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Weekly Fish and Wildlife News
January 13, 2012
Issue No. 604

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Table of Contents

* Basin’s April-Sept Runoff Forecast Now At 90 Percent; Rosiest Scenario Only Gets It To Normal

* Hatchery/Wild/Supplementation: Agencies Scoping Plan For ‘Hatchery Effects Evaluation Team’

* State Commissions Negotiating Deep White Sturgeon Harvest Cuts; Will It Reduce Downward Trend?

* Council Recommends $10 Million To Umatilla Tribes For Salmon Habitat Projects In ‘Ceded’ Areas

* BPA, Utility Groups Request FERC Reconsider Ruling On Non-Hydro Energy Transmission Policy

* Oregon’s Dukes Elected Chair Of Northwest Power And Conservation Council; Montana’s Whiting Vice-Chair

* Study Details How Reduced Mountain Snowfall Can Lead To ‘Classic Ecological Cascade’

* Senator Urges Federal, State, Local Response Plan To Tsunami Debris Headed For Northwest Coast

* EPA Releases 2010 ‘Toxics Release Inventory’ For Northwest States, Columbia River Basin

* Spanish Research Tags Fish With Barium Isotopes To Distinguish Wild Salmon From Farmed Fish

* USFWS Receives First Application From Wind Power Project For Take Permit For Eagles


* Basin’s April-Sept Runoff Forecast Now At 90 Percent; Rosiest Scenario Only Gets It To Normal

What a difference a day makes.

On Monday the Northwest River Forecast Center issued a 2012 water volume runoff forecast for April-September as measured at the lower Columbia River’s The Dalles Dam that figured to be 86 percent of average due to relatively paltry precipitation totals across the basin, and particularly in the south.

On Tuesday, thanks to an improved 10-day weather forecast that includes more expected precipitation, that forecast jumped to 90 percent of the 30-year average.

Still, after a dry start to the water accumulation season, odds are slimming with each dry day that the Columbia River basin will have available a full (average) water supply during the spring-summer months, according to senior hydrologist Steve King of the federal Weather Forecast Center’s Northwest River Forecast Center.

A positive, though brief, start to the water/snow accumulation season in the Pacific Northwest has degenerated (unless you are a sun seeker) into a fair weather episode. High pressure ridges off the coast in recent weeks have served to deflect storms that would normally soak and cover the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington in midwinter.

“Conditions changed dramatically in November and through December,” King said during a Tuesday “webinar” briefing on the Columbia River basin’s water supply situation. A Northwest map http://www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/ws/ that was all green and blue in October (indicating normal to above normal precipitation) -- except for parched south and southwestern Oregon -- turned to yellow, orange and red (all below average) during November and December.

Precipitation totals in December, usually one of the region’s wettest months, were 49 percent of average in the upper part of the Columbia River basin upstream of central Washington’s Grand Coulee Dam and only 47 percent of normal above northwest Washington’s Ice Harbor Dam on the lower Snake River. The upper Columbia drains western British Columbia as well north Idaho and western Montana. The Snake’s origins are in Idaho, as well as Wyoming and Nevada.

“It’s pretty darn dry,” particularly the upper Snake River region and the southern reaches of the Columbia River basin, King said. As of Thursday morning, the snow-water equivalent in the Owyhee and Malheur river drainages that feed the lower Snake were at 24 percent of average for that date in time, according to SNO-TEL electronic monitoring stations maintained by the National Resources Conservation Service.

The Raft, Goose, Bruneau and Salmon Falls snowpacks in southern Idaho and Wyoming averaged 39 percent of normal and Idaho’s Weiser, Payette and Boise drainages had snow-water equivalents at 56 percent of normal through Jan. 11.

“It’s drier as you go south,” King said of current snowpack conditions. “There’s very low numbers in western Oregon and the Snake.

The picture is considerably rosier in the northern end of the Columbia River drainage. The Kootenai River in Montana had snow-water equivalents at 84 percent of normal at midweek, the Flathead River weighed in at 68 percent of normal, and the Idaho panhandle was at 74 percent.

British Columbia’s mountains are, relatively, flush. The streams that flow into Mica Dam’s reservoir in the northernmost reaches of the Columbia basin are now predicted to produce 105 percent of average runoff from April through September.

High pressure off the coast helped keep precipitation out of the Pacific Northwest for much of the month of December, though that pattern did break briefly during the last week of the month. Warm weather that had built aloft helped bring unseasonably warm temperatures to the region during that period.

While a predicted relocation of the jet stream in the next week may bring better chances for snow, a persistent dry weather pattern across Montana has shifted water users’ expectations from a repeat of last year’s record snowpack and flooding to the possibility of average or even below-average stream flows in 2012.

“It is still fairly early in the snow season,” said Gov. Brian Schweitzer. “As of now, we are below normal for snowpack.”

