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Weekly Fish and Wildlife News
December 9, 2011
Issue No. 601

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Table of Contents

* New Fish Passage In the Upper Deschutes For Sockeye, Steelhead, Chinook Showing Positive Results

* FERC Calls BPA’s High Water/Wind Power Cutoff Rule Discriminatory, Orders Correction In 90 Days

* Oregon Elections Division Certifies Two Proposed Non-Indian Gill-Net Ban Initiative Titles

* Salmon BiOp Plaintiffs’ Urge New Judge To Consider Settlement Judge, Science Panel

* Washington Adopts Wolf Management Plan; Recovery Objective Set At 15 Breeding Pairs

* Feds Propose New ESA Listing Policy To Clarify Definition, Use Of ‘Significant Portion’ Of Species’ Range

* Washington DOE Sets Technical Workshop On Effort To Update ‘Fish Consumption Rates’

* NOAA Releases New Scientific Integrity Policy To Protect Findings From Being ‘Suppressed, Distorted, Altered’

* Research: Current Fishing Trends Hit Top Predators Hard, Impacting Marine Systems Structure


* New Fish Passage In the Upper Deschutes For Sockeye, Steelhead, Chinook Showing Positive Results

The 2011 steelhead return was 11-fish strong as of Monday with more fish expected to trickle in, and completed sockeye and spring chinook salmon runs were small too. All, however, are encouraging signs for those involved in an effort to restore those fish stocks in central Oregon’s Metolius, Crooked and upper Deschutes rivers.

Those returns (including seven chinook and 19 sockeye) are the first from fish that originated above the Round Butte-Pelton dam complex since about 1968. And they yielded the first eggs, again small in numbers, from anadromous (ocean-going) fish that originated in the Metolius, Crooked and upper Deschutes since the 1960s.

The steelhead and salmon runs to those streams were effectively choked out when downstream fish passage built into the dams proved to be ineffective. But downstream passage has been restored. This year’s returns are the first of fish that started life in Round Butte Hatchery, were outplanted in the rivers and tributaries above the reservoir (Lake Billy Chinook) and then captured and transported around the dams last year and the year before so they could continue their migration to the Pacific.

“We’re learning a lot as we go,” the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Mike Gauvin said this week, especially as pertains to sockeye. One of the goals of the anadromous fish reintroduction is to re-establish a sockeye salmon run up the Deschutes to the Metolius River basin through Lake Billy Chinook. The Metolius feeds into the Deschutes just above Round Butte, the uppermost of the three dams in the complex.

Sockeye need a lake for rearing and historically they have used Suttle Lake in the upper Metolius Basin and spawned in Link Creek between Suttle and Blue lakes, according Don Ratliff, senior biologist for Portland General Electric.

When Lake Billy Chinook was formed in 1964, the lake-type sockeye habitat in the basin increased dramatically, but the fishes’ path to the ocean was blocked. So it is believed the population reverted to being kokanee, the name given to sockeye that remain and rear to adulthood in freshwater lakes. It is hoped that fish trapped at a new collection facility at Round Butte will swim to the ocean, grow and return to spawn upriver, reviving the ocean-going form, sockeye.

The first sockeye appeared in July and a total of 19 were trapped downstream from the dams during July and August. All were smaller fish that spent only one season in the ocean as opposed to the more typical sockeye life history with two years in the ocean.

Ratliff said the sockeye weren’t much larger than kokanee kin of the same age, but “they had three times the number of eggs.”

The eggs were collected are on their way to being hatched out and this winter will be outplanted in the Metolius.

“We’re not expecting a lot,” Gauvin said given the relative small number of fish, and eggs, involved.

But it’s a start. A total of 49,734 yearling kokanee/sockeye were trapped last year and released downstream of the dams. They produced this year’s “one-salt” return and are expected in much greater numbers when the two-salt portion of that brood returns next year.

More than 225,000 kokanee migrated downstream and through the reservoir and were collected in the new Selective Water Withdrawal facility this year. That was nearly five times as many kokanee that migrated downstream in 2010, a fact that should boost the one-salt return next year. Much of the increase is likely due to a much larger kokanee spawning year-class in 2009 that produced yearlings in 2011, Ratliff said.

