Washington Congressman Seeks Review
Washington Congressman Doc Hastings (R) said Feb. 4 the House natural resources committee, which he chairs, will seek review of a new initiative announced late last year by NOAA Fisheries to survey Northwest stakeholders for what the agency called a "situation assessment," to "explore regional views about how best to approach comprehensive, long-term salmon recovery planning."
In a Feb. 4 letter to NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenko, Hastings said NOAA had failed to explain the scope or necessity for the process. "In my view," said Hastings, "NOAA's timing and rationale for launching yet another costly taxpayer-funded planning exercise is highly questionable amidst near-record salmon runs in the Columbia Basin."
Hastings also said he was concerned that the assessment could interfere with salmon recovery plans already approved by the federal agency, along with state and tribal hatchery programs. "Further, it could delay or undermine Congressionally-directed independent scientific review of highly questionable salmon biological opinion directives, which as written, would adversely impact the Columbia and Snake basin agriculture and use of crop protection products."
But, most important, he said, was that the assessment could undermine the successful collaboration between three Northwest states and some Basin tribes over the hydro BiOp. "The hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars NOAA plans to use for this "assessment" to solicit likely recycled opinions will add little, if any benefit, and worse, could potentially undo years of progress made to bring diverse Northwest entities together on these complex issues," said Hastings' letter. He called on NOAA to postpone the effort.
Last December, when NMFS announced the new move, NOAA Fisheries' regional administrator Barry Thom said his agency wanted to use the results "to better integrate existing and future recovery plans with Basin-wide strategies to address all elements of recovery."
The feds said they would use the Oregon Consensus Program at Portland State University and the William D. Ruckelshaus Center at the University of Washington, to conduct the "situation assessment." Both groups promote collaborative governance and consensus-based public policy. An assessment team will also be put together that includes experts from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Thom said a situation assessment was "an interview-based process undertaken to better understand and explore relevant issues and interests of involved parties and situation dynamics." Each interview was expected to last an hour.
Since Thom's announcement, drafts of both potential questions and an interview list of about 150 people have surfaced. The list includes four individuals from American Rivers, four high-ranking officials from BPA, two from the Corps of Engineers, 14 from NOAA Fisheries, (including three scientists from the agency's Seattle Science Center), several from each Basin tribe, 12 Congressional staffers from various Northwest delegations, three from Earthjustice, all members of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and representatives of state fish agencies, BPA customer groups, salmon advocates, conservation groups, and utilities, along with others from various federal and state agencies.
The draft questions included the following: How will you know the Columbia Basin salmon recovery process has been successful? What outcomes will you see? What will have happened/not happened 25, 50 or 75 years from now? What changes if any to the existing processes might you recommend for addressing salmon recovery in the long term? What do you think will happen if the "status quo" continues? How can science best be incorporated into recovery planning? What should we have asked that we did not? Do you have any questions for us?
It seems that Hastings has several questions of his own, but the process has been endorsed by several conservation groups and some BPA customer groups. Since the interviews will be confidential and no views will be attributed, the feds in December said regional parties could speak freely because the assessment will being conducted by a "neutral third party," so potential options would be identified in an objective way.
February 4, 2013
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 1401 Constitution Avenue
Washington, DC 20230
Dear Administrator Lubchenco:
I write regarding the National Oceanic and Atmosphetic Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA) recent contract with the Oregon Consensus Program and the William D. Ruckelshaus Center to conduct a "situation assessment" oflong term Columbia Basin salmon recovery planning.
I understand that last December NOAA invited selected individuals to participate in a closed, one-on-one interview process conducted by "two neutral, university-based institutions" to "better understand and explore relevant issues and interests of involved parties and situation dynamics," apparently resulting in an assessment report later this year.
I am concerned with NOAA's actions for several reasons.
First, NOAA has failed to clearly explain either the scope or the necessity of this process. In my view, NOAA's timing and rationale for launching yet another costly taxpayer-funded planning exercise is highly questionable amidst several years' data showing near-record salmon runs in the Columbia Basin.
According to publicly available data by the U.S. Anny Corps of Engineers and University of Washington, for each ofthe past five years, chinook salmon runs have ranged between 480,000 to 850,000 and steelhead have numbered between 235,000 to 600,000. Last year, the Army Corps of Engineers counted more than 1.5 million chinook, steelhead, sockeye and coho salmon. Rather than launching a new process, NOAA should be more clearly explaining what is necessary to remove Columbia and Snake Basin salmon from the Endangered Species Act list.
More than a decade ago, NOAA released "intetim" numerical goals for salmon in the Columbia and Snake basins. For multiple salmon life cycles, salmon numbers have far exceeded NOAA's own numbers and have far surpassed counts during the early to mid 1990's when NOAA detennined that several salmon populations were "threatened" or "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In a 2011 report to Congress, NOAA itself characterized the runs of six of seven ESA-listed salmon populations in the Columbia and Snake Basins as either "stable" or "increasing." More processes to "plan how to plan" will not change that.
Second, I am concerned that this NOAA-led "assessment" could interfere with or impose new requirements on federally-approved and currently ongoing local salmon recovery plans and activities, as well as state and tribal hatchery programs that are currently contributing positively to record and near-record salmon returns. Further, it could delay or undermine Congressionally- directed independent scientific review o f highly questionable salmon biological opinion directives, which as written, would adversely impact the Columbia and Snake basin agriculture and use of crop protection products.
Most importantly, NOAA's "situation assessment" could undermine the successful and unprecedented collaboration of federal agencies with the states of Washington, Idaho, Montana, and several Columbia River tribes to develop a legally-sound ESA salmon Biological Opinion governing the continued operation of the Northwest's vital federal hydropower dams. The hundreds ofthousands oftaxpayer dollars NOAA plans to use for this "assessment" to solicit likely recycled opinions will add little, if any, benefit, and worse, could potentially undo years of progress made to bring diverse Northwest entities together on these complex issues.
I request that NOAA postpone this effort and instead re-double this Administration's commitment and focus to defend the Federal Columbia River Power
System Biological Opinion crafted with the support of three Northwest states, numerous tribes and other stakeholders, rather than create another distractive process that could engender divisive proposals, such as dam removal, and provide fodder for new costly and unproductive litigation, all to the detriment of the listed stocks and the region's economy.
As a result ofthe Committee's oversight responsibilities over the ESA and Northwest salmon programs, please be advised that the Committee will seek review ofNOAA's process for pursuing and carrying out the "situation assessment" contracts with the university-based institutions.
Your staffs and your prompt cooperation in thatregard is appreciated.
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