At the midpoint of the water year, snowpack for Montana’s major river basins is about 80 percent of normal. In just the past week, the state has lost from 2-8 percent of the snow-water equivalent from around the state as the rate of new snowfall in the mountains failed to keep pace with the average historic rate of accumulation.

Stream flow forecasts issued Jan. 5 by the NRCS are a bit more optimistic, with a Montana projection of 86 percent of average for the coming water-use season. Last year at this time, snowpack levels were 112 percent of average.

The dry mid-winter weather strikes in the face of what have been, and continue to be, “La Nina” conditions, which tend to tilt Northwest winter weather patterns toward the cool, wet side. During December 2011, below-average sea surface temperatures (associated with La Niña continued across the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean, according to a Jan. 4 update by NOAA Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center.

“A majority of models predict a weak or moderate strength La Niña to peak during the December-February season, and then to continue into early Northern Hemisphere spring season before dissipating during the March to May period,” the most recent CPC “La Nina Advisory” says.

But those conditions bring no guarantee of plentiful wintertime precipitation in the Northwest. Similar starts to the winter, in terms of precipitation from Oct. 1 through December, occurred in 2003, 2005 and 2010, and all three were low runoff years” at 82, 76 and 79 percent average, King said.

Even stronger La Nina conditions prevailed last winter, which got off to a strong start, dozed in later January and February, and then broke loose with near record precipitation across the Columbia River basin in late winter and spring.

The result was near record snowpack and water supply. The runoff past The Dalles on the lower Columbia was 132.9 MAF from April through September in 2011, which was the fourth largest total in the past 52 years, according to the NWRFC.

The most recent NWRFC “ensemble” forecast is for runoff down from the Snake and upper Columbia river basins of 88.8 MAF, which would be 90 percent of the recent 30-year average and ranked as the 33rd most in the past 52 years.

With the winter just starting, the water supply situation could well improve during January-April. NOAA’s Weather Service predicts the odds are for above average precipitation across the region during the next three months.

According to the most recent NWRFC forecast the rosiest scenario would nudge runoff totals just barely up to normal. While La Nina condition do tilt the odds towards wetter winters in the Pacific Northwest, oft times the result can be a dry year, King said.


* Hatchery/Wild/Supplementation: Agencies Scoping Plan For ‘Hatchery Effects Evaluation Team’

“Our task is to find the sweet spot,” NOAA Fisheries’ Rob Jones said Tuesday of Columbia River basin fish managers’ ongoing quest to minimize the risk posed by hatchery production to remnant salmon and steelhead populations that continue to spawn in the wild.

Basin hatchery production is, in large part, intended to mitigate for impact to salmon stocks from the region’s hydro system and provide fish for harvest. Some “supplementation” programs are aimed at infusing flagging natural populations.

Jones, Production and Inland Fisheries Branch chief for NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Region, was amongst a panel of federal, state and tribal officials called together this week by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council for “a conversation” about what aspects of supplementation -- and the relevant issues important to scoping a Columbia River Hatchery Effects Evaluation Team (CRHEET) -- should be the subject of a science and policy panel discussion at the Council’s March meeting.

Supplementation involves bringing hatchery-raised fish to streamside “acclimation” ponds near spawning areas for their final rearing. Such fish soon launch their migration to the ocean and tend to home back in on those spawning areas when they return to freshwater as adults to reproduce in the wild.

Questions remain about what risks those supplemented fish pose to the overall fitness of the wild populations through genetics and competition for available resources.

CRHEET is an effort launched by NOAA Fisheries and the Bonneville Power Administration with the goal of developing a regionally coordinated umbrella for the ongoing collection of monitoring information, and the evaluation and reporting of conclusions on hatchery effects and effectiveness.

A long-unanswered question is just how supplementation programs benefit and/or negatively impact wild fish. Naturally produced fish of 13 Columbia/Snake river basin species are protected under the Endangered Species Act. NOAA Fisheries is charged with protecting listed stocks.

“BPA and NOAA plan to work with the Council and the region between now and 2013 to develop the scope and work plan for CRHEET,” according to an NPCC staff memo prepared for Tuesday’s meeting. “While the scope and work plan is being developed, the Council can work with all parties, including the science review teams, to ensure CRHEET meets the needs of the Council’s program as well as the BiOps.

“Review of CRHEET by the ISRP and a broader look by the ISAB will be important to understanding the full range of relevant and important issues. We want to get the CRHEET project right before it is implemented,” the NPCC memo says.

A recently released report from the Council’s Independent Scientific Review Panel says “that there is an absence of empirical evidence from the ongoing projects to assign a conservation benefit to supplementation other than preventing extinction.

“The supplementation projects with high proportions of hatchery fish in the hatchery broodstock and on the natural spawning grounds are likely compromising the long-term viability of the wild populations,” the ISRP concludes in its December “Retrospective Report 2011: An expanded summary of the ISRP’s review of results conducted for the Research, Monitoring and Evaluation and Artificial Production Category Review.”