The first returning upriver steelhead arrived Oct. 6. All of the steelhead returning this fall and winter migrated in 2010, so they also have spent only one year in ocean and are relatively small. The steelhead returns are the survivors from a relatively small crew. Only 7,733 1-3-year smolts were trapped and transported around the dams last year.

“The fact that we have that many back already is encouraging,” Gauvin said.

“Next year, we will capture both one-ocean-year steelhead from the 2011 outmigration and larger two-ocean-year steelhead adults from the 2010 outmigration,” Ratliff said in a blog posted at http://www.deschutespassage.com/news/?p=83

“Steelhead first start entering the Pelton Trap in October and continue coming through March, so we expect to capture many more in coming months,” he wrote. A total 10,606 steelhead smolts were transported downstream this year.

“For the current migration season, plans are for the Round Butte hatchery to use all the returning fish to produce fry for release upstream,” Ratliff wrote. “That᾿s according to our partners with Oregon Fish and Wildlife and Warm Springs Tribes who manage these runs.

“We᾿re hopeful that, starting with the spring chinook run in 2012, we᾿ll have enough upriver salmon and steelhead returning that we can begin passing them upstream.” The fry produced this year will be stocked upstream.

The first spring chinook salmon of upriver origin returned in May. From May through July 2011, five adult and two jack spring chinook were captured and spawned. The jacks are fish that spent one year in the ocean. A total of 44,017 smolts were collected in 2010.

The five adults are the return from the tributary (the Metolius) capture of about 700 juvenile fish in the spring of 2009. When construction of the new collection facility hit a snag, fishery officials were forced trap as many of the juvenile outmigrants as they could in the tributaries and transport them for release below the dams.

PGE and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, which co-own the dams, have worked for years with other partners such as the ODFW, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others to restore habitat and passage to the upper reaches.

In recent years hatchery produced juvenile salmon and steelhead have been outplanted in the rivers and tributaries above Round Butte and its reservoir in hope they would survive and make their way downstream and across Lake Billy Chinook.

In December 2009 a 273-foot underwater tower and fish collection station above Round Butte Dam was completed and operational, providing what has proven to be a very functional passage instrument.

“This complicated operation seems to be working,” Ratliff said. The facility allows biologists to trap young salmon and steelhead drawn to the tower by the flow toward Round Butte’s hydro turbines. The juvenile fish are then sorted with some species being returned to the lake and others trucked around the dams.


* FERC Calls BPA’s High Water/Wind Power Cutoff Rule Discriminatory, Orders Correction In 90 Days

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sided with wind generating companies in a Wednesday order giving the Bonneville Power Administration 90 days to correct what the commission called an “unduly discriminatory” policy limiting transmission of wind, thermal and other non-hydro power during high water flows in the Columbia River basin.

The FERC order is in response to a June 13 petition filed by a group of wind power generators in the Pacific Northwest in opposition to the BPA’s Environmental Redispatch Policy, which limits transmission of non-hydro energy during extraordinarily high water periods that the agency says historically occur about every third spring.

Iberdrola Renewables, a member of a coalition of wind energy companies that petitioned FERC, hailed the ruling.

“We are pleased with the Commission’s action on this important case, which establishes that BPA must offer open and non-discriminatory access to its transmission grid customers,” said Don Furman, senior vice president of Iberdrola Renewables.

BPA implemented the Environmental Redispatch Policy on an almost daily basis during May and June due to near record flows down the Columbia-Snake river system. To accommodate transmission of the excess hydropower during high-water periods, the policy limits access to the region’s transmission system for energy from fossil fuels and wind.

BPA officials, however, argued in documents filed with the FERC that many of the issues included in the in the Dec. 7 FERC order are outside the FERC’s authority, and that the commission jumped the gun by issuing the order while the Environmental Redispatch Policy is under review by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Legal briefings are now scheduled to begin Feb. 15.

In addition, Doug Johnson, BPA spokesman, said, “a lot of the issues described in that order are issues we have been discussing in settlement talks. Those talks are confidential.”

Johnson said Thursday the BPA “is still digesting the order” and so he could not comment beyond the press statement issued Wednesday in which Steve Wright, BPA administrator said he wished the FERC would have given the agency and stakeholders time to work things out through ongoing settlement talks.

“We were surprised and very disappointed that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would choose at this moment to render a decision when it is aware that we have been urged by many members of the Northwest Congressional delegation to settle this issue, and when settlement discussions are proceeding in good faith,” Wright said.

