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Four Governors Proclaim Support
for Biological Opinion

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 6, 2003

The governors of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington on Thursday banded together to proclaim their support for a federal Columbia River salmon and steelhead recovery plan that has been judged inadequate by a federal court.

The federal strategy is working, the governors said, and should be left in place while the federal agencies address concerns about it expressed by U.S. District Court Judge James L. Redden in a May 7 order.

"There is unified agreement that we do not want to see federal biological opinion vacated for the one-year period while NOAA addresses the technicalities in regard to the Endangered Species Act that the judge pointed out," Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said during a press conference that followed his meeting with Govs. Judy Martz of Montana, Ted Kulongoski of Oregon and Gary Locke of Washington.

"We don't want to stop the progress that has taken place. We have on-the-ground projects," said Kempthorne, who hosted the meeting in Boise.

The federal "biological opinion" issue was among those discussed as the governors cemented a renewed, collaborative strategy to address Columbia River Basin fish recovery, the need for affordable power to ensure regional economic vitality and the Bonneville Power Administration's impact on those issues. As the marketer of federal power generated in the federal Columbia/Snake river hydrosystem, BPA has fish and wildlife mitigation responsibilities through the Northwest Power Act, ESA, treaties and other statutes. That system provides more than half the region's power.

"We are here to confirm our commitment to the recovery of wild salmon and other endangered fish stocks and the preservation of wildlife," said Locke. "We've seen incredible progress in our own states and we want that progress to continue. At the same time we know how important the Bonneville system is, the Bonneville Power Administration, is to our economy, our way of life."

All of the governors echoed that sentiment.

The governors developed a 14-page series of consensus policy recommendations for federal agencies involved in fish and power issues. Those recommendations for protecting fish and the power system will be forwarded, along with a cover letter, to President George W. Bush.

The recommendations represent an update of the "Four Governors' " fish and wildlife strategy issued in July 2000. The plan recognizes that fish recovery involves the entire life cycle of fish, requiring efforts across "all H's" -- increasing fish survival by improving habitat and hydroelectric system passage, regulating harvest and reforming hatcheries. The governors note that the BiOp that is now in place mirrors in many respects their strategy. The governors also emphasized a fifth "H", for humans, as essential to this effort.

They governors renewed their commitment, made in 2000, to push forward with that All-H fish and wildlife strategy, emphasizing that breaching the four lower Snake River dams must not be an option.

"Since then there have been a variety of activities that have taken place. The biological opinion was issued by the federal government. The four states embraced that federal biological opinion," Kempthorne said.

"In addition to embracing that we have also in place a variety of things on the ground. As we said, the time for studies is over. Let's get on with actions. We have now come up with the recommendations of the four governors on the Columbia River fish and wildlife and preserving the benefits of the Columbia River power system," he said of the strategy released to the public Thursday.

"This document calls for clear goals, schedules, clear direction on who is responsible, and clear accountability," Kempthorne added.

The 2000 governors' strategy to some extent dodged the breaching question, saying that it would be answered in other forums and that their intent was to focus on "acting now in areas of agreement without resorting to breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River." Then-Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber had in other venues insisted that the breaching of four lower Snake River dams remain under consideration as a salmon recovery tool. The governors of Idaho, Montana and Washington had voiced opposition to dam removal.

During Kitzhaber's tenure, Oregon joined the BiOp lawsuit as "amici" for the plaintiffs -- a coalition of conservation and fishing groups. Montana and Washington joined the lawsuit as amici for the defendant, NOAA Fisheries, and Idaho joined as a defendant intervenor. Kulongoski this week joined his fellow governors in endorsing the aggressive non-breach approach and attempting to safeguard the hydrosystem's benefits.

"We look at it as a last resort," Jim Myron, a Kulongoski natural resource policy advisor. "It shouldn't be the first card we play but certainly it is a card that should stay in the deck." Kulongoski said the consensus package released Thursday has the potential to help resolve both fish and wildlife and power issues.

"This is unusual in the sense that most of the states spend a great deal of time competing with each other, whether trying to attract business, or which of us speaks first or last. This is one issue that all four states in this region actually have a tremendous interest in coming together to come up with a unified policy," Kulongoski said.

"The Columbia River system is so intricately tied to each of our economies. But it isn't a choice between our economy and the native species in that river. It is both of those together that actually brings us together," Kulongoski said. "Each of us understands how important the river is -- with power rates, costs -- in keeping stable economies in our states. But we also understand that the river and the fish in the river actually define who we are as a people and a region."

"It is a very, very good sign that all of the states in this region, actually working with the federal government, want to do what is the right thing to restore salmon in the Columbia and in the individual basins and at the same time do those things that we can to help our economies grow." Oregon's governor said.

