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Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife bulletin

2/12/10 Table of Contents

* Proposed Order Calls For 3-Month Remand To Strengthen BiOp/Adaptive Management Plan

* Spring Chinook Fishing Will Be Held Back In Lower River To Ensure Enough Fish Go Upriver

* Oregon Gillnet Ban Sponsors Won't Be Collecting Signatures On State's Revised Ballot Title

* Study Finds High Rate Of Juvenile Steelhead Mortality In Rivers' Estuaries

* Preseason Forecast Has Columbia Coho Ocean Abundance At Only 37 Percent Of Last Year's Big Run

* New Power Plan Says 85 Percent Of Electricity Demand Next 20 Years Can Be Met With Efficiency

* How Does The Sixth Power Plan Impact Columbia Basin Fish And Wildlife Mitigation?

* What Does Council's Sixth Power Plan Say About Removing Four Lower Snake Dams?

* High Catch Rates, Angler Effort Has White Sturgeon Fishing Above Bonneville Closing Early

* States Likely To Reduce Lower Columbia White Sturgeon Harvest By 35-45 Percent

* Low Snowpack Makes Experimental Spill For Sturgeon At Libby Dam Uncertain

* British Columbia Says No To Mining, Oil, Gas Development In Flathead Valley


* Proposed Order Calls For 3-Month Remand To Strengthen BiOp/Adaptive Management Plan

U.S. District Court Judge James A. Redden this week offered the government the opportunity to shore up its plan for protecting salmon and steelhead stocks that migrate through Columbia-Snake river dams and reservoirs.

He urged federal agencies to "seize this opportunity to produce a stronger RPA/AMIP," referring to NOAA Fisheries' May 2008 Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion "reasonable and prudent alternative" and an addendum, the "Adaptive Management Implementation Plan," issued in September 2009.

Redden, in a Feb. 10 memo to participants in litigation challenging the 2008 BiOp, suggested that he order a three-month "voluntary" remand so that the strategy could be legally be supplemented with the addition of the AMIP and associated materials and with the best available science and biological analysis now available.

"The court finds that due to the length of the previous remand, complexity of the existing litigation, and the significant effort by all of the parties throughout this case, there is good cause to allow a limited, voluntary remand," the judge said in a proposed order, also dated Feb. 10.

"I am not satisfied with Federal Defendants' narrow proposed order of voluntary remand," Redden said of a Dec. 22 document filed with the court by the U.S. Department of Justice. It suggested the judge order a 10-day remand for "the sole consideration of integrating the Adaptive Management Implementation Plan and its administrative record into the administrative records for the 2008 Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion."

"Federal Defendants are free to disregard the court's suggestions and simply insert the AMIP into the 2008 BiOp," Redden said in the memo issued Wednesday. "Plaintiffs will, of course, have an opportunity to challenge the validity of an amended/supplemental biological opinion.

"If Federal Defendants conduct a superficial, ten-day remand (as they have proposed), I will view that final agency decision with heightened skepticism," the judge said. Defendants in the lawsuit are NOAA Fisheries Service and the dams' operators, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.

"There are two options. Pursuant to the attached proposed order, Federal Defendants can conduct a voluntary remand using the best available science and addressing all relevant factors," Redden said. "Alternatively, Federal Defendants can reject the proposed order, and I will issue a ruling on the validity of the 2008 BiOp without consideration of the AMIP."

Redden set Feb. 19 as the deadline for a federal response to his memo and proposed voluntary remand order.

BiOps are required to evaluate whether federal actions, such as the dam operations, jeopardize the survival of salmon and steelhead stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act. The 2008 FCRPS BiOp's RPA outlines actions to be taken within the hydro system and off-site, such as habitat improvement, that aim to improve salmon survival.

The 2008 BiOp was immediately challenged by a coalition of fishing and conservation groups and by the state of Oregon. They said the measures prescribed in the BiOP and its RPA are inadequate to mitigate for hydro system impacts the fish and that the agencies biological "jeopardy" analysis is flawed.

The AMIP was produced by the Obama Administration after extensive review of the 2008 FCRPS BiOp over this past summer. The review included consideration of concerns about the BiOp expressed by the judge in a May 18 letter.

That letter said Redden had "serious concerns" about the agencies' trending toward recovery jeopardy analysis framework and that the BiOp's "conclusion that all 13 species are, in fact, on a 'trend toward recovery' is arbitrary and capricious."

He asked the federal agencies to "consider implementing some, or all, of the following measures as part of the adaptive management process:

"-- committing additional funds to estuary and tributary habitat mitigation, monitoring, and identifying specific tributary and estuary habitat improvement projects beyond December 2009;
"-- providing periodic reports to the court, and allowing for independent scientific oversight of the tributary and estuary habitat mitigation actions;
"-- committing additional flow to both the Columbia and Snake Rivers;
"-- developing a contingency plan to study specific, alternative hydro actions, such as flow augmentation and/or reservoir drawdowns, as well as what it will take to breach the lower Snake River dams if all other measures fail (i. e., independent scientific evaluation, permitting, funding, and congressional approval); and
"-- continuing ISAB's recommended spring and summer spill operations throughout the life of the BiOp."

Administration officials last fall said they 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 AMIP -- called an "insurance policy for the fish" -- was developed to add contingency measures to be implemented in case of a significant decline in fish abundance. The plan also improves on efforts to track and detect climate change and its effects on listed species and other uncertainties that could emerge over the 10-year life of the biological opinion.

Redden soon questioned whether the AMIP could be considered as he mulled the legality of the 2008 BiOp. His Wednesday memo called the plan "a positive development.

"Federal Defendants deserve credit for developing additional mitigation measures, enhanced research, monitoring and evaluation actions, new biological triggers, and contingency actions to address some of the flaws in the 2008 BiOp.

"The AMIP, however, is not part of the Administrative Record, and it does not fall into any exception to the record-review rule" established in the Administrative Procedures Act.

"Federal Defendants must formally incorporate the AMIP into a final agency decision before I can consider it in evaluating the 2008 BiOp," Redden said.

But that cannot be accomplished as simply as the federal agencies suggest, he said.

"They must also include new and pertinent scientific information relating to the proposed action (e.g., recent climate change data). If that scientific data requires additional analysis or mitigation to avoid jeopardy, Federal Defendants must adequately address those issues," Redden wrote. "I will not sign an order of voluntary remand that effectively relieves Federal Defendants of their obligation to use the best available science and consider all important aspects of the problem.

