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Weekly Fish and Wildlife News
October 28, 2011
Issue No. 596

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Table of Contents

* Blast Drains Condit Dam’s Reservoir On White Salmon River; Dam Structure Removal Set For Spring 2012

* NOAA’s Sea Lion Task Force Again Discusses Lethal Removal Below Bonneville Dam

* Sens. Cantwell, Murkowski, Begich Introduce Amendment Calling For Investigation Into Salmon Virus Threat

* Alaska Dept. Of Fish And Game Monitoring Reported Evidence Of Virus Exposure In B.C. Sockeye Salmon

* Salmon BiOp Challengers Request Court Appoint Settlement Judge, Science Panel For Remand

* Researchers Plot Path, Timing Of Japan Tsunami Debris Mass Headed For Oregon, Washington, Hawaii

* ODFW Says New Wolf Pack In Northeast Oregon; 23 Wolves Now Known Minimum Number

* EA Issued For $40 Million Hydro Unit For Idaho’s Black Canyon Dam; First Unit Added To FCRPS In 30 years

* Forest Service Issues Preferred Alternative On Fire Retardant For Water Areas


* Blast Drains Condit Dam’s Reservoir On White Salmon River; Dam Structure Removal Set For Spring 2012

A muffled roar and a puff of pulverized concrete preceded a rush of silt-laden water Wednesday as contractors set free southeast Washington’s White Salmon River by blasting a hole through the base of PacifiCorp’s Condit Dam.

The waters of Northwestern Lake and sediment that has long been collecting below the dam surged down through the 13-foot-high by 18-foot-wide drain tunnel created in the dam’s 90-foot wide base during August and September.

A video of the blast is available at http://whitesalmontimelapse.wordpress.com/

The hole allowed the draining of 1.8-mile-long Northwestern Lake in a matter less than two hours and restored long-blocked passage to upstream habitat for salmon, steelhead and other fish species.

Condit, which held back the 92-acre lake/reservoir, was equipped with fish ladders when first built in 1913, but the passage devices were twice washed out due to floods during the early life of the dam. A final attempt was made in 1925, when experiments were done on a newly designed fish elevator, without success.

Tribal leaders were among the 150 people gathered for the scheduled event. All hailed the prospects for rejuvenated fish populations in the upper basin. Condit is three miles upstream from White Salmon’s confluence with the Columbia.

“The White Salmon is sacred to the tribes because it flows from Pahto or Mt. Adams,” said Gerald Lewis, a member of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council and the chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “This river system has always provided for our people. Now the White Salmon River can begin to heal and when that happens, those that depend on the river will also heal. The salmon and lamprey will return and our tribal members will be here to meet them.”

Tribal leaders from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and its four member tribes (Umatilla, Yakama, Warm Spring and Nez Perce) celebrated the blast along with local officials and representatives of other entities long involved in talks that led to the breaching.

PacifiCorp, which owns the dam, and prime contractor JR Merit of Vancouver, Wash., along with the detonation crew from Kiewit Infrastructure West, also of Vancouver, surveyed the blast zone, took readings from sensing devices on the dam and flew over the area in a helicopter before declaring the breach event a success and the remaining structure safe.

“Condit has served our customers very well for nearly a century,” said Micheal Dunn, president and chief executive officer of PacifiCorp Energy, which operates 46 hydroelectric facilities in the West. “We are sad to lose this emission-free source of power.

“But we made a decision to work with our settlement partners to come to the most reasonable solution for everyone involved, especially the cost to our customers. For the next 11 months, we will proceed with the safe dismantling of the dam structure and work toward restoring the natural streambed of the area.”

The second largest dam to be removed in the United States for fish passage, the Condit breach comes 12 years after a 1999 legal settlement was reached over whether the dam should be removed, or fish passage provided. Demolition is under way at the 210-foot-tall Glines Dam on the Elwha River on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Condit is a 125-foot high, 471-foot long concrete gravity diversion dam.

The settlement agreement outlined a removal process for the dam that was less expensive than installing fish passage, as would have been required for the company to renew its federal license to operate the dam. The cost of decommissioning and removing Condit is currently estimated at about $33 million, including funds already spent during the planning process, according to PacifiCorp.

Settlement parties include: American Rivers, American Whitewater, Columbia Gorge Audubon Society, Columbia Gorge Coalition, Columbia River United, Federation of Fly Fishers, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the White Salmon, The Mountaineers, Rivers Council of Washington, The Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, Washington Trout, Washington Wilderness Coalition, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission , the Yakama Nation, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Washington Department of Ecology, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and PacifiCorp.

