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Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Bulletin

2/5/10 www.cbbulletin.com

* Basin Snowpack Forecast Showing 8th Lowest In Last 50 Years; Bonneville Projects $6 Million Loss
http://www.cbbulletin.com/375793.aspx

* Effort Underway To Secure Federal Funding For Walla Walla River-Columbia River Water Exchange
http://www.cbbulletin.com/375792.aspx

* Researchers In January Observe Increased Predation by Stellar Sea Lions On White Sturgeon
http://www.cbbulletin.com/375791.aspx

* Adaptive Management Plan 'Trigger' System Gets Test Drive With Upper Columbia Spring Chinook
http://www.cbbulletin.com/375790.aspx

* BiOp Litigation: Judge Redden Now Weighs Decision On Status Of Adaptive Management Plan
http://www.cbbulletin.com/375789.aspx

* Season's First Chinook Caught As Vanguard Of Expected Return Of 550,000 'Springers'
http://www.cbbulletin.com/375788.aspx

* CBB Interview: Bruce Measure, New Chairman Of Northwest Power And Conservation Council
http://www.cbbulletin.com/375787.aspx

* USFWS, Foundation Issue $600,000 In Grants For Columbia River Estuary Habitat Work
http://www.cbbulletin.com/375786.aspx

* Study: Storm Runoff Contaminated With Home Pesticides Impacting Aquatic Food Supply
http://www.cbbulletin.com/375777.aspx

* NOAA Has New Fisheries Survey Vessel To Study West Coast Sea Life, Ocean Conditions
http://www.cbbulletin.com/375776.aspx

* USFWS Says ESA Protections For American Pika Not Warranted
http://www.cbbulletin.com/375775.aspx

* Interior Secretary Appoints Montanan As Senior Adviser For The Northwest
http://www.cbbulletin.com/375774.aspx

* Tribes Praise Proposed Increase In Funding For Treaty Rights-Based Natural Resource Protection
http://www.cbbulletin.com/375773.aspx
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* Basin Snowpack Forecast Showing 8th Lowest In Last 50 Years; Bonneville Projects $6 Million Loss

Snowpack totals are down across the entire Columbia-Snake river basin this winter as compared to long-term averages, and as a result so are hopes for a generous water supply this spring and summer for migrating salmon, power generators, irrigators and other users.

Today's "final" monthly water supply forecast from the NOAA National Weather Service's Northwest River Forecast Center says that the most likely runoff volume from January through July as measured at the lower Columbia's The Dalles Dam is expected to be 79.2 million acre feet, or 74 percent of the average annual flow during the 1971-2000 period. The average volume is 107.3 MAF. All of the unused runoff from the upper Columbia and the Snake and their tributaries flow past The Dalles.

Such an outcome would rank the 2010 water supply as the 43th best on a 50-year record dating back to 1961. A dry 2010 also would mean that runoff in 10 of the past 11 years has been below average.

The lowest volume recorded during that 50-year span is 53.29 MAF in 1977.

With a sparse snowpack promising low river flows, the Bonneville Power Administration is projecting a $6 million loss for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2010, according to information posted on the agency's web site. BPA markets power generated in the Columbia-Snake river hydrosystem.

And hydro and fisheries managers are already looking for ways to conserve water for later use.

With the winter half past and the Clearwater River drainage's snowpack still relatively thin, operators of Dworshak Dam in west-central Idaho tested lower outflows through the project's No. 1 unit in hopes of finding a level that would allow a safe, efficient operation of the turbine while helping preserve water in the reservoir. As of this week the reservoir behind Dworshak was 30 feet below the desired flood control maximum elevation.

"That has us very concerned," Steve Hall, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told the Technical Management Team Wednesday. The Corps operates Dworshak Dam.

For the time being, an outflow of 1,100 cubic feet per second through the unit seems to be working, Hall said.

"Historically we've used 1.3 kcfs" as the lowest flow possible for operating the unit, he said, adding the fact that the reservoir's low elevation may be enabling the lower flow operation.

The TMT, made up of federal, state and tribal fisheries and hydro managers, helps chart day-to-day operations at the basin's federal dams that might best benefit fish, including 13 salmon and steelhead stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Dworshak reservoir is an important source of cool water that is tapped, largely on call by the TMT, in late summer to bring down water temperatures in the Snake River for migrating salmon and steelhead.

"We want to maximize the potential for refill," Hall said.

Refill may be difficult. Through Tuesday, the various drainages feeding into the Clearwater and Salmon rivers hold snowpack that has a snow-water equivalence that is 63 percent of normal for that date and is down from 70 percent of average on Jan. 3, according to data retrieved by the Natural Resources Conservation Service from electronic measuring stations across the region. January is normally one of the primary snowpack building months.

And the NWRFC's final forecast predicts that runoff from the North Fork of the Clearwater, which fills the reservoir, will be also be at only 65 percent of the recent 30-year average. A Corps forecast completed Wednesday also pegs North Fork runoff at 65 percent of average.

Elsewhere in the system "we have been operating the projects conservatively" to store as much water as possible, BPA's Tony Norris said.

A warm January cooled the demand for electricity and, as a result, the demand for water to turn the hydro turbines.

"The load has been light," Norris said.

The winter so far is matching predictions that warmer and drier than normal weather might be experienced in the Northwest as a result of "El Nino" conditions that now reign in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

"There's not a perfect relationship," the NWRFC's Steve King said. Normal winters can result during El Nino years. But the existence of higher than normal sea surface temperatures, as well as other El Nino signals, in the equatorial Pacific do seem to tilt the odds toward warmer, drier Northwest winters.

The result can be the buildup of pressure ridges off the coast that produce a split flow of storms - moisture laden systems that normally pummel the Northwest in winter are diverted to the south and north.

"It's apparent that most of the energy is going south" into California and north "over the top of British Columbia, even skirting British Columbia," the NWRFC's Tom Fero said of weather patterns in recent days and weeks.

"El Nino seems to be settling itself in. I don't see any real change right now," Fero said of various weather forecasts considered in building the early bird water supply forecast.

"In most years February is still a pretty good accumulation month," Fero said. But because of the weather forecasts and unrelenting El Nino signs, the NWRFC made the forecast based on observed precipitation through January and assuming future precipitation would be 60 percent of normal for the month of February, but normal for March and beyond.

"This was one of those years it looked like it warranted it," Fero of the subpar February precipitation forecast.

Not a single one of the 28 subbasins or groupings of subbasins in the Columbia River basin region monitored by the NRCS have a snow-water equivalent even close to average for this point in time.

The highest SWEs in the basin are 85 percent of average through Feb. 3 in the Owyhee-Malheur (southeast Oregon-southwest Idaho-northern Nevada) river basins and Grand Ronde-Powder-Burnt-Imnaha river basins (northeast Oregon). Both areas have largely maintained those averages over the past month.

Also relatively close to average are the Yakima-Ahtanum (81 percent), the Chelan-Entiat-Wenatchee (84 percent) and tributaries upstream of the Methow River that feed into the Columbia in the United States (82 percent), all of which are in central Washington.

At the other end of the spectrum the Bitterroot and the lower Clark Fork River basin in western Montana and the lower Columbia-Hood River (Oregon) region now have only 56 percent of their normal SWE in snowpacks. The Willamette River drainage in western Oregon had only 49 percent of its average SWE through Feb. 3.

Central and southern Idaho snowpacks now are in the 63 to 71 percent of average range.

Likewise, not a single one of the several dozen dots (streamflow measuring stations) on the NWRFC's Columbia Basin forecast map indicates that an average or above average water supply is expected.

The final- forecast for Libby Dam reservoir inflows are 75 percent of average. Libby Dam, in northwestern Montana, is another important source of water for fish operations - Kootenai River white sturgeon in north Idaho and salmon and sturgeon far downstream in the lower Columbia.

The Feb. 5 forecast for Grand Coulee Dam on the mid-Columbia in central Washington is 81 percent of normal. It is fortified, relatively speaking, by anticipated water from British Columbia where forecasts for four locations are in the low 90 percent of average range.

The January-July water supply forecast for the lower Snake River's Lower Granite Dam is 64 percent of average.