“The temporary oversupply of energy is a Northwest challenge. We believe it is the region’s responsibility to find the most appropriate way to address this challenge,” Wright said.

The Dec. order is in response to a petition filed June 13 by a group of wind generation companies across the Pacific Northwest who argue that the BPA should stop its practice of limiting transmissions of wind power during high water periods, or pay them for losses of income from federal and state renewable energy tax credits and other incentives based on the amount of wind energy they produce. The petitioners include Iberdrola Renewables, Inc.; PacifiCorp; NextEra Energy Resources; Invenergy Wind North America; and Horizon Wind Energy.

In documents submitted to the FERC, BPA officials said restrictions on transmission of wind energy over the agency’s power transmission system kick in during super high water periods such as last spring. In its response to the petition filed by wind energy companies, the BPA said it has two options for dealing with super high water flows - either running the excess water through hydro power generators and producing excess power on the Columbia River system of dams, or spilling it over dam spillways, which poses a risk to endangered salmon runs.

“The spill is a problem because it raises total dissolved gas levels in water, endangering salmon – a possible violation of Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act obligations,” the BPA wrote in its FERC response.

BPA markets much of the power generated in the federal hydro system at cost and owns and operates three-quarters of high-voltage transmission lines in the Pacific Northwest. It also funds one of the largest fish and wildlife protection and restoration programs in the world.

To compensate wind energy companies and operators of coal and natural gas power plants and others whose energy transmissions are limited during the very high water periods, the BPA provides them excess hydropower at no cost, according to the BPA response.

However, the petitioners contend the trade of hydropower to offset transmission limits may have worked out well financially for thermal power generators, but not so well for the wind energy companies. They argued that it doesn’t pencil out for them due to the loss of federal and state renewable energy tax credits and federal production incentives withdrawn when wind power production drops below eligibility levels for the incentives.

To offset those potential losses of government subsidies, the petitioners are seeking to force BPA to also pay them for taking the free hydropower, according to the FERC documents. In response, BPA said it rejected requests for such “negative price” payments because such payments could create opportunities to distort the market and shift costs, potentially leading to rate increases to BPA customers and public utility ratepayers.

In its order, FERC said it recognizes the dilemma the BPA faces in navigating competing obligations, including the protection of endangered species, the provision of low cost power to its preferred customers and the integration of wind, solar and other variable energy resources.

However, the order goes on to say that the commission ruled in favor of the petitioners on the issue of open access to transmission lines because they believe that is a key component of congressional mandates governing the region’s power grid.

“Open access is a fundamental tenet of electricity markets,” the FERC wrote in its conclusion. “Clear and firm principles of open access give industry the confidence to invest in new generation resources and support the construction of associated transmission necessary to meet future needs.”

During the 90-days FERC has given the BPA to revamp or replace its Environmental Redispatch Policy to improve open access to transmission for wind energy companies, Johnson said the BPA will continue negotiations through the settlement talks already under way.

“We have from the onset of talks been committed to a durable long-term alternative to the Environmental Redispatch Policy, as long as it addresses equitable cost allocation,” Johnson said.

Furman also pledged that the wind energy companies would continue to work with BPA to find an equitable solution.

“Despite our dispute on this issue, we have and will continue to work collaboratively with BPA. This is a great opportunity for the region’s utilities and consumers to work on long-term solutions,” Furman said. “We have a long history of working together to meet the region’s energy needs and look forward to better policies in the future.

The Renewable Northwest Project has come out in support of the FERC order calling the Environmental Redispatch Policy discriminatory.

“RNP is eager to continue working with BPA and regional partners toward solutions to over-generation that are economical, equitable and good for the environment,” and advance the Northwest’s future forward to deploying renewable energy.

“We are confident today’s FERC ruling will precipitate the new levels of collaboration and clean energy advancement,” the RNP wrote in a press statement addressing the FERC order.

On the other side of the issue, the Public Power Council issued a press statement Wednesday expressing concern that the FERC order could impact ratepayers by forcing BPA to pay for wind energy that is not needed and may not even be generated during the extraordinary high water periods when surplus hydro-power is being produced.

“While FERC’s position is not a surprise, we believe it is misguided and jumps ahead of regional efforts to resolve the issue,” Scott Corwin, executive director of the PPC said in a Wednesday press statement. “We will now evaluate our next legal steps. At the same time we hope to continue to work with all regional partners to try to resolve these issues in a way that continues to protect fish and does not unfairly hit ratepayers.”