Condit blocked access habitat historically used by coho, spring chinook and fall chinook salmon, steelhead and Pacific lamprey. Removal will open approximately 33 miles of new spawning and rearing grounds for steelhead and 15 miles for salmon

“This is a historic day for the White Salmon River,” said Paul Lumley, executive director for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Today is the culmination of over 20 years of work and dedication by the tribes, federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations to ensure that salmon and lamprey are given every opportunity to survive in the White Salmon River.”

“Ecology and PacifiCorp have worked together for many years to make sure the decommissioning of Condit Dam is conducted in a way that minimizes the immediate impacts to the surrounding environment so that long-term habitat restoration can occur,” said Polly Zehm, Washington Department of Ecology deputy director.

“While there will be mud and debris for a short time, we are confident that opening up the river will restore an important salmon run and create new recreation and economic opportunities in the long run,” Zehm said.

An estimated 2.4 million cubic yards of reservoir sediment is expected to flush downstream, but removal was planned at a time when fish stocks are expected to be minimally affected.

In the spring of 2012, the dam structure will be removed along with the wood-stave flowline, surge tank and penstocks. Concrete from the dam will be broken into rubble and buried onsite; other materials will be salvaged or transported to the Klickitat County waste facility, according to PacifiCorp. The powerhouse will be left intact.

The temporary upstream dam (cofferdam) that was used during the initial construction of the dam will be removed from the White Salmon River as soon as practicable, after the breaching. PacifiCorp expects the full dam removal process to take approximately one year.

Meanwhile, in the fall of 2012, work will begin on re-vegetation of the former lake bottom with native trees and grasses, along with restoration of the wetlands, the power company says. Long-term monitoring and work to control invasive plants is also planned to ensure a successful restoration on the riverbanks and reclamation of Northwestern Lake.

Throughout this restoration, the former reservoir area and project area will remain closed to the public. PacifiCorp will continue to work closely with county officials and local residents on access restrictions and other safety measures as the project progresses.

“Our focus at all times is on safety,” said Dale Kuykendall, project manager, JR Merit. “The public needs to understand that the former reservoir and the mile-long stretch of river below the dam is an active work zone and they should refrain from trying to access the area.”


* NOAA’s Sea Lion Task Force Again Discusses Lethal Removal Below Bonneville Dam

Some fracturing of support for the lethal removal of predatory California sea lions from the lower Columbia emerged this week during a discussion by the Pinniped-Salmon Interaction Task Force in Portland.

During past multi-day sessions in 2007 and 2010, the task force concluded overwhelmingly that California sea lions should be captured and killed or moved to zoos or aquariums in order to reduce the marine mammals’ predation on wild salmon and steelhead stocks that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

During those sessions the Humane Society of the United States’ Sharon Young, was the lone voice against the killing of sea lions.

But during Monday’s reconvening of the 16-member task force, marine mammal specialist Daryl Boness said he was “leaning against” support for a reauthorization under Section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act for the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington to remove “individually identifiable” California sea lions known to prey on spawning salmon.

“Efforts to kill sea lions are not going to solve the problem,” Boness said. It appears, he said, that the effect of removing 40 California sea lions during 2008-2010 has been diluted by the backfilling of other California sea lions, and more and more Steller sea lions that are increasingly preying on salmon.

NOAA Fisheries’ senior policy adviser Rob Walton likewise said a sea lion removal strategy may be all for naught. He gave “lukewarm support” for a state proposal to remove as many as 85 California sea lions from the lower Columbia in each of the next five years. Proponents acknowledge that a removal effort would not likely succeed in trapping more than 30 or so of the marine mammals per year.

The states have requested the authority under federal law to lethally remove California sea lions that prey on salmon below the lower Columbia’s Bonneville Dam. The task force, called for as part of the Section 120 consideration process, is composed of NOAA Fisheries staff, independent scientists, representatives from affected conservation and fishing communities, tribes, states and others.

“I’m not convinced that the program will work,” said Walton, who said he was concerned about “how clear the evidence is on whether it’s been effective or not, how clear the facts are.”

The 13 other members of the task force convened by NOAA Fisheries were unequivocal in their support of the state plan to trap and remove California sea lions that gather each spring below the dam and feed on, primarily, spring chinook salmon spawners.

Steller sea lions, which are themselves protected under the ESA as well as the MMPA, have not been the targets of past removal efforts. But they have become a growing concern for fish managers because the number of Stellers camping out at the dam has grown steadily in recent years, as has their consumption of salmon. In the early years of monitoring, researchers determined that most of the Stellers’ predation was focused on white sturgeon, a species that is not ESA-listed.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to remove enough animals to see if the program has been effective,” said Bob DeLong, of NOAA Fisheries National Marine Mammal Laboratory and another member of the task force. The states were first granted lethal removal in 2008. But legal wrangling, as well as logistical issues, prevented full implementation of the strategy, the states say.