El Nino is likely to hold sway for rest of the winter-spring season. Elevated sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific developed in June and peaked in December but last month seemed to ease though they remain well within in the El Nino range.

The Southern Oscillation Index, another climate phenomenon believed to signal El Nino/La Nina, also appeared to be trending toward neutral and an end of El Nino but suddenly surged negatively (toward El Nino) in mid-January, Kyle Dittmer told the TMT.

The SOI "all of a sudden deepened back into El Nino territory," said Dittmer, a hydrologist-meteorologist for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. That signal is manifested in a weakening of trade winds in the south Pacific.

"I would expect a continued deterioration of the forecast," said Dittmer, who said the region should begin storing as much water as possible for use during the dry summer months.

Among those uses are spinning hydro turbines to produce electricity.

"Without water, the federal hydro system is like a car with a huge engine but no gas," said Michael Milstein, BPA spokesman. "There is still time for the snowpack to build. Twice in the last 10 years, we have had 'miracle March' snows that brought the system back from the brink."

The expected lack of water is the sole reason for the negative revenue forecast, according to the power marketing agency. BPA's expenses are below start-of-year budgets and the price of the electricity it sells on the surplus market is about what was expected.

The agency met with interested parties to discuss its financial forecast at its regular Quarterly Business Review held Tuesday. For more information on the QBR and to see the first Quarter Review, go to http://www.bpa.gov/corporate/Finance/financialOverview

Early bird forecasts issued late each month are the center's best estimate of what next month's final forecast will look like and have available only about half the precipitation reports used in the monthly final. All available snow water equivalent values and observed runoff reports are used.

The NWRFC final forecasts, completed early each month in season, are produced in conjunction with the NRCS and other cooperating agencies. These finals are based on precipitation reports from more than 400 sites. Also included are snow water equivalent and observed runoff values from all available sites in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, western Montana, western Wyoming; northern Nevada and British Columbia.

The forecasts can be found at:
http://www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/

--------------------------------

* Effort Underway To Secure Federal Funding For Walla Walla River-Columbia River Water Exchange

Now in the 11th hour of an eight-year, $8 million study, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, along with the states of Oregon and Washington, local officials and the farm community, have started working with congressional leaders and the Obama Administration to secure funding for a $300 million project that would guarantee a source of water to irrigate crops while leaving flows in the Walla Walla River for migrating salmon and steelhead.

The project, modeled after the successful Umatilla Basin Project, calls for delivery of Columbia River water to the Walla Walla basin in exchange for irrigators leaving an equal amount of water in the river that would support fish before returning to the Columbia River.

The same concept in the Umatilla River has protected the agricultural economy in the Hermiston area while providing sufficient flows for the return of thousands of spring chinook salmon that had been extinct from the river for more than 70 years.

The Walla Walla River basin is within the homeland of the confederated tribes. Mill Creek, located in the basin, is where the CTUIR's Treaty of 1855 was signed, which ceded to the United States 6.4 million acres of the tribes' lands, but also reserved tribal treaty rights, which include the tribes' right to fish at all usual and accustomed areas.

For nearly a century, the Walla Walla River near Milton-Freewater in northeastern Oregon, and at lower stretches in Washington, ran dry, prohibiting the restoration of salmon in what is considered pristine headwaters.

Gary James, the manager of the CTUIR Fisheries Program, said that with the additional flows from the Columbia River the Walla Walla basin could produce even more spring chinook than the Umatilla River.

Every year since 2000 when the tribes reintroduced 300 adult spring chinook to the upper Walla Walla River, returns have increased in record numbers. In 2009, nearly 800 spring chinook (600 adults and 167 jacks) returned. This represents the highest count since adults began returning in 2004.

"We annually release a few hundred adults and last year about a quarter million smolts from the Carson Hatchery and each year we break our own record for returns," James said. "It's kind of exciting. When we complete the localized Walla Walla spring chinook hatchery above Milton-Freewater with a half million smolts released annually we'll expect even better returns.

"Although some salmon reintroduction success has been realized from various local cooperative efforts, the larger flow project will be essential to annually meet total fishery and agricultural needs in the Walla Walla basin," James said.

The study, which was supposed to have been completed in 2007, looked at two basic options -- the Columbia River exchange and a new dam and reservoir at Pine Creek north of Weston. Additionally, the study identified a number of other complementary alternatives, including irrigation efficiencies, the purchase of water rights from willing sellers and an aquifer recharge. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will make the final decision, but the region's players are confident they will agree that the Columbia River exchange is the best alternative.

The CTUIR, as the main project sponsor, selected the Columbia River exchange as the preferred alternative with the support of Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, Walla Walla Basin irrigators and the region's elected officials.

Also on board are U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Washington, who represent constituents in the basin, which includes land in both states.

Walden and McMorris-Rogers have been asked to carry the basin's request for some $300 million to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to authorize construction of the project in the Water Resources Development Act.

The Water Resources Development Act requires that the sponsoring agent, which up to this point has been the Confederated Tribes, pony up 35 percent -- or more than $100 million -- for construction costs.

However, the CTUIR, while seeking sponsoring partnerships with the states, will argue that the federal government, because it has not lived up to the obligations outlined in the Treaty of 1855, should cover at least a major portion of that percentage.

"It is important for everyone to remember that when the tribes managed the basin we managed for the next seven generations," said N. Kathryn Brigham, secretary of the Confederated Tribes and a member of the CTUIR Fish & Wildlife Committee.

"This did not occur when non-Indians took over the management and that is why the river went dry for 100 years and salmon runs were destroyed or reduced so much they were put on the federal ESA list," Brigham said. "That is why CTUIR has taken the position that the federal agencies need to step up and help us protect the in-stream flows in the Walla Walla basin."

It is ironic that, said Rick George, manager of the tribes' Environmental Planning and Rights Protection Program, the treaty negotiated in 1855 required the United States to protect streamflows to protect the tribes' right to fish.

"As the trustee, the United States did not make good on that legal obligation," he said. Instead, the federal government did not intervene as Oregon and Washington issued water rights to non-Indian irrigators, nor in the early 1900s when each state "decreed" those water rights to farmers.

Over the ensuing decades, rights were issued for more water than was actually available in the rivers, which drained the river dry each summer and destroyed spring chinook salmon runs. On top of that the federal government subsidized channeling and diking on the mainstem Walla Walla River which added injury to hurt for a river already desiccated by overappropriation.

Brigham said the tribes have a legal right to fish in the Walla Walla River where they once harvested salmon.

"We have put a lot of work into the Walla Walla Basin to bring fish back to make this happen again," she said. "We and others know you cannot have fish without water, therefore in-stream flows are very important and need to be protected."

Proponents of the project say this is an opportunity for the United States to remedy a century-old violation of the treaty to help both fish and farms.

Ron Brown of E. Brown & Sons, and orchardist in the Milton-Freewater area and president of the Walla Walla Watershed Alliance, said the federal government needs to fund the project.

"I'm confident because we've built such a reputation for working together," he said. "It's a model for the rest of the United States to see how we've worked together."

The use of all the water in the river became an issue of political concern once bull trout were listed in 1998 and steelhead in 1999 as threatened species in the Walla Walla River under the Endangered Species Act.

In 2000, three irrigation districts pledged to keep a minimum water flow in the river and signed an agreement to this effect with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2001, with 18 cubic feet per second of water left in the river, the Walla Walla did not run dry. This was the first time since irrigation began that the river did not run dry and biologists did not have to rescue fish stranded in potholes.

Brown said members of the Walla Walla Irrigation District are proud of the relationship they've forged with the Confederated Tribes over the last 10 years. Those efforts have seen a return of bull trout, steelhead and spring chinook salmon while keeping the agricultural economy viable.

"Saying that, it's really important that we move ahead with a bigger project that allows us to supplement the 30 percent we've put back in the river," Brown said. "As far as ag people, we feel it's a real necessity to make it better than what it is. We could probably do it now, but there will be drought years and it's important to get that additional water from the Columbia to supplement low flow years."

--------------------------

* Researchers In January Observe Increased Predation by Stellar Sea Lions On White Sturgeon

Ever-increasing levels of predation by Steller sea lions, and to some degree California sea lions, on white sturgeon appears to be a trend that is continuing upward in the waters below the lower Columbia River's Bonneville Dam.

