Testimony of Keith Kutchins
9/14/00 - Delivered before the Committee on Environment and Public
My name is Keith Kutchins, Anadromous Fisheries Biologist for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. I deal primarily with anadromous fish harvest, production and hydrosystem issues and assist in subbasin planning. Since 1991 I have been the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes' representative on the harvest and production technical committees of U.S. v Oregon, and I am intimately involved with a plethora of other processes including the planning and implementation activities of the Northwest Power Planning Council, Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority, Endangered Species Act consultations with the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and fisheries co-management activities with the state agencies and Columbia Basin tribes. I have worked on anadromous fish management issues in the Columbia River Basin for over 12 years.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are today co-managers of the anadromous fish resource in the Columbia River Basin and have continued to work towards improving the habitat and supplementation efforts. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are also leaders in pursuing equitable allocation of conservation-based harvest.
I have reviewed the Draft Hydrosystem Biological Opinions by the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the Operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System and the Federal Caucus Draft Basin-wide Salmon Recovery Strategy and am deeply concerned about the failure of these documents to rely on the simple scientific facts that are so evident to the vast array of scientists that work in the Snake River system. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes have repeatedly invited the National Marine Fisheries Service staff and decision-makers to visit us in the headwaters of the Columbia River, particularly in the Salmon River system. Unfortunately, few have made this trip to the headwaters.
The vast majority of the habitat in the Salmon River system is in very good health for the salmon life stages that occur there. The Salmon River was once the spawning and rearing habitat of at least 50 percent of the entire Columbia River runs of spring and summer chinook salmon. The Clearwater and Salmon rivers are the exclusive homes of the large Group-B (two-ocean) steelhead. Much of the Salmon River is comprised of relatively pristine habitat clean, clear, cold un-dammed flowing waters with vast arrays of in-stream habitat such as woody debris, large pool-to-riffle ratios, undercut banks and rich riparian areas that shade the water. This is superb habitat for salmon and steelhead.
However, it does not take much observation to reveal that all this wonderful habitat is relatively devoid of anadromous fish. The spawning beds have very few or no adult salmon and steelhead spawning on them. Annually we count the salmon redds, or spawning nests, as an indication of population abundance. These counts have occurred consistently since 1957 in Idaho in order to follow the trends of abundance. The trend is unmistakably on a consistent downward path, even since the listings of these fish under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1992.
We also snorkel the rivers in order to estimate the abundance of juvenile fish that have been produced in the Salmon River. This sampling has also been conducted in such a way as to confidently compare abundance from year to year. The trend of juvenile fish abundance is also on a consistently downward path. Just 10 years ago most of the Salmon River tributaries had juvenile salmon densities that were from 10 to 20 percent of the carrying capacity. Now, just one decade later, the Salmon River tributaries contain only five percent of the juvenile salmon needed to fill the habitat.
Computer models and fancy statistics are worthless compared to the facts that simple observations have revealed to anyone who has watched the Salmon River for a period of time. The simplest statistics, such as the trends in redd counts and juvenile densities since the late 1970's do not lie. However, the National Marine Fisheries Service appears to ignore these simple statistics. The National Marine Fisheries Service is plain wrong when they conclude that the greatest opportunities for survival improvements of listed Snake River salmon may hinge on efforts to restore health to the tributaries.
Although the habitat in the Salmon River is mostly in excellent health, there are problem areas. The Lemhi and Pahsimeroi rivers and the East Fork Salmon River have vast arrays of irrigation diversions. Although the majority of these diversions are screened to bypass migrating juvenile salmon back into the river, the sheer number of diversions delay the outmigration to the point where the salmon misses its window of opportunity to speed to the ocean, and these delays do result in mortality. There are at least five major mines that pose significant threats in the form of acid rock drainage and cyanide spills and seeps, and a myriad of other small mines that add additional sedimentation and water quality problems. Many smaller tributaries to the Salmon River, and even the Lemhi River itself are so heavily used for irrigation that they are literally de-watered.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes look forward to continuing work as resource co-mangers with the federal and state agencies and local individuals and governments to correct problems in the Salmon River primarily in tributaries to the Salmon River from the Lemhi River upstream to the headwaters of the Salmon River. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes have been proactive participants in these efforts, through the Lemhi River Model Watershed, through actions of the Tribes' Salmon Corps, and through the Tribes' habitat enhancement projects funded by the Bonneville Power Administration. We have documented many cases where localized habitat problems have been corrected, to the benefit of the anadromous and resident fish resources.
However, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are thoroughly convinced that these improvements are not nearly enough to even stop the declines of the listed anadromous fish, let alone recover them. Our best evidence of this fact exists in the Middle Fork Salmon River, the largest salmon producing tributary of the Salmon River system. The listed fish populations in the Middle Fork Salmon River which is a Wild and Scenic River that lies almost completely within the Frank Church Wilderness Area and is almost totally in pristine condition continue to decline at least at the same rate as the populations in the upper Salmon River. This evidence suggests that the major problems and thus the major areas to concentrate recovery efforts are outside of the Salmon River system. During the early and middle 1990's the conditions in the Pacific Ocean were not good for Columbia River salmon populations. The impacts of oceanic conditions become greater as salmon populations decrease, as do the impacts created by all habitat conditions. The critical, or threshold importance of learning more about how ocean conditions affect salmon survival and recovery is doubtful. Although it is of interest to further study the trends of oceanic conditions and their effects on Columbia Basin salmon, very little can be done by humans to protect the salmon during their time in the ocean, other than reducing or eliminating mixed-stock harvest. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes applaud the efforts of the National Marine Fisheries Service to reduce harvest impacts on listed Snake River fall chinook over the past eight years. However, the impacts of 30 percent harvest rates on the fall chinook and listed Group-B steelhead are still too high. The National Marine Fisheries Service needs to more aggressively pursue continuity between conservation-based harvest rates of Columbia Basin spring and summer chinook salmon (approximately 10 and five percent, respectively) and the 30 percent harvest rates for fall chinook and steelhead.
The position of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes is that there should be no interception fisheries in the ocean and mainstem Columbia River while the weak stocks of listed fish are mixed in with more numerous runs. Fisheries should instead be conducted in the tributaries with runs that can support harvest. Selective harvest works best when the fishing area is used as the tool for selectivity, rather than different gears. Selective gears require the catch and then the release of the listed fish, which still results in mortality of the listed fish.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is particularly unjust in its allocation of the conservation burden when they allow ocean and mainstem Columbia River fisheries to harvest listed Snake River salmon and steelhead while at the same time the NMFS states that there is no mechanism under their administration of the Endangered Species Act for Shoshone-Bannock Tribal harvest of those very same fish once the fish are in the Salmon River. The National Marine Fisheries Service is arbitrary when they claim that harvesting listed fish is incidental when the population of fish being harvested is comprised of less than 50 percent listed fish. They are also arbitrary, and capricious when they further claim that harvesting listed fish is direct take when the population of fish being harvested is comprised of greater than 50 percent listed fish.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is wrong to conclude that that there are only two roles for hatcheries. The two roles they state are 1) reform existing hatcheries to prevent negative effects from hatchery-origin fish on wild fish; and 2) use hatcheries to conserve wild fish. These are good roles for hatcheries. However, the most important role for hatcheries is to use them to rebuild wild fish populations. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes call this concrete-to-gravel-to-gravel management. Scientists call it supplementation. There are appropriate ways to use hatchery-origin fish and release them into wild areas for those fish to return to rebuild the listed wild populations. The NMFS is wrong to use genetics as the overriding factor in impeding the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes from pursuing the production actions that the Tribes have successfully initiated. Many of the wild areas no longer contain any fish, so even if the NMFS is correct with their genetics theories, it would be a moot point. We can no longer manage for genes, and need instead to manage for fish. The Recovery Strategy needs to aggressively pursue supplementation of listed fish with available hatchery-origin stocks.
The National Marine Fisheries Service needs to incorporate the use of hatcheries to rebuild listed populations, rather than only use hatcheries as a conservation tool to prevent extinction. The year 2000 is a good example. Largely as a result of very high spring runoff in 1997, the returns of spring and summer chinook to some of the Salmon River hatcheries were excellent during the summer of 2000. So many spring and summer chinook salmon returned to the Rapid River and South Fork Salmon River hatcheries that sportsman harvest occurred alongside treaty fisheries in the rivers directly below those hatcheries. There were so many hatchery salmon that the hatcheries trucked the fish back down below the fisheries for the fish to swim through and have another chance at being harvested after they had already returned to the hatchery weirs.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes firmly believe that these "surplus" fish should have also been be transplanted into adjacent areas that are devoid of listed, naturally-producing salmon. For example, surplus adult salmon and their offspring that returned to the Rapid River hatchery should have been transplanted to the Yankee Fork Salmon River, upper Salmon River and Pahsimeroi River. These target areas have received outplantings from the Rapid River stock in the 1980s, and some of those actions returned fish at two to six percent smolt-to-adult survival rates. During the middle 1980s, one million smolts from the Rapid River Hatchery were released each of two years to the Pahsimeroi River, and those releases returned 4,000 to 6,000 adult salmon two and three years later. Unfortunately, that practice was ended when it was decided that the Rapid River stock was the wrong stock (spring chinook) to use in the Pahsimeroi River (theoretically, summer chinook), even though the performance of those outplantings suggest otherwise. This year, only about 350 adult salmon returned to the Pahsimeroi Hatchery.
