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Weekly Fish and Wildlife News
October 29, 2010
Issue No. 551

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Table of Contents

* Sea Lion Removal: Some Task Force Members Suggest Loosening Criteria To Trap More Animals

* Sea Lion Removal: Should Hazing Remain A Precondition Before Lethal Methods Employed?

* This Year’s La Nina Likely To Bring Cold, Moist Jet Streams Into Northwest This Winter

* River Flow Regime Set To Protect Listed Chum Salmon Spawning Below Bonneville Dam

* Oregon, Bonneville Power Sign Willamette Basin Wildlife Habitat Agreement

* Draft EIS Released On Using Surface Water To Replace Groundwater In E. Wash. Odessa Subarea

* New Performance Index Analyzes Environmental Impacts Of Marine Fish Farming

* USFWS Status Review Says Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit Still Endangered

* Court Approves Consent Decree To Clean Up Waste From Hanford Underground Tanks

* NOAA Ship Taking Samples From ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ To Study Impacts On Marine Ecosystem


* Sea Lion Removal: Some Task Force Members Suggest Loosening Criteria To Trap More Animals

Some members of the Pinniped-Fishery Interaction Task Force argued this week that it’s time to liberalize the rules of engagement to enable the removal of more California sea lions from below the Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam during the next two years than have been removed annually since 2008.

“If we’re going to do anything short of a full court press we’ll be back here in two years,” Carl Scheeler of the Umatilla Tribes said of a state sea lion removal program that has fallen short of goals – to reduce predation on migrating salmon to 1 percent of the spring run – and is set to expire after the spring 2012 season.

The chief opponent of the lethal removal program, the Humane Society of the United States, said it’s time to drop the program and focus on other factors that cause salmon mortality, such as the hydro system, hatcheries and non-native fish that prey on salmon

“The goal of the program was to reduce predation and help in the recovery of salmon. It is not doing either,” said Sharon Young of the HSUS. The returning spawners in springtime include salmon and steelhead stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

“There will always be new arrivals to take up the slack,” Young said of the California sea lions that follow the salmon runs inland in springtime and gorge themselves on fish that stall before finding fish ladders that climb up and over the dam.

Scheeler and Young are both members of the 18-member task force assembled by NOAA Fisheries in 2007 to formulate recommendations about whether lethal removal authority should be granted the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington under section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The task force, following a 17-1 vote, in November 2007 recommended that lethal removal authority was justified and laid out criteria on how the program should be carried out.

Among its recommendations was that the task force be reconvened after three years to review the available data and evaluate the effectiveness of the program to lethally remove certain sea lions. NOAA adopted that recommendation in its letter of authorization to the states and this fall called together the task force – representing the academic, scientific and conservation communities, tribes and federal and state agencies.

The task force met Monday and Tuesday in Portland, and will meet again Nov. 9-10. Once it completes its deliberations, the task force will submit its recommendation to NOAA Fisheries. The federal agency will then decide a course of action – whether to continue the program unchanged for the next two years, whether to modify the removal authority and/or terms of the letter of authorization or to determine that the permitted lethal removals have been effective and disband the task force.

The states themselves say that the program should continue, but with modifications. In three seasons (March 1 through May 31) at total of 40 California sea lions have been trapped, including 37 below Bonneville and three at Astoria, Ore., near the river mouth, and removed. Ten were accepted by zoos or aquariums, 22 were euthanized and five died accidentally. The approval allowed the removal of up to 86 animals yearly though NOAA Fisheries predicted that the states would probably be able to capture and remove 30 of the big marine mammals at best in any given year.

Historically only a handful of California sea lions ventured as far upriver as Bonneville each year. The male sea lions venture north from their breeding grounds off the Southern California coast in winter and spring to forage.

But at the turn of the century, more of the pinnipeds began to make the trip up the Columbia, perhaps drawn by what were among the largest spring chinook returns in modern history. The uptick prompted monitoring of the sea lions at the dam to evaluate what impact pinnipeds were having on salmon runs, which have had peaks and valleys in the years since.

Since 2002 researchers have charted the number of individual California sea lions that prey on salmon each year (from 59 to just over 100) and how many fish they are observed eating. Since 2006 the adjusted salmon consumption estimates have ranged from 2.4 percent of the salmon passing Bonneville this past spring to 4.7 percent in 2007. The percentage of the run that is consumed by sea lions each year is greatly affected by the size of the run.

Despite falling short of the goal of reducing predation to 1 percent, “I believe we have been successful” given the constraints under which the program is operated, Steve Williams of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said. The task force member noted that many of the California sea lions trapped and removed were among the most regular visitors to the dam and the animals observed taking the most fish.

“It could have been worse,” Williams said of predation this year if those animals remained in the water. He said the states were disappointed that that it was unable to trap as many animals as they wanted.

