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Commentaries and editorials

Consensus, Collaboration, Collective Resources Can be
Brought to Bear to Assure Salmon will Persist

by Jennifer Anders, Bill Bradbury and Phil Rockefeller
Columbia Basin Bulletin, January 4, 2021

Traditional methods of artificial production and transportation
could not sustain, much less recover, populations of wild salmon.

Graphic: Snake River Steelhead have triggered the Early Warning Indicator of the Federal Columbia River Power System's 2014 Supplemental Biological Opinion A recent CBB Notebook piece suggests salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin, given ESA listings, depends on an entity with the authority to direct stakeholders how to proceed. It also asserts that by this standard the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which the author deems divided by regional strife and disagreements, is incapable of achieving the needed results. Respectfully, based on our past experience as Council members, we think the criticism is off the mark on both counts.

We start with the statutory framework for the Council, an interstate compact (ID, OR, MT, WA) whose broad role vis a vis hydropower impacts on fish and wildlife is defined by the Northwest Power Act passed by Congress some 40 years ago. Each State, in turn, endorsed the compact, and the Council members represent their respective States under gubernatorial appointments.

Under this landmark legislation, fish and wildlife are on equal footing with energy production. The Act specifically directs the Council to assure an adequate, efficient, economical, and reliable power supply while protecting, mitigating, and enhancing fish and wildlife affected by hydropower dams. It is no mean feat to maintain this balance, but the Council possesses, on behalf of the four participating States, the authority to strive for both. No other regional entity has that mission or capability. Further, in this regard, the Act obliges the Bonneville Power Administration to act consistently with the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program (FWP), and to provide appropriate resources and support in its implementation. Other relevant federal operating agencies in the Basin (including U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation) are also under Congressional direction to take the FWP into account when making decisions.

The protect-mitigate-enhance focus of the Act, and thus the work of the Council, encompasses all fish (not just ESA-listed) and wildlife impacted by the federal hydropower system of the Basin, where well more than half the historic salmon habitat is blocked or flooded by impoundments. Just as we all know if we want to run, we have to start by walking, Council work on behalf of salmon and steelhead first aimed to protect against further loss of suitable habitat and natural populations, and provide a foundation for ecosystem recovery. Hence, early stabilizing actions included the crucial identification of thousands of miles of free-flowing salmon streams throughout the Pacific Northwest. These streams are designated for avoidance of future hydro projects, at least not without a showing, satisfactory to the Council, of net benefit to salmon. In addition, from its outset, the Council has consistently advocated for improved fish survival at Columbia and Snake River dams. Results today show continued gains in survival over the past 40 years. Continuous improvement remains the goal.

(bluefish notes: Is this last statement supported by the evidence of Idaho salmon runs "over the past 40 years"? See graphic above for the official data of Natural-Origin runs.
In its 2014 FWP the Council, responding to long-time tribal concerns, charted a pathway to explore re-introduction of anadromous fish to blocked areas of the upper Columbia. In doing so, the Council acknowledged that long-term inaction in this area fell short of the needed mitigation. In our view, further action in support of this initiative is needed.

Sub-basin recovery plans as well as more recent Council focus upon habitat protection and ecosystem stewardship throughout the Basin provide a foundation not just for stabilizing struggling natural populations, but also for increasingly sophisticated recovery efforts -- guided by science and informed by tribal values.

The Council has played a key role in the origin and design of the on-going NOAA-led regional collaboration on recovery goals. Our hope is that the goal-setting conversation will now move forward to update sub-Basin or watershed agendas for implementing actions. The Council's capabilities in assessing and integrating a diverse array of proposed actions in the five-year FWP update process can be used to advance the hoped-for recovery leadership of NOAA. We personally support and commend this productive partnership.

Moreover, the Council's FWP reflects realistic appreciation of evolving climate and habitat conditions, and its intentional inclusion of emerging challenges assures ongoing relevance throughout the Basin as well as a full commitment to adaptive management.

Finally, collaboration across the Basin for whatever purpose often means dealing with conflict and doubt; a multitude of actors with varying degrees of authority federal, tribal, state, local may complicate getting to good outcomes. Messy, yes, but collaboration also leads to better results, because options have been vetted and debated, and ultimately shared strategies and actions do emerge. With consensus, collective resources human, financial, agency can be brought to bear upon a common course, to assure that salmon will persist and thrive as part of our common heritage.

We must and can do no less.

Jennifer Anders, Montana Council member from 2013 through 2020, chair in 2019
Bill Bradbury, Oregon Council member from 2010 - 2016, chair in 2013 and 2014
Phil Rockefeller, Washington Council member from 2011 - 2016, chair in 2015.
Consensus, Collaboration, Collective Resources Can be Brought to Bear to Assure Salmon will Persist
Columbia Basin Bulletin, January 4, 2021

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