Through January, sea lions have been observed taking more than 300 white sturgeon below the dam, said Robert Stansell of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dam. Stansell heads up research at the dam aimed at evaluating the impact that preying pinnipeds (sea lions and seals) have on salmon and steelhead that are headed upstream past Bonneville to spawn. The migrating fish include numerous stocks that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Researchers began observations from the top of the dam Jan. 8 five days per week and are seeing a few steelhead and a lot of sturgeon being snatched by the pinnipeds.

"We're ahead of the curve," Stansell said of an observed sturgeon death toll that is already nearly halfway to last year's record total, 758. Last year's total was tallied during observations from Jan. 13 into early May. California sea lions were seen taking 37 of the sturgeon with Steller sea lions taking the rest, mostly by the end of March.

The sturgeon taken last year were estimated to be from 2 to 7 feet long but most, 79.4 percent were fish 4 feet long or shorter, according to the study's final 2009 report.

"We've got February and March to go," Stansell said. Much of the feeding frenzy shifts to spring chinook salmon when the numbers of spawning fish begin to swell in later March and April. The Steller and California sea lions typically have left the area below Bonneville by the end of May.

The Steller sea lions have in recent year begun to congregate below the dam, which is at the head of the lower river's primary sturgeon spawning grounds. Bonneville Dam is located about 146 river miles upstream from the mouth of the river and the Pacific Ocean.

The Corps research began in 2002 to, primarily, chart the eating behaviors of California sea lions. In the first year of the study, no Steller sea lions were seen at the dam. But the number has grown over time with 17 Stellers in 2008 setting a record that was broken last year with the appearance of 26 Steller sea lions at the dam.

Already 16 Stellers have settled in below the dam this year. Observers have also seen five different California sea lions visiting the dam so far this year, but no more than two on any given day. The number of California sea lions visiting the dam grows as spring chinook run builds each year.

The high count since 2002 was 104 individual California sea lions in 2003, but the tally settled in the 70-80 range from 2005-2008 before falling to 54 last year. The 2009 season marked the first prolonged effort to trap and remove California sea lions from below the dam. Four were trapped and relocated to aquariums and 10 were trapped and euthanized.

The removals by the states of Oregon and Washington have been federally approved as a means of controlling impacts on listed salmon and steelhead stocks. In 2008 11 sea lions were effectively removed from the area. The authority was granted under Section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which allows the removal of individually identifiable pinnipeds that are having a significant impact on listed salmon.

The white sturgeon are not ESA listed, but are also not in the greatest shape. Surveys indicate white sturgeon are declining in number, prompting state fishery managers in Washington and Oregon to consider reducing this year's harvest by 20 percent to 50 percent. The Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife commissions both take up the topic at week's end.

"We're a little concerned" about the impact that sea lions may be having on the overall status of the lower Columbia white sturgeon population, Rick Hargrave of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said.

The state agencies last month started hazing the sea lions from boats in hope of reducing the predation activities.

Lethal removal of Steller sea lions is not an option, since they are protected under both the ESA and the MMPA. The eastern population of Steller sea lions, of which the Columbia River pinnipeds are a part, are listed as threatened under the ESA.

But a recovery plan completed in 2008 for both the eastern and endangered western populations says that perhaps ESA protections may no longer be necessary for the eastern group, which has been growing at a rate of about 3 percent in recent years.

"The primary action in the plan is to initiate a status review for the eastern DPS and consider removing it from the federal List of Endangered Wildlife and Plants," according to the recovery plan completed by NOAA Fisheries Service's Alaska Region.

"We expect to initiate a review under Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act of the status of the eastern distinct population segment of Steller sea lions in the very near future," Lisa Rotterman, Steller sea lion coordinator for the Alaska Region, said this week. Such a review is called a "5-year review."

"We will begin this process with the publication of a Federal Register notice notifying the public of the initiation of the 5-year review and requesting relevant, new information on the listed species, and threats to that species," she said.

The states meanwhile took an early opportunity to test their trapping skills. In May of last year a California sea lion was seen hitching a ride on a tug boat through Bonneville Dam's navigation lock and has spent the summer, fall and early winter above the dam.

"C697 was subsequently observed on many days after that either in the near dam forebay near the Bradford Island fishway exit, the Bridge of the Gods, Stevenson, and even up at The Dalles Dam spillway area. As of the date of this report, the last reported sighting upstream of Bonneville was on October 19," according to the 2009 final report.

State officials did manage to trap the marine mammal recently and transport him down to the river mouth.

------------------------------

* Adaptive Management Plan 'Trigger' System Gets Test Drive With Upper Columbia Spring Chinook

The newly devised Adaptive Management Implementation Plan's triggering system got a test drive this fall and winter with an evaluation of whether the endangered Upper Columbia River spring chinook salmon stock had dipped to levels that require revival actions beyond those already taking place.

They had not, according to a Jan. 22 memo from federal "action" agencies to the NOAA Fisheries Service.

"As you can see from the enclosed analysis, the assumptions that must be made to trip an abundance and trend-based trigger in 2011 are such that it is reasonable to conclude that tripping this trigger in 2010 or 2011 is unlikely," according to the letter signed by Bonneville Power Administration CEO Steve Wright for his agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation. The Corps and Bureau operate dams in the Federal Columbia River Power System and BPA markets power generated at the dams.

"Therefore we conclude that rapid response actions aimed at improving the near-term status of this ESU are not necessary at this time," the memo said.

"We also point out that the Action Agencies are implementing a very aggressive habitat program in the upper Columbia region, based on RPA actions 34 and 34, focused specifically on improvements for Upper Columbia spring chinook and steelhead."

The "reasonable and prudent alternative" actions are outlined in NOAA Fisheries' May 2008 FCRPS biological opinion, a 10-year plan for assuring the federal action - the dams' existence and operation" -- avoids jeopardizing any of 13 Columbia-Snake river basin salmon and steelhead stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Over this past summer -- during an Obama Administration review of the BiOp -- the AMIP was developed to, among other things, shore up the plan's contingency planning processes. Additional "triggers" were developed as responses to unexpected declines in adult abundance and/or environmental disasters or environmental degradation (either biological or environmental) in combination with preliminary abundance indicators.

The AMIP was made public Sept. 15, and on Sept. 25 a NOAA Fisheries memo was sent to the action agencies saying that, "had the Early Warning Indicator been in place prior to September 2009, it would have been tripped in 2008 for the upper Columbia River (UCR) evolutionarily significant unit."

That trigger is tripped if the four-year mean abundance of naturally produced UCR spring chinook in any year falls below 1,125 fish. It did in 2008 with a mean abundance of 1,100, a four-year average dragged down by poor returns in 2006 (962 fish) and 2007 (722). The wild spring chinook escapement above Rock Island Dam on the mid-Columbia in central Washington was much better in 2008 at 1,312 adults.

But with an early warning trigger tripped, the AMIP calls for an evaluation of the likelihood of triggering the "Significant Decline Trigger" in one of the next two years and if additional actions are warranted to further protect the species.

If tripping the Significant Decline Trigger (a 4-year abundance mean below 450 fish for UCR spring chinook) seems likely, a review of potential "Rapid Response Actions" would be initiated. Rapid Response Actions to improve fish survival could include additional hydro operations, increased predator controls, certain harvest controls and safety-net hatcheries.

But the near-term future looks improved for the Upper Columbia stock, according to the action agencies' response. The 2009 return of natural-origin adults rose to 1,861 and lifted the 4-year mean abundance to 1,214.

The AMIP trigger "dry run" also involved a look into the future, as would have been required had the triggers been in effect in 2008.

The action agency memo noted that the 2009 return included 6,003 "jack" salmon counted at Rock Island, a total that is nearly six times higher than the most recent 10-year average. Jacks are 3-year-olds that return after only one year in the Pacific. The strength of the jack return is considered a signal of the potential strength of the future return of their broodmates as 4- and 5-year-olds.

The action agency memo also noted that the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee recently released 2010 spring chinook return forecasts that predict the biggest "upriver" spring chinook return on record. The predicted Upper Columbia wild spring chinook return is 5,700 fish.