“Maybe what we may need to do is add more traps,” he said. Williams also suggested adjustments should be made to the criteria used to judge whether a particular animal becomes eligible for removal.

The criteria outlined in NOAA Fisheries’ approval letter said an individually identifiable California sea lion must:

-- have been observed eating salmonids in the "observation area" below Bonneville Dam between Jan. 1 and May 31 of any year; AND
-- have been observed in the observation area below Bonneville Dam on a total of any five days (consecutive days, days within a single season, or days over multiple years) between Jan. 1 and May 31 of any year; AND
-- are sighted in the observation area below Bonneville Dam after they have been subjected to active non-lethal deterrence. NOAA Fisheries asked the task force to consider five sets of questions, three to which were on the table this week.

A proposal that emerged Tuesday was to pare the criteria to having seen a sea lion eating salmon below the dam OR having seen an animal at the dam for five days. The more liberalized criteria would likely expand the list of eligible animals and thus increase the odds that more eligible animals would haul out to rest on the states’ floating traps.

“Getting (eligible) animals on the trap is really the bottleneck,” said Robin Brown, Marine Mammal Project leader for the ODFW and a technical adviser for the task force.

Task force member Tom Loughlin, a marine mammal scientist, noted the proposed changes eased the qualification for removal, “which I am not necessarily in favor of.”

Under the existing criteria, “They had to be repeat offenders. It wasn’t a one-time deal,” Loughlin said.

Salmon for All board member Bruce Buckmaster, also a task force member, said the proposed modifications did not make qualification rules liberal enough. Salmon for All is an association of gill netters, fish buyers, processors and associated businesses.

“We cannot meet our goal with this criteria,” said Buckmaster who, like Scheeler, feels an aggressive approach is needed to remove as many of the predators as possible in hope that their number will not be replenished by California sea lions that are, at this point, ignorant of the Bonneville buffet. Scheeler said the removal program’s goal is two-pronged – to reduce predation and to remove saavy sea lions that would in future years lead their mates upriver.

The Humane Society’s Young argued that Bonneville predation “is a very different situation than what Section 120 was written to correct.” Section 120, an amendment to the MMPA, was written in direct response to California sea lion predation at Ballard Locks in Seattle where much fewer pinnipeds were involved and the situation was manageable with the removal of just three animals.

Daryl Boness, a member of the Marine Mammal Commission, said the suggested modifications actually swing the criteria back towards the criteria recommended by the task force in 2007. NOAA Fisheries approval made the criteria more demanding.

Boness said that he agreed with other task force members that the Section 120 removal program “is likely to fail in the long run.” But, he said, the effort deserves to play out over the next two years.

“I’m not ready to give up on this approach,” Boness said, as a way of reducing one of the factors that limits salmon recovery.

For related materials go to http://www.mediate.com/DSConsulting/pg23.cfm


* Sea Lion Removal: Should Hazing Remain A Precondition Before Lethal Methods Employed?

There are no known new technologies, and the methods now used in attempts to chase California sea lions away from their salmon feeding grounds below Bonneville Dam lack effectiveness.

So the Pinniped-Fishery Interaction Task Force is considering a recommendation that hazing not be a precondition for the lethal removal of the marine mammals as a means to reduce predation on salmon and steelhead stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

A federal letter of approval granting the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington lethal removal authority says that California sea lions must be “subjected to active non-lethal deterrence” before a lethal solution is implemented. And the statute that allows lethal removals, Section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, says the task force must “suggest nonlethal alternatives, if available and practicable, including a recommended course of action.”

The task force was formed in 2007 by NOAA Fisheries Service to consider whether the states’ application for lethal removal authority should be approved. The panel was reconvened this week to evaluate the program’s effectiveness to date at reducing salmon predation and, potentially, make recommendations about how the program’s effectiveness might be improved.

The hazing was used before lethal removal was authorized in March 2008 and seems only to move the animals, not reduce predation or chase them downriver, according to research.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services has used various non-lethal deterrents, working from the dam face in observation areas of Powerhouse 1, the spillway and Powerhouse 2, dawn to dusk, seven days per week during the March-May period. That effort is coordinated with boat-based hazing by carried out by the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

The hazing has involved a combination of acoustic, visual, and tactile non-lethal deterrents, including vessel chasing, above-water pyrotechnics (cracker shells, screamer shells or rockets), rubber bullets, rubber buckshot, and beanbags. Boat-based crews also used underwater percussive devices known as seal bombs.

But, the states and CRITFC say the hazing has been largely futile, as does U.S. Army Corps of Engineer researchers who monitor the sea lions presence at Bonneville, and their feeding activity.