The ISRP judges for scientific credibility projects proposed for funding through the NPCC’s Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Program, which is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration. BPA, which markets power generated in the Federal Columbia River Power System, funds fish and wildlife projects as mitigation for impacts caused by the existence and operation of the hydro projects. Those projects include both hatchery construction and operations and maintenance.

Jones said that fishery and hatchery managers are generally “on a good path” toward providing fisheries through hatchery practices that have been greatly improved to reduce the risk to wild fish.

Hatcheries “are not operating to the detriment of wild salmon like they once did,” Jones said of reformed practices.

He said that CRHEET is being developed to respond to technical questions on the issue, to organize available data and make it more accessible to managers and to provide a technical advisory group.

Most of Tuesday’s panelists spoke about the need to “get on the same page,” i.e. agree on research designs that will “get the results needed by the region to make an accurate determination of what effects hatchery fish do have on natural fish populations,” according to the NPCC memo.

The Nez Perce Tribe’s Jay Hesse said that discussions of the relative benefits or detriments of supplementation involve “a lot of shades of gray.”

“We’ve not done a good job of describing what… we’re looking at,” he said. Hesse and others said the CRHEET process needs to enable a basinwide, comprehensive evaluation of artificial production’s effectiveness and scientific findings to-date.

Most supplementation programs in the region are run by tribal managers.

“We’re doing a good job of implementing sound science” in the programs, Hesse said.

Paul Lumley, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission executive director, said that the tribes “recognize that there is significant risk” to wild fish associated with the production of hatchery fish. Most fishery managers estimate that 80 percent of the salmon and steelhead spawners that return each year are of hatchery origin.

The job at hand is to manage that risk, Lumley said, with sound hatchery practices.

The tribes insist that hatcheries must remain “a tool to benefit recovery” of imperiled wild stocks and help rebuild populations for both reproduction and harvest.

“As long as we have dams we’ll have hatcheries” to provide mitigation for losses heavily suffered by the tribes, Lumley told the Council.

He said supplementation programs receive an unfair share of scrutiny. Fish produced exclusively for harvest likely have a much greater effect on wild stocks.

About145 million salmon and steelhead juveniles are produced and released annually from hatcheries in the Columbia/Snake river basin from its mouth to the headwaters, Lumley said. Of those, 88 million are released above the lower Columbia’s Bonneville Dam (river mile 146).

About 30 percent of those above Bonneville releases (26 million juveniles) are produced for supplementation or fishery/supplementation.

Bonneville funding accounts for about half of the 26 million-fish production for supplementation, and of those 13 million juveniles, only about 45 percent (6 million) are produced to supplement ESA listed stocks.

The remaining 55 percent (7 million) are being used in attempts to reintroduce and/or rejuvenate unlisted stocks such as Umatilla River spring chinook and upper Columbia coho.

In its retrospective report the ISRP said that it had “found that monitoring and evaluation has improved in all three major areas covered by this report. Nonetheless, lack of a comprehensive analysis of biological objective achievements for hatchery and habitat efforts impedes the understanding of program effectiveness.

“The Basin would benefit from an evaluation of management strategies and a structured decision approach for these categories, an approach that combines habitat, hatchery, passage, and full life-stage recruitment information,” the report says. “Although hatchery production has contributed to more adult fish, and in recent years harvest opportunities have increased, with some exceptions, supplementation experiments generally have not demonstrated improvement in the abundance of natural-origin salmon and steelhead. In addition, major biological improvements have not been measured as a result of habitat restoration.”


* State Commissions Negotiating Deep White Sturgeon Harvest Cuts; Will It Reduce Downward Trend?

For the third straight year, fishery managers from Washington and Oregon plan to reduce the allowable catch of white sturgeon on the lower Columbia River, where the species’ abundance has been declining since 2007.

At a public meeting held Saturday, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission called for reducing this year’s combined sport and commercial harvest levels by as much 38 percent. A day earlier, Oregon’s commission endorsed a proposal to reduce the catch guideline by more than 25 percent.

The commissions charged fish and wildlife directors of both states with negotiating an agreement by Jan. 26, when a joint hearing is scheduled to announce fishing seasons for sturgeon and salmon below Bonneville Dam, which is located at about river mile 146.

Last year’s sturgeon guideline for those waters was 15,640 fish, although only 14,488 were actually harvested. Under the current policy, 80 percent of the catch is allocated to the recreational fishery and 20 percent to the commercial fishery.

Any restriction in this year’s sturgeon harvest will follow a 30 percent reduction in 2011 and a 40 percent reduction the year before. Even so, most fishers who spoke before the Washington commission urged its members to take bold action to address the decline in sturgeon abundance in the lower Columbia River.

"Fishers are very concerned, and so is this commission," said Miranda Wecker, who chairs Washington’s nine-member citizen commission. "This may be our last attempt to reduce the downward trend before we have to consider a complete moratorium on the fishery."