“I certainly believe we need to have a full opportunity” to see if a sea lion removal effort will work, said Steve Williams, assistant administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fish Division and a member of the task force. “This problem will continue to get larger and larger and larger” without management.

“I do believe we have had an effect,” Williams said of the removals of 40 animals, many of which have been determined by researchers to be most aggressive and successful predators present below the dam in springtime.

The fate of California sea lions that ply the Columbia River to bolster their diet, and to an undetermined degree, spring-migrating salmon and steelhead, now hinges on NOAA Fisheries decision on whether to relax protections of the MMPA.

The task force is charged with providing its recommendations on lethal removal authority to NOAA Fisheries by Nov. 14.

“Once you have submitted your recommendations to us, NMFS will determine a course of action informed by the Task Force recommendations,” according to instructions from the federal agency to the task force. “In addition to the Marine Mammal Protection Act process described above, NMFS must also comply with the National Environmental Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and other relevant statutes in considering the States’ application. We intend to announce our finding on the States’ application by the end of February 2012.”

The states originally applied for sea lion removal authorization on Dec. 5, 2006. The MMPA’s Section 120 allows under certain circumstances the killing of “individually identifiable” California sea lions that are “having a significant negative impact” on the recovery of threatened and endangered Pacific salmon and steelhead. That application described the believed effect on salmon and steelhead runs resulting from interactions with pinnipeds, and expected benefits from the potential removal of pinnipeds.

NOAA Fisheries in March 2008 issued a letter of authorization, along with a NEPA environmental assessment of the proposed activity. The decision approving the states’ application was soon challenged in federal court by the HSUS, and late last year declared illegal by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

NOAA Fisheries in May reissued the authorization, saying it had corrected legal flaws noted by the appeals court. But in July the federal agency revoked the authorization and invited the states to apply again. The states submitted a new application Sept. 12.

As many as 100 individually identifiable California sea lions have visited the dam durng the late winter-spring season in recent years. Their fish prey include wild Lower Columbia River, Middle Columbia River and Snake River steelhead and Upper Columbia River spring and Snake River spring/summer chinook that are ESA protected.

The application says that while California sea lion numbers are robust, the salmonid stocks are still well short of recovery.

A key question for NOAA Fisheries, the states and others involved in the debate is whether the predation qualifies as significant, a specification of Section 120. Observed predation in the water immediately below Bonneville has risen to as high as 4.2 percent of the upriver salmonid (salmon and steelhead) run. But HSUS says that sea lion take pales in comparison to allowed mortality from human harvest and Snake-Columbia hydro operations.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Guy Norman, also a panel member, said that with some wild salmon stocks balanced on the edge, all causes of mortality are significant, and that all causes except sea lion predation are being addressed in some manner or another.

“The region has taken an approach… that is analyzed in a comprehensive manner,” Norman said. “The bottom line is the whole analysis is related to decreases across the board.”

Boness said he agreed with the approach, but that Section 120’s significance criteria must be taken into account. The lack of a clear explanation of why sea lion predation on salmon is significant when other greater causes of mortality are not sets any authorization decision up for another lawsuit, Boness said. The Ninth Circuit said that the prior decision did not properly explain how NOAA’s decision on significance was made.

NOAA Fisheries has posed more than 800 comments that it received on the states application. Those postings include sampling from an estimated 2,000-2,500 other missives there were mass mailings of identical testimony sponsored by interest groups.

To view comments, go to www.regulations.gov. In the "Enter Keyword" field, enter the docket number, which is "NOAA-NMFS-2011-0216" and click "Search".


* Sens. Cantwell, Murkowski, Begich Introduce Amendment Calling For Investigation Into Salmon Virus Threat

U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, and Mark Begich, D-AK, have introduced a bipartisan amendment that calls for an investigation of the spread of the Canadian salmon virus that they fear poses a threat to Pacific Northwest wild salmon and the coastal economies that rely on them.

The amendment, introduced to the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill (H.R. 2112), calls on the National Aquatic Animal Health Task Force to evaluate the risk the virus could have on salmon in West Coast and Alaskan waters, and to develop a plan to address the emerging threat.

Specifically, the amendment requires a report be delivered to Congress which outlines surveillance, susceptibility of species and populations, potential vectors, gaps in knowledge, and recommendations for management.

The amendment does not have a cost but, say the senators in a joint statement, “rather streamlines existing research goals and surveillance efforts, highlights research needs and forges important collaborations necessary to assess this potentially devastating risk to wild salmon and the coastal economies which rely on them.”