“Harassment efforts continued each year both from land and boats and continue to show limited local, short term benefits in chasing some sea lions away from fishways and tailrace areas. Acoustic deterrents have shown no impact at all to the presence of sea lions near the fishway entrances,” according to the Corps researchers’ “Evaluation of Pinniped Predation on Adult Salmonids and Other Fish in the Bonneville Dam Tailrace, 2008-2010.”

“For all years, hazing activity temporarily moved some sea lions out of tailrace areas, but the animals typically returned and resumed foraging shortly after hazer’s left the area,” the report said. And the animals appear to have made up for that lost time.

“A slight shift to more predation occurring in the first and last hour of light during the day can be seen, which corresponds to hazing activities start and end times.

“The high adult salmonid and sturgeon consumption estimates seen in 2010 suggest that, at best, hazing at the current level of intensity only slows the increase of predation,” the report says.

The dam-based hazing is non-negotiable, since is to a large extent put in place by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deter avian predators that gather to feed on juvenile salmon headed downstream. The sea lions’ primary focus is spring chinook salmon spawners. The Corps operates the dam.

Steve Williams of ODFW and Guy Norman of WDFW, both task force members, suggested that the rules be changed so that hazing could be used on-call to address specific situations – such as to chase protected Steller sea lions off the floating traps to make room for California sea lions – but not be required. That would allow funds now spent on hazing to be shifted to other purposes that might be more helpful.

Doug Hatch, a Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission biologist, agreed that more flexibility is needed and that at least some of the hazing money could be put to better uses.

“It would give us an opportunity to do more of the acoustic telemetry, track the animals” to learn more about their activity and about the sea lions’ abundance elsewhere, said Hatch, also a task force member.

“It’s expensive,” Hatch said of a tribal effort that involves a boat and three people five days per week for three months.

“But you can’t just cut it off,” Hatch said. The hazing has helped to some degree shooing Steller sea lions, which plunder white sturgeon that congregate just below the dam in winter. Any shifting in funds would have to involve discussions with the Bonneville Power Administration, which funds the CRITFC hazing effort.

The states too want protections for white sturgeon, which are a valued resource for anglers and commercial fishers alike. But it appears the Stellers, like their California cousins, have become immune to the hazing.

“It’s moving them around but not out of the area,” Williams said, adding that his definition of effectiveness is “getting them out of there.”

Task force member Daryl Boness, Marine Mammal Commission member, suggested that perhaps the hazing could be scaled up to a level involving chasing the animals farther downstream, rather than scaled down.

But Brian Brown, head of the ODFW’s Marine Mammal Project, said that had been tried but the area is just too big “and there are fish everywhere” for the animals to prey on. The animals would flee downriver, “but in an hour they’re back. You just can’t do that all day long.”

Williams said he was not suggesting that hazing be ended but rather that those involved be allowed “to use the tool when they feel it is most necessary” to support the goal of reducing predation.

The Human Society of the United States’ Sharon Young said that Section 10 requires that non-lethal means must be proven ineffective before they could be ended. So far the hazing has not produced the desired result – chasing animals away from the dam – but has likely had some effect reducing predation, she said.


* This Year’s La Nina Likely To Bring Cold, Moist Jet Streams Into Northwest This Winter

The winds and general drenching across much of the Columbia River basin in recent days are likely just the start, according to climate experts who gathered in Vancouver, Wash., last week for the 14th annual “Washington/Oregon Climate and Water Meeting: 2011 Water Year.”

The strength of current “La Nina” climate signals, and the fact that it transitioned quickly and strongly from stout El Nino conditions, make even more likely that the Pacific Northwest will experience a wetter and colder winter than is the average, the experts say. That means that streamflows fed by mountain snowpack would also most likely to be higher than average.

Mother Nature can be contrary. La Nina prevailed going into the winter of 2000-2001. But the result was a meager snowpack and one of the lowest runoff volumes on record.

“It defied the odds,” Nathan Mantua of the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts said. That is highly unlikely this year.

“The La Nina is stronger this year,” Mantua said of below normal sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures and other signals.

“This is a very strong La Nina event,” the strongest since the 1950s by some measures, he said. The last time ocean and atmospheric conditions, as measured by the Multivariate ENSO Index, were as low as they are now was in 1954. Low indicates La Nina and high indicates El Nino. ENSO stands for El Nino/Southern Oscillation, the major source of inter-annual climate variability in the Pacific Northwest. El Nino conditions increase the likelihood of drier, warmer winters; La Nino ups the odds of having a wetter, cooler winter.

Of the climate signals monitored, “many are getting stronger,” Mantua said.