Fish biologists for both states estimate that the abundance of "legal-size" sturgeon measuring 38-54 inches in length has declined nearly 50 percent in the past four years. Projections indicate that 65,000 white sturgeon will be present below Bonneville Dam this year.

Factors often cited for the decline include increased predation by sea lions and a drop in the abundance of smelt and lamprey, which contribute to sturgeons’ diet. Pat Frazier, a regional fish manager at WDFW, said managers estimate sea lion predation in the lower Columbia River increased in each of the past six years, claiming more than 8,300 sturgeon in 2011.

OFWC during its Jan. 6 meeting authorized ODFW staff to negotiate a reduction in the 2012 harvest guideline with Washington officials. Under options presented by ODFW staff, the harvest guideline in 2012 could be reduced to 12,514, which is 15 percent less than what the current agreement between the states calls for and more than 25 percent less than the 2011 harvest guideline. The final season details will be decided at a Jan. 26 Columbia River Compact/Joint State Hearing in Portland.

On Oregon’s Willamette River, the OFWC directed staff to allocate the available harvest guideline to a single season beginning in February rather than trying to reopen a second season in the fall. The Willamette feeds into the Columbia at river mile 102 at Portland.

Based on the harvest rate set for the Columbia River system overall, the 2012 harvest guideline for the Willamette could be as few as 1,566 to 1,884 fish. Managers are predicting those could be caught in just 5-6 days of fishing. The final season details will be set later this month.


* Council Recommends $10 Million To Umatilla Tribes For Salmon Habitat Projects In ‘Ceded’ Areas

Following a “qualified” endorsement from its Independent Scientific Review Panel, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council on Tuesday recommended that $10 million be earmarked for a plan to provide permanent protection for core salmon habitat in the “ceded” territory of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The tribes will target river corridors and watersheds of the Grande Ronde, Umatilla, Walla Walla and John Day rivers in central and northeast Oregon and southeast Washington. Ceded lands are territories historically occupied by tribes that were ceded via treaty to the federal government but where tribal members are reserved the right to hunt and fish.

The highest priority targeted habitat protection area will be the upper Grande Ronde River in Oregon with a special focus on spring chinook spawning and rearing habitats.

The proposal will identify the process to select and implement habitat acquisition/protection, potential enhancement treatments and monitoring of habitat improvements. It intends to both fulfill a funding promise made by the Bonneville Power Administration and other federal agencies in a 2008 memorandum of agreement, called a Fish Accord, with the Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes and address issues related to NOAA Fisheries’ 2008 Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion. The funding is specified for the same time frame as the BiOp, 2008-2017.

NOAA Fisheries developed the BiOp in consultation with BPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation and in collaboration with sovereign states and tribes in the region. It prescribes measures needed to avoid jeopardizing salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Wild Grande Ronde fish are part of the listed Snake River spring chinook stock.

The goal through such acquisition and restoration programs is to be “successful in fulfillment of our BiOp obligation,” said Bill Maslen, manager of BPA’s Fish and Wildlife Division.

“The ISRP found that the proposal met review criteria (qualified) and will serve as a ‘starting point’ for implementation,” according to a Jan. 4 memo prepared by Mark Fritsch, the NPCC’s project implementation manager. “The ISRP recognized that the CTUIR did the best they could with the information currently available … for identifying priority conservation areas.

“The qualifications raised by the ISRP include the need for additional detail to address specifics regarding the sequence of priority acquisitions and contingencies for dealing with issues that may arise that may affect implementation. In addition, the ISRP requested more information regarding the monitoring and evaluation associated with acquisitions in the priority subbasins.”

The memo said that Council and Bonneville staffs have determined that the information requested by the ISRP can be addressed through contracting and then reviewed during a geographical review of fish and wildlife project funding proposals expected in 2012-2013.


* BPA, Utility Groups Request FERC Reconsider Ruling On Non-Hydro Energy Transmission Policy

The Bonneville Power Administration, and a host of organizations representing utility interests, late last week asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reconsider a Dec. 7 decision that declared a new BPA “redispatch and negative pricing” policy contrary to the law.

The FERC order said the new policy “results in non-comparable transmission service that is unduly discriminatory and preferential. Accordingly, Bonneville may not extend its current environmental redispatch policies or implement new environmental redispatch policies that result in noncomparable transmission service.”

FERC said that Bonneville must file appropriate documents “within 90 days from the date of this order that satisfies our directive under section 211A to address the comparability concerns raised in this proceeding in a manner that provides comparable transmission service that is not unduly discriminatory or preferential.” Section 211A of the Federal Power Act says the Commission can order “unregulated transmitting utility” such as Bonneville to provide transmission.

The filings last week ask that FERC schedule a new hearing on the issue and, ultimately, deny the petition from wind generation interests that led to the Dec. 7 order.