"They need not 'start over from scratch,' or develop a new jeopardy framework," Redden said. "Federal Defendants should do more. Indeed, they have acknowledged that they can do more. Federal Defendants should re-examine the court's previous concerns regarding the lack of specificity and certainty (i. e., funding) in both the 2008 BiOp/RPA and the AMIP. I also encourage them to consider some of the parties' suggestions for improving the AMIP."

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


* Spring Chinook Fishing Will Be Held Back In Lower River To Ensure Enough Fish Go Upriver

Despite estimates of a 2010 upriver spring chinook salmon run that will be the best ever, non-tribal anglers and gill-netters in the lower Columbia River will be held in check to some degree until managers know that that dream run is indeed building.

Seasons will be opened soon. But a portion the overall lower river allocation -- the percentage of the run that can be harvested -- will be held in reserve until a preseason run-size forecast can be updated with actual fish counts of spring chinook passing up and over Bonneville Dam.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission was briefed on the upcoming Columbia River spring chinook season during its meeting last week.

Managers are predicting 470,000 upriver spring chinook will return to the Columbia River basin this year. That would be the biggest return on a record dating back to 1938.

The 2010 non-tribal sport and commercial fishing seasons for spring chinook on the Columbia mainstem will be set at a joint state/Columbia River Compact meeting on Feb. 18.

In anticipation of that meeting, the OFWC last week directed staff to look at recreational and commercial fisheries that will provide opportunity early in the season, last as long as possible, and minimize closures and re-openings.

The OFWC also supported using a 40 percent buffer in calculating the number of fish available for harvest. The holding back of a certain share of the allowed lower river harvest allocation is intended to assure that a proper share of the upriver spring run makes it past Bonneville Dam. The upriver run includes stocks that originate from hatcheries and tributary spawning grounds above Bonneville.

The Oregon policy makers did not consider specific season options, but were briefed on possible scenarios ranging from a 56-day season entirely below Portland's Interstate 5 Bridge to a 30-day season with a mix of opportunities above and below the I-5 Bridge.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fishery managers also last week outlined their plans for the spring chinook fishery on the Columbia River that would ensure meeting conservation goals, catch-balancing responsibilities between tribal and state fisheries, and fishing opportunities throughout the river and its tributaries.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission during its Feb. 4-6 meeting also voiced support for reserving a portion of the catch until there is clear evidence the run is as large as expected.

Washington's commission asked staff to maximize fishing opportunities for spring chinook on the Columbia River and ensure more salmon return to upriver fisheries, while meeting conservation measures.

Lower Columbia spring chinook fisheries will be guided by Endangered Species Act considerations as well as the need to strike the equitable "catch balance" referred to by the state commissions.

Such sharing of upriver fish with above-Bonneville interests such as four treaty tribes and the state of Idaho is required under the terms of a 10-year management agreement signed in 2008 by the tribes, three Northwest states and the federal government. The agreement was developed through the U.S. v Oregon legal process.

If a look back shows that "catch balance expectations are widely divergent," the agreement requires that the parties to the lawsuit to meet and discuss modifications to the upriver spring chinook catch guidelines.

The non-Indian catch of upriver chinook was considerably greater in both 2008 and 2009 than the level of harvest called for in the agreement. The non-Indian sport and commercial harvest in 2008 also exceeded allowed ESA "impacts" -- the mortality absorbed by listed wild Upper Columbia and Snake River spring chinook stocks.

The management agreement, which was also approved by NOAA Fisheries as ESA-compliant, establishes harvest levels and impact limits based on the predicted size of the upriver spring chinook run. Bigger harvests and impacts are allowed in years with higher anticipated returns.

During meetings last year held to set lower river sport and commercial fisheries, tribal members urged state officials to take a conservative approach in setting early season. And Idaho's fish and game commission expressed concern about lower river fisheries harvesting too large of a share early-timed chinook returns bound for Idaho hatcheries.

Oregon and Washington managers have been plagued in recent years by a spring chinook forecasting system that has gone awry. Both in 2008 and 2009 the spring chinook arrived later and in much smaller numbers than had been forecast in the preseason.

As a result, March and early to mid-April harvests in the lower Columbia quickly consumed harvests allowances and impacts. Run forecast updates can't be done until the very end of April or early May when, typically, about 50 percent of the upriver spring chinook will have been counted passing over Bonneville Dam.

Since a catch balance was not achieved in the first two years of the agreement, the U.S. v Oregon parties came back to the table as required to develop new guidelines for 2010-2012.

The states decided that, until an updated forecast is in hand, it will manage the lower river fisheries in 2010 for a run size that is at least 30 percent less than the preseason forecast.

As an example, if the preseason forecast was for an upriver return of 300,000 fish, a 2.2 percent ESA impact limit would be in place for non-tribal fisheries and the allowed harvest would be up to 32,400 spring chinook. But under the new guideline, early season fishing in the lower river would be managed as if the run forecast was 210,000 upriver spring chinook and the impact limit was 1.9 percent with an estimated harvest of only 19,100 fish.

That means lower river fisheries could well be ended earlier than desired to await the date of the run-size forecast update. If the update brings good news, fisheries could be reopened.


* Oregon Gillnet Ban Sponsors Won't Be Collecting Signatures On State's Revised Ballot Title

Advocates of a mainstem Columbia River gillnet ban say they will go back to the drawing board, disappointed with changes made to their Oregon ballot initiative proposal made by the state Attorney General's Office.

The initiative proposal, dubbed the Protect Our Salmon Act, was submitted to the Oregon Office of the Secretary of State's Elections Division on Dec. 30 with goal of getting the measure on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. It aimed to win voter approval of a ban on gillnets in Oregon waters, effectively the lower Columbia mainstem.

The chief initiative petitioners are state Sens. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, and Rod Monroe, D-Portland and David Schamp, chairman of the Coastal Conservation Association's Oregon chapter board of directors.

The draft ballot title includes a 15-word caption, brief explanation of what "yes" and "no" votes on the measure would mean and a summary produced by the state Attorney General's Office and endorsed by the Secretary of State.

That draft ballot title caption said: Bans Oregon salmon fishing with gillnets; redirects license surcharges to fund changing to alternative methods.

After a public review period and a 10-day period that allowed the state agencies to review comments and pertinent legal statues, a certified ballot title, drafted by the AG's office and approved by the Secretary of State, was unveiled Tuesday.

The new "certified" ballot title caption says: Bans Columbia River commercial salmon/sturgeon fishing; redirects habitat restoration funds to new commission's control.

The certified ballot title is open to appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court for 10 business days, until Feb. 24. Then, if no petition is filed with the court, the proposal's sponsors could begin collecting the 82,769 signatures needed to get the measure on the 2010 general election ballot.