Additionally, NOAA Fisheries' own Northwest Fisheries Science Center said that 2008 ocean conditions encountered by juvenile outmigrants were the best since 1998. That's the year this year's 4-year-old returns would have left freshwater. The NWFSC predicted 2010 and 2011 upriver spring chinook returns would rival those of 2001 and 2002, the two best returns on a record dating back to 1938.

"Given those indicators, we conclude that it is unlikely that this ESU will drop below the abundance-based Significant Decline threshold in 2010 or 2011," the action agencies' memo says.

The Upper Columbia River spring chinook returns slumped severely in the mid-to-late 1990s, ranging from an all-time low of 89 wild fish in 1995 to 604 in 1997. The return totaled 216 natural origin returns to Rock Island in 1999, the year the stock was listed as endangered. That designation was reaffirmed in 2005. The salmonid stock is one of only two in Columbia River basin with the endangered -- in danger of extinction - designation. The other is Snake River sockeye salmon.

"Those are the numbers we want to avoid going back to," NOAA Fisheries' Ritchie Graves of the 1990s returns. The AMIP's specific numerical thresholds are intended to head off such steep population slumps through increased mitigation efforts.

The triggers are established at points where fish numbers fall below the 20th percentile (early warning) and 10th percentile (significant decline) of historic abundance data.

"We thought those were fairly sensitive," said Graves, FCRPS branch chief for NOAA Fisheries Hydropower Division.

There are 11 other salmon and steelhead stocks in the basin listed as threatened -- "likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.."

The upper Columbia spring chinook ESU includes all naturally spawned populations in all river reaches accessible to salmon in Columbia River tributaries upstream of the Rock Island Dam and downstream of Chief Joseph Dam in central Washington, excluding the Okanogan River. Six artificial propagation programs are considered to be part of the ESU because they have been determined to be no more divergent relative to the local natural populations than what would be expected between closely related natural populations within the ESU, according to NOAA Fisheries.

For more information go to:
http://www.salmonrecovery.gov/homepage.aspx

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* BiOp Litigation: Judge Redden Now Weighs Decision On Status Of Adaptive Management Plan

An overtime legal debate came to a close late last week with the federal government reiterating its stance that it can supplement the official record in the long-running lawsuit over the legitimacy of its Columbia-Snake river hydro system "BiOp."

And the plaintiffs stated once again that such supplementation would be a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

Both briefs were filed Jan. 29 in Portland's U.S. District Court. Now Judge James A. Redden will pick a winner in that procedural argument and move on to deciding whether NOAA Fisheries Service's Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion complies with the Endangered Species Act.

Redden has twice before declared FCRPS BiOps illegal, tossing out the 2000 version and its replacement, which was completed in 2004. The ESA requires that NOAA Fisheries prepare the biological analyses to judge whether federal actions, such as the operation of the dams, jeopardize the survival of protected salmon and steelhead stocks. There are 13 such ESA-listed stocks in the Columbia-Snake river basin.

The latest FCRPS BiOp was completed in May of 2008 after a 2 -year consultation-collaboration that included involved federal agencies, as required by the ESA, and Columbia basin states and tribes, as required by Redden when he ordered a remand to build a replacement for the 2004 BiOp.

The new BiOp was soon challenged by the state of Oregon and a coalition of fishing and conservation groups led by the National Wildlife Federation. They claim that NOAA Fisheries' jeopardy analysis violates the ESA and that the BiOp prescriptions don't do enough to help beleaguered salmon stocks.

The federal agencies say the restoration strategy is legal and the most ambitious ever devised.

Yet Redden had reason to pause last March at the close of oral arguments, which are usually the last words before a lawsuit is decided on the merits of legal arguments presented to that point. He questioned whether planned tributary and estuary habitat enhancement strategies encased in the BiOp were reasonably certain to occur, as the ESA requires, and would bring the benefits assumed in the biological analysis. The actions are intended to mitigate for negative impacts that the hydro system has on salmon and steelhead.

A month later the judge called the litigants to a conference discuss his concerns and won the commitment of the federal defendants, Oregon, the coalition and the Nez Perce Tribe, which sides with the plaintiffs, to jointly explore all "possible legal avenues" for resolving the lawsuit.

The judge on May 1 received a request from the Obama Administration that it be allowed to review the BiOp, which was developed by the prior administration. Redden OK'd the request and in a May 18 note outlined what he felt was wrong with the BiOp and what might be done to correct it.

The administration announced on Sept. 15 that it had determined that the science underlying the BiOp is fundamentally sound, but that there are uncertainties in some predictions regarding the future condition of the listed species. As a result, the administration developed an "insurance policy for the fish" as a new BiOp implementation tool. The "Adaptive Management Implementation Plan" added, among other things, contingency measures to be implemented in case of a significant decline in fish abundance.

The most recent round of briefing has been focused on whether the AMIP and its building blocks can properly be considered by the judge as he weighs the legality of the BiOp.

Federal attorneys say the judge can simply consider the information in the AMIP and support documents prepared this past summer as part of the administrative record in the lawsuit.
 
". it could do so by identifying one of the Ninth Circuit's exceptions to record review" required by the APA, according to a brief filed Jan. 29 by the U.S. Department of Justice that cites appellate court precedent.

Or, the federal defendants could "proceed to file a Notice of Filing Supplemental Administrative Records on February 26, 2010," the federal brief said.

"The third option would involve the Court entering the proposed order for a limited voluntary remand; Federal Defendants would comply with the terms of that proposed order, including supplementing the administrative records, and present the Court with a notice of completion of remand within ten days."

In a brief also filed Jan. 29, the plaintiffs say the law is clear - the administrative record can only include information used to make the decision in question.

". under unambiguous Ninth Circuit precedent, each of the proposals advanced by the government is an improper attempt to use the AMIP as a post-hoc justification for the only final agency action before the Court - the 2008 BiOp," the response filed jointly by the plaintiffs. It responds to a brief filed jointly Jan. 15 by three Northwest states and six tribes in support of the federal arguments.

"The law, however, plainly requires a final agency action to stand or fall on its own merit in light of the record before the agency at the time the decision was made, not some later effort to shore up the decision," according to the brief filed last Friday for the plaintiffs by Earthjustice.

"In the absence of either a decision by federal defendants to reinitiate consultation, reconsider the 2008 BiOp, prepare a new record, and make a new decision (on the one hand), or a commitment to engage plaintiffs in substantive settlement discussions that are successful (on the other), the only lawful path forward to reach a resolution of this case is for the Court to decide the pending motions for summary judgment against the 2008 BiOp based on the record for that decision," the Earthjustice brief concludes.

"While the federal agencies' continued refusal to actually reconsider or in any way change the 2008 BiOp and make a new decision that complies with the law is frustrating and makes it tempting to employ some 'expedient' path to allow the Court to consider the AMIP and its supporting documents now, this would be a short-sighted and ultimately unlawful approach."

Federal attorneys argue that the AMIP is intended to implement the existing commitments in NOAA's BiOP, not expand legal arguments about the 2008 document's legality.

"Importantly, Federal Defendants are not seeking a voluntary remand of ten days to conduct some new process, but rather to formalize and conclude an exhaustive review that was inclusive of all of the underlying biological and legal issues, just as Plaintiffs request," the Jan. 29 federal brief says.

"The Administration evaluated all of the Court's concerns and although this did not result in the substantive changes the Plaintiffs desired, it nevertheless considered each issue and provided its reasoning and conclusions. See AMIP, Appendix 1 at 7-23 (discussing spring and summer spill; summer flow augmentation, habitat methodologies).

"The AMIP was the culmination of careful and intensive consideration of these issues with the assistance of both independent and agency experts. Plaintiffs cannot pretend that a thorough reconsideration of the issues did not already occur," the federal brief says.

". the agencies are not just 'piling on evidence' for the sole purpose of bolstering a litigation position, but rather seek for the Court to recognize the end-product of a structured process in which the new Administration sought, with an open-mind, to determine whether the Action Agencies had sufficiently fulfilled their substantive obligations under" the ESA.

"Had the Administration reached a different result, that information would have been presented equally to this Court."

"There is no dispute, or even a question, that this new political leadership engaged in this process in good faith and brought a tremendous of amount expertise and insight to bear on each aspect of its review," the federal brief concludes.