Corwin said while the FERC ruling called for BPA to adopt a new policy within 90 days, the order stopped short of telling the agency what that new approach might be.

Since the BPA’s existing policy was set to expire in March, Corwin said the agency has already been in discussions with partners about alternatives for some time.

For previous CBB stories on this issue go to:





* Oregon Elections Division Certifies Two Proposed Non-Indian Gill-Net Ban Initiative Titles

The Oregon Elections Division on Thursday released two “certified” initiative titles for proposals that would, if added to the Nov. 6 ballot and approved by voters, restrict and/or eliminate commercial fishing by non-tribal Oregon fishermen in the Columbia River and other “inland waters.”

The certified ballot title for “Protect Our Salmon – A” is as follows:

“Eliminates Oregonians Columbia River non-tribal commercial fishing; prohibits Oregonians purchase of non-tribal Columbia River fish.”

Approval of the proposed ballot measure “eliminates non-tribal Oregon, but not Washington, commercial fishing in the Columbia River; prohibits Oregonians from buying fish caught in Columbia River by non-tribal persons,” according to the “result of a ‘yes’ vote” summation prepared by the Oregon Attorney General’s Office for the Elections Division.

The final ballot titles and summaries are in the books but both “Protect Our Salmon -- A” and “Protect Our Salmon – B” – “Restricts Oregon’s non-tribal commercial salmon fishers to designated off-channel areas in lower Columbia River” – could still face obstacles. Any elector dissatisfied with the ballot tiles may petition the Oregon Supreme Court for a different title. The appeal period ends at 5 p.m. Dec. 22.

If no appeals are submitted, the initiative process would move forward. The petitioners would have to collect the signatures of 87,213 registered voters by July 6 to get the initiatives on next year’s general election ballot.

The proposed initiatives are the second and third submitted this year by the Coastal Conservation Association, a non-profit organization whose strength is drawn from the tens of thousands of recreational saltwater anglers. Chief petitioners are state Sens. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, and Rod Monroe, D-Portland and David Schamp, chairman of the Oregon CCA chapter’s board of directors.

A similar initiative proposal was launched in July. It was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has yet to respond. (See CBB, Sept. 23, 2011, “Battle Over Ballot Title For Oregon Non-Indian Gill-Net Ban Goes To State Supreme Court” http://www.cbbulletin.com/412710.aspx)

Initiative proposals are submitted to the Elections Division. They are then submitted to the Attorney General’s Office, which crafts language it believes best adheres to the appropriate legal standards. The initiative proposals can be found at:


The certified ballot title summary for “Protect Our Salmon – A” reasons that “Currently, Oregon and Washington commercial fishers may catch salmon in the Columbia River only with gillnets. Current law allows ‘wholesaler, canner or buyer’ to purchase or receive salmon/other fish caught with gillnets; allows issuance of up to 200 Columbia River gillnet fishing permits, allows renewing and transferring current permits.

“Measure eliminates non-tribal Oregon commercial fishing for salmon/other fish by banning gillnets in Oregon’s ‘inland waters’, including the Columbia River. Washington-permitted commercial fishers may continue fishing with gillnets on the Columbia River.

“Measure prohibits Oregonians from purchasing non-tribally caught fish taken from Columbia River or other Oregon ‘inland waters’….”

The “Protect Our Salmon – 2” certified ballot title “Result of a Yes vote” description says approval would prohibit “commercial salmon fishing with gillnets by non-tribal Oregon fishers, except in specifically designated off-channel areas located in the lower Columbia River.”

Those off-channel areas now include Youngs Bay, Tongue Point/South Channel and Blind Slough/Knappa Slough.

“Measure would not prohibit Washington-permitted gillnet fishers from continuing to commercially fish in Washington waters of Columbia river” allows [Washington Fish and Wildlife] commission to permit Washington gillnet fishers to ‘land’ fish in designated Oregon areas,” according to the Protect Our Salmon – 2 ballot title summary.

Summaries for both proposed initiatives specify that voter passage would not affect tribal fishing rights or rights to use gillnets.