The signatures would have to be filed Elections Division by July 2.

But the petitioners have decided to let the proposal languish.

"We do not intend to move forward" with an effort to collect signatures on the existing ballot proposal, CCA spokesman Bryan Irwin said.

A Feb. 9 letter from the Oregon Department of Justice summarizes comments received regarding the draft ballot title, the department's response to those comments "and the reasons why we altered or declined to alter the ballot title in response to the comments."

A key change from draft to final ballot title is the elimination of the word gillnet from the caption. Several of the comments noted that the draft ballot title was inaccurate because it did not make plain the fact that a gillnet ban is, in effect, a complete ban on commercial fishing. Commercial fishing for salmon or sturgeon in the Columbia River by non-Indians is illegal unless they are caught by gillnets, the letter says in citing state law.

"We agree that the caption does not state the 'principal effect' or inform potential signers of the 'sweep of the measure' because it does not make plain that IP #74 [the proposed statutory amendment] would ban commercial fishing for salmon and sturgeon in the Columbia River. Accordingly, we made changes to the caption to reflect that fact," the letter says.

And the proposed ballot initiative does nothing to solve that dilemma, the letter says.

"It is true that IP #74, Section 15(4) is apparently meant to define 'alternative selective commercial fishing methods.' However -- even assuming it does define those methods -- defining them does not make them legal, and nothing in IP #74 purports to legalize those alternative methods."

That change, and others, veers from the proponents' course.

"The changes made by the Attorney General's office do not reflect the intent of the initiative, which is to end the non-selective over-harvest of Oregon's native fish runs while maintaining a healthy commercial salmon fishing industry," Schamp said in a statement released today. "The objective is to transition to commercial gear capable of selectively harvesting abundant hatchery fish and allowing for the release of wild fish."

"Now more than ever, CCA members remain committed to advancing these vital reform efforts, and we intend to amend and re-file the ballot initiative to address the interpretation of the Attorney General's office," Schamp said.

The final ballot title summary statement was also changed in response to comments. In all, nine comments were received including seven from commercial fishing interests. Comments were also filed by Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, and Kevin Mannix, who represented the ballot initiative petitioners. CRITFC represents four treaty tribes that fish the lower Columbia.

The AG office's letter noted its response to comments about the potential impact the proposed gillnet ban might have on fishery management on the Columbia. Mannix' comments argued that the summary statement incorrectly states that measure's effect on the Columbia River Compact and fishery management agreements between the federal government, tribes and states "is unclear." He said that the Compact and agreements would be unaffected.

The Compact regulates tribal and non-Indian commercial fishing on the mainstem Columbia along the Oregon-Washington border. The panel includes representatives of the directors of the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.

"We agree that the restriction such as IP #74 would enact does not violate the Compact. We agree that the Columbia River Compact would remain in effect and, on its face, IP #74 does not change it," the Feb. 9 letter says. "Whether IP #74's restrictions would violate the Columbia River Compact, or whether it would violate tribal fishing rights, is an issue that would likely be decided by the courts and we decline to speculate here on the outcome. To clarify that IP #74 does not purport to change the Columbia River Compact we delete the reference to it."

Mannix also said that the measure, if implemented, would not affect management agreements, such as the 10-year agreement between CRITFC's four treaty tribes, the federal government and the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Lumley argued that the gillnet ban could affect implementation of the management agreement and alter annual fishing seasons for tribal members.

"After reviewing the August 2008 management agreement (and amendments), we cannot say that there would be no effect on the agreement," the AG office said. "Although it is not possible to predict how the management agreement would change, there is little doubt that, if the numbers of fish caught by the commercial fishermen were removed from the calculus, the limits on fish caught by the remaining parties would necessarily have to be readjusted, thus requiring renegotiation of the management agreement. Accordingly we reject Mannix's argument."

The AG's office also declined requests by Lumley and others that the ballot title make plain the fact that the ballot measure intends to exempt tribal fishing from the gill-net ban. The letter said the measure's proponents may have intended such an exemption, "however, as drafted, we believe that IP#74's ban applies to tribal harvest of salmon, sturgeon and steelhead by gillnets."

The proposed measure makes "circular" references to such an exemption but "does not contain terms that we can say clearly exempt Indian tribes from its prohibitions. Moreover, we cannot speculate on the likely outcome of court cases interpreting the extent of IP #74's ban. Accordingly, we believe the current explanation best identifies the measure's effects as it is drafted."


* Study Finds High Rate Of Juvenile Steelhead Mortality In Rivers' Estuaries

A new study by researchers at Oregon State University found that up to nearly half of the ocean-bound juvenile steelhead surveyed in two Oregon river systems appear to have died when they reached the estuaries -- before they could reach the ocean.

The scientists aren't sure if such a mortality rate in the estuary is typical or elevated due to increased predation -- most likely by marine mammals or seabirds. One goal of their research is to begin establishing better baseline data on juvenile salmon and steelhead mortality so resource managers can make more accurate predictions on runs of returning adult fish.

"A female steelhead may lay 2,000 to 5,000 eggs -- and in rare cases, more than 10,000 eggs -- and for the population to remain stable, at least 2-3 percent of the juveniles migrating to the ocean have to survive and return as adults," said Carl Schreck, a professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU and leader of the Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit on campus. "If you get much more than that, it's a banner year.

"But it's hard to predict adult returns if you don't have good data on outgoing juveniles," Schreck said, "and this study is an effort to make that monitoring more precise."

Declining salmon and steelhead runs have been blamed on everything from habitat loss through logging to housing developments on coastal rivers, but the consensus has been that ocean conditions are perhaps the single most important element in how robust the populations may be in a given year.

Yet the OSU study found that mortality is significant before the fish even make it to the Pacific Ocean, said David Noakes, a professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU and one of the principal investigators in the study.

"Steelhead will live in the fresh water for one to two years and then migrate out to the ocean where they'll spend another two or three years," Noakes said. "If only 2-3 percent survive, it would be interesting to know what the keys to survival may be for the select few. Are the biggest juveniles more likely to survive? The fastest? Those that have the fewest parasites? Is there something in their genetics that better helps some of them adapt to the new saltwater environment?

"We need to determine what the so-called 'normal' predation rates are in the estuary, and get a better handle on what is killing the fish," he said.

In their study, the OSU researchers inserted small ultrasonic transmitters into 280 juvenile steelhead over a two-year period. The dollar bill-sized fish were captured in traps at sites on the middle stretches of the Alsea and Nehalem river systems, tagged and measured, and then released back into the rivers and tracked on their way to the ocean. About nine out of 10 fish made it safely from the release point to tidewater, and then the ultrasound transmissions from 50 to 60 percent of those survivors abruptly stopped when they reached the estuary.

