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Science Advisory Panel says Council Fish/Wildlife
Mitigation Program Needs New Goals, Approaches

Columbia Basin Bulletin, March 15, 2013

Washington Councilor Tom Karier said the program indeed must be built on sound science,
but the program elements must also have the support of the region, and be implementable.

A new report from the Independent Scientific Advisory Board suggests that, while the existing fish and wildlife program has provided a "useful framework," the Northwest Power and Conservation Council should ponder new approaches for addressing in the longer term the ills of an altered Columbia River basin environment.

As part of the review the ISAB discusses "some general opportunities for improving the effectiveness of the program."

Those suggestions are based in many respects on advancements in the sciences of landscape ecology and complex adaptive systems.

The ISAB's Richard Alldredge during a Tuesday presentation to the Council noted guidance from previous ISAB and ISRP reports on restoration stressing a landscape scale approach, food web issues, climate change and other topics. ISAB members Chris Wood and Greg Ruggerone also took part in making the presentation.

Council Chairman Bill Bradbury, Oregon, said that, in reading the report, he got the impression that the ISAB is saying "we really need to figure out a different way to do this." He noted review language he thought particularly striking.

"A primary conclusion of this review is that continuing to implement the Program on its existing trajectory is highly uncertain to achieve the Council's biological objectives for the Basin. The ISAB suggests a revised focus on sustainability with strategies to protect diversity and resilience, and to build adaptability. The ISAB is concerned that artificial propagation is a risky foundation for restoration, and that adaptive management, long considered an integral component of the Program, has not been conducted in the manner originally envisioned," according to the report's executive summary.

"To me that's a very strong statement," Bradbury said.

Alldredge said that the conclusions were offered as a path toward improvement, preferring to look at the glass half full, rather than half empty.

"We could turn it around to say our knowledge base is larger than it was in 2009," Alldredge said. "This is an opportunity."

The "Review of the 2009 Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Program" comes in time to inform a process to begin within the next two weeks to amend that program -- a set of goals, objectives and strategies developed by the Council to guide fish and wildlife project spending by the Bonneville Power Administration.

The federal power marketing agency pays for research, monitoring and on-ground actions aimed at mitigating for Federal Columbia River Power System impacts on fish and wildlife populations, most notably the 13 species of salmon and steelhead listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The 1980 Northwest Power Act directed the creation of the Council and ordered it to develop a fish and wildlife program, which is to be updated in advance of the refreshing of the Council's Power Plan every five years.

Project proposals are judged by the Council and its Independent Scientific Review Panel; Bonneville makes final funding decisions.

The ISAB was formed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), Columbia River Indian tribes, and Northwest Power and Conservation Council to provide independent scientific advice and recommendations regarding scientific issues that relate to the respective agencies' fish and wildlife programs.

The new report says that "sustainability" should the foundation goal of the program. In some respects now the primary goal is to maximize availability of the resource.

"That tends to be unsustainable," Wood said. Better to focus on sustainability, which the scientists defined as the likelihood that a system of resource use will persist indefinitely without a decline in the social welfare it delivers..

That involves fostering "adaptability" and "resilience."

Resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure (i.e., not shift into a new state). Adaptability is the capacity of actors in a system to manage resilience (by avoiding undesirable states, or shifting the system into more desirable states).

In the 75-page report's conclusion, the ISAB noted "recommendations for moving forward:

  1. "Acknowledge that artificial production alone cannot achieve the Program's biological objectives for salmon and other species, and revise artificial production strategies appropriately. Adopt a landscape approach and implement strategies that unambiguously establish the necessity and primacy of an environment sufficient to maintain self-sustaining natural fish and wildlife populations.

  2. "Acknowledge that adaptive management is not being practiced as originally intended and seek opportunities for 'intentional learning' as part of the adaptive management cycle. As well, it would be timely to explore institutional changes (adaptive governance) to focus on diversity, redundancy, and multiple levels of management to include local knowledge and actions.

  3. "Encourage Structured Decision Making (SDM) as a tool within the Program. SDM can augment the adaptive management cycle with a decision process that addresses uncertainty and engages stakeholders, scientists, and decision-makers in an iterative manner.

  4. "Revise the scope of projects and project selection process to capture the best professional skills in the region. Key aspects of the Program would benefit from broader analyses and better communication, and these require appropriate projects. Outcomes may include province-scale analyses of restoration actions; a basinwide understanding of how fish biodiversity contributes to recovery and resilience; better decisions and increased local responsibility through SDM; and improved leadership in addressing complex issues like chemical contaminants."
Some things, however, are easier said than done. Washington Councilor Tom Karier said the program indeed must be built on sound science, but the program elements must also have the support of the region, and be implementable.

"I'm not sure all of this is implementable," Karier said. He noted that the Council is charged with developing its program based on the recommendations of the region's federal, state and tribal fish and wildlife managers, as well as input from other stakeholders.

He said that the ISAB should during its deliberations to take into account the ability to implement such concepts.

"You need to come down a bit from the theoretical level," Karier said.

Idaho Councilor Bill Booth said he would echo Karier's comments, and that the Council would take into account the ISAB's thoughts as it reviews official program amendment recommendations from the managers and others that will be submitted over the next few months.

"You've definitely raised the stakes for all of us," Washington Councilor Phil Rockefeller said. "I want to thank you for challenging us as you have." He said that he hoped the Council's soon-to-be-sent letter soliciting program recommendation would reference the report.

He noted report language that seemed to question whether "we provided the right strategies to evaluate, let alone to implement" habitat restoration activities in the basin.

"While the success of that effort remains critical to the program, it is also highly uncertain that habitat restoration will be successful as presently configured," the review says ". . . quantitative objectives for habitat, an unambiguous assertion of biological potential, and a route to achieve the potential through habitat restoration actions, are not yet available."

Given that fact, "The ISAB believes that it is important to further state that the biological potential is uncertain (see discussion of carrying capacity above) and that the scope of restoration and improvement required to achieve the vision remains unknown.

"It is unknown how many stream miles need to be restored or reconnected, where the additional capacity or habitat quality needs to be located, and how that will link to mid-scale and basinwide measures of success. It is important to keep the limited success of past efforts clearly in mind if the stakeholders in the Program are to have a common understanding of the challenges being faced.

"Further, it must be recognized that habitats are components of the landscape and depend on patterns and processes with a broader context."

Science Advisory Panel says Council Fish/Wildlife Mitigation Program Needs New Goals, Approaches
Columbia Basin Bulletin, March 15, 2013

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