Bonneville Power Administration
PORTLAND, Ore. - Leaders of the Columbia River treaty-fishing tribes on Jan. 26 roundly condemned a decision by the Bonneville Power Administration to vanquish a long-serving science center.
The 20-year-old Fish Passage Center had provided critical technical data to the state and federal agencies and tribes that protect and manage Columbia River salmon runs and fisheries. BPA announced its plan to transfer the functions of the FPC to new entities at a briefing to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, whose fish and wildlife program requires the FPC be funded by BPA. The loss of the FPC strips the Columbia Basin treaty tribes as well as the fish and wildlife agencies of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana of their ability to fully participate in regional salmon recovery efforts.
''Today's decision is the result of a terribly flawed process that started from a false, predetermined conclusion - that the Fish Passage Center needed to be replaced,'' said Rebecca Miles, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal executive committee. ''[Jan. 25], a White House official spoke to the region about sharing responsibility in rebuilding salmon runs and argued that hydroelectric impacts had been addressed. Today a federal agency, BPA, shuts down an established, efficient science center and shifts the work to an assemblage of less experienced and unproven entities virtually guaranteeing that the regional collaborative effort will suffer, perhaps flat out fail. Actions speak louder than words.''
In November 2005, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, inserted language into the Energy & Water appropriations report to direct the BPA and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council to halt funding of the FPC and transfer its functions to another entity in the region within 120 days. Despite numerous requests by tribes, states, business leaders and members of the Northwest congressional delegation to keep the FPC intact, Craig's language was included in the final Energy & Water appropriations report and signed into law on Nov. 19.
The announcement came just days after salmon-based businesses and conservation groups filed a lawsuit asserting that BPA's decision to shutter the FPC unlawfully circumvents the Northwest Power Act because the report language does not have the force of law.
''This raises huge questions about the authorities of States and Tribes to access the best scientific data and manage a regional resource,'' added Miles. ''Congress was clear 26 years ago when it passed the Northwest Power Act laying out the roles and responsibilities of tribes and federal and state fishery agencies. If this stands, it says that any member of Congress, behind closed doors, can undo a decades-long effort with words hidden in a legislative report.''
Authorized by the Northwest Power Act, and operating for the past 20 years, the FPC collected, analyzed and made public vital information about salmon and steelhead numbers on the Columbia and Snake rivers. State and tribal decision-makers rely heavily on the information provided by the FPC to analyze the impact of hydro operations on salmon. The loss of the independent science it provides comes at a crucial time for the region. This information will be especially critical during the next year of court-ordered salmon recovery negotiations between the states, tribes, BPA and the Bush administration.
''We have just begun to identify the substantive, dense, technical questions that would lead to a long-awaited court-approved federal salmon plan,'' said Olney Patt Jr., chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. ''The Fish Passage Center is, hands down, the science agency best suited to take on that work. Hopefully the legal challenge can clarify this and bring common sense back to the matter.''
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