The scientists received enough signals from surviving fish to know that it wasn't a failure in signal transmission. And, Schreck says, during an earlier study using tags that broadcast a radio frequency, they recovered transmitters from a cormorant rookery near the mouth of the Nehalem River, and have tracked signals from the tags to a burgeoning seal population -- also near the Nehalem's mouth.

"There are a lot of seals right near the mouths of both rivers and seals can eat a lot of young fish," Schreck said. "It's why the steelhead need thousands of eggs to keep the population going."

One other possible explanation for the high mortality, Noakes said, is that the young fish couldn't handle the transition from fresh to saltwater. Salmon, steelhead and other "anadromous" fish have a complex life cycle and for centuries have utilized both the ocean and river systems. But a high mortality rate might be normal and a way to weed out weak fish that can't make the adaptation to a new environment.

 "We know that fish need a number of things to trigger their migration to the ocean, including the amount of seasonal light, certain temperatures, enough water flow, etc.," Noakes said. "But we don't know why some fish remain in the river for one year before heading out to sea, and others stay for two years. Just preparing to go from fresh water to a salt water environment requires an enormous adjustment.

"There may be something about that adaptation that contributes to the mortality," he added.

If the mortality rate of juvenile steelhead is atypical, it could be increasing because of some environmental factor -- warmer water, more parasites, chemical contaminants, or higher acidification of ocean waters coming into the estuary, for example.

Or predation may be higher because of more seals, sea lions and seabirds.

Much of the research about steelhead migration, spawning behavior and basic biology is emerging from studies done at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center, a joint venture between OSU's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Located on Fall Creek, a tributary of the Alsea River, the research center is giving fish biologists unprecedented new looks at the physiology and behavior of steelhead.


* Preseason Forecast Has Columbia Coho Ocean Abundance At Only 37 Percent Of Last Year's Big Run

The ocean abundance of Columbia River coho is expected to be 389,500 fish this year, or about 37 percent of 2009's post-season total calculation of just over 1 million, according to a preseason forecast produced by the Oregon Production Index technical team.

"We used jacks to predict" 2010 adult coho abundance, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Cindy LeFleur said of the practice of forecasting one year's run based on the previous year's return of one-ocean fish. Jacks are coho that return to the Columbia after only one year in the Pacific Ocean while most spawners return after two years.

There were an estimated 24,000 coho jacks that returned to the Columbia in 2009, well below the 1999-2008 annual average of 34,000, LeFleur said.

The jack return to the mouth of the river was 58,000 in 2008. That total prompted an ocean abundance forecast of 1,042,400 Columbia River coho in 2009. That forecast proved spot-on. The post-season ocean abundance estimate was 1,055,500.

The 10-year average ocean abundance is 609,600 Columbia River coho, which includes "early" and "late" stocks. Ocean harvests whittle down the number of coho so the actual return to the river is always smaller than the ocean abundance forecast.

Coho ocean abundance can vary greatly from year to year. The peak during that 1999-2008 span was 1.3 million fish in 2001 and the low was 295,600 in 1999.

The 2009 forecast for the coho return to the Columbia River mouth, (following expected ocean fisheries), was 703,100 adults, which included 466,600 early stock and 236,500 late stock. The actual return fell just a few fish short. The most recent 10-year average return to the river is 508,300 fish.

The 2010 forecast, which includes 245,300 early stock and 144,200 late stock fish, is similar to the 2005 and 2006 abundance estimates. They resulted in minimum estimated return to the river of 339,900 coho in 2005 and 386,600 in 2005.

Most of the Columbia River coho spawners originate from Oregon and Washington hatcheries downstream from Bonneville Dam, although substantial hatchery production also occurs above Bonneville Dam. In recent years, approximately one-third of the releases have occurred above Bonneville Dam.

The lower river fish make up the Columbia River stock most recently added to the Endangered Species Act list. The Lower Columbia River coho were identified as threatened on June 28, 2005. The "evolutionarily significant unit" includes all naturally spawned populations of coho salmon in the Columbia River and its tributaries in Washington and Oregon, from the mouth of the Columbia up to and including the Big White Salmon and Hood rivers, and includes the Willamette River to Willamette Falls, Oregon, as well as the product of 25 artificial propagation programs. Fin-clipped hatchery fish are exempt from ESA "take" provision and offered up for harvest.

The ESA review concluded that there are only two extant populations in the Lower Columbia River coho ESU with appreciable natural production (the Clackamas and Sandy river populations in Oregon), from an estimated 23 historical populations in the ESU.


* New Power Plan Says 85 Percent Of Electricity Demand Next 20 Years Can Be Met With Efficiency

A new regional power plan adopted this week by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council says 85 percent of the new demand for electricity over the next 20 years in the Northwest can be met by using energy more efficiently.

The plan's target for the first five years, 1,200 average megawatts, is the energy equivalent of the power use of a city the size of Seattle. Over time, the energy-efficiency target in the plan -- 5,900 average megawatts over 20 years -- would be the most aggressive regional target in the nation.

Investments in energy-efficient equipment and products will cost less than half as much as buying electricity from new power plants, saving consumers millions of dollars, says the Council's power plan which can be found at www.nwcouncil.org

Additionally, investments in energy efficiency will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the region's power supply by 17 million tons per year by 2030 and create as many as 47,000 new jobs in the Northwest, according to calculations by the Council staff.

"With its emphasis on energy efficiency, the plan enhances the benefits we already enjoy in the Northwest from our extensive hydropower system, which is low-cost and carbon-free," said Council Chair Bruce Measure of Montana.

Energy efficiency and carbon-emissions control are at the heart of the Sixth Northwest Power Plan, a regional energy blueprint developed by the Council that guides the region's largest electricity supplier, the federal Bonneville Power Administration. Under federal law, the Council revises the 20-year plan every five years. The Council approved the latest, sixth, revision of the plan following more than two years of work that included extensive public participation and comment. While Bonneville implements the plan, the plan also serves as a reference document for the region's electric utilities in their own planning.

The plan recommends that in addition to energy efficiency, future demand for power be met with renewable energy -- mainly wind -- plus new natural gas-fired turbines in areas where demand grows rapidly and utilities need new generating plants in addition to renewable power and efficiency improvements. Natural gas is preferred because it produces fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal. The plan anticipates no new coal-fired power plants over the 20-year planning horizon.

The plan assesses the risks and costs associated with carbon emissions from the regional power supply.