"All four governors agree that we must maintain proactive, aggressive efforts for the restoration of salmon so that it is not necessary to breach dams. We do not support breaching the dams," Kempthorne said.

"We will continue to pursue full implementation of the biological opinions to recovery our salmon, steelhead and freshwater species because it is not only the right thing to do, but also because the failure to do so can jeopardize the federal hydropower system and re-ignite the controversy over dam breaching," according to the recommendations. The BiOp calls for evaluations at the end of this year -- the third year of the BiOp, and in 2005 and 2008. It says that if anticipated survival improvements aren't being achieved other options, such as dam breaching, would be considered.

The governors agreed that the recovery and restoration of fish in the Columbia River Basin must be a high priority for the region. They cited the huge investments that have been made in tributaries to protect and restore habitat for listed fish species.

"The governors are committed to protecting the region's economy and ratepayers and to the protection and recovery of fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin," Martz said. "These recommendations reflect those commitments."

As part of the effort, the governors want more certain BPA and federal fish and wildlife funding commitments, and asked that the Northwest Power and Conservation Council to provide a report on the status of the implementation of these recommendations by the end of 2003. Much of the habitat and hatchery work undertaken in the basin is funded by BPA through the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program.

Given the vulnerable state of the regional economy, the four governors agreed that Pacific Northwest electricity customers are not prepared to absorb another large wholesale rate increase, and that steps must be taken now to hold rates down. The document encourages an independent and transparent review of BPA costs, including those of fish and wildlife programs.

The wildly fluctuating power market has dented BPA's financial armor in recent years, forcing them to push up rates and seek cost cuts.

Those in the region "need to do everything we can to help BPA be as cost effective as possible in all of their operations and to get the result that we want, whether it is in terms of the cost of electricity, the transmission, production and even with respect to programs for fish enhancement," Locke said.

The governors hope that their combined voice will be heard by those in the power, fish and wildlife and legal arenas. They feel that theirs is a strong statement that the states will play a strong role in the federal recovery plan.

Redden called the BiOp illegal because of "NOAA's reliance on federal range-wide, off-site mitigation actions that have not undergone section 7 consultation and non-federal range-wide, off-site mitigation actions which are not reasonably certain to occur was improper.."

The governors' strategy "indicates that these non-federal actions will take place because the governors have said that this is something we must do," said Mark Snider, Kempthorne's press secretary.

The governors' recommendations said the subbasin plans now being developed through the Council fish and wildlife program should serve as the "hub for this federal/regional/state/tribal effort.."

The governors' plan was both cheered and jeered by tribal interests and conservation and fishing groups that in large part favor dam breaching.

Columbia Basin treaty fishing tribes say they're encouraged that four Northwest governors are pushing for more BPA accountability but they believe the governors have retreated from a comprehensive fish recovery effort.

"I'm glad the governors support the tribes' efforts to require Bonneville to meet its trust responsibilities and fulfill its obligations to fish and wildlife recovery projects in the basin," said Olney Patt Jr., executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and a member of the Warm Springs Tribe. "But rejecting dam breaching as an option is irresponsible, especially when BPA insists it will cut funds."

Patt added: "I would like to know the science that supports such a stance. There's plenty of evidence that supports taking out these dams."

"The aggressive non-breach strategy had no substance and the judge was clear," said Allen Slickpoo Jr., CRITFC chairman and a member of the Nez Perce Tribe. "Both the federal government and the tribes found that policy was a sham with the lagging BPA funding. This strategy has to be backed up with funds and political support."

Patt was one of several tribal representatives in Washington, D.C., this week to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Bonneville's failure to properly manage its fish and wildlife budget, consult with tribes over funding, and honor treaty obligations.

"We tried that something else for three years and found that we couldn't implement it, let alone have faith that it would restore salmon," said Pat Ford, executive director, Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, said of the federal BiOp. "Dam removal will never be 'off the table' until wild salmon are restored to abundance without it

Fishing and conservation say that existing science leads to the conclusion that that removing the four lower Snake dams is the surest way to restore sustainable and harvestable populations of salmon to the Snake River.

"The goal of the Bush administration must be to restore abundant, harvestable wild salmon and steelhead for use by the people and communities of the Northwest," said Bert Bowler, native fisheries director, Idaho Rivers United.

"The governors agree that they support self-sustaining wild salmon, but fail to see that by breaching the four Lower Snake River dams we can create jobs, increase incomes, rebuild communities and provide some rays of hope to rural communities that are struggling now," Bowler said.

For the governors' letter and policy recommendations go to Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's website at .

CBB Staff
Four Governors Proclaim Support for Biological Opinion
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 6, 2003

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