* Salmon BiOp Plaintiffs’ Urge New Judge To Consider Settlement Judge, Science Panel

Plaintiffs have asked for another shot at convincing a new presiding judge to add two new processes to a court-ordered remand intended to rebuild the federal government’s Columbia/Snake river salmon protection plan.

The request comes in the long-running lawsuit over NOAA Fisheries Service’s Endangered Species Act biological opinion for the Federal Columbia River Power System. The BiOp judges whether the federal Columbia/Snake river hydro system jeopardizes 13 salmon and steelhead stocks that are ESA protected.

The 2008/2010 BiOp developed by NOAA Fisheries says that the wild salmon and steelhead are not jeopardized as long as mitigation actions described in the BiOp’s “reasonable and prudent alternative” are implemented.

Those actions include improved hydro operations as well as habitat restoration and implementation of more wild-friendly harvest and artificial production regimes. Roughly 80 percent of the salmon and steelhead produced in the Columbia River basin come from hatcheries. The BiOp’s “take” restrictions aim to reduce mortality of protected naturally produced fish.

Judge James A. Redden on Aug. 2 judged that, in the 2008/2010 BiOp, NOAA Fisheries 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.”

“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 a Jan. 1, 2014, delivery date for “a new BiOp 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.

The federal government in late September filed a notice of appeal of Redden’s order. The U.S. Ninth Court of Appeals late week issued an order saying that the appeal would be focused on injunctive relief ordered by Redden – the continuation of court-ordered spill levels at dams to provide passage for fish – but would not address the U.S. District Court’s decision in total. The court of appeals had earlier said it questioned whether Redden’s Aug. 2 decision was indeed appealable, since, given the remand, it was not a final decision.

(For more information see CBB, Oct. 7, 2011, “Salmon BiOp: Feds File Notice Leaving Open Appeal Of Redden’s Aug. 2 Decision; Ninth Sets Schedule” http://www.cbbulletin.com/413113.aspx)

Redden has since stepped down, and Judge Michael H. Simon last week was named as his replacement.

Overlapping the judicial transition were Oct. 25 requests from a coalition of fishing conservation groups led by the National Wildlife Federation and the state of Oregon, which are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and ally Nez Perce Tribe, that criticized the federal government’s progress report on 2010 implementation of 2008/2010 BiOp measures.

Those requests said “... 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 requested steps would involve the appointment of a settlement judge and the creation of an independent science panel to review the work being done to repair NOAA Fisheries Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion.

The federal government responded by asking the judge to “decline” the requests, insisting that the process in place for fortifying the BiOp is well on its way to satisfying the judge’s concerns about the government’s strategy for boosting salmon stocks.”

The federal brief filed Nov. 16 says the federal agencies are “fully committed to following the Court’s remand order.

“The agencies are aggressively implementing the RPA actions and obtaining scientific and technical data to support mitigation measures and the completion of a new or supplemental
biological opinion by 2014. In particular, the agencies are continuing to work with local experts
and through established forums to identify specific habitat restoration projects – in the estuary
and tributary habitats – through 2018.” As now written the BiOp is scheduled to be in place through 2018.

In a Dec. 1 brief the plaintiffs and Nez Perce Tribe collectively asked the judge for permission to respond to the Justice Department’s Nov. 16 brief.

Along with their Dec. 1 “motion for leave” to file a response, the NWF, Oregon and Nez Perce Tribe filed a proposed “short, joint reply memorandum.” As of Thursday the judge had not granted permission for the memorandum filing.

The memo addresses “arguments raised in the memoranda of Federal Defendants and allied parties in response to Plaintiffs’ comments on Federal Defendants’ 2010 Progress Report. Because these parties’ arguments were necessarily raised and developed for the first time in response to Plaintiffs’ comments, Plaintiffs have had no other opportunity to respond to them,” according to the motion for leave. “Plaintiffs have limited their joint reply to only the most significant of these issues and have prepared it as expeditiously as possible in light of holiday schedules and their desire to file a single joint reply. The proposed reply is attached to assist the Court in resolving this motion.”

The plaintiffs had earlier “asked the Court --within the context of its ongoing and broad authority to supervise a remand -- to appoint a settlement Judge to help Plaintiffs and Federal Defendants reach agreement regarding the issues NOAA Fisheries will address on remand in light of the Court’s ruling on the 2008/2010 BiOps.” They also asked the court to appoint an independent scientists to assess whether implementation of the RPA “is achieving the survival improvements the BiOps predicted would be necessary to avoid jeopardy.”