It says three things must happen in order to meet existing regional and state carbon-reduction targets for the year 2030: 1) acquire 5,900 average megawatts of energy efficiency, which is key to reducing carbon emissions; 2) meet renewable-energy portfolio standards adopted in three of the four Northwest states, which will displace power plants that burn fossil fuels; and 3) reduce the future use of existing coal-fired power plants by half compared to present-day use.

In addition, hydropower generation must be preserved as much as possible within the limits of legal requirements to protect fish and wildlife.

Energy efficiency in the plan is responsible for reducing carbon emissions from regional generating plants by a total of 17 million tons per year by 2030. Failure to achieve the efficiency improvements in the plan will increase both the cost and risk of the power system.

The plan says investment in energy efficiency creates jobs, both through direct installation of efficiency measures and indirectly over time through lower energy bills. The Council's staff estimates that, on average, the annual investment in energy efficiency envisioned in the power plan will create about 3,500 new jobs per year in the energy and energy-services industries. With sustained investment in conservation over the next 20 years, the region can expect an additional net increase of 43,500 jobs throughout the economy due to the ongoing increased savings in energy bills.

The Northwest population, says the plan, will increase from about 13 million today to 16.7 million by 2030, and load (the ongoing power requirement) will increase from about 21,000 average megawatts today to about 28,000 average megawatts by 2030, an increase of about 7,000 average megawatts overall or about 1.4 percent (about 339 average megawatts) per year.

The Northwest electricity system faces huge challenges: uncertainty about future climate-change policy, fuel prices, salmon-recovery actions, economic growth, and integration of variable wind power. Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective and least risky resource to meet future demand.

The resource strategy in the plan includes five specific recommendations:

--- Develop cost-effective energy efficiency aggressively -- at least 1,200 average megawatts by 2015, and equal or slightly higher amounts every five years through 2030.
--- Develop cost-effective renewable energy as required by state laws, particularly wind power, accounting for its variable output.
--- Improve power-system operating procedures to integrate wind power and improve the efficiency and flexibility of the power system.
--- Build new natural gas-fired power plants to meet local needs for on-demand energy and back-up power, and reduce reliance on existing coal-fired plants to help meet the power system's share of carbon-reduction goals and policies.
--- Investigate new technologies such as the "smart-grid," new energy-efficiency and renewable energy sources, advanced nuclear power, and carbon sequestration.

In 2008, the region's electric utilities set an all-time record for acquiring energy efficiency -- 235 average megawatts in one year (as generation, enough to power more than 14,200 Northwest homes for a year). Since 1980, more than half of the growth in demand for electricity in the Northwest has been met with energy efficiency.

As a result of the conservation savings, says the Council, the region didn't have to build 8-10 new coal- or gas-fired generating plants. This means the region emitted 15 million tons less carbon-dioxide in 2008 alone.

The average cost of these savings to utilities has been less than 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is less than the roughly 3 cents per kilowatt-hour BPA currently charges its electric-utility customers. Energy efficiency costs about 20 percent as much as wind power, which currently costs 8 to 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Because consumers didn't have to buy 4,000 average megawatts of electricity in 2008, they paid $1.8 billion less for electricity -- even after accounting for the cost of energy-efficiency programs in their electric rates, says the Council.

Major sources have been home weatherization (insulation, windows), improved efficiency in commercial lighting, improved irrigation efficiency (fewer leaks, more efficient pumps, lower water pressure), industrial motors, and lighting (installation of compact fluorescent lights, particularly).

The Council says in the future large savings are expected to come from more efficient televisions, high-performance windows, more efficient clothes washers, water heaters, and industrial energy use. There also is a significant potential available, says the Council, from improving the efficiency of utility distribution systems with better voltage management, higher-efficiency transformers, and other utility-level improvements


* How Does The Sixth Power Plan Impact Columbia Basin Fish And Wildlife Mitigation?

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Sixth Power Plan says the regional power system for the next 20 years can fund actions to benefit Columbia Basin fish and wildlife, including salmon and steelhead runs listed under the Endangered Species Act, while maintaining an economic, reliable energy supply.

"For the Sixth Power Plan, hydroelectric system capability is based on fish and wildlife operations specified in the 2008 biological opinion," says the Council.

The plan also includes an analysis of the cost to Northwest energy consumers -- rates and bills -- of removing four lower Snake River dams that some propose should part of an effort to increase salmon and steelhead runs in rivers and tributaries below Idaho Power's Snake River Hells Canyon dams complex. (See story below: "What Does Council's Sixth Power Plan Say About Removing Four Lower Snake Dams?" http://www.cbbulletin.com/376641.aspx)

The Council plan notes that hydroelectric operations specified for fish and wildlife have a "sizeable impact" on power generation and cost. It says the "power system has addressed this impact by acquiring conservation and generating resources, by developing resource adequacy standards, and by implementing strategies to minimize power system emergencies and events that might compromise fish operations."

The Northwest Power Act requires the Council to update its fish and wildlife program before revising the power plan, and the amended fish and wildlife program approved last year by the Council is part of this power plan.

The power plan is required to set forth "a general scheme for implementing conservation measures and developing resources" with "due consideration" for, among other things, "protection, mitigation, and enhancement of fish and wildlife and related spawning grounds and habitat, including sufficient quantities and qualities of flows for successful migration, survival and propagation of anadromous fish."

On average, says the power plan, "fish and wildlife operations reduce hydroelectric generation by about 1,200 average megawatts relative to operation with no constraints for fish and wildlife. This energy loss represents about 10 percent of the hydroelectric system's firm generating capability."

The Bonneville Power Administration estimates its total financial obligation for the Council's fish and wildlife program to be between $750 million to $900 million per year.

The Council says the regional power system can absorb the cost of actions intended to benefit fish and wildlife while maintaining an economic and reliable energy supply.

The plan, however, says the Council "recognizes the need to better identify and analyze long-term uncertainties that affect all elements of fish and power operations."

The Council is proposing the creation of a public forum, "which would bring together power planners and fish and wildlife managers to explore ways to address these uncertainties. Long-term planning issues include climate change, alternative fish and wildlife operations, modifications to treaties affecting the hydroelectric system, and the integration of variable-output resources, in particular how they affect system flexibility and capacity."

The forum, says the power plan would provide an opportunity to identify "synergies that may exist between power and fish operations and to explore ways of taking advantage of those situations."