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the predominant source of inter-decadal climate variability in the Pacific Northwest, has also slipped into a cool phase, Mantua said. That condition most often supports those increased La Nina odds. The PDO is characterized by changes in sea surface temperature, sea level pressure and wind patterns.
The two indexes “continue to be our best indicators for winter climate,” Mantua said. “There are strong odds for a wet fall.” And those La Nina conditions are expected to persist through the winter.

A typical climate pattern in La Nina years is that moist jet streams pummel the northwest, either directly from the West or by looping up through Alaska and then down. The latter pattern “can bring very cold weather,” Mantua said.

“There are many different flavors of these things,” said Alan Hamlet, but the swift and strong transition from last winter’s El Nino conditions to La Nina like this late spring and summer have most often meant a wet, stormy winter is looming.

He said that water year pairs with ENSO transitions from warm to cool phase in a single year are strongly associated historically with above average flows in Columbia River in the second year. And historically such paired (warm/cool) events are more likely to occur when a strong (above 1.0 standard deviation) warm event occurs.

The existence La Nina has often “biased” Northwest weather toward producing higher flows.

Dating back to 1900 there have been 14 years with a transition as abrupt as the flip-flop that took place this past spring and summer as equatorial sea surface temperatures shifted from well above normal to well below normal. In 12 of those years the April-September streamflows as now measured at The Dalles were 108 percent of average or higher, and in only one year were streamflows below normal. In nine of 14 years streamflows were 114 percent of average.

Hamlet said the region is “likely to be in very wet territory, or certainly above average” flow conditions next spring though, again, Mother Nature can be fickle.

Still, building knowledge about how ENSO influences the region improves the reliability of long-term predictability.

“Thus increased odds of above average flow are predictable with very long lead times of up to 24 months under certain conditions. In June 1997, with a strong warm ENSO event clearly under way, elevated odds of high flows in warm season 1999 would have been predicted, for example,” Hamlet included.

The annual climate and water meetings are sponsored by CIG to provide a forum for discussing the upcoming winter's climate forecast and how it may affect streamflow conditions in the Columbia River Basin and coastal drainages in Washington and Oregon in 2011. The meeting also highlights new research, decision support tools, and other information useful to managing for Pacific Northwest climate variability and climate change.

CIG is an interdisciplinary research group studying the impacts of natural climate variability and global climate change (“global warming”) and informing the region about those potential impacts.

Presentations from the meeting have been posted on the meeting website in PDF format:

The Idaho Climate and Water Meeting for the 2001 Water Year provides the opportunity to hear how forecasted climate conditions for the winter 2010-2011 may affect regional climate and streamflow conditions in the Columbia and Snake River Basins in 2011. More information on the Idaho meeting is available at:


* River Flow Regime Set To Protect Listed Chum Salmon Spawning Below Bonneville Dam

With an unknown number of chum salmon known to be headed up the Columbia River, the Technical Management Team on Tuesday set Nov. 1 as the date for the start of flows past Bonneville Dam at levels designed to facilitate spawning and protect egg nests until young fish hatch out next spring to start a new generation.

The Columbia River chum salmon stock has since March 1999 been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The two primary chum population centers are located in the Grays River area in the lower Columbia estuary and below Bonneville Dam in Hamilton Creek, Hardy Creek in Washington, and nearby at Ives Island and Pierce islands. Bonneville is about 146 river miles from the mouth of the Columbia.

The May 2008 Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion says to provide a tailwater elevation below Bonneville Dam of approximately 11.5 feet beginning the first week of November (or when chum arrive) and ending by Dec. 31, if reservoir elevations and climate forecasts indicate that operation can be maintained through incubation and emergence. That tailwater elevation allows fish access to tributary spawning and then keeps eggs underwater until they hatch in the spring. The NOAA Fisheries BiOp describes measures the agency feels are necessary to avoid jeopardizing the survival of listed salmon and steelhead stocks.

Daytime flows are expected to be approximately 120,000 cubic feet per second to achieve this tailwater elevation, but may range higher or lower depending on contributing factors such as tidal effects or unexpected inflows, according to Doug Baus, fisheries biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Reservoir Control Center. The Corps operates Bonneville and, along with the Bureau of Reclamation, other dams in the Columbia-Snake river system.

NOAA Fisheries’ Paul Wagner said TMT members agreed on a strategy in which the hydro system would be operated to assure a tailwater elevation of at least 9.5 feet for the last five days in October before moving to the BiOp prescribed elevation.

The chum operation can threaten the system’s capability to store desired amounts of water for other fish-related actions, such as the provision for stored water to augment flows for spring salmon migrations. But, most forecasts for the winter of 2010-2011 point to prevailing La Nina climatic conditions, which tip the odds toward higher than average precipitation in the Pacific Northwest.

The Corps reservoirs are also operated to prepare for winter flood control.