The virus was recently detected in salmon in British Columbia. For more information see CBB, Oct. 21, 2011 “Researchers Say Lethal Marine Influenza Virus Found In Wild Salmon Off British Columbia Coast” http://www.cbbulletin.com/413445.aspx

“We need to act now to protect the Pacific Northwest’s coastal economy and jobs,” said Cantwell. “There’s no threat to human health, but infectious salmon anemia could pose a serious threat to Pacific Northwest wild salmon and the thousands of Washington state jobs that rely on them. We have to get a coordinated game plan in place to protect our salmon and stop the spread of this deadly virus.”

“We need the best information on this troubling issue, and we need it as soon as possible,” said Murkowski. “We also must educate consumers, when it comes to letting them know that wild salmon is still safe and one of Alaska’s most delicious natural resources – but we also must assure the quality of the nation’s fisheries, as well as the job security of the thousands of Alaskans who work in them.”

“This virus is a potentially serious threat to wild salmon stocks and, as the world’s premier producer of wild salmon, the reports from BC must be looked into. These findings need to be investigated and, if confirmed, we need to know the risks which is the intent of our amendment,”said Begich. “Consumers should also know this is not a food safety or human health issue and they can continue to enjoy wild salmon knowing it is safe, healthy and good to eat.”

The task force works cross-jurisdictionally with several agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the United States Geological Survey, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

The task force brings together federal, state, local, and tribal officials to develop plans to address and provide for efficient, safe and effective national and international commerce of aquatic animals as well as the protection of cultured and wild aquatic animals from foreign pests and diseases.

* Alaska Dept. Of Fish And Game Monitoring Reported Evidence Of Virus Exposure In B.C. Sockeye Salmon

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says it is closely monitoring and evaluating a recent report that samples taken from sockeye salmon in British Columbia show exposure to Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus (ISAv).

The test results, reported by researchers from Simon Fraser University, are based on a limited sample of sockeye salmon smolts from Rivers Inlet in central B.C. The smolts were not exhibiting any outward signs of infection.

Research on ISAv indicates that the risk to Alaska’s salmon stocks is low, say agency officials.
The say Pacific salmon have been shown to be mostly resistant to ISAv, which is a flu-like disease of Atlantic salmon.

ISAv does not transmit to humans and is not a human health or food safety issue.

“Right now, there is a lot of misinformation out there about this finding and this disease,” said Ted Meyers, ADFG fisheries scientist. “The Rivers Inlet results are being analyzed through additional testing in a second laboratory to rule out any false positives. At this point we are concerned, but do not want to over react as we await more definitive information from Canada.”

Live Atlantic salmon are not allowed to be imported into Alaska. However, if the virus is confirmed present in British Columbia migratory Pacific salmon or the Atlantic salmon stocks prevalent in British Columbia fish farms, there is concern over potential impacts to Alaska salmon stocks.

“The department’s pathology lab is in contact with agencies in Canada and will continue monitoring the situation,” said Cora Campbell, commissioner, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “We will take all necessary measures to protect our stocks.”

Additional information on ISAv and the reports from B.C. can be found on the ADF&G web site at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=pressreleases.isav_info

Recently, two of 48 wild sockeye salmon smolts were test-positive by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for a European strain of ISAv from River’s Inlet, British Columbia.

The test was conducted by the Prince Edward Island Veterinary College, which is the ISAv reference laboratory for Canada. These smolts were reportedly normal in appearance and behavior. Some strains of ISAv will not grow in cell culture and, therefore, must be detected by molecular methods such as PCR. The PCR test detects the nucleic acid of the virus but does not indicate whether the virus is viable and infectious.

Although the test has a high specificity of detection, false positives are possible.

ISAv is an enveloped single stranded RNA orthomyxovirus belonging to the influenza virus group. The virus has caused disease and severe losses in Atlantic salmon and was first detected in Norway in 1984. Subsequently, 12 years later the virus caused devastating losses of Atlantic salmon in various locations including the Maritime coast of North America (New Brunswick and Maine in 1996 and 2001, respectively) and Chile in 2007.

ADFG highlighted the following considerations regarding the B.C. ISAv report results:

-- The River’s Inlet PCR results must be confirmed by additional testing in a second laboratory to rule out any false positives. A positive PCR by itself is not sufficient by OIE standards to confirm whether the virus or the disease is present in B.C.

-- If these results are confirmed, there would be concern over potential impacts to Alaska salmon stocks.

-- ISAv does not transmit to humans and is not a human health or food safety issue.

-- Research on ISAv indicates that risk to Alaska’s salmon stocks is low. Pacific salmon are relatively resistant to infection and disease from ISAv, which is a viral disease of Atlantic salmon. The susceptibility of sockeye salmon to ISAv has not been experimentally tested. Other Pacific salmon including chinook, coho, and chum as well as steelhead trout do not develop disease when injected with the Norwegian strain of ISAv, but may become infected and carry the virus for varying periods of time. However, injection is an unnatural route of infection that would not occur in nature.

