mortality due to ocean predation, lack of food sources, temperature problems and harvest regimes.

C. Harvest

See narrative below in Hatcheries. Idaho continues to be perplexed that wild fish, listed under the Endangered Species Act, can be subjected to a regulated harvest at all. Can you imagine the hue and cry if the government suddenly declared a "harvest" season on the grizzly bear?

I am sensitive to the industries in the Pacific Northwest that depend on a yearly salmon harvest, and I am similarly mindful of the harvest rights possessed by Native American tribes through treaties with our federal government.

Idaho, as with other states in the region, is committed to the process of discussing harvest allotment through the United States v. Oregon litigation. This is one area where collaboration by all of the region is ongoing and should continue.

D. Hatcheries

The hatchery arena has a symbiotic relationship with harvest allocation, and Idaho generally supports scientifically based hatchery programs.

In the case of captive brood stock hatcheries, this remains a program of vital importance to Idaho. This is the program at Redfish Lake I referred to earlier.

As a means of supplementation, the hatcheries in Idaho provide our sportsmen an opportunity for a fishing season, and are an excellent management tool while we rebuild our wild stocks.

Hatchery operations must be improved to provide salmon for harvest ""conservation (mitigation) hatcheries"" as required in the Lower Snake River Fish and Wildlife Compensation Plan established when the four dams were constructed to mitigate for the losses caused by the dams. (This was done when the estimated mortality at the dams was about 47%. We have now reduced that mortality to about 25%, yet we continue to maintain or increase the number of smolts for mitigation.)

(bluefish points out that reservoir mortality is an additional 40%. See dampool.htm)

We also have supplementation hatcheries that provide additional salmon stocks to those streams with wild or natural stocks so that the numbers can be increased. The question is which of those wild stock areas should be maintained as wild, native, or natural salmon refuges without the interference of the supplementation stocks.

The mitigation stocks are of a high enough number that their harvest is causing an impact on wild natural stocks (the listed species). All these fish may return from the ocean to the Columbia River at about the same time, and it is difficult to only harvest the mitigation hatchery stocks and not harvest some of the wild stocks. This incidental take of wild stock when we try to harvest mitigation stocks is currently excessive (50% on Idaho Fall Chinook last year reduced to 30 plus %).

Some ways it can be reduced is by using a different method of harvest (from nets to lines or fish wheels etc.) or selective fisheries, which is (only fishing only when the mitigation hatchery fish are present) or to use terminal fisheries (fishing for the mitigation stocks after the wild stocks have gone up a tributary to their spawning area). We have successfully used larger scale nets(nine inches instead of 6-7-or 8 inch mesh nets). This netting that have allowed the smaller stocks to continue to migrate while the larger fish are caught. The impact to Idaho is that for years our brood stocks were the smaller fish (runts) and not the biggest healthiest brood stocks. .

E. Hydropower

From my perspective, the debate over dam breaching will continue as long as reasonable scientists differ over the data. One fact that is not disputed is that breaching the four lower Snake River dams would have no benefit to the vast majority of our endangered salmon. Eight to twelve listed species would not be affected by breaching, as they reside downstream of these dams. And even if the science was clear today and it is not - it would take at least a decade of political debateon Capdebate onl right here in Washington before they are removed.

The costs of dam removal could be as high as $1 billion, and, by the Corps' own calculation, it could be several years before the silt and debris left behind the dams becomes manageable enough to provide any benefit to the fish. I am left with the unsettling impression that with such political and scientific controversy ahead in the next 20-25 years, the game could be lost before it has even started.

Accordingly, until I have clear evidence that the salmon can expect immediate improvement if the dams are removed, Idaho is opposed to taking on the risks to our Port of Lewiston and Idaho agricultural economy.

But this perspective does not end the "to do" list for the dams. During my tenure as your colleague in the United States Senate, I was committed to investing in dam improvements while the science continues to be debated.

At an irreducible minimum, the best and brightest minds in the federal government and the states should be dedicated to making fish passage at the dams better so that the fish receive the benefits of the finest technology our nation has to offer. A list of the improvements at the dams and why they haven't been done already: just a summary of items not a list at each facility Lower Granite: bypass facility, collection facility with the ability to divert back to the river as well as to pit tag and monitor then barge, fish ladder temp. and flow.