Recent storm events and higher flows appear to have cued chum into earlier-than-normal spawning behaviors, said Baus. Precipitation as measured above The Dalles for the month of October to date is 123 percent of normal.

Monitoring in place since 1998 shows that the first arrival of live chum at the Ives Island spawning grounds ranged from as early as Oct. 23 (last year) to as late as Nov. 14. As of Tuesday no chum had been spotted at Ives or any of the upriver – from the Interstate 205 bridge at Portland up to Bonneville – sites.

Chum have been appearing in the catches of the lower Columbia gill-net fleet since an Oct. 5-6 fishery. And that chum presence has been big, relatively speaking.

“We’ve seen a lot of fish caught in the gill-net fisheries,” Wagner said. Generally the appearance of chum on the Ives Island and other nearby spawning areas comes within a few weeks of their appearance in the lower river.

Another sign that the chum return may be higher than average number – 22 – that have already been counted in Bonneville Dam’s fish ladders. Wagner said that this point in time typically fewer than 10 chum would have been counted.

A total of 247 chum have been netted this year. That’s the most since 1992 when gill netters landed 700. The next highest total during that period was 116 in 2001. The vast majority of the chum catch was during fisheries staged in the mainstem from Longview, Wash., down to the river mouth.

“In recent years the numbers (of chum caught in commercial fisheries) have been pretty small, and we have changed out fishing practices” to avoid incidental take of listed chum, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Cindy LeFleur said. The WDFW and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife co-manage Columbia mainstem commercial fisheries, which no longer extend into November when the bulk of the chum spawners arrive. Harvest management agreements allow an impact of as much of 5 percent on any year’s chum run, but the state agencies manage fisheries to hold impacts below 2 percent, LeFleur said.

“The numbers have been so small that we haven’t had to worry about it,” LeFleur said of the minimal sport or commercial chum catch in recent years.

The most live chum counted at the Ives Island/Pierce Island spawning areas was 1,157 in 2002, according to data posted online by the Fish Passage Center. That record goes back to 1998. Second most was 298 in 2003.

The annual historic run size to the Columbia River was estimated to be 1,392,000 chum salmon, according to information posted on the WDFW’s web site. The current run size is less than 3 percent of historic run size, and is less than 12 percent of the 1951 run size, the WDFW says.

Observations of chum salmon still occur in most of the other 13 basins/areas that were identified in 1951 as having populations. But returns to those areas are extremely small, LeFleur. The Grays system has by far the Columbia River chum population.


* Oregon, Bonneville Power Sign Willamette Basin Wildlife Habitat Agreement

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Steve Wright, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, last Friday (Oct. 22) signed an agreement to jointly protect nearly 20,000 acres of Willamette Basin wildlife habitat – more than twice the area of Oregon’s largest state park.

The agreement dedicates stable funding from electric ratepayers for 15 years to safeguard Willamette habitat for many native species such as Oregon’s state bird, the western meadowlark.

State and BPA officials say the agreement supports Kulongoski’s “Willamette River Legacy” and fulfills BPA’s responsibility under the Northwest Power Act to offset the impacts of federal flood control and hydropower dams.

(For more details see Aug. 20, 2010 CBB Story: “Oregon, BPA Close To Proposed $103.5 Million Agreement On Willamette Valley Mitigation” http://www.cbbulletin.com/395574.aspx)

“This agreement marks a landmark partnership between federal, state and local governments and organizations,” Kulongoski said. “This agreement allows us to not just maintain the crown jewel of the Willamette Valley – but to restore and enhance habitat for many future generations of Oregonians.”

The state will engage tribes and others in a public process for allocating ratepayer funds to the most ecologically beneficial and cost-effective habitat projects. Tribes, agencies and others may use the funds to protect and restore wetlands, floodplains, grasslands, oak woodlands, riparian areas and other rare habitat, consistent with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Oregon Conservation Strategy and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program.

Some river and stream habitat will benefit spring chinook and steelhead protected by the Endangered Species Act.

“This new partnership will ensure that we protect the most essential Willamette habitat in a way that delivers lasting value for ratepayers, and for Oregon and its wildlife,” Wright said. “We’re fulfilling an important obligation to wildlife, while remaining accountable to the electric customers who are providing this funding.”

The agreement’s signing provides for BPA funding of two major initial habitat acquisitions: Purchase of 1,270 acres at the confluence of the Middle and Coast forks of the Willamette River southeast of Eugene by The Nature Conservancy and a conservation easement on 1,310 acres of forest and other habitat owned by Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey near Lafayette. Both were expected to close by the end of this month.

 The Willamette Wildlife Habitat Agreement is a “memorandum of agreement” between BPA and Oregon specifying BPA wildlife habitat commitments to offset the impacts of federal dams on Willamette River tributaries, as required by the Northwest Power Act.