-- Other strains of ISAv in North America are not pathogenic in Atlantic salmon. However, these viruses can mutate into more virulent strains, therefore we have reason for concern.

-- Atlantic herring reportedly carry the virus, but do not become diseased. This forage species could act as a reservoir and source of the virus.

Although Atlantic salmon are prohibited from importation into Alaska, there is some straying of escapees from B.C. farms, which could provide an avenue for the virus to enter Alaska waters.

However, ISAv testing by PCR of Atlantic salmon (4,726 tests) from British Columbia farms by the Canadian government during the last 8 years and during the past quarter has been negative for the virus. Therefore, the risk of virus transmission from such escapees, says ADFG, is very low.

For more information on ISAv see: International Response to Infectious Salmon Anemia: Prevention, Control, and Eradication (PDF 1,121 kB)


* Salmon BiOp Challengers Request Court Appoint Settlement Judge, Science Panel For Remand

Legal foes this week filed comments that say the federal government’s Columbia River basin salmon protection effort “fails to actually provide a meaningful or transparent” report on progress to-date and asks the judge presiding in the case to appoint a panel of independent scientific experts to ride herd on the process.

The filings by the Nez Perce Tribe, the state of Oregon and a coalition of fishing and conservation groups led by the National Wildlife Federation also ask U.S. District Court Judge James A. Redden to “appoint a settlement Judge or Magistrate Judge to meet with plaintiffs and federal defendants to work to resolve the scope of, and issues that NOAA will address in developing, a biological opinion by January 1, 2014.”

The filing comes in a long-running lawsuit regarding NOAA Fisheries’ “Federal Columbia River Power System” biological opinion. The BiOp, issued in May 2008 and supplemented in 2010, says that, when planned mitigation actions are factored in, federal Columbia-Snake hydro projects do not jeopardize the survival of salmon and steelhead stocks that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. That conclusion was challenged by the state of Oregon and NWF, with the support of the Nez Perce Tribe.

Redden in an Aug. 2 opinion and order said federal defendants had failed “to identify specific mitigation plans to be implemented beyond 2013. Because the 2008/2010 BiOp’s no jeopardy conclusion is based on unidentified habitat mitigation measures, NOAA Fisheries’ opinion that the FCRPS operations after 2013 will not jeopardize listed species is arbitrary and capricious.”

(For more detailed information see CBB, August 5, 2011, “Redden Orders New Salmon BiOp By 2014; Says Post-2013 Mitigation, Benefits Unidentified” http://www.cbbulletin.com/411336.aspx)

“The ESA prohibits NOAA Fisheries from relying on the effects of uncertain and speculative actions that are not ‘reasonably certain to occur,’” Redden wrote.

The judge ordered a court-monitored remand with Jan. 1, 2014 due date for production of “a new biological opinion that reevaluates the efficacy of the RPAs in avoiding jeopardy, identifies reasonably specific mitigation plans for the life of the biological opinion, and considers whether more aggressive action, such as dam removal and/or additional flow augmentation and reservoir modifications are necessary to avoid jeopardy.” RPAs (reasonable and prudent alternatives) are mitigation actions, such as changed hydro operations and habitat restoration, listed in the BiOp for implementation.

Redden also required that the dam operators continue spill operations for fish passage that have been implemented in recent years as outlined in court orders. Those operators, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation, and NOAA Fisheries are defendants in the lawsuit.

And he ordered that annual BiOp implementation reports be submitted to the court and allowed parties to the lawsuit to comment on those reports. NWF, Oregon and the tribe filed comments critical of the “2010 Progress Report” prepared by the Corps, Bureau and the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets power generated in the Columbia-Snake river federal hydro system.

Northwest RiverPartners, which represents power, river and water user interests, gave high marks to the federal agencies for their efforts to implement actions aimed at improving salmon survival.

“The Report outlines the myriad actions being undertaken by federal, state, tribal and private parties to implement one of the most comprehensive, far reaching and expensive plans to protect listed species anywhere,” according to RiverPartners.

“The Report describes the steady progress being made in implementing the FCRPS BiOp and to fulfill the requirements of the state and tribal salmon “Accords”, including implementation of the 69 specific actions that are part of the FCRPS BiOp’s Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA),” RiverPartners said.

The report’s data “provides further encouragement that the strategy articulate by NOAA in the BiOp is biologically sound and is producing benefits in both juvenile survival and growth in overall population sizes,” according to RiverPartners.

Oregon, NWF and the Nez Perce Tribe disagree.