In addition to Bonneville, such filings were submitted by the American Public Power Association, “joint intervenors” – the Public Power Council, Northwest Requirements Utilities and the Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative, the “joint public parties” – Clark, Cowlitz, Pend Oreille and Snohomish county public utility districts and the Eugene Water and Electric Board, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Mid-West Electric Consumers Association, the Western Public Agencies Group and the City of Seattle.

The strategy developed by BPA was employed this year to handle situations in which power generation outstrips demand.

The policy was implemented on an almost daily basis during May and June when near record flows swamped the Columbia-Snake river system, pushing the Federal Columbia River Power System’s dams well past their generating capacity and forcing involuntary spill.

Access to the region’s transmission system was partially and temporarily limited at times for producers of non-hydro energy, including fossil-fuel and other thermal generation, and wind energy.

The plan was to keep as much water flowing through the hydro turbines as possible to meet power demand and keep spill levels to a minimum. Plunging spilled water at the dams stirs up total dissolved gas in the rivers. TDG at elevated levels can be harmful to fish. Water flushing through the turbines creates little gas.

The fish traveling up and down the hydro system includes numerous salmon and steelhead stocks that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The new policy called for Bonneville to provide replacement hydro power to the wind and thermal power makers, but not to pay ‘negative prices,” i.e. actually paying the wind and thermal generators to take the federal power. 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.

The Jan. 6 filings met a FERC procedural deadline. BPA asked for clarification of the FERC order and rehearing on the issue. But the federal power marketing agency insists that it would rather reach a regional settlement on the best option to address electricity oversupply issues.

“While BPA is meeting a regulatory deadline to respond to ongoing litigation, we continue to believe that a solution developed in the Northwest by regional parties is the best path forward,” said BPA Administrator Steve Wright. “We support the continuation and acceleration of ongoing informal settlement discussions with affected parties.”

Developing a regional solution is especially important before the spring snowmelt season and expiration of the interim policy on Environmental Redispatch on March 30. With or without a settlement BPA must adopt a new policy.

A regional settlement provides a far better foundation for continued integration of renewable resources, such as wind power, than continued litigation, BPA says. Absent a settlement, any new policy seems likely to lead to even more litigation that may stretch for many years.

On June 13 a group of owners of wind facilities in the Pacific Northwest filed a petition with FERC alleging that Bonneville was “using its transmission market power to curtail wind generators in an unduly discriminatory manner in order to protect its preferred power customer base from costs it does not consider socially optimal,” the FERC order said.

Parties also petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to overturn BPA’s record of decision regarding the redispatch and negative pricing policy. The two-pronged attack was intended to address the possibility that FERC might decide it didn’t have jurisdiction in the matter.

On Dec. 21 the Ninth Circuit issued a notice saying petitions were stayed until April 4, or pending final action by FERC on any request for rehearing or clarification in the related matter, whichever occurs later.

The brief filed by BPA Jan. 6 with FERC says that:

-- The Commission should clarify whether it determined that its section 211A authority must be harmonized with or overrides Bonneville’s enabling and applicable environmental statutes. In the event the Commission determined that its section 211A authority overrides Bonneville’s enabling and applicable environmental statutes, then the Commission erred and Bonneville seeks rehearing.

-- The Commission should clarify whether it ordered Bonneville to file tariff revisions or an entire tariff. In the event the Commission has ordered Bonneville to file an entire tariff, the Commission erred and Bonneville seeks rehearing.

-- The Commission should clarify that Federal hydroelectric resources are not similarly situated to non-Federal renewable resources for purposes of curtailments to produce power to reduce total dissolved gas and its impacts on listed fish in the Columbia River system. Bonneville also requests rehearing of the Commission’s conclusion that Federal hydroelectric resources are similarly situated to non-Federal renewable resources in this situation.

-- The Commission should clarify that section 211A does not authorize it to order Bonneville to provide transmission service at rates that are not unduly discriminatory. In the event the Commission has determined that section 211A authorizes it to order transmission service at rates that are not unduly discriminatory, the Commission erred and Bonneville seeks rehearing.

-- The Commission’s conclusion that it has jurisdiction to review the Environmental Redispatch policy is an error of law because jurisdiction over this final action is vested in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.


* Oregon’s Dukes Elected Chair Of Northwest Power And Conservation Council; Montana’s Whiting Vice-Chair

Members of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council this week elected Joan Dukes, an Oregon member, chair of the Council for 2012, and Rhonda Whiting, a Montana member, vice chair.

The Council elects officers annually. In 2011, Dukes served as vice chair and Whiting served as chair of the Council’s Public Affairs Committee.

“I am looking forward to chairing the Council, which has responsibility for long-term power planning in the Northwest and for protecting and enhancing fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin,” Dukes said. “The rapid increase in wind power, the future of fish hatcheries, predation on adult and juvenile fish in the Columbia River, and improving our ability to monitor and evaluate the success of fish and wildlife projects, which cost the region’s electricity ratepayers more than $200 million per year – these all are issues that are on the Council’s plate in 2012. It will be an interesting year.”