Likewise, the "surplus" chinook salmon adults that returned to the South Fork Salmon River this year should have been transplanted to Johnson Creek (a tributary of the South Fork Salmon River), and to the Pahsimeroi River. However, the National Marine Fisheries Service determined that the South Fork Salmon River has five distinctly different stocks of chinook salmon that can not be intermixed. In essence, the National Marine Fisheries Service theories on salmon genetics are preventing recovery because those theories prevent using abundant, available, and appropriate donor stocks from being used in areas that need fish.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes humbly request that the Subcommittee further investigate the policies and positions of the National Marine Fisheries Service with regard to salmon supplementation. A very powerful recovery tool is being ignored due to potentially esoteric genetic theories. With great respect, we further request that the Subcommittee assists the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in securing the salmon supplementation actions that we have been pursuing for over ten years, to at least allow us to also test our theories.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are also very concerned that the National Marine Fisheries Service concludes that there have been significant improvements to the migration conditions through the hydrosystem in the past five years. The evidence based on simple observations of wild salmon abundance in the Salmon River system does not support this conclusion. Redd counts and juvenile densities continue to decline, as I have stated earlier.
The National Marine Fisheries Service greatly underestimates the necessary survival improvements that are needed to stop the declines and move towards recovery. The 1995 hydrosystem Biological Opinion concluded that the smolt-to-adult survival needs to improve from 280 to 850% in order to meet the 24-year survival standard. The current draft Biological Opinion concludes that survival improvements need to only be 30% for Snake River spring and summer chinook salmon.
The National Marine Fisheries Service underestimates the risk of extinction when they use an absolute extinction risk threshold of one fish per brood. It is wrong for the National Marine Fisheries Service to use a one fish per brood extinction risk threshold for evaluation of the hydrosystem, when they use a threshold population level of from 150 to 300 fish per brood for determining allowable tributary harvest levels. The National Marine Fisheries Service further underestimates the probability of real extinction for the listed species by relaxing the definition of high-risk from a one percent probability of extinction in 100 years (A-Fish Appendix to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Lower Snake River Juvenile Salmon Migration Feasibility Study) to a 5% probability in 24 to 100 years.
These are but a few of the many concerns that we have about the ever-changing science used by the National Marine Fisheries Service in the draft Biological Opinion and Recovery Strategy. It appears that the National Marine Fisheries Service picked an analysis method in order to meet the desired end. They do not use the same jeopardy, survival and recovery standards in these drafts as they did in the A-Fish Appendix and in the 1995 Biological Opinion. They do not even use consistent standards between different sections (different "H's") of these drafts. The science that was agreed to as a result of the Idaho v NMFS lawsuit appears to no longer apply. That lawsuit resulted in a 1995 jeopardy opinion for the hydrosystem, and established a robust scientific process (the Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses, or PATH) to continue the efforts to resolve critical scientific uncertainties that remained. The PATH concluded that the benefits from breaching the four lower Snake River dams were more certain than non-breaching alternatives. The National Marine Fisheries Service has boldly rejected that science and has replaced it with a new and different science that concludes that there is significant uncertainty with breaching the lower Snake River dams.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are extremely disappointed that the 1995 Biological Opinion has not been adhered to. That Opinion allowed a decision to be made in 1999 to either breach the lower Snake River dams or else continue with attempts to fix the dams with screens, curtains, bypasses and barges. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes believe that technological fixes to the lower Snake River dams will not even allow the listed Snake River salmon to survive, let alone recover. The 1999 decision should have been made based on readily available scientific information, and it should have been to pursue Congressional authorization to breach those dams, as the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes have long been advocating. The Recovery Strategy and the new Biological Opinion should call for the breaching of the four lower Snake River dams now. The Recovery Strategy and the new Biological Opinion should call for an immediate moratorium on any expenditures on those four dams that will be rendered a wasted investment when the dams are breached.
The bottom line is that the draft Biological Opinion does not state how it will be able to reject the null hypothesis that the Reasonable and Prudent Alternative results in no survival improvement over existing conditions. In other words, the Draft Biological Opinion does not define what we are measuring for in order to determine, five, eight, or 10 years from now, if there has been a change in the jeopardy of the future existence of the listed fish. It does not tell us how, in five, eight, or ten years, we will determine if the Reasonable and Prudent Alternative has succeeded in the listed fish survival or recovery. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes now see that the implementation of the 1995 Biological Opinion was a trap a trap that somehow allows the science to change in the eleventh hour with no consultation with the tribes.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are adamant that the new Biological Opinion must incorporate the conclusions of the PATH reports, adhere to the 1995 Biological Opinion, and call for the immediate breaching of the four lower Snake River dams. If the National Marine Fisheries Service can prove, using the best available science, that breaching the dams will result in greater uncertainty than the non-breach alternatives, then the new Biological Opinion must provide clear decision criteria that will be used in less than three years to determine the success or failure of the proposed Reasonable and Prudent Alternative. The new Biological Opinion must also provide a clear alternate Reasonable and Prudent Alternative that calls for immediate pursuit of breaching the four lower Snake River dams if the criteria concludes that the proposed RPA results in failure of survival for the listed Snake River fish.
Thank you Subcommittee, and Chairman Crapo for hosting this hearing and providing the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes with an opportunity to express their concerns.
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