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Commentaries and editorials

Some BPA Plans to Aid Salmon
Take Hit in Review

Jonathan Brinckman, The Oregonian - June 18, 1999

An independent panel recommends cutting off recovery projects that do not meet scientific standards

One-third of the 241 salmon recovery programs the Bonneville Power Administration finances fail to meet scientific standards and should no longer be funded, an independent review panel concludes in a new report.

The report comes at a time of deep disagreement over the direction of the costly and largely ineffective effort to rebuild salmon populations in the Columbia River Basin. The salmon recovery projects financed by the BPA cost Northwest electricity ratepayers $127 million each year.

The panel's recommendations, issued Wednesday, set the stage for a battle over whether some salmon programs -- including hatcheries, stream-bank restoration efforts and research projects -- should be abandoned in favor of those deemed more effective.

The panel's recommendations angered Northwest tribes that are proposing new types of hatcheries to restore salmon to tributaries where the fish have sharply declined, in some cases to the point of extinction.

Traditional hatcheries have attempted to produce fish mainly for sport and commercial fisheries. The tribes want to use hatcheries to produce fish that will spawn in the wild and repopulate the Columbia River Basin.

The report criticizes that plan as an untested and risky strategy. It recommends that about $20 million be withheld from tribal programs -- mostly hatcheries -- proposed for fiscal 2000.

The 11 scientists on the panel reviewed proposals for 397 projects -- including the 241 programs now financed -- that have submitted requests for fiscal 2000. Of the 397, the panel said that 166 failed to meet scientific standards. Those programs would cost $29.2 million.

Seventy-seven of the currently financed programs do not meet scientific standards, the panel found.

The Northwest Power Planning Council will use the report to make a recommendation to the BPA in September about which programs should be financed. The four-state planning council was created in 1980 to balance power production in the Columbia Basin against the needs of fish and wildlife.

The council is bound by law to consider the review panel's recommendations. If it disagrees, it must explain why in a written report to Congress.

Tribal officials immediately criticized the scientists' recommendations.

"We are absolutely disappointed with these results, but we expected them," said Donald Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents four tribes that have treaty rights to Columbia Basin salmon. "This is policy cloaked in science. We believe it's an attempt to eliminate tribal programs."

The largest program the scientists recommended against financing is construction of a new hatchery by the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho. The tribe requested $14.6 million in 2000 for the hatchery.

"Scientific reviews suggest that the days of large hatchery projects are past and that this project does not merit the expenditure of public funds requested," the report said. "Unless and until the project is better justified and it can be demonstrated that wild stocks will not be negatively affected, this project should not go forward."

Power planning council members, traditionally divided about the best way to restore salmon, took no position on the recommendations.

"I want to use the report to help guide decisions," said Stan Grace, one of Montana's two appointees to the council. "At the same time, I'm not going to automatically give it the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Even scientists don't have answers all the time."

Others called the report a necessary step toward improving salmon recovery efforts.

"This is the best thing that's happened to the fish and wildlife programs since the council was created in 1980," said Bill Bakke, a vocal critic of hatcheries who is director of the Native Fish Society, a Portland conservation group. "The fish and wildlife agencies have to stop their practice of advancing poor projects for funding and start backing credible projects."

The Independent Scientific Review Panel has reviewed the direction and coordination of the salmon recovery program since 1996, but this year's report includes a peer-reviewed analysis of each of the 397 projects submitted to the power council for financing in 2000.

Jim Lichatowich, a fisheries biologist from Washington state who is a member of the review panel, said that although some projects are improving each year, many are not. Unless salmon-recovery projects become more effective, he said, the decline of Columbia Basin salmon will continue.

Related Links:
Northwest Power Planning Council
Salmon Plans that Failed Reviews Won't Get Funding Seattle P-I, 10/15/99
Fish Projects Await Scientists' Opinions Columbia Basin Bulletin, 10/15/99

Jonathan Brinckman
Some BPA Plans to Aid Salmon Take Hit in Review
The Oregonian - June 18, 1999

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