Dukes was appointed to the Council by Oregon’s then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski in 2004. She served two previous terms as Council vice chair, in 2006 and 2007. Dukes resigned her seat in the Oregon Senate, where she had served since 1987, to join the Council

She is a resident of Svensen, a community near Astoria. Dukes, who served a four-year term as a Clatsop County commissioner before being elected to the Senate, has experience in budget, education, transportation, forestry, and fisheries issues at the local, county and state levels, including having served as chair of the Pacific Fisheries Legislative Task Force, an association of western legislators that works on regional fish issues. She is a graduate of the Evergreen State College.

Whiting was appointed to the Council by Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer in 2004. Whiting chaired the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee for five years, and the Public Affairs Committee for the past two years.

Whiting, who lives in Missoula, is from St. Ignatuis, Mont., and is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Before her appointment to the Council, she was vice president of communications and intergovernmental affairs for Salish and Kootenai Technologies, the largest information technology company in Montana. In 1998 she was appointed by President Clinton to oversee 17 tribal business information centers across the nation, and she also has operated her own communications consulting firm. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, and a law degree, all from the University of Montana.


* Study Details How Reduced Mountain Snowfall Can Lead To ‘Classic Ecological Cascade’

Climate change in the form of reduced snowfall in mountains is causing cascading shifts in mountainous plant and bird communities through the increased ability of elk to stay at high elevations over winter and consume plants, according to a study in Nature Climate Change.

The U.S. Geological Survey and University of Montana study not only showed that the abundance of deciduous trees and their associated songbirds in mountainous Arizona have declined over the last 22 years as snowpack has declined, but it also experimentally demonstrated that declining snowfall indirectly affects plants and birds by enabling more winter browsing by elk.

Increased winter browsing by elk results in trickle-down ecological effects such as lowering the quality of habitat for songbirds.

The authors, USGS Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit scientist Thomas Martin and University of Montana scientist John Maron, mimicked the effects of more snow on limiting the ability of elk to browse on plants by excluding the animals from large, fenced areas. They compared bird and plant communities in these exclusion areas with nearby similar areas where elk had access, and found that, over the six years of the study, multi-decadal declines in plant and songbird populations were reversed in the areas where elk were prohibited from browsing.

"This study illustrates that profound impacts of climate change on ecosystems arise over a time span of but two decades through unexplored feedbacks," explained USGS director Marcia McNutt. "The significance lies in the fact that humans and our economy are at the end of the same chain of cascading consequences."

The study demonstrates a classic ecological cascade, added Martin. For example, he said, from an elk’s perspective, less snow means an increased ability to freely browse on woody plants in winter in areas where they would not be inclined to forage in previous times due to high snowpack. Increased overwinter browsing led to a decline in deciduous trees, which reduced the number of birds that chose the habitat and increased predation on nests of those birds that did choose the habitat.

"This study demonstrates that the indirect effects of climate on plant communities may be just as important as the effects of climate-change-induced mismatches between migrating birds and food abundance because plants, including trees, provide the habitat birds need to survive," Martin said.

The study, “Climate impacts on bird and plant communities from altered animal-plant interactions,” was published online on Jan. 8 in the journal Nature Climate Change.


* Senator Urges Federal, State, Local Response Plan To Tsunami Debris Headed For Northwest Coast

Concerned about the impact of debris from the Japanese tsunami on Oregon’s fishing, crabbing, shipping and tourism industries, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, said this week it is time for federal, state and local agencies to develop a response plan and start communicating with the public.

“I take any threat to the Oregon coast seriously and millions of tons of debris headed our way sounds serious to me,” Wyden said. “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is tracking the debris generated by the Japanese earthquake. I hope the agency’s future plans include efforts to involve other agencies and organizations and let Oregon residents know what is going on and how they can help.”

Millions of tons of debris generated by the March 2011 earthquake in Japan are currently adrift in the Pacific Ocean. Based on computer models, that debris may begin showing up on West Coast beaches sometime in 2013.

(For more information see CBB, Dec. 30, 2011, “NOAA Says Debris From Japan Tsunami Could Reach U.S. West Coast This Winter” http://www.cbbulletin.com/415048.aspx)

On Sunday at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Wyden was briefed on the situation by representatives of NOAA, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Oregon State University, local emergency management officials and others.

In a letter to NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, Wyden said that because of the potential for damage to Oregon’s fishing, crabbing, shipping and tourism industries it is vital that federal, state and local agencies work together on a response plan that “prepares for the worst while hoping for the best.”

“It is reassuring to know that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has assumed a lead role in working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners to coordinate data collection, as well as a response plan to address the wide range of potential scenarios and threats generated by the debris field.” Wyden wrote. “As you move forward, I hope that NOAA will prioritize the development of a response plan for West Coast states and help communities and agencies along the coast plan and prepare for any eventualities related to the arrival of this debris. This might, for example, include establishing toll free numbers and websites to assist the public.”