“If we are to break the cycle of failure that has now led to multiple inadequate biological opinions -- and well over a decade of litigation -- we must employ all reasonable and available tools, and do so sooner rather than later,” the plaintiffs’ proposed brief says.

For more information go to CBB, Nov. 18, 2011, “State, Tribal Coalitions, Feds Oppose Inserting Science Panel, Settlement Judge Into BiOp Remand” http://www.cbbulletin.com/414129.aspx


* Washington Adopts Wolf Management Plan; Recovery Objective Set At 15 Breeding Pairs

After four years of development and extensive public review, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission last week unanimously adopted a plan that will guide state conservation and management of gray wolves in Washington.

Key provisions of the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan establish recovery objectives for gray wolves in three regions in Washington, along with procedures for addressing predation on livestock and impacts on ungulates such as deer, elk and caribou.

Prior to the final vote, the commission approved several changes to the draft plan, including one that modified the distribution of breeding wolf pairs needed to remove wolves from the state’s endangered species list.

Once abundant in the Pacific Northwest, gray wolves are currently classified by the state as endangered throughout Washington. They are also listed under federal law as endangered in the western two-thirds of the state.

WDFW began developing the wolf-management plan in 2007, anticipating that gray wolves would naturally migrate into the state from Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and British Columbia. Since then, five wolf packs have been documented in the state -- three in northeastern Washington and two in the Cascade Mountains.

During the past four years, the plan developed by WDFW in conjunction with a 17-member citizen Wolf Working Group has been the focus of 23 public meetings, 65,000 written comments and a blind scientific peer review.

"This plan establishes recovery goals for wolves, while also giving wildlife managers and individuals the tools they need to protect livestock and wildlife populations," said Miranda Wecker, commission chair. "The goal is that wolves will no longer need special status in our state and can be managed as part of the overall ecosystem."

Key elements of the plan approved by the commission include:

--- Recovery goals: The plan establishes a recovery objective of 15 breeding pairs of wolves that are present in the state for at least three years. Before gray wolves can be removed from the state’s endangered species list, at least four of those breeding pairs must be verified in eastern Washington, four in the northern Cascades, four in the southern Cascades/northwest coastal area and three others anywhere in the state. The plan approved by the commission also allows WDFW to initiate action to delist gray wolves if 18 breeding pairs are documented during a single year.

-- Livestock protection: The plan provides a variety of management measures - from technical assistance for landowners to lethal removal - to control wolves that prey on livestock. The plan also establishes conditions for compensating ranchers who lose livestock to wolf predation.

-- Wildlife protection: The plan allows WDFW to use lethal and non-lethal measures to manage wolf predation on at-risk deer, elk and caribou populations if wolf numbers reach or exceed the recovery objective within a region where predation occurs. The commission modified the definition of "at-risk" populations to give WDFW more flexibility in responding to the effects of wolf predation on those animals.

WDFW is not allowed to import wolves from other states or seek to increase the wolf population to historic levels under the parameters set for the new wolf management plan by an associated environmental impact statement.

All aspects of the state’s plan will take immediate effect east of state highways 97, 17 and 395, where gray wolves were removed from federal protection last May. In the rest of the state, federal law will take precedence over the state plan until wolves are delisted under the federal Endangered Species Act in that area.

The draft Wolf Conservation and Management Plan is posted at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/

The final plan, incorporating amendments adopted by the commission, will be posted on the site by mid-January.


* Feds Propose New ESA Listing Policy To Clarify Definition, Use Of ‘Significant Portion’ Of Species’ Range

A new federal policy proposed this week is intended to clarify which species or populations of species are eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Public comments will be accepted for 60 days on the policy proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the two federal agencies responsible for administering the ESA.

The proposed policy, the agencies say, will define the key phrase “significant portion of its range” in the ESA and “provide consistency for how it should be applied, aiding the agencies in making decisions on whether to add or remove species from the federal list of threatened and endangered wildlife and plants.”

The phrase is not defined in the ESA, but appears in the statutory definitions of “endangered species” and “threatened species” in the ESA.

The policy would clarify that the USFWS and NOAA Fisheries could list a species if it is endangered or threatened in a “significant portion of its range,” even if that species is not endangered or threatened throughout all its range.