The report on 2010 activity and progress “offers broad generalizations and opaque tables that fail to illuminate whether the actions broadly described in the RPA are being specifically implemented as anticipated in the 2008/2010 BiOps, whether the survival improvements from these actions are actually accruing as predicted, and what concrete actions the agencies have taken to compensate for any shortfall in either actions or survival improvements,” according to comments filed Tuesday by Earthjustice for NWF.

“... NWF respectfully asks the Court to take two steps, both within the context of the current remand, to bring sufficient accountability to the remand to ensure that it results in a scientifically sound and legally adequate revised biological opinion.” Those steps involve the appointment of a settlement judge and the creation of an independent science panel to review the BiOp work.

“An independent review of the agencies' implementation of the BiOp would inform the Court whether federal defendants are meeting the Court's expectations during this remand period,” according to comments filed by Oregon’s Attorney General’s Office. “And a settlement judge could bring all the parties together, and move them towards a biological opinion that satisfied each side, while also satisfying the expectations of the Court and the underlying requirements of the law.

“These processes can occur concurrently with-and need not interfere with-the remand process ordered by the Court.

The Nez Perce comments say it “anticipated that any ‘Progress Report’ that provides information on the implementation of a flawed BiOp would suffer from the same foundational flaws found in the BiOp.

“That is the case with the 2010 Progress Report,” according to the Nez Perce comments. “What is remarkable, however, about the 2010 Progress Report is the extent to which: (1) it does not report on information that the 2010 BiOp itself required, particularly with respect to the habitat actions in the RPA; (2) information that is reported is misleading and selective, and avoids or downplays mention of information that raises doubts about the RPA and might lead to a need to modify either the analysis or the conclusions of the2010/2008 BiOp; and (3) the report contains unsupported conclusions and assertions (e.g., “[r]esults indicate the benefits from the RPA actions implemented to date are likely accruing as expected”, Section 1 at 5) that render it nearly impossible for the parties, the Court, or anyone else to assess the accuracy of its assessments.”

“For these reasons and for the broader concerns with the remand” the tribe said it decided to join Oregon and NWF in requesting that the judge appoint a settlement magistrate and a science panel.

The NWF comments suggested that after allowing other parties an opportunity to respond to its comments, that the court set a status conference at its convenience to discuss the requests.

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


* Researchers Plot Path, Timing Of Japan Tsunami Debris Mass Headed For Oregon, Washington, Hawaii

A massive trail of debris from the devastating tsunami that struck Japan in March of 2011 is slowly making its way across the Pacific Ocean en route to the West Coast of the United States, where scientists are predicting it will arrive in the next two to three years – right on schedule.

The mass of debris, weighing millions of tons and forming a trail a thousand miles long, will likely strike Oregon and Washington, according to models based on winds and currents.

But new accounts of where the trail has progressed suggest that at least some of that debris may peel off and enter the infamous “Garbage Patch,” a huge gyre in the Pacific where plastic and other debris has accumulated over the years, according to Jack Barth, an Oregon State University oceanographer and an expert on Pacific Ocean currents and winds.

“Recent reports of debris are from farther south than the axis of the main ocean currents sweeping across the north Pacific toward Oregon,” said Barth, a professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. “This means a fair amount of debris may enter the patch. We should still see some of the effects in Oregon and Washington, but between some of the materials sinking, and others joining the garbage patch, it might not be as bad as was originally thought.”

Barth said as time goes on, more of the materials will sink as they become waterlogged, or become heavy from barnacles and other organisms growing on them.

Conversely, he said, items of debris that are higher in the water and can be caught by the winds – such as small boats – may arrive more quickly than anticipated. The “westerlies,” as these winds are called, blow straight across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to the Pacific Northwest coast “and they can be pretty strong,” Barth pointed out.

Recent reports that the debris is ahead of schedule don’t match Barth’s calculations, which suggest that the bulk of the debris should arrive along the West Coast in 2013 to 2014. It appears to be moving about 10 miles a day, he said.

Fears of contamination from the debris are largely unfounded, Barth said. The OSU scientist just returned from a meeting of PICES - the North Pacific Marine Science Organization, where Japanese scientists reported that radiation levels in the waters off the Japanese coast were below a safe threshold.

“The dilution power of the Pacific Ocean is enormous,” Barth said.

Barth led a five-year study a decade ago looking at how water moves off the Oregon coast in the aftermath of the 1999 shipwreck of the New Carissa. Hundreds of gallons of oil leaked from the vessel and despite sophisticated ocean current models, the fuel appeared in places that surprised scientists.

Although the westerlies will bring some of the debris toward the Northwest coast, what happens as it arrives near the shore will depend on the time of year, Barth said.

