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Commentaries and editorials

BiOp Updates Show Evidence
of Little Progress

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, October 9, 2006

Federal agencies have sent BiOp Judge James Redden their latest update on the "collaborative" effort to produce a new hydro BiOp. They also issued their first update on the Upper Snake remand, ordered by the judge on Sept 26.

The latest update to the FCRPS [Federal Columbia River Power System] remand includes several pages of schedules to show the judge that technical and policy workgroups are continuing to meet nearly daily, but nothing was produced to show results from passage modeling work that estimated fish survival from different operating scenarios. The meetings are still off limits to reporters and the public.

One participant said progress was being made "at a snail's pace," but they had all got to know each other better after two retreats and a few friendly basketball games.

In the last remand update, filed three months ago, the feds said they expected preliminary results by the third week in July. There was even some discussion that the results would become public, but they have not.

The Oct. 3 update says the Policy Working Group was still narrowing issues and identifying some items for additional discussion--including a review of passage modeling results.

Several months ago, sources said the passage model did not show much difference in the survival results from different hydro scenarios currently under consideration.

The PWG is "continuing to consider how a range of survival-based estimates of relative human impacts (direct and indirect) of various sources of mortality, as well as how the differing opinions, interpretations and methods that such estimates (e.g., latent mortality) are based upon, should be incorporated and applied within the 10-step framework," according to the remand documents.

The PWG is also reviewing information from another workgroup on goals and gaps in survival that need to be filled in each ESU.

The latest report noted that a subgroup of the PWG is working to develop an ESU-by-ESU template that attempts to link management actions in each of the four Hs to ESU-specific goals, gaps and limiting factors.

The subgroup has taken up the work of the regional coalition that expanded a matrix developed by NOAA to develop key limiting factors for each ESU and then management actions to recover the stocks. The coalition, which includes Washington, Montana, several upriver tribes and the BPA customers' group, used the matrix to shift the focus on salmon recovery away from a more hydrocentric position, because it felt that little improvement in fish survival could be gleaned from the kind of changes in dam operations that federal agencies had the authority to implement.

The upper Snake update reiterated the feds' previous position that the proposed action will be limited to whether current operations at water storage projects operated by the Bureau of Reclamation jeopardize ESA-listed fish in the lower Snake and Columbia. The strongly-written Sept. 26 order by Redden suggested that more water may be needed than the 487 KAF now released per the Snake River Agreement between the state of Idaho, the Nez Perce Tribe and water users.

The feds said they would write a separate BiOp for the upper Snake, with effects from proposed FCRPS operations in the environmental baseline, and analyze proposed FCRPS operations with the upper Snake operations in the environmental baseline of that analysis.

Bill Rudolph
BiOp Updates Show Evidence of Little Progress
NW Fishletter, October 9, 2006

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