Under the proposed policy, a portion of the range of any given species would be defined as “significant” if its contribution to the viability of the species is so important that, without that portion, the species would be in danger of extinction.

While the agencies say they expect this circumstance to arise infrequently, this policy interpretation will allow ESA protections to help species in trouble before large-scale decline occurs throughout the species’ entire range.

“This proposed interpretation will provide consistency and clarity for the services and our partners, while making more effective use of our resources and improving our ability to protect and recover species before they are on the brink of extinction,” said USFWS Director Dan Ashe. “By taking action to protect imperiled native fish, wildlife and plants, we can ensure a healthy future for our communities and protect treasured landscapes for future generations.”

“A clear and consistent policy will help our partners and improve the process of evaluating species status under the Endangered Species Act,”
said Eric Schwaab, NOAA’s assistant administrator for Fisheries.

Uncertainty about the meaning of this important phrase has led to debate and litigation. A formal opinion developed by the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior (known as the “M-Opinion”) had been applied by the USFWS since March 16, 2007. But the M-Opinion was withdrawn on May 4, 2011, after two courts rejected key aspects of it.

NOAA Fisheries has never applied the USFWS interpretation, nor did it issue separate guidance, instead relying on a general understanding similar to the policy interpretation in the new proposal.

This proposed policy differs substantially from the DOI’s M-Opinion interpretation. This week’s proposal requires that if a species is found to be threatened or endangered in a significant portion of its range, the entire species must be listed and protections of the ESA applied throughout its range. However, if the significant portion of the range is the exact same area inhabited by a “distinct population segment” of the species, only the distinct population segment would be listed. A distinct population segment is a vertebrate animal population or group of populations that is discrete from other populations of the species and significant to the overall species.

In contrast, under the M-Opinion, only individuals of a species found within the “significant portion of its range” were protected under the ESA.

The proposed policy also establishes a more specific and stringent standard to evaluate whether a portion of a species’ range would be considered “significant” than the standard applied under the M-Opinion interpretation. This higher bar is intended to ensure that the species being evaluated for ESA protection on the basis of threats to only a significant portion of its range are truly in need of conservation.


* Washington DOE Sets Technical Workshop On Effort To Update ‘Fish Consumption Rates’

The Washington Department of Ecology will hold a public workshop in Seattle as part of an effort intended to update statewide environmental standards “that will better safeguard people who eat fish and shellfish from Washington’s waters.”

The technical workshop on fish consumption in Washington is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 12 at the University of Washington’s South Campus Center.

Washington uses fish consumption rates as a basis for environmental cleanup and pollution control. The state currently uses two rates based on assumptions about how much fish and shellfish residents eat: 6.5 grams per day incorporated into water quality standards, and 54 grams per day, which is used in setting sediment and water cleanup standards. The rates were developed in the early 1980s and 1990s.

But current science indicates that those rates do not accurately reflect how much of the state’s fish and shellfish residents actually eat each day. In fact, Ecology officials say, the available information indicates that some residents consume much larger amounts. The study focuses on a range that would be protective of high fish-consuming people and groups.

Oregon earlier this year approved human health criteria revisions based on a new fish consumption rate of 175 grams per day (about 23 eight-ounce fish meals a month), a leap from the state’s previous 6.5 grams a day (less than one eight-ounce fish meal per month).

(For more information see CBB, June 17, 2011 “Oregon Approves New Water Quality Rules Based On Highest ‘Fish Consumption Rate’ In Nation” http://www.cbbulletin.com/409986.aspx)

To get at the problem of toxics in fish and shellfish, Ecology has started a public dialogue aimed at developing a more accurate view of how much fish and shellfish Washington residents eat. The Dec. 12 workshop is part of that public effort.

The workshop will include information on what is and is not known about fish consumption in Washington, the process the state of Oregon went through to update and change its fish consumption rate, and views of the issue from industry, tribes and other high fish-consuming groups, other health professionals, and other interested parties.

In announcing the workshop Ecology officials said, “The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week as part of a healthy diet. Not only is fish an important source of nutrition, the acts of catching, preparing and eating fish are important cultural and family practices as well. So it’s important to have environmental standards that protect people who eat fish from exposure to harmful chemicals.”

Ecology currently is seeking public comments on a recently released technical support document, which focuses on fish consumption in Washington and existing environmental and human health information. The draft document is called “Fish Consumption Rates Technical Support Document: A Review of Data and Information About Fish Consumption in Washington.”