The power plan says the current basin hydroelectric system has a capacity of about 33,000 megawatts, "but it operates at about a 50 percent annual capacity factor because of limited water supply and storage. The Northwest's power supply must be sufficient to accommodate increased demand during a sustained cold snap, heat wave or the temporary loss of a generating resource. The hydroelectric system provides up to 24,000 megawatts of sustainable peaking capacity, for the six highest load hours of a day over a consecutive three-day period.

"These assumptions for the annual and hourly capability of the hydroelectric system are sensitive to fish and wildlife operations, which have changed in the past and could change in the future.

"There remain a number of uncertainties surrounding these operations, which could have both positive and negative effects. For example, spillway weirs offer the potential to reduce bypass spill while providing the same or better passage survival. Climate change has the potential to alter river flows, which affect both power production and fish survival. Dam removal or operating reservoirs at lower elevations would further reduce power production."


* What Does Council's Sixth Power Plan Say About Removing Four Lower Snake Dams?

In its Sixth Power Plan, The Northwest Power and Conservation Council ran a modeling scenario examining the effects of removing the lower Snake River dams on power system costs and carbon emissions.

The Council analysis focuses on the need for replacement resources for the assumed loss of energy and capacity provided by the dams.

The Council says "no estimate was made of the cost of replacing the other services provided by the dams. There are many other implications and costs of dam removal including the cost of removing the dams, future operating cost and replacement savings, substitution of other transportation modes for barge transportation (including fish transportation), changes in irrigation sources, and other factors.

"These were addressed most completely in the US Army Corps of Engineers, Lower Snake River Juvenile Salmon Migration Feasibility Study, 2000. http://www.nww.usace.army.mil/lsr/ and have not been included in this analysis."

The Council's analysis is included in Chapter 10, "Resource Strategy" under the section "Value Of The Hydroelectric System." http://www.nwcouncil.org/energy/powerplan/6/final/Ch10_021010.pdf

The Council modeled several scenarios to show the power plan's impacts on retail power rates and consumer's electric bills with and without dam removal and with and without carbon penalties, or a possible "carbon tax."

It tags 2019 as the year the dams would go out, but levels the impact on rates and bills over the entire 20 year period. In other words, the analysis includes 10 years in which the dams are still in place.

Without dam removal and without a carbon penalty, retail power rates in the period 2010-2029, under the power plan's assumptions about conservation, would rise 0.4 percent.

With the removal of the four Lower Snake dams in 2019, retail power rates would increase by 0.5 percent.

For consumers in the period 2010-2029, under the guidelines of this power plan, without dam removal and without a carbon penalty, electric bills would drop by 0.7 percent.

With dam removal and no carbon penalty, bills during this period would drop by 0.1 percent.

The chart "Summary of Scenario Results" can be found on page 31 in Chapter 10 at http://www.nwcouncil.org/energy/powerplan/6/final/Ch10_021010.pdf

The lower Snake River dams provide 1,110 average megawatts of energy under average hydro conditions, about 5 percent of regional annual electric energy needs. The dams provide 3,500 megawatts of short-term capacity, a little more than 10 percent of the total hydroelectric system capacity, and as part of the Automated Generation Control System.

They also provide system reserves to maintain the reliability of the power supply, and, says the power plan, they provide "reactive support" for the stability of the transmission system.

"The effects of removing the capability of the lower Snake River dams are mainly determined by the replacement resources that would be required for the power system to duplicate the energy, capacity, real-time load following, stability reserves and reactive support currently provided by the Snake River dams," says the power plan.

"Dam removal increases the carbon emissions, cost, and risk of the power system. The projected changes to the power system to accommodate the loss of hydroelectric capability are not a simple energy and capacity replacement. Small increases in conservation and renewable resources occur in this scenario, but the primary replacement of the dams is provided by changes in the construction of new gas-fired resources, changes in the operation of existing and new generating plants, and changes in net exports. Existing natural gas-fired and coal-fired generation is used more intensively. In addition, the region exports less energy and imports more energy. The combination of these changes makes up for the lost 1,100 average megawatts of energy."

Replacing the lower Snake River dam energy and capacity would result in increased carbon emissions of 3.0 million tons year, a 7.6 percent increase, says the Council.

The power plan says that 1,103 megawatts "would be required to replace the dams with 437 average megawatts coming from carbon producing resources, not including increased imports that would also most likely come from carbon producing resources."

Under the dam removal scenario, says the Council, annual cost of the power system increases in 2020 by over $530 million dollars.

"Further, since the Lower Snake River dams serve Bonneville public-utility customers, those utilities and their consumers would bear the cost increases. Using a rate-making rule of thumb that a $65 million to $80 million cost increase translates into a $1 per megawatt-hour increase in Bonneville rates, a $530 million increase in Bonneville costs would raise rates by between $6.60 and $8.15 per megawatt-hour. Based on Bonneville's priority firm rate of $28 per megawatt-hour, dam removal would cause an increase of 24 percent to 29 percent."


* High Catch Rates, Angler Effort Has White Sturgeon Fishing Above Bonneville Closing Early

High catch rates and angler effort have made short work of the 2010 white sturgeon sport season in the Bonneville Dam pool despite a doubling of the allowed harvest in the Columbia River reservoir.

Typically the season, which starts with the New Year, stretches into July before the sport harvest allocation is consumed. This year it will be closed at the end of the day Feb. 21, despite the fact that that harvest allocation was boosted from 700 sturgeon in 2009 to 1,400 this year. Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife department officials estimate that sport fishers will have caught 1,382 sturgeon through Saturday of next week if they continue at the current catch rate.

The earliest previous closing date, going back to at least 2000, was June 5 last year.

Treaty tribes have also swept in their commercial allocation much more quickly than anticipated. Their commercial gillnet fishery in Bonneville Pool closed at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Warmer than average January and early February air temperatures and "warmer water temperatures have resulted in an increase in the catch rates and in the effort too," John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife told a joint state sport fishing panel Wednesday. That panel, comprised of the ODFW's Steve Williams and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Guy Norman, voted to implement the Bonneville pool sport closure. The states jointly manage sport and commercial fisheries on the mainstem Columbia where the river is a shared border.

The effort grew like a snowball heading down a steep hill, from 78 angler trips during the first week of January, to 343 the second week, to 411, and then 579 during the last week in January. The number of angler trips climbed to 849 during the first week in February.

"We considered that probably a record," North said of last week's estimate of angler trips targeting sturgeon.

"Word got out," North said of the growing crowd of sturgeon seekers heading to Bonneville pool. The catch rates have been much greater than normal, in some instances as high as nearly half a fish per angler trip. ODFW sampling of 30 boats last week showed a catch of 20 legal size sturgeon.