I support minimum gap runner turbine technology in order to improve the reasonable accommodation that must be made for the regions' hydropower needs and the salmon migration. This technology is being installed at Bonneville Dam and the preliminary results have indicated increased fish survivability.

Likewise, fish guidance curtain (screen), turbine intake screens, fish collectors, adult fish ladders, juvenile fish bypass systems, and spillway defectors have suffered from technological neglect and installation while the controversy over the existence of the dams has raged onward. This must end immediately, because the losers in the failure to make capital improvements in these structures are the salmon.

Finally, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I must put on the record my position about augmented Snake River flows as a benefit to out-migrating juvenile salmon. At my direction, the Idaho Department of Water Resources has studied the issue extensively in cooperation with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. They have determined that based on the current flow-survival data developed by NMFS, there is no basis for NMFS concluding that early or late summer flows from the Upper Snake provide significant biological benefits for out-migrating juvenile salmon.

There is not enough water in the Snake River Basin to meet the Biological Opinion flow objectives. These flow objectives are essentially arbitrary thresholds. The NMFS has for too long been absorbed with securing a few extra acre feet from this or that reservoir without apparently ever stopping to question whether the unending struggle over flow augmentation is really delivering salmon recovery.

For instance, when NMFS briefed the states last spring regarding the "Herculean" measures contained in the new Biological Opinion, the very first measure mentioned was additional flow from the Snake River Basin. While the effort to secure this additional water may indeed be Herculean, the resulting benefit to the fish is microscopic even under the most optimistic assessment of the flow/survival relationship.

There is an understanding often acknowledged in private but seldom spoken in public that the upper Snake River Flow augmentation measures are really an effort to secure political balance rather that meaningful benefits to the fish. The notion is that "everyone must hurt" in order for a regional plan to be politically viable. Some of the more aggressive, or perhaps cynical, participants in the salmon recovery debate go further to suggest that draconian levels of flow augmentation should be extracted as a kind of punishment for failure to adopt dam breaching. Their thinking is that if the pain associated with "aggressive" non-breach measures can be ratcheted up high enough, then perhaps the region will opt to take out the four dams on the lower Snake River.

Regardless of whether NMFS subscribes to either of these views, we have the distressing sense that NMFS' campaign for more upper Snake River flow augmentation represents a grand political gesture rather than a clear-eyed examination of the biological benefits, the economic costs, and environmental impacts of what is being proposed.

Idaho's complaints about the lack of disciplined analysis of flow augmentation have sometimes been met with the response that "every little bit helps." This aphorism is no substitute for the critical thinking required for a true salmon recovery plan. The fact is that the Federal Caucus is not doing "every little bit" it can nor should it if the resulting gains for the fish are meager and the impacts are massive. The record is replete with instances in which the federal government has chosen not to do more for the listed species based on non-biological factors.

For instance, NMFS actually permitted the harvest rate on Snake River spring chinook to increase this year relative to recent years because of the large number of hatchery fish returning to the river. This increase was justified on the basis that additional harvest amounted only to a few percent of the overall run. But, this does not square with the "every little bit helps" principle that underlies upper Snake River flow augmentation efforts, which deliver even smaller increments of survival. Moreover, NMFS' biological opinions allow cumulative harvest rates on Snake River fall chinook in ocean and in-river fisheries to remain at close to 50%. And, tern population numbers in the Columbia River estuary continue to climb with significant impact to the entire Columbia salmon and steelhead run. Yet, NMFS still has not taken decisive action to move these predators from the estuary.

Nonetheless, our State Legislature enacted and I signed a one-year authorization for the Bureau of Reclamation to access 427,000 acre-feet of Idaho water for flow augmentation purposes. This good-faith gesture should be recognized as my willingness to continue to participate in a regional solution.

IV. Conclusion

I appreciate the opportunity to present my perspective on these important issues today, and I look forward to the challenging work ahead for all of us in the region.

Idaho is optimistic that the state and regional stakeholders will join together and empower themselves throughout this process. However, Idaho remains concerned that the All-H Paper has failed to give deference to the objectives outlined in the Four Governor's Recommendations. At the end of the day, the best solutions are those that are owned by the participants rather than those that are imposed by federal edict.

Thank you.

Dirk Kempthorne, Governor of Idaho
Testimony of Dirk Kempthorne
Committee on Environment and Public, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works - September 13, 2000

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