“One thing we learned from the New Carissa, is that when things get dumped off the Oregon coast in winter, they go quickly northward,” Barth pointed out. “If the debris arrives in the winter, some of it may get pushed up to Vancouver Island. If it gets here in the summer, it is more likely to drift down to the south.”

Local winds can further confuse the issue, keep debris off-shore in the summer when the winds are from the north, and pushing it on-shore in the winter.

The estimated 5 million to 20 million tons of debris sucked into the ocean during the massive tsunami is due to hit Hawai’i in 2013, according to University of Hawa’i at Mânoa scientists.

Nikolai Maximenko, a senior researcher at UH Mânoa’s International Pacific Research Center, and scientific computer programmer Jan Hafner, developed a computer model of ocean currents earlier this year to speculate where the debris might end up. Now, valuable sightings of the debris are being reported by sailing ships from area where the model predicted.

Ever since the tsunami scientists at the University of Hawai‘i at Mânoa’s International Pacific Research Center have been trying to track the trajectory of this debris that can threaten small ships and coastlines.

Warned by maps of the scientists’ model, the Russian sail training ship, the STS Pallada, recently found an array of unmistakable tsunami debris on its homeward voyage from Honolulu to Vladivostok.

Soon after passing Midway Islands, Pallada spotted surprising number of floating items. “On Sept. 22, in position 31042,21 N and 174045,21 E, we picked up on board the Japanese fishing boat. Radioactivity level – normal, we’ve measured it with the Geiger counter,” wrote Natalia Borodina, information and education mate of the Pallada. “At the approaches to the mentioned position (maybe 10-15 minutes before) we also sighted a TV set, fridge and a couple of other home appliances.”

Borodina adds on Sept. 27 that “we keep sighting everyday things like wooden boards, plastic bottles, buoys from fishing nets (small and big ones), an object resembling wash basin, drums, boots, other wastes. All these objects are floating by the ship.”

On Oct. 8, the Pallada entered the port of Vladivostok. The most remarkable photo taken of the voyage is of a small fishing vessel about 20 feet long, which they were able to hoist up on to the Pallada. The markings on the wheel house of the boat show its home port to be in the Fukushima Prefecture, the area hardest hit by the tsunami.

With the exact locations of some of the by now widely scattered debris, scientists can make more accurate projections about when the debris might arrive at the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. The first landfall on Midway Islands is anticipated this winter. The debris that misses Midway will continue toward the main Hawaiian Islands and the North American West Coast.


* ODFW Says New Wolf Pack In Northeast Oregon; 23 Wolves Now Known Minimum Number

A new wolf pack is using the Snake River wildlife management unit of northeast Oregon, which borders Idaho and includes the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and Wilderness.

ODFW surveyed the area last week, after receiving reports and trail camera photographs from hunters indicating wolves were in the area. Tracks from at least five different wolves were documented on Thursday. Though the photographs provided to ODFW indicate that at least one pup was produced in this area, the new pack will not be considered a “breeding pair” unless two or more pups are documented in December.

ODFW encourages hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts to report wolf sightings using the online reporting system or by phone. “These public wolf reports from Oregon’s outdoor enthusiasts really help us target our survey efforts and make the best use of limited resources.” said Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf program coordinator.

The confirmation of the Snake River pack marks the fourth wolf pack confirmed in Oregon since the mid-2000s, when wolves began returning to the state from Idaho.

Last Friday, ODFW radio-collared its first wolf from the Walla Walla pack in Umatilla County (OR-10, or the tenth wolf collared in the state). This pack was first documented in January 2011 and is near the Washington border. The female pup collared weighed 48 pounds and appeared to be in excellent health. She was released unharmed.

While ODFW wolf program staff out of ODFW’s La Grande office assisted with the immobilization and radio-collaring of the wolf, district staff from the Pendleton field office were responsible for the wolf’s capture. “We’ve known about the Walla Walla pack since January and at least two pups since summer, but the collar will make it much easier to document the pack’s size and get a sense of the pack’s movements,” said Mark Kirsch, ODFW district wildlife biologist in Pendleton.

“As wolves expand their range in Oregon, more work will be handled by our district staff,” noted Russ Morgan. “Livestock producers and others are encouraged to work directly with district staff as they do for other wildlife in their area.”

In other wolf-related developments, two wolves from the Imnaha Pack of Wallowa County have dispersed to central Oregon.

OR-7 was last documented in northern Lake County. He was born in northeast Oregon (Imnaha pack) and was collared on Feb. 25, 2011. GPS collar data shows that this wolf left the Imnaha pack territory on Sept. 10, 2011. Since then he has visited six counties (Baker, Grant, Harney, Crook, Deschutes and now Lake). ODFW and USFWS will continue to monitor OR-7’s location data. At this point, it is unknown if he will continue to disperse or settle down in central Oregon.