* EPA Releases 2010 ‘Toxics Release Inventory’ For Northwest States, Columbia River Basin

Recent data from the federal Toxics Release Inventory, which includes a section on the Columbia River basin, shows that toxic chemical releases rose in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, says the Environmental Protection Agency.

The 2010 TRI National Analysis shows that TRI releases rose 16 percent across the nation between 2009 and 2010, reversing a downward trend from recent years.

Similarly, toxic chemicals releases rose in all four EPA Region 10 states (Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington) compared to 2009.

This year, almost 90 percent of all TRI chemical releases in Region 10 are attributed to the metal mining industry in Alaska. Throughout the region, the mining industry increased reported releases by 19 percent compared to 2009. Increases reported from metal mines can be due to increased production, variations in ore composition, or changes in production processes.

The 2010 TRI reports how over 600 chemicals on the TRI list were managed, where they ended up, and how 2010 releases compare to 2009.

-- In Alaska, 32 facilities reported a total of 835 million pounds of toxic chemical releases, an increase of 20 percent.
-- In Idaho, 95 facilities reported a total of 67 million pounds of toxic chemical releases, an increase of 17 percent.
-- In Oregon, 271 facilities reported a total of 18 million pounds of toxic chemical releases, an increase of 20 percent.
-- In Washington, 304 facilities reported a total of 20 million pounds of toxic chemical releases, an increase of 27 percent.

For the Columbia River basin, the report said, “Recent studies and monitoring programs have found significant levels of toxic chemicals in fish and the waters they inhabit, including DDT, PCBs, mercury, dioxins, and other anthropogenic toxic chemicals.

“According to EPA Region 10's ‘Columbia River Basin Toxics Reduction Action Plan,’ such accumulation of toxics in fish threatens the species, and human consumption of fish with significant body burdens of toxics can lead to health problems.

“In 2010, some of the largest sources of TRI chemicals in the Columbia River Basin included the land disposal of manganese, copper, lead and zinc and other metals from metal mines. Runoff from these areas, as well as wastewater effluent from numerous pulp and paper mills, is associated with degraded water quality. Hazardous waste management facilities had on-site land disposal, primarily of zinc and lead and their compounds. On-site land disposal or other releases accounted for 81 percent of total on-site disposal or other releases in the Columbia River Basin in 2010. They decreased by 5 percent from 2001 to 2010, but increased by 7 percent from 2009 to 2010.”

Air releases in the Columbia River basin “accounted for 14 percent of total on-site disposal or other releases in 2010. They decreased by 43 percent from 2001 to 2010 but increased by 10 percent from 2009 to 2010. The primary sources of air releases were pulp and paper mills, mainly consisting of methanol, and food processors and chemical manufacturers, mainly consisting of ammonia.”

Surface water discharges in the Columbia Basin “were 5 percent of total on-site disposal or other releases in 2010. They decreased by 51 percent from 2001 to 2010, including a 9 percent decrease from 2009 to 2010. The food processing industry accounted for half of the surface water discharges in 2010, almost all of which was nitrate compounds.”

More details on the Columbia River Basin TRI can be found at http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/tri10/nationalanalysis/tri-lae-columbia.html

“The availability of this data allows the public to have better information when they engage with industry and the government,” said Ed Kowalski, EPA’s Director of the Office of Compliance and Enforcement in Seattle. “You can see trends at the national and statewide levels, and you can monitor what is happening in your ZIP code.”

A TRI chemical ’release’ is the amount of a toxic chemical that a facility disposes of, or discharges to the environment. The actions that facilities take to dispose of or release TRI chemicals are generally regulated under other environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, or the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. TRI data do not include information about public exposure to chemicals.

Reports that show TRI data broken out by industry, chemicals, and facilities for Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington: www.epa.gov/region10/tri/2010data.html


* Spanish Research Tags Fish With Barium Isotopes To Distinguish Wild Salmon From Farmed Fish

Researchers at the University of Oviedo in Spain have come up with a way of tagging gunpowder which allows its illegal use to be detected even after it has been detonated. Based on the addition of isotopes, the technique can also be used to track and differentiate between wild fish and those from a fish farm, such as trout and salmon.

This new method for tagging and identifying objects, substances and living beings has just been presented in this month's issue of the Analytical Chemistry journal. Its creators are scientists at the University of Oviedo who have patented the procedure for inserting chemical tags into products in a way that allows them to be unmistakably identified over time.

The researchers say that the technique can be used in living organisms without risk to health or the environment: "All living beings have these isotopes, the only thing we have done is change their ratio." Monitoring of seed dispersal or fish populations are fields of scientific research that could benefit from this technology, they say.