"The fact that this Administration chose not to withdraw this BiOp is precisely the reason the Plaintiffs urge this Court to ignore the results of that process. But dissatisfaction with the Administration's review is not a legitimate procedural ground for objection."

For more information and documents related to BiOp litigation go to www.salmonrecovery.gov

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* Season's First Chinook Caught As Vanguard Of Expected Return Of 550,000 'Springers'

The first known spring chinook salmon catch of the year was reported Feb. 1 in the Columbia River off Davis Bar, west of Vancouver, Wash., according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's "Weekender Report."

So began the 2010 spring chinook fishery, which could promise to be one of the best on record. More than 550,000 "springers" are expected to return to the Columbia this year so anglers are already prospecting for early arrivals.

The preseason forecast includes a return of 470,000 "upriver" spring chinook, fish that are bound for hatcheries and tributary spawning grounds above Bonneville Dam in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Such a return would be highest on a record dating back to 1938.

The 2010 upriver spring chinook forecast includes 272,000 Snake River fish (73,400 wild) and 57,300 upper Columbia spring chinook (5,700 wild), with the remainder of the run comprised of spring chinook returning to mid-Columbia tributaries.

Columbia River anglers may retain hatchery-reared spring chinook under last year's rules until fishery managers from Washington and Oregon meet to establish new fishing seasons for the remainder of 2010. That meeting, which is open to the public, is set to begin at 10 a.m. Feb. 18 in Oregon City, 211 Tumwater Drive.

The bulk of the spring chinook run isn't expected to arrive until mid-March. Only 3 chinook have been counted so far this year passing over Bonneville's fish ladders.

Meanwhile, southwest Washington have other options:

-- Winter steelhead: Anglers fishing The Dalles Pool have been averaging one to 1.5 steelhead per rod, although 70 percent of the fish were wild and had to be released. Meanwhile, late-run winter steelhead are beginning to move toward the hatcheries on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers where they were raised. The fishery for late-run fish tends to peak in late February and early March, although some late-run steelhead are already beginning to show up in the catch.

-- White sturgeon: Catch rates of legal-size sturgeon have picked up above Bonneville Dam in recent days, likely triggered by warming water temperatures. Sturgeon fishing in the lower river remains slow, but that could change if smelt return to the Cowlitz River in greater numbers than expected. Sturgeon regulations for all areas of the lower Columbia River listed in the Fishing in Washington rule pamphlet will remain in effect through February. New seasons will be set by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon at the Feb. 18 meeting.

Smelt: Another poor return is projected, WDFW is limiting the Cowlitz River sport fishery for smelt to four days this winter. The Cowlitz will be open for smelt dipping Feb. 6, 13, 20 and 27, between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. with a 10-pound daily limit. Sport fishing for smelt on the mainstem Columbia River opened seven days per week, 24-hours day, starting Jan. 1, although anglers catch very few fish there.

Commercial boats on the Columbia landed about 2,700 pounds of smelt in January, but the catch dropped off during the last few days of fishing. There have been no reports of commercial landings of smelt so far this month.

Fisheries managers say that, as of Jan. 29, conditions were just right for smelt migration with water temperature in the lower river being at/or just over 41 degrees F.

In Oregon, fisheries managers announced this week there will be a sport fishing season for spring chinook salmon on the Deschutes River beginning April 1, 2010.

According to Rod French, district fish biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, managers are predicting a return of 2,000 wild spring chinook to the Deschutes River this year. This compares to last year's projected return of 400 wild fish, which prompted the cancellation of the 2009 spring sport fishing season.

"When the wild chinook populations are low, we can't afford any incidental catch and release mortality from anglers targeting hatchery fish," French said. "This year, however, we're expecting an excellent return of wild fish along with a strong return of hatchery fish for anglers to keep".

Here is a summary of the temporary rules adopted by ODFW:

The Deschutes River from the mouth at the Interstate 84 Bridge upstream to Sherars Falls is open to angling for trout, steelhead and adipose fin-clipped chinook salmon from April 1 to July 31.

-- The catch limit is two adult adipose fin-clipped salmon per day, and five adipose fin-clipped jack salmon per day.

-- All non-adipose fin-clipped chinook salmon must be released unharmed.

-- It is unlawful to continue angle from Sherars Falls downstream to the upper railroad trestle after taking a daily bag limit of two adult chinook salmon.

The fishery below Sherars Falls is extremely popular because the high catch rates offer a good opportunity to catch a Columbia River spring chinook from the bank. In recent years, an annual average of over 7,000 anglers have participated in the fishery.

In Idaho, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission heard some encouraging news about the coming salmon seasons.

The pre-season spring and summer chinook salmon run forecast predicts about 160,000 adult hatchery fish and almost 30,000 wild fish to cross Lower Granite Dam, Idaho Fish and Game fisheries head Ed Schriever told commissioners.

The forecast predicts the bulk of the fish will head up the Snake and Salmon rivers, enough are expected to run up the Clearwater River to support fisheries there as well. Fish and Game expects to propose chinook salmon seasons on the same waters in Idaho and in the boundary water fished in recent years, Schriever said.

Last year's pre-season forecast predicted about 128,600 hatchery origin and almost 23,000 wild chinook would return to Idaho. Only about 60,000 adults returned, but an unusually high number of almost 55,000 returning jacks suggest good ocean survival of the fish that will be returning to Idaho this year.

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* CBB Interview: Bruce Measure, New Chairman Of Northwest Power And Conservation Council

A newfound regional momentum in both the fish and wildlife and power arenas needs to be encouraged and nurtured by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, says Bruce Measure, newly elected NPCC chair.

During a recent interview the Montanan discussed his views about the Council's role, past and future, and offered a "state of the Columbia-Snake River basin" perspective.

The Council was created by Congress, via the 1980's Northwest Power Act, to give the citizens of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington a stronger voice in determining the future of key resources common to all four states -- specifically, electricity generated by the Columbia River Basin hydropower dams and the fish and wildlife affected by those operations.

The Council was charged with developing and regularly updating a 20-year electric power plan that will ensure an adequate and reliable energy at the lowest economic and environmental cost to the Northwest. It must also regularly update its fish and wildlife program, which is intended to help protect and enhance fish and wildlife affected by the federal Columbia-Snake hydrosystem.

The latter task was completed last year with program amendments that included strategies stemming from a federal salmon and steelhead biological opinion for the hydro system and from so-called "Fish Accords" or memorandums of agreement between federal agencies and some Northwest states and tribes. The BiOp calls for fish and wildlife actions intended to improve the lot of salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act. The accords promise funding for state and tribal fish and wildlife projects.

The Policy Working Group was part of the 2 1/2-year collaborative effort that helped build NOAA Fisheries' 2008 hydro system BiOp. The collaboration was required by U.S. District Court Judge James A. Redden who in May 2005 declared the 2004 FCRPS BiOp illegal and ordered that it be reworked. It was replaced in May 2008.

The PWG process involved upper level representatives of at least four federal agencies, the four states and most of the Columbia basin tribes. It was also forum where discussions began that led to the Fish Accords.

Meanwhile, the production of a Sixth Northwest Power Plan is in the final stages. The Council is scheduled to make a final decision Wednesday on the new plan, which envisions that the Northwest can meet more than 80 percent of the additional electricity requirement over the next 20 years with energy efficiency. It says the region can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the region's power supply by not building as many new power plants that burn fossil fuels. However, the Council continues to work on the plan, and the decision may be put off until the March meeting.

Both the power and fish and wildlife processes were new and improved, says Measure, who was appointed to the Council by Gov. Brian Schweitzer January 2005, and was elected chairman at the Council's January, 2010 meeting.

Before serving on the Council, Measure was a practicing attorney in Kalispell since 1988. Prior to 1988 he was employed in the forest industry and served as vice president of the East Side Forest Practices Committee in 1984 and 1985.

Measure served in the Montana House of Representatives from 1991 to 1993. He was a member of the House Natural Resources, Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Judiciary committees.

Before joining the Council, Measure was president of the Flathead Electric Cooperative Board of Trustees. His undergraduate degree in political science and his law degree are from the University of Montana.

CBB: What do you see as the Council's major challenges or goals in the next couple of years?