The draft document can be found at www.ecy.wa.gov/toxics/fish.html


* NOAA Releases New Scientific Integrity Policy To Protect Findings From Being ‘Suppressed, Distorted, Altered’

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week released a new scientific integrity policy.

“This policy strengthens the high standards we work to achieve every day to advance the science that underpins the services and stewardship NOAA provides to the American public,” said NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco. “The scientific integrity policy expresses our commitment to produce and use science without distortion, to be transparent and accountable in production and use of our science, and to strengthen our commitment to excellence.”

Lubchenco made the announcement today at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

“Scientific integrity is at the core of producing and using good science,” Lubchenco said. “Now, for the first time, we have a comprehensive policy in place that firmly supports our scientists and their scientific activities, protects the use of scientific findings, and thus advances the public trust in NOAA science.”

Developed from a deliberative and inclusive process that included employee and public input, this new policy is intended to protect scientific findings from being suppressed, distorted or altered and to strengthen science and encourage a culture of transparency.

The scientific integrity policy http://nrc.noaa.gov/scientificintegrity.html
applies to all NOAA employees — career, political, and contractor — who conduct, supervise, assess or interpret scientific information on behalf of NOAA.

Scientists, their managers, and policy makers are all governed by the policy.

To support a culture of openness, one of the policy’s key provisions affirms unequivocally that NOAA scientists may speak freely with the media and public about scientific and technical matters based on their official work without approval from the public affairs office or their supervisors.

The policy also protects those who report scientific and research misconduct. It also protects the anonymity of those who are accused but exonerated of research and scientific misconduct.


* Research: Current Fishing Trends Hit Top Predators Hard, Impacting Marine Systems Structure

Marine predators such as sharks, tunas, swordfish, and marlins are becoming increasingly rare under current fishing trends, say University of British Columbia researchers.

In half of the North Atlantic and North Pacific waters under national jurisdiction, fishing has led to a 90-per-cent decrease in top predators since the 1950s, and the impacts are now headed south of the Equator, according to a new study published online this week in the journal Marine Ecological progress Series. The study is available at http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v442/p169-185/

Funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the French Consulate-General in Vancouver, researchers from UBC’s Fisheries Centre modeled the impact of fishing around the world using global databases of fisheries catches from 1950 to 2006 and satellite images of phytoplankton, which are used to map where predators should be, based on food availability.

The scientists found that the exploitation of marine predators first occurred in coastal areas of northern countries, then expanded to the high seas and to the southern hemisphere. The decline of top-of-the-food-chain predators also means widespread and fundamental changes to both the structure and function of marine systems.

“Species such as tuna have been seriously exploited because of high market demand,” says Laura Tremblay-Boyer, a PhD student at UBC Fisheries Centre and lead author of the study.

“A constant theme throughout our study of global marine ecosystems is that these top predators are today prey for human beings, assisted by some serious technology,” says Tremblay-Boyer. “Top marine predators are more intrinsically vulnerable to the effects of fishing due to their life histories. Bluefin tuna, for instance, cannot reproduce until age 9.”

In addition to low numbers in the northern hemisphere, the study shows a dramatic decline in the south seas, where wild-caught fish are sent to northern markets.

“After running out of predator fish in the north Atlantic and Pacific, rather than implementing strict management and enforcement, the fishing industry pointed its bows south,” says co-author Daniel Pauly, principal investigator of the Sea Around Us Project at UBC. “The southern hemisphere predators are now on the same trajectory as the ones in the northern hemisphere. What happens next when we have nowhere left to turn?”

Under current fishing practices, biomass loss of predatory species is expected to occur in the southern hemisphere, but humans living in the south will not be able to rely on the north for their fish, the research team adds.

The University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre, in the College for Interdisciplinary Studies, undertakes research to restore fisheries, conserve aquatic life and rebuild ecosystems. It promotes multidisciplinary study of aquatic ecosystems and broad-based collaboration with maritime communities, government, NGOs and other partners. The UBC Fisheries Centre is recognized globally for its innovative and enterprising research, with its academics winning many accolades and awards. For more information, visit www.fisheries.ubc.ca.

The Pew Environment Group is the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-governmental organization headquartered in the United States that applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improving public policy, informing the public and stimulating civic life.

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.
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