In fact, the team has successfully employed barium isotopes (Ba135 and Ba137) for tagging trout. What is more is that the injected tag in the female is transgenerational, meaning that it passes to her eggs and therefore the first generation of fry. The isotopic information is stored for life in the otoliths – a calcareous structure in the inner ears of the fish from where samples are taken.

Researcher García Alonso points out that "different tags can be injected into the trout so that the procedure can be made more specific for the descendants of a single individual or group."

The method is currently being used to assess the effectiveness of salmon repopulation in rivers in Asturias, Spain. The scientists inject one type of chemical tag into wild salmon and another type into those from a fish farm. When the fry raised in captivity are returned to the river, the efficiency of the repopulation process can be determined and river populations can be indirectly estimated.

The technique consists of adding two stable (non-radioactive) isotopes (types of the same chemical element but with a different number of neutrons) at an established ratio to the object that is to be followed. Then, with an instrument called a mass spectrometer, a sample can be verified as having the predefined isotope ratio. If it does, it is therefore the tagged product.

"This technology is applicable to the invisible tagging of manufactured substances and objects such as explosives, jewellery, artwork, foods and medicines, which helps to prevent fraud and counterfeiting," explains Alonso, one of its authors. "Through simple analytical techniques, a product can be traced from its origin and any possible illegal uses can be detected," he adds.

The researchers have applied this method to gunpowder, an example of an explosive, by adding two tin isotopes (Sn117 and Sn119). After preparing three different mixes (each with differing isotopic proportions so that they can be distinguished from one another), the results reveal that even after detonation the added tags can still be detected in the explosion remains.

More information is available in "Individual-Specific Transgenerational Marking of Fish Populations Based on a Barium Dual-Isotope Procedure". Analytical Chemistry 84 (1): 121-126 y 127-133, January 2012.


* USFWS Receives First Application From Wind Power Project For Take Permit For Eagles

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its draft environmental assessment of a request from West Butte Wind Power, LLC, for a permit that would allow for the "take" of golden eagles at the company's proposed wind project in central Oregon.

"Take" means to kill, harass or disturb the birds, their nests or their eggs. The Service will consider take permits when commitments are made for conservation measures that benefit eagle populations.

Comments on the draft EA will be accepted until Feb. 2.

This is the first application the Service has received from a proposed wind project for a take permit under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Regulations adopted in 2009 enabled the agency to authorize, for the first time, take of eagles for activities that are otherwise lawful but that result in either disturbance or mortality. Since then, guidelines for issuing the permits to wind projects have been developed. Permits are only issuable under circumstances that ultimately guarantee the conservation of eagle populations.

The West Butte permit, if issued, would allow the take of up to three golden eagles over a period of five years as long as the company fulfills its conservation commitments.

In cooperation with the Service, the company has developed an avian and bat conservation plan and an eagle conservation plan that describe actions that have been taken to initially avoid and minimize and then mitigate for any remaining adverse effects to eagles.

If the permit is granted, there must be no net loss to breeding populations of golden eagles. The proposed wind project, consisting of up to 52 turbines about 30 miles east of Bend, is in an area of low use by golden eagles.

"Our goal is to maintain stable or increasing populations of eagles protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act," said Chris McKay, Assistant Regional Director for Migratory Birds and State Programs in the Service's Pacific Region. "Regulations under the Act allow us to issue permits for activities that are likely to take eagles provided the activity is otherwise lawful and the taking is not the purpose of that activity, the take is unavoidable even though advanced conservation practices are being implemented, and the take is compatible with eagle preservation."

The Service says it is working with conservation partners and the wind energy industry to find solutions to reduce the number of eagle mortalities at wind projects, reduce other sources of eagle mortality, and bolster eagle populations through other conservation measures.

West Butte Wind Power's eagle conservation plan outlines advanced conservation practices and measures to avoid and minimize impacts, assesses risk, makes commitments for mitigating eagle mortalities and makes commitments for monitoring bird mortality after the project is built. If the permit is granted, these conservation commitments would become conditions of the permit.

The Service would review the permit every five years to ensure the project was complying with the conditions.

The draft EA analyzes three alternatives:

-- A no-action alternative, which means a permit would not be issued;
-- A five-year permit for the take of up to three golden eagles, over the five years, that incorporates all conservation commitments described in the company's Eagle Conservation Plan;
-- A five-year permit as above but with additional conditions that address monitoring, research and mitigation that might further reduce take.

As part of its application, the company has committed to a number of conservation measures, regardless of whether eagles are killed, that should conserve eagles and other raptors. These include, among other things, upgrading 11 power poles per year within a 10-mile radius to meet avian protection standards for the life of the project. Electrocutions from electric utility lines that are older, with inadequate spacing between lines conducting electricity, are a major cause of eagle mortality in the West.

The Notice of Availability of the draft EA was published in the Federal Register. The full text of the draft EA can be downloaded at http://www.fws.gov/pacific/migratorybirds/nepa.html

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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