--- The Willamette River Basin Flood Control Project:

Number of dams: 13, eight of which generate power
Ownership: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (BPA markets power from the dams)
Purpose: Primarily flood control, with hydropower, recreation and irrigation
When built: 1941-1969
Approximate hydropower generation: 180 average megawatts

--- The agreement by the numbers:


Total lost to dam construction/inundation: 17,791
Negotiated total to mitigate for dam impacts: 26,537
Protected with BPA funds before 2010: 6,699
Protected 2010 (including Mount Pisgah/Wildish and Trappist Abbey): 2,958
Total protected so far: 9,657
Still to be protected: 16,880

BPA funding (amounts will increase 2.5 percent per year for inflation starting fiscal 2015)
Habitat protection fiscal 2011-2013: $2.5 million/year
Operations and maintenance fiscal 2011-2012: $837,000/year
Operations and maintenance fiscal 2013: $1.1 million/year
Habitat protection fiscal 2014-2025: $8 million/year
Operations and maintenance fiscal 2014-2025:$1.7 million/year


* Draft EIS Released On Using Surface Water To Replace Groundwater In E. Wash.’s Odessa Subarea

The Bureau of Reclamation and the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River have released for public comment the completed the Odessa Subarea Special Study Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The study examines the feasibility, acceptability, and environmental consequences of alternatives to replace groundwater currently used for irrigation on approximately 102,600 acres in the Odessa Ground Water Management Subarea with Columbia Basin Project surface water.

A “no action” alternative, four partial-replacement alternatives, and four full-replacement alternatives are evaluated. The draft EIS lists four specific needs:

-- declining groundwater supply for agriculture and other uses in the study area;
-- possible significant economic loss to the region’s agricultural sector because of continued decline of groundwater supply;
-- environmental concerns and interests, including Columbia River seasonal flow objectives for salmon, steelhead, and habitats of importance to other sensitive species, and
-- commitment by Reclamation, Ecology, and Columbia Basin Project irrigation districts to cooperatively conduct the study.

The purpose of the study is to address issues related to the declining aquifer in the Odessa Subarea that impact the ability of farmers to irrigate their crops, as well as domestic, commercial, municipal, and industrial water uses.

The public review and comment period is scheduled to run until Dec. 31. Comments may be submitted orally, electronically, or by regular mail and all comments will be considered and responded to in the final EIS.

Oral comments may be presented at one of two open house public hearings. The hearings will be from 3 to 7 p.m. on the dates and locations listed below:

Nov. 17
Coulee Dam Town Hall
300 Lincoln Ave.
Coulee Dam Wash. 99116

Nov. 18
Grant County Advanced Technologies Center Building 1800
Big Bend Community College
7611 Bolling St. NE
Moses Lake Wash. 98837

The document can be found at http://www.usbr.gov/pn/programs/ucao_misc/odessa/index.html


* New Performance Index Analyzes Environmental Impacts Of Marine Fish Farming

Industrial-scale aquaculture production magnifies environmental degradation, according to the first global assessment of the effects of marine finfish aquaculture (e.g. salmon, cod, turbot and grouper) released this week.

This is true even when farming operations implement the best current marine fish farming practices, says the study.

John Volpe and his team at the University of Victoria developed the Global Aquaculture Performance Index, a system for objectively measuring the environmental performance of fish farming.

"Scale is critical," said Volpe, a marine ecologist. "Over time, the industry has made strides in reducing the environmental impact per ton of fish, but this does not give a complete picture. Large scale farming of salmon, for example, even under even the best current practices creates large scale problems."

The fish farming industry is an increasingly important source of seafood, especially as many wild fisheries are in decline. Yet farming of many marine fish species has been criticized as causing ecological damage. The researchers found that the relatively new marine finfish aquaculture sector in China and other Asian countries lags in environmental performance.

Volpe added, "The fastest growing sector is Asia, where we found a troubling combination of poor environmental performance and rapidly increasing production."

With support from the Lenfest Ocean Program, Volpe and his team developed GAPI, which uses 10 different criteria to assess and score environmental impacts. Incorporating information such as the application of antibiotics and discharge of water pollutants, GAPI allows researchers to gauge which farmed species and countries of production have the best or worst environmental performance.

The researchers examined the environmental impact of marine fish farming per ton of fish produced and the cumulative environmental impact for each country producing a major farmed species.

"GAPI provides a valuable tool for developing environmentally responsible fish farming. Governments can use GAPI to inform policies and regulations to minimize the environmental footprint of fish farming. Farmers can use it to improve production practices. And buyers can use it to compare and select better, more environmentally friendly seafood options," said Chris Mann, senior officer and director of the Pew Environment Group's Aquaculture Standards Project, which collaborated on the work.