MEASURE: There is significantly more collaborative, interactive work going on in the region in the areas that the Council operates than what I saw four or five years ago. Some of this is the result of the PWG process, which is the collaborative effort on the part of a number of sovereigns that resulted in the Fish Accords. The Council's power plan that is about to emerge in a month or two has been a much more collaborative effort than what I saw in the first power plan I was involved with, the Fifth Power Plan.

I'm really excited about this change in the region. And I think that my concern as chairman is that we make sure the Council is on board with that change and able to enhance this collaboration. We need to make sure Council projects and programs dovetail nicely with that collaborative spirit so we can accomplish as much as possible.

That's what I perceive as my job during the next year. So one of the major challenges, of course, is making sure that this power plan that emerges in the next month or two is useful to the region, well recognized and provides some background for the region to move forward.

CBB: How would you explain to Northwest residents the role and importance of the power plan when it comes to regional energy development, energy issues, and fish and wildlife restoration?

MEASURE: The plan is going to give the energy companies and various groups, individuals, businesses, and industries, an idea of how the region is proposing to move forward with energy development, and meet either load growth needs or meet our energy needs in ways that don't require load growth, as conservation potentially will do.

CBB: Have you sensed a buy-in in the region for the strategies outlined in the draft Sixth Power Plan?

MEASURE: I went to a number of the public meetings, at each level of input. My friends from the utility business had particular things that they wanted to talk about, that they strongly support and that they strongly disagree with. The same with my friends in the general public and small businesses.

The one thing that is resoundingly supported by all of those groups is the conservation goals that are in place as a part of the Council plan. That, I think, is very important.

This country has always prided itself on being innovative and being able to find ways to meet its needs. People in the Pacific Northwest are very optimistic about their ability to do that. I saw that over and over. So I think there is buy-in, at least in that area.

And I perceive the same type of buy-in with the fish and wildlife plan, the way we went about integrating the Accord process. Some were really skeptical about that. People were skeptical about whether or not the Council could or should integrate the Fish Accord process into the [the Council fish and wildlife] program.

When I first started going to those meetings one of the things that I foresaw as important was that the Council could be a great tool to implement any accords. Of course they weren't called the Accords at the time.

Whatever you do, in order to have public buy-in, to have the majority of the folks in the region support this, you need to allow the governance structure to be overseen by something that's perceived as a public process, available to all. And they were talking about how, maybe we should revive the Three Sovereigns, or maybe we should do this or that.

Of course everybody had their turf to protect and were very defensive about it. I said right from the beginning, why don't you let the Council do it, it's in a position to do that. It has Congress' blessing, most of the time it has the public's trust, and it has visibility, much more so than any of the agencies will ever have at that particular level of management, and certainly more than state government.

So I think the Council is a good vehicle for that.

Who did they choose when they finally came up with their plan? The Council certainly has to oversee those Accord projects and make sure that they meet scientific review.

I think that people understand that and are starting to accept it now that we've had a few Accord projects go through the process. I think people are pleased. Those who perceive themselves as paying for these projects see it as a great check on the system. People that are beneficiaries of the project dollars see it as an opportunity to gain credibility with both the region and others.

CBB: Has the Council's role changed because of its integration with these other groups and processes?

MEASURE: That's been my goal all along and I think we're moving closer toward that as we go along. Those that work with us are experiencing this integration. And I would bet that those groups who are feeling a little left out are going to see evidence of this new integration as they participate regionally, as well as individually.

But that's not to take away from local decision making. The idea of subbasin planning and other projects that the Council endorses under its program is to let people on the ground, in the particular areas they live, make decisions surrounding their fish recovery efforts and other efforts. The same is true of the suggestions that were made in the power plan regarding conservation goals. What fits for Seattle City Light or Puget Sound is not necessarily going to fit over in Browning, Mont., or at Glacier Electric. I think the Council has allowed for that type of diversity in the fish and wildlife plan, and has encouraged diversity, and hopefully the final language in the power plan will do the same.

And I think people will find that approach a good fit with the overall strategy the Council has undertaken.

CBB: You cite considerable momentum in collaboration in the world of Columbia River Basin fish and wildlife restoration. Are folks really learning to "just get along? And what are the prospects for success?

MEASURE: I'm not a biologist. But there are still a number of efforts that, depending on who you listen to, may be counterproductive to each other. You have the battles of wild fish vs. hatchery fish. You have the battles over barging vs. spill. These are still extant and they're going to remain that way.

I think there's a lot of things like that out there. There's still a lot of harmonization that has to take place to get everybody on the same page. Three years ago I was more skeptical of salmon recovery. I saw an awful lot of infighting for turf and funds and other things. But I've gotten to know a lot of these people a lot better. I am just not cynical enough to believe some of them would put their own programs ahead of the species. Most of these people are committed.

I've always been an optimist, a realistic optimistic, I guess. And given that, I see the potential. But, boy, are we going to have to change our ways. There are those who feel entitled to continued expansion and resource exploitation without boundaries. You can't have both. You can't exploit a resource that way and expect dependent species to remain constant or not disappear.

CBB: In the past there has been a perception, maybe even a reality, of an upriver/downriver split on the Council. Is that a thing of the past?

MEASURE: I think Montana has to be diligent -- any of the upriver interests have to be diligent because the demographics are against us. So we have to be pugnacious, but that doesn't mean we have to be unreasonable. And from Montana's perspective I don't think we have been.

What I see, at least from my state's perspective, is that we are going to remain vigilant about protecting what we have. But I don't think that's ever prevented us from assisting the other states and the other entities, the other sovereigns, in moving forward with the plans that were sound and well balanced and provided us protection as well.

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* USFWS, Foundation Issue $600,000 In Grants For Columbia River Estuary Habitat Work

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation this week announced that seven projects designed to benefit salmon, sea birds and native plants have been selected to receive a total of $600,000 from the Columbia River Estuarine Coastal Fund.

The seven projects will help restore tidal wetland and spruce swamp habitats, control invasive plant species and improve the quality of habitat for seabirds, wildlife and fish throughout the Columbia River watershed.

The individual grants range from $37,000 to $200,000. Grant recipients will bring about $600,000 in additional cash or in-kind contributions to their projects, meaning that a total of more than $1.2 million will be added to conservation efforts.

"These projects will mitigate the environmental impacts of illegal dumping and bring additional benefits to the fish, wildlife and communities that were affected," said Robyn Thorson, director of the USFWS' Pacific Region. "It took the work of many people to ensure that the fines that followed negligent pollution went straight back to the impacted resource, and today's announcement is a testament to their diligence."

The Columbia River Estuarine Coastal Fund was established in 2004 to receive community service payments ordered by court settlements resulting from violations of federal pollution laws. In total, 30 projects have been funded to date through the program.

"The recovery process for several key species will surge as a result of these grants," said Jeff Trandahl, NFWF executive director. "Simultaneously, more citizens of the watershed than ever before will be engaged in the restoration effort, providing a 'win-win' for wildlife."

The projects selected to receive grant funds are:

Youngs River Island Habitat Restoration
Grantee: Columbia Land Trust
Grant Award: $37,000 / Match: $23,000

The project will result in the restoration of 80 acres of intertidal scrub-shrub and emergent wetland habitat in the lower Columbia River estuary in Oregon. Grant funds will be used to breach a dike, remove non-native invasive plants, plant 4,750 native trees and shrubs, and monitor the results on Haven Island in the Youngs River watershed near the mouth of the Columbia River in northwestern Oregon. The project responds to a variety of established plans and priority conservation needs of the Youngs Bay Watershed and the Columbia River Estuary.

Lower Grays River Tidal Wetland Restoration
Grantee: Columbia Land Trust
Grant Award: $96,000 / Match: $99,000

The project will reconnect approximately 50 acres of intertidal wetlands, including tidal channel habitat, and implement actions to improve habitat function over 30 acres in the Grays River in Washington. This project will result in construction of approximately 2,000 feet of tidal channel, dike removal, invasive plant species control on 30 acres, and planting of 13,500 native plants to restore spruce swamp, intertidal scrub-shrub and riparian shoreline habitat.