OR-3 was also last located in central Oregon. OR-3 was born in northeast Oregon (Imnaha pack) and radio collared on Feb. 12, 2010. He is a three-year-old male and dispersed from the pack in May. He has a VHF radio collar which does not allow for continuous tracking. OR-3 has been monitored by ODFW and USFWS using periodic aerial flights. He was discovered in Wheeler County in July and was later located in the Ochoco Mountains on Sept. 29. Since that time he has not been found. The USFWS and ODFW will continue to attempt to locate this wolf.

It is natural for wolves to disperse away from their birth area. Counting the two wolves in central Oregon, a total of four radio-collared wolves from northeast Oregon have dispersed away from their home pack (the Imnaha). One travelled to Washington last winter and has not been located since. Another dispersed to Idaho and continues to be in that state.

The current minimum known number of wolves ODFW can account for in Oregon is 23: the Imnaha pack (four), Walla Walla pack (six), Snake River pack (five), Wenaha pack (four), northern Umatilla County wolves (two) plus two dispersers from the Imnaha pack that remain in Oregon. This count represents the minimum number of wolves that can be confirmed due to track evidence, visual observations or collar data. It is very likely that more than 23 wolves exist in Oregon.

Wolves throughout Oregon are protected by the state Endangered Species Act (ESA). West of Hwys 395-78-95, they are also protected by the federal ESA. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead management agency for wolves west of this boundary.


* EA Issued For $40 Million Hydro Unit For Idaho’s Black Canyon Dam; First Unit Added To FCRPS In 30 years

The Bureau of Reclamation has selected the construction of a third hydropower generating unit at Black Canyon Dam as the preferred alternative outlined in a Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact.

Black Canyon Dam is located on the Payette River about 30 miles northwest of Boise, Idaho.

This is the first hydroelectric generating unit added to the Federal Columbia River Power System in over 30 years.

The new hydroelectric generating unit was considered the preferred action alternative after a review of public and agency comments, and taking into account potential security and environmental impacts described in the Draft Environmental Assessment.

Reclamation has determined that an Environmental Impact Statement is not required. The comment period for the Draft EA was June 27 through July 29. The two alternatives included: constructing a third generating unit, and a no action alternative.

"This new generating unit will provide clean and renewable energy," Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor said today. "The project will contribute to Idaho's economic health and create jobs for the region."

A construction contract could be issued in late 2012. The new unit will produce an additional 10 to 12.5 megawatts, enough to supply about 9,360 homes. It is also designed for efficient use of water by generating power during high flow periods as water passes through the turbines rather than over the spillway, where potential power generation is lost.

The $40 million construction project, funded by the Bonneville Power Administration, should start in 2013 and be completed in about two years.

The FCRPS includes 31 federally-owned hydro dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. Black Canyon Dam, built in 1924, is a multipurpose facility that provides irrigation, hydropower, and recreation.

A copy of the Final EA and FONSI is available online at: http://www.usbr.gov/pn/programs/ea/idaho/blackcanyon/index.html


* Forest Service Issues Preferred Alternative On Fire Retardant For Water Areas

The Forest Service has identified a preferred approach for continuing the aerial application of fire retardant on national forest lands.

As described in the final environmental impact statement it issued, the preferred approach would map land and water areas to avoid endangered, threatened, and sensitive species.

This agency-preferred alternative would only permit aerial delivery of fire retardant into waterways when human life or public safety is threatened.

The preferred alternative’s protocols would also better protect cultural resources that include historic properties, traditional cultural resources, and tribal sacred sites.

In July 2010, a U.S. District Court in Montana directed the Forest Service to complete further analysis and to consult further with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service. An organization had sued the agency and claimed the Forest Service had not adequately analyzed the effects of dropping fire retardant and had not adequately protected endangered species from its effects.

The preferred alternative does not represent a final decision, but is one of three alternatives that the agency considered for tools that would allow the Forest Service to fight fires in rugged topography, in remote locations, and in areas that present risks to firefighters and the public. The Forest Service expects to issue its Record of Decision before Dec. 31. The Record of Decision will establish agency direction regarding use of fire retardant applied from aircraft.

“This final environmental impact statement is a vital step informing our decision,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “We’re approaching that decision as carefully as possible – we’re going to make sure we get this right, so we can protect our forests, wildlife, and the public.”

During the past several months, the Forest Service held five community listening sessions in locations around the country, several stakeholder webinars, three technical listening sessions, a science panel discussion and several tribal engagement events. The U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, a neutral facilitator from the private sector, designed and facilitated all of these events.

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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