The GAPI 2010 report released this week is based on 2007 data, the most recent year for which data for all aquaculture indicators are available. GAPI analysis will be updated periodically as additional data becomes available. For additional information, updated research and analysis, go to the GAPI Web site at www.gapi.ca

The Lenfest Ocean Program supports scientific research aimed at forging solutions to the challenges facing the global marine environment. The program was established in 2004 by the Lenfest Foundation and is managed by the Pew Environment Group.

The University of Victoria, located in Victoria, British Columbia is a national and international leader in the study of the oceans, with expertise as far-ranging as ocean-climate interactions, ocean observation systems, physical and chemical oceanography, marine ecology, coastal resource management and ocean engineering.


* USFWS Status Review Says Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit Still Endangered

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week it has completed a five-year status review of the endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit that says it remains endangered and some threats have increased.

The reviewers found increased risk from disease in captivity, habituation to captive conditions likely making some individuals less capable of surviving in the wild, and loss of genetic uniqueness due to interbreeding with pygmy rabbits from other populations.

The complete status review may be found at: http://www.fws.gov/wafwo/species.html

The USFWS also announced that it is beginning the process to amend the draft Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit recovery plan originally distributed for public review and comment in August 2007. On completion of the process the agency will seek public review and comment on the amended draft recovery plan.

The USFWS listed the Columbia Basin distinct population segment of the pygmy rabbit under emergency provisions of the Endangered Species Act in 2001 and fully listed it on March 5, 2003.

The pygmy rabbit is the smallest rabbit in North America. Adults weigh about 1 pound and measure less than a foot in length. In the wild, pygmy rabbits are typically found in sagebrush habitat, and primarily eat sagebrush, native bunchgrasses, and other perennial plants. The pygmy rabbit is one of only two rabbit species in North America that digs its own burrows and therefore is most often found in areas that include both suitable foods and relatively deep, loose soils that allow burrowing.

Historically, the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit was likely found in appropriate shrub-steppe habitat in portions of Douglas, Grant, Lincoln, Adams, Franklin, and Benton counties in Washington.

The last known population of the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit in the wild was believed to be extinct by mid-2004, although other wild populations may still occur in unsurveyed areas of central Washington. In 2007, twenty captive-bred pygmy rabbits were reintroduced to central Washington habitats historically occupied by the species. These captive-bred animals experienced a high level of predation and it is unlikely any survived through the fall of 2007. Biologists will be able to apply knowledge gained from that release to help improve survival rates of future releases.

The USFWS considers the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit a DPS because the population is separate from others of its kind and its conservation is significant to the remainder of the species. The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit has been isolated from other pygmy rabbit populations for at least 10,000 years, as suggested by the fossil record and genetic analyses. This DPS is the only population of the species that occurs in the unusual ecological setting of the Columbia Basin and it is markedly different genetically from other pygmy rabbit populations.

"Recovery of the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit will require creative efforts," said Ken Berg, manager of the Service's Washington Fish and Wildlife Office in Lacey, Wash. "Close collaboration with our partners and stakeholders will be essential to an effective recovery program for this population."

The USFWS, in partnership with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, has a program to enroll non-federal land owners who are interested in helping conserve the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit. Participation in the voluntary Safe Harbor Agreement provides landowners and managers with assurances that future land-use restrictions will not be imposed on them if they voluntarily implement management measures that would be expected to benefit the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit.


* Court Approves Consent Decree To Clean Up Waste From Hanford Underground Tanks

The U.S. District Court in Spokane has approved and entered a judicial consent decree that imposes a new, enforceable schedule for cleaning up waste from Hanford’s underground tanks.

The consent decree is one piece of a two-part settlement package, which also includes new milestones in the Tri-Party Agreement, an administrative order between the U.S. Department of Energy, Washington State Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which governs cleanup at DOE’s Hanford Site.

“This consent decree shows that America will keep its promises to clean up the toxic legacy of nuclear weapons development at Hanford, “ said Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire. “The radioactive and hazardous waste will be removed from those huge, leak-prone underground storage tanks. The Columbia River — and a million people who live and work downstream from Hanford — will be protected from contamination. Now we can all focus our full attention on getting the cleanup completed.”

“This consent decree opens a new chapter in a long effort to establish an enforceable and achievable schedule to clean up nuclear waste currently stored in Hanford’s underground tanks,” said Attorney General Rob McKenna. “Thanks to the dedication and expertise of our state’s highly experienced negotiating team, the people of the Tri-Cities and those from surrounding areas in Washington and Oregon have a new — court-enforceable — commitment from the federal government to complete the cleanup project at Hanford.”

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Gregoire, McKenna, and other state and federal officials announced the proposed consent decree and modifications to the TPA in August 2009, and committed to receiving input from stakeholders and interested governments prior to finalizing it.