Germany Creek Conservation and Restoration - Phase II
Grantee: Columbia Land Trust
Grant Award: $95,000 / Match: $108,000

The project will restore 25 acres of in-stream, floodplain, and riparian habitat and permanently protect 30.63 acres of floodplain, riparian, and upland habitat on Germany Creek in Cowlitz County, Washington. The acquisition will build upon 155 acres of already conserved habitat on Germany Creek extending 1.5 miles upstream from its confluence with the Columbia River.

Nelson Creek Restoration Phase I
Grantee: Columbia Land Trust
Grant Award: $72,000 / Match: $157,856

Columbia Land Trust will implement a comprehensive restoration project in Washington on 180 acres to restore Sitka spruce swamp, riparian corridors, and tidal sloughs and channels. The project will benefit waterfowl, shorebirds, salmonids, endangered deer, and other faunal groups. Project partners include Willapa Hills Audubon Society, Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge staff and Lower Columbia College.

Miami Wetlands Enhancement
Grantee: Tillamook Estuaries Partnership
Grant Award: $198,938 / Match: $100,000

The project will enhance 22 acres of rare tidal spruce swamp and 30 acres of uplands in the Tillamook Bay estuary in Oregon. The project will improve wildlife habitats and habitat for five salmon species, improve aquatic habitat and wetland connections to the Miami River, restore the historic character of the site vegetation, and permanently protect 18 acres. The project goal is to restore historic wetland function, emphasizing habitat conditions for anadromous salmon and trout.

Ridgefield Restoration and Watershed Coordination
Grantee: Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
Grant Award: $55,360 / Match: $84,280

This project will continue on-the-ground long-term restoration of floodplain habitats on the Ridgefield Refuge and associated Gee Creek Watershed and will continue watershed partnerships and outreach within the community. The Washington project includes surveying 737 acres of floodplain habitat for invasive plants and controlling key invasive plants, planting 1,340 native plants within 4 acres of riparian and oak woodland habitat, and engaging community volunteers in restoration efforts.

Nehalem Watershed Conservation Planning
Grantee: The Nature Conservancy
Grant Award: $63,028 / Match: $26,312

The Nature Conservancy will conduct a conservation planning effort for the Nehalem watershed in Washington to identify the most effective conservation actions to improve native fish, wildlife and habitat resources in this biologically important area. The conservation actions identified in this plan will help coordinate activities to help recover coastal coho and chinook salmon while also benefiting a broad array of other species. As a result of this project, local conservation groups, potential funders, and other stakeholder groups will have a clear idea of where to concentrate conservation efforts in the watershed and will have built partnerships to implement that coordinated conservation vision.

The fund was established through the collaboration of the NFWF, the USFWS and the U.S. Attorney's Office for Oregon and the Western District of Washington. An initial $1.2 million in payments to start the fund came from fines imposed on shipping companies that illegally discharged oily waste into the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency's Criminal Investigative Division and the Washington Department of Ecology investigated the cases.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Portland, Oregon successfully prosecuted three foreign shipping companies charged in 2004 with violating federal pollution laws. Tipped off by whistleblowers, inspectors from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Washington's Department of Ecology conducted on-board investigations and found evidence of intentional discharges of oily waste from these ships.

The shipping companies ultimately pleaded guilty to felony violations of environmental laws and were ordered to pay criminal fines and develop comprehensive environmental compliance plans to prevent future violations. A significant part of the criminal fines in each case was suspended on the condition that the suspended amounts be made as community service payments to the NFWF for conservation and restoration projects in the areas impacted by the discharges.

Among the largest community service payments ever allocated to restoration in the Pacific Northwest, the grants are intended to directly benefit the natural resources impacted by the pollution.

The fund was established as a grant-making program for projects in and along the lower Columbia River below Bonneville Dam, and the coasts of Oregon (south to and including Tillamook Bay) and Washington (north to and including Willapa Bay). The foundation will oversee implementation of the grants.

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* Study: Storm Runoff Contaminated With Home Pesticides Impacting Aquatic Food Supply

Pyrethroids, among the most widely-used home pesticides, are winding up in California rivers at levels toxic to some stream-dwellers, possibly endangering the food supply of fish and other aquatic animals, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Southern Illinois University.

Pyrethroid insecticides, commonly used in California to kill ants and other insect pests around the home, have been found in street runoff and in the outflow from sewage treatment plants in the Sacramento area. The insecticide ended up in two urban creeks, the San Joaquin River and a 20-mile stretch of the American River, traditionally considered to be one of the cleanest rivers in the region.

Although the pyrethroid levels were low - around 10-20 parts per trillion - they were high enough to kill a test organism similar to a small shrimp that is used to assess water safety.

"These indicator organisms are 'lab rat' species that are very sensitive, but if you find something that is toxic to them, it should be a red flag that there could be potential toxicity to resident organisms in the stream," said study leader Donald P. Weston, UC Berkeley adjunct professor of integrative biology.

Fish would not be affected by such low levels, Weston said, but aquatic larvae that the fish eat, such as the larvae of mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies, could be, and should be studied.

Weston first began looking at pyrethroid levels in streams bordering farm fields in 2004, and reported levels in some creek sediments high enough to kill the shrimp-like amphipod, an organism used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as an indicator of the health of freshwater sediment. He subsequently found even higher pyrethroid levels in the sediments of urban streams, contributing to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation's decision in August 2006 to re-evaluate some 600 pyrethroid products on the market, a process that is still underway.

The new study is the first published work to document toxic levels in the water column as well as in the sediments at the bottom of streams.

"This work opens a whole new can of worms and will probably substantially expand that re-evaluation," Weston said.

Weston's study, conducted with Michael J. Lydy (LIE-dee) of SIU in Carbondale and funded by the Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program of the California Environmental Protection Agency, appears online today (Tuesday, Feb. 2) in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Pyrethroids have been around for decades, but seldom were used until organophosphates like chlorpyrifos and diazinon were banned for homeowner use in 2001 and 2004, respectively. Since then, pyrethroid insecticide use has skyrocketed, while studies in urban streams have found levels toxic to sensitive "indicator" species in California's Central Valley as well as in Texas and Illinois. The crustacean Hyalella azteca, for example, is paralyzed and killed at levels of 2 parts per trillion.

The main sources appear to be readily available insecticides applied around the home by the homeowner or by professional pest control firms to control pesky ants, Weston said. Of the varieties of pyrethroids marketed, however, one - bifenthrin - was found most often in the rivers and creeks in the Sacramento area, and pest control companies in California use four times as much as homeowners do, he said.

He noted that in some areas, pest control companies heavily market monthly or bimonthly sprayings outside the home to control ants.

"I question whether most people need routine insecticide treatment of their property, which results in residues on the lawn, in the garden and around the house that, when it rains, go down the storm drains and out into the creeks and rivers," Weston said. "Average homeowners, when they hire pest control companies to regularly spray their property to cut down on ants, don't realize that those same compounds end up in the American River at toxic levels."

The study found, surprisingly, that pyrethroids were present in effluent from sewage treatment plants at concentrations just high enough to be toxic to the test organisms, but well below levels found in urban runoff. Farm runoff, however, only occasionally contained pyrethroids at toxic levels, although some agricultural runoff did contain toxic levels of organophosphate insecticides.

The new study was conducted in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area last winter, one of the driest in the past 10 years. As a result, water flow in the American River, which is controlled by dam releases, was at very low levels, and provided little dilution of pyrethroids entering the river in storm runoff. Preliminary tests this season, with water flow twice what it was in 2009, show that "the pyrethroid toxicity we found last year is somewhat diminished, but nevertheless still continuing," Weston said.

The paper, "Urban and Agricultural Sources of Pyrethroid Insecticides to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta of California," is online at Environmental Science & Technology.

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* NOAA Has New Fisheries Survey Vessel To Study West Coast Sea Life, Ocean Conditions

NOAA has taken delivery of Bell M. Shimada, the agency's newest high-tech fisheries survey vessel.      

Bell M. Shimada's primary mission will be to study, monitor and collect data on a wide range of sea life and ocean conditions, primarily in U.S. waters from Washington state to southern California. The ship will also observe environmental conditions, conduct habitat assessments and survey marine mammal, sea turtle and marine bird populations.