"It's definitely well above what we typically see" during the winter-spring seasons, though summer rates can approach those levels, the WDFW's Brad James told the panel.

The agencies estimate that 390 white sturgeon were caught during 1,411 angler trips in January. That compares to an estimated 382 angler trips and a catch of just 17 fish during January 2009.

The sturgeon harvest through Feb. 7 had grown to 790 fish, which represents 56 percent of the 1,400-fish Bonneville pool guideline.

The high catch rates "are confirmation of our increased abundance estimates," Norman said. The agencies do population estimates and surveys for each of the three lower Columbia reservoirs (Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day) on a three-year rotation.

For the Bonneville pool, the estimated of legal-size (eligible for harvest) sturgeon jumped from 6,900 in 2003 and 6,200 in 2006 to 29,600 in 2009, North said. The white sturgeon technical work group that helps produce the population size estimates theorizes that perhaps the extreme high-water year of 1996 enabled an extremely successful spawning season. The 12 years that have since elapsed is about the time needed for sturgeon to grow into the legal size range, North said.

Sturgeon spawners like river reaches with rocky substrate and fast moving flows. That doesn't happen except in high flow years in the lower Columbia, where controlled downstream flows, tides and Willamette River input make the river more languid.

High levels of spring runoff "create conditions that sturgeon like in a larger area," below Bonneville, North said.

The catch has also been good for tribal commercial fishers in the Bonneville pool. Their catch through Feb. 8 totaled 1,020 white sturgeon. Tribal commercial fisheries continue in the John Day and The Dalles pools.

Sport retention of sturgeon in The Dalles and John Day pools will remain in effect per current regulations. Staff will continue to track the progress of the ongoing fisheries in The Dalles (300-fish allocation) and John Day (135) pools and provide an update next week.

The Columbia River Compact/Joint State meeting is scheduled at 10 a.m. Feb. 18 at the Museum of the Oregon Territory, 211 Tumwater Drive, Oregon City, Ore., to consider non-treaty sport and commercial fisheries for white sturgeon and spring chinook salmon. The Compact sets mainstem commercial fisheries.


* States Likely To Reduce Lower Columbia White Sturgeon Harvest By 35-45 Percent

It is expected that the states of Oregon and Washington will decide next week on a white sturgeon harvest reduction on the lower Columbia River mainstem of 35 to 45 percent over recent years' allocations.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission last Friday (Feb. 5) affirmed the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff recommendation that the lower Columbia white allocation or "guideline" be cut by 35 percent in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission during its Feb. 4-6 meeting in Olympia adopted a new management policy that would reduce the harvest of Columbia River white sturgeon by "up to" 45 percent this year. The nine-member citizen panel is appointed by the governor, sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The OFWC sets policy for the ODFW.

Ultimately the ODFW and WDFW directors and/or their representatives will decide the depth of the cut. The state co-manage sport and commercial harvest on the mainstem where the Columbia makes up their border.

The WFWC wanted a steeper cutback but "they realized that the director needed the flexibility" to find common ground in talks with Oregon, the WDFW's Cindy LeFleur said of the panel's decision to use "up to 45 percent" language in the new policy. ODFW and WDFW staffs have already reached a tentative compromise recommendation for their directors.

But they also continue to take input. A public meeting was held Thursday in Vancouver to discuss the development of this year's sport fishing regulations for Columbia River sturgeon.

Oregon and Washington fishery managers discussed recent declines in the Columbia River white sturgeon population and management options under consideration for the 2010 fishing season.

Topics for discussion will include the proposed reductions in catch guidelines, new ways to protect spawning sturgeon and scenarios for sport fishing seasons.

Fishery managers will consider public comments received at the meeting when they convene to set sturgeon-fishing regulations for the remainder of 2010 at a bi-state public hearing scheduled Feb. 18 in Oregon City.

The Columbia River white sturgeon population has declined significantly in recent years, according to monitoring data from both states. Trends show the 2008 abundance estimate of 97,000 legal-size (38- to 54-inch fork length) white sturgeon is a 28 percent less than the 2007 estimate, though it and follows a period of relatively stable abundance during the 1998-2007 period.

Fisheries managers have also noted that the catch per angler trip of sub-legal (less than 42 inches long) white sturgeon has decreased annually since 2004.

"By 2008, catch per angler trip of sublegal-size fish had dropped to half of the 1996-2006 average catch per angler trip," according to a Dec. 7 joint staff report.

Sea lion predation below Bonneville Dam is suspected as one of the causes of the population drop. Estimated consumption of white sturgeon in the small area below Bonneville Dam has increased from 413 fish in 2006 to 1,710 fish in 2009, according to observation data compiled by the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

The ODFW and WDFW staffs have recommended that the combined sport-commercial white sturgeon harvest guideline be reduced from the allowable harvest of the past three years of 40,000 sturgeon below Bonneville (36,800 were actually harvested last year). That allocation has been split with 32,000 allocated to sport fishers and 8,000 allocated to the commercial gillnet fleet.

ODFW staff proposal adopted last week included several other changes to the white sturgeon fishing seasons on the Columbia and on the Willamette River in response to recent declines in sturgeon populations. These changes include:

-- expanding the spawning sanctuary below Bonneville Dam into August;
-- establishment of a spawning sanctuary on the Willamette River from Willamette Falls to the Interstate 205 Bridge between Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., and
-- creation of a separate sturgeon harvest quota for the Willamette River.

The OFWC also directed staff to develop the necessary rules for closing the "Wall" fishery on the Willamette River in Oregon City. This location requires anglers to land and release sturgeon from atop a 45 to 60-foot concrete wall, raising concerns about the subsequent injury to the fish that are released.

"We do not like closing down opportunities, especially bank fishing opportunities on the Willamette," said Steve Williams, ODFW assistant administrator for the fish division. "However, we have explored every option and there's just no way to fix this site to allow for the safe release of fish."

Instead, anglers will be encouraged to take advantage of other nearby bank fisheries at Meldrum Bar, Oak Grove, Milwaukie and a catwalk on the river that will be renovated this summer.

The sport season for white sturgeon in lower Columbia River from Buoy 10 to the Wauna power lines (located about 20 miles upstream of the river mouth) opened Jan. 1 seven days per week with a daily limit of one fish between 38 and 54 inches (fork length) and an annual limit of five sturgeon.

The Columbia River between Wauna power lines and Bonneville Dam at river mile 146 is open to the retention of white sturgeon three days per week (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) during Jan. 1-July 31 with a daily limit of one sturgeon between 38 and 54 inches (fork length) and an annual limit of five sturgeon.