The Tri-Party Agencies held a 72-day public comment period, a public workshop, and five public meetings to gather public comments on the proposed consent decree and TPA modifications. About 146 public comments were received, which Washington State officials considered prior to entering the final judicial consent decree. The TPA amendments were signed by DOE, Ecology and EPA on Oct. 6.

The consent decree is the product of several years of negotiations by the parties. It is part of the settlement of a lawsuit that Ecology filed against DOE to compel the completion of key aspects of the Hanford cleanup. The state of Oregon joined the lawsuit later.

Hanford currently stores over 53 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste in 177 underground tanks at the site. The Waste Treatment Plant  is being designed and built to immobilize the tank waste in a glass form in a process called vitrification.
Key points of the agreement:

-- Pacing milestones to keep construction of the WTP on schedule.

-- Completion of the retrieval of single-shell tanks in Hanford’s C Farm in 2014.

-- Treatment of tank waste beginning in 2019 with full operations in 2022.

-- Completing the retrieval of all single-shell tanks in 2040.

-- Completing the treatment of tank waste in 2047.

-- Closing the double-shell tank farms in 2052.

Information about the consent decree and TPA modifications can be found at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/nwp/2008lawsuit_settlement.htm


* NOAA Ship Taking Samples From ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ To Study Impacts On Marine Ecosystem

NOAA Fisheries scientists onboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer are collecting plankton samples from Hawaii to the U.S. West Coast and collecting floating plastic debris from the so-called “great Pacific garbage patch,” a concentrated area of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean.

Marine debris, mainly small bits of plastic, collects in the calm center of this high pressure zone. Although plankton — small, drifting organisms — are at the base of the ocean food chain, the microscopic bits of plastic can also be ingested by fish and other animals.

“There are some data gaps in our plankton sampling records between Guam and Hawaii and between Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast,” said Michael Ford of NOAA Fisheries and chief scientist for the mission sampling operations. “We need samples in these areas to better describe the diversity and distribution of plankton, so we may detect changes and better understand the plankton communities’ response to features such as the Pacific garbage patch.”

Okeanos Explorer is returning from a joint ocean expedition with Indonesian partners in the biologically diverse but largely unexplored Sulawesi Sea in Malaysia, and the ship’s route back includes legs from Guam to Hawaii and then to Alameda, Calif., near San Francisco. Taken together, the two plankton-sampling legs measure more than 5,100 nautical miles, making it the longest sampling of its kind.

Plankton is collected on silk mesh as water flows through the Continuous Plankton Recorder, a small but sophisticated rocket-shaped vehicle with wings that help keep it just below the surface where plankton congregates, is towed behind the ship to collect plankton samples. While moving, water and plankton enter the nose of the device and the plankton are caught on a slowly advancing strip of silk mesh. The plankton in these samples will be identified and quantified on land to provide data to better describe plankton communities in this area and to help fill in the data gap.

Plastic is collected by a special net called a manta, which is also towed by the ship. It measures the volume of water passing through it and collects tiny plastic samples in its fine mesh. Filtered surface water samples allow scientists to analyze the smallest end of the size spectrum for plastic particles — some as small as pollen that may be ingested by marine life including plankton.

Samples of plastic particles from both collection methods, many too small to be seen by the eye, will be counted at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle will perform several chemical analyses to test the particles for PCBs, DDT, BPA and other toxins that might be on or in the particles. All these laboratory analyses are designed to improve our understanding of the impact of microplastic marine debris on the marine ecosystem and ultimately on humans.

Plankton consists of drifting microscopic plants (phytoplankton), animals (zooplankton), bacteria (bacterioplankton) and viruses (virioplankton) that inhabit oceans, seas and bodies of fresh water. They are the most abundant form of life in the ocean, and all other marine life is ultimately dependent on plankton for food. Phytoplankton also absorbs large amounts of carbon, which would otherwise be released as carbon dioxide.

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

The stories in this e-mail newsletter are posted on the Columbia Basin Bulletin website at www.cbbulletin.com. If you would like access to the CBB archives, please consider becoming a Member of the CBB website for as little as $5 a month. Your membership will help support maintenance of the 10-year (1998-2008) news database and the production of trustworthy, timely news and information about Columbia Basin fish and wildlife issues.


Feedback comments should be sent by e-mail to the Editor at bcrampton@cbbulletin.com. Please put "feedback"in the subject line. We encourage comments about particular stories, complaints about inaccuracies or omissions; additional information; general views about the topic covered; or opinions that counterbalance statements reported.

The Columbia Basin Bulletin e-mail newsletter is produced by Intermountain Communications of Bend, Oregon and supported with Bonneville Power Administration fish and wildlife funds through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.


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