The vessel is the fourth of a new class of ships designed to meet the NOAA Fisheries Service's specific data collection requirements and the International Council for Exploration of the Seas' new standards for a low acoustic signature.

"Bell M. Shimada represents a significant achievement in the agency's efforts to modernize its fleet of fisheries, oceanographic and hydrographic survey ships," said Rear Adm. Jonathan Bailey, director of the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations and the NOAA Corps. "This highly capable ship will play a key role in supporting NOAA's mission."

Launched in September 2008, the 208-ft. Bell M. Shimada was built for NOAA by VT Halter Marine Inc., in Moss Point, Miss., as part of the NOAA's fleet replacement strategy to provide world-class platforms for U.S. scientists.

Bell M. Shimada's state-of-the-art design allows for quieter operation and movement of the vessel through the water, giving scientists the ability to study fish and marine mammals without significantly altering their behavior. The ship's comprehensive environmental sampling capabilities will also enable researchers to gather a broad suite of marine life data with unprecedented accuracy.

"As one of the quietest research vessels in the world, Bell M. Shimada produces so little background noise that we can count fish and assess the health and behavior of marine species with highly sensitive acoustic devices," said Jim Balsiger, acting assistant administrator for NOAA's Fisheries Service. "The vessel will support ecosystem research that is essential to sustaining and rebuilding fisheries."

Bell M. Shimada was named by a team of students from Marina High School in Monterey, Calif., who won a regional NOAA contest to name the vessel. The ship's namesake served with the Bureau of Fisheries and Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, and was known for his contributions to the study of tropical Pacific tuna stocks, which were important to the development of West Coast commercial fisheries following World War II. Bell M. Shimada's son, Allen, is a fisheries scientist with NOAA's Fisheries Service.

The NOAA fleet of ships and aircraft is operated, managed and maintained by the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, which includes commissioned officers of the NOAA Corps and civilian wage mariners.

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* USFWS Says ESA Protections For American Pika Not Warranted

Although the American pika is potentially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in portions of its range, the best available scientific information indicates that pikas will be able to survive despite higher temperatures.

As a result, the pika does not meet the criteria for protection under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today after completing a review of the species' status and evaluating current and future threats to the species.

Pikas, says the agency, will have enough suitable high elevation habitat to prevent them from becoming threatened or endangered. 

"We have completed an exhaustive review of the scientific information currently available regarding the status of the American pika and have analyzed the potential threats to the species," said Steve Guertin, director of the USFWS' Mountain-Prairie Region. "Based on this information, we have determined that the species as a whole will be able to survive despite increased temperatures in a majority of its range and is not in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future."

The American pika is a small mountain-dwelling mammal that inhabits loose rock areas in alpine and subalpine mountain areas extending south from central British Columbia and Alberta into the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico and the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. The historical range of the species includes California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico.

A key characteristic of the American pika is its temperature sensitivity. Pikas cannot tolerate much higher body temperatures than their norm of 104 degrees F. Therefore, the species is found at progressively higher elevations, where cooler temperatures are found, as one moves south through the range of the species. In Canada, populations occur from sea level to 9,842 feet, but in New Mexico, Nevada, and southern California, populations rarely exist below 8,202 feet.

The federal aency analyzed potential factors that may affect the habitat or range of the American pika including climate change, livestock grazing, invasive plant species and fire suppression. Climate change was identified as the only potential threat to the species.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that human-caused global climate change is occurring and has published research that represents the best available science on the subject. Because most of the IPCC climate change models apply to large, general scales, the USFWS worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to model historic and future temperatures at a more local scale within the range of the American pika. The models indicate summer temperatures were likely to increase an average of 5.4 degrees Farenheit in pika habitat.

NOAA generated projections for surface temperatures for 20-year periods and centered on the years 2025, 2050, and 2100. However, the agency stated that because increases in greenhouse gas emissions can be interpreted with greater confidence until approximately mid-century, model projections for the next 30 to 50 years centered on 2050 have greater credibility than results projected further into the future. Therefore, for the purpose of this analysis, the USFWS centered its foreseeable future projections on the year 2050.

Several climate change variables can affect pika populations, including extremely hot or cold days, average summer temperatures and duration of snow cover. In general, pika biologists agree that temperatures below the habitat surface, such as in loose rock area crevices, better approximate the conditions experienced by pikas because they rely on subsurface habitat to escape hotter summer daytime temperatures and obtain insulation during the colder winter months. Therefore, surface temperatures may not be as useful as subsurface temperatures for predicting the effects of climate change on pika populations.

In October 2007, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the USFWS to list the American pika and conduct a status review of each of the recognized subspecies of American pika. The agency advised CBD that the petition could not be addressed at that time because existing court orders and settlement agreements for other listing actions required nearly all of the listing funding. 

Subsequently, the CBD filed a notice of intent to sue over the agency's failure to publish a petition finding. The service then entered into a settlement agreement requiring it to submit a petition finding to the Federal Register by May 1, 2009, and to submit a status review finding to the Federal Register by February 1, 2010.

For more information regarding the American pika, please visit our web site at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/americanpika

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* Interior Secretary Appoints Montanan As Senior Adviser For The Northwest

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has appointed Steve Doherty, an experienced attorney, former Montana state senator, and recent parks and wildlife commission chair, as senior advisor to the secretary for the Northwest.

"Steve's more than 20 years of experience in tribal and natural resource law, his familiarity with Northwest and Native American issues, and his knowledge of state politics will enable him to provide outstanding advice to me in this position," Salazar said.

Doherty will serve as the Interior Secretary's "eyes and ears" in the Northwest.

Doherty currently is partner at Smith & Doherty, PC in Montana. He has more than two decades of legal practice in civil litigation as well as litigation pertaining to tribal entities and governments in tribal, federal and state courts. 

From 2005 to 2009 he chaired the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission, which oversees the regulation and management of lands valued by hunters, anglers, outdoor enthusiasts and other recreationists from Montana and throughout the United States.

He previously served 12 years in the Montana Senate, including two terms as Senate minority leader. In addition, Doherty is the national founding co-chair of Progressive States Network, an organization he helped create to steer sound, progressive public policy proposals to state legislatures across the country.

Doherty has a law degree from Lewis & Clark Law School and experience as a legal intern on the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Oregon for three years and as a community organizer for the Northern Plains Resource Council in Montana for five years.

In his new job, Doherty will ensure that the views of the Salazar are considered and implemented in all appropriate venues, and that the secretary has adequate, timely information about project developments, opinions and concerns from elected officials, upcoming deadlines, legal issues, potential media attention, and imminent controversies in any area of the Department of the Interior's jurisdiction.

"My senior adviser for the Northwest is a champion for public lands, lakes, streams, and rivers," said Salazar. "He understands the balance required to manage these resources as critical wildlife habitats and recreation opportunities for the public."

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* Tribes Praise Proposed Increase In Funding For Treaty Rights-Based Natural Resource Protection

Tribal leaders from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission praised the Obama Administration for a long-sought funding increase for tribal treaty rights-based natural resource management.

The president's FY2011 budget proposal would increase the "Rights Protection" account in the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget 60 percent over the past decade's level for a total of $28.5 million dollars. The administration's increase comes after a decade of stagnant funding and, said CRITFC, a strong message from Congress through its FY2010 appropriations bills that tribal resource management was "long-neglected".

"We are appreciative of the time this Administration has taken to recognize and understand treaty-based resource management, and then, budgeting pro-actively," said McCoy Oatman (Nez Perce), CRITFC chairman. "We would also like to acknowledge Interior Assistant Secretary Larry EchoHawk for making the Northwest one of his first trips after his appointment and hearing from tribal leadership."

Rights Protection, located in the Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs budget, supports legally defined management and co-management authorities for tribes in the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes areas to protect treaty fishing resources on both reservation lands and treaty ceded territories often co-managed with state and federal agencies. Among these authorities are harvest management, research, enforcement and international treaty implementation, such as the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

"These are clearly difficult budget times for the nation," said Babtist (Paul) Lumley, CRITFC executive director. "The importance of tribal co-management has been elevated as state budgets have dwindled, particularly in the natural resources realm. The national investment in Rights Protection will pay multiple dividends through resource protection, collaborative management and employment."
 

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