The sport allocation is split with 60 percent (19,200 fish) for fisheries below the Wauna powerlines (estuary) and 40 percent (12,800 fish) for fisheries above the Wauna powerlines.

Sturgeon angling on the lower Columbia has been very slow, the agencies report. During January 2010, sturgeon anglers on the lower Columbia made 1,700 trips and kept 25 white sturgeon.

For more information about future WFWC meetings, visit WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings.html .


* Low Snowpack Makes Experimental Spill For Sturgeon At Libby Dam Uncertain

Plans for an experimental water spill from Montana's Libby Dam to help Kootenai River white sturgeon this spring now are uncertain because of below-average mountain snowpack above the dam.

Snowpack in the Kootenai River Basin is 71 percent of average and well below last year's snowpack at this time of year.

The streamflow forecast for the Kootenai River Basin, which is based on receiving average precipitation over the next few months, is just 66 percent of average from April through July.

How the rest of the winter plays out will determine whether the planned spill will proceed, said Brian Marotz, a fisheries program manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks who coordinates with other agencies on dam operations.

"It could go either way, but there's definitely a relationship between water availability and the ability to do a [spill] test," Marotz said.

With eroding water supply forecasts, he said, "just meeting the minimum flows in the Kootenai River is going to make it very difficult to refill" Lake Koocanusa over the next few months.

And refilling the reservoir is crucial to proceeding with a spill.

"The surface elevation of the reservoir needs to be high enough that you can physically use the spillway," Marotz said.

A spill operation must also meet other criteria to have a meaningful chance of encouraging white sturgeon to move into the best spawning areas just upstream from Bonners Ferry, Idaho.

Adult sturgeon need to be in the right place in the river and the correct temperatures of water need to be available to release through the dam's selective withdrawal system at the right time.

"That's a lot of stuff," said Marotz, a member of an interagency white sturgeon recovery team.

For years, the state of Montana has resisted releasing water over the dam's spillway because it can result in gases that are harmful to native fish populations, and those higher gas levels exceed Montana's water quality standards.

The state agreed to a legal settlement, however, that allowed for spills to determine if higher flows improve sturgeon spawning success. For that to happen, Marotz said, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality will draft an unprecedented waiver of the state's water quality standards -- with conditions.

The waiver will specify maximum gas saturation levels in the river and where those levels will be measured. It limits the spill to a range of 5,000 cubic feet per second up to 10,000 cfs, in addition to releasing water through the dam's turbines at maximum capacity, about 25,000 cfs.

The outlook for a spring spill could change "if we suddenly get a bunch of precipitation," Marotz said. "We'll know by June."


* British Columbia Says No To Mining, Oil, Gas Development In Flathead Valley

The lieutenant governor of British Columbia announced Tuesday that all types of mining and oil and gas development "will not be permitted" in the province's portion of the Flathead Valley.

It was news that was well received in Montana. "It's pretty significant," said Dave Hadden of the conservation group Headwaters Montana.

The announcement came during the "Throne Speech," an annual address that identifies the provincial priorities for the coming year.

"A new partnership with Montana will sustain the environmental values in the Flathead River Basin in a manner consistent with current forestry, recreation, guide outfitting and trapping uses," British Columbia Lt. Gov. Steven Point said.

"Mining, oil and gas development and coalbed gas extraction will not be permitted in British Columbia's Flathead Valley."

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Tuesday he will sign a comprehensive "memorandum of understanding" with British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell next week in Vancouver, B.C. That document will halt ongoing exploration work and prohibit future development.

Schweitzer said the agreement was the result of five years of mostly quiet and often-delicate negotiations aimed at limiting development in the river drainage just north of Glacier National Park.

"We've agreed there will be no gold mining, no coal-bed methane and no coal mining in the Flathead on the Canadian side," Schweitzer said.

Companies with money already invested in leases or exploration could be compensated through the Canadian and U.S. governments, Schweitzer said, although details have not been worked out.

He credited the breakthrough to "a bold move by Premier Campbell."

Schweitzer added: "I can say of all of the things I've managed to accomplish, there's none I'm more proud of."

Since the 1980s, Montana has resisted a series of proposals for mining and oil and gas development in the Canadian Flathead, largely because the basin's waters flow south into the North Fork Flathead drainage, along the west boundary of Glacier Park and into Flathead Lake.

There are concerns over pollution along with impacts on fish and wildlife.

"People in the Flathead Valley place a very high value on Glacier Park and clean water," Hadden said. "The B.C. government announcement represents an important opportunity for Montanans to work with B.C. to protect the entire North Fork Flathead watershed, including unfinished conservation on the U.S. side of the border."

Several years ago, the B.C. provincial government imposed a moratorium on coal mining in the lower third of the Canadian Flathead, but that was regarded as a temporary, stopgap protection, Hadden said.

"This a higher-level announcement," he said. "This is B.C. responding to their own constituents as well as to the concerns of the international community."

Other Montana conservation groups applauded Point's remarks.

"As the world's first international peace park, Waterton-Glacier is more than just a national park," said Will Hammerquist, Glacier program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. "It is an icon of international cooperation, peace between nations, and the special relationship between Canada and the United States. Today's announcement honors this vision and is an opportunity to begin a new era of transboundary cooperation in the Flathead Valley and surrounding Crown of the Continent ecosystem."

According to Tim Preso, staff attorney for the law firm Earthjustice, "Today's announcement marks an important step forward to protect the undeveloped, low-elevation valley in southern Canada, where grizzly bears, lynx and wolverines still roam beside pure water that nurture native trout. We are pleased that British Columbia now recognizes what the U.N. World Heritage Committee recently reaffirmed: The wild Flathead Valley is a treasure more precious than coal or gold."
Schweitzer summed it up:

"It's a great day for British Columbia, Montana, Canada, the United States and the entire world that reveres the Crown of the Continent."

The state's two U.S. senators, Democrats Jon Tester and Max Baucus, welcomed the mining ban. They earlier asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other federal officials to put diplomatic pressure on Canada to stop development.

A Canadian mining industry representative told the Associated Press the government would be asked to reconsider but acknowledged the chances of a reversal appear low.

Gavin Dirom, president of the British Columbia Association of Mineral Exploration, blamed U.S. interests for meddling in Canadian politics and pushing through a ban that will hurt the province's economy.

"We feel like we were bullied," Dirom said.


For more information about the CBB contact:
-- BILL CRAMPTON, Editor/Writer, bcrampton@cbbulletin.com, phone:
541-312-8860 or
-- BARRY ESPENSON, Senior Writer, bespenson@msn.com, phone: 360-696-4005; fax: 360-694-1530


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