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August 1, 2006

Idaho tribe, BPA at odds over new Oregon chinook hatchery


LEWISTON, Idaho -- The Bonneville Power Administration says it won't spend $16.4 million to build a fish hatchery in northeast Oregon unless it gets confirmation that, in light of a recent court ruling, the hatchery will help threatened chinook salmon.

The Nez Perce Tribe, which wants to start construction on the hatchery this winter, says the BPA is holding the money hostage.

"From the tribe's perspective, it appears BPA is holding Northeast Oregon Hatchery 'hostage' in order to meet its own desire to receive some specific 'ESA credit' from NOAA Fisheries," wrote tribal Chairwoman Rebecca Miles in a June 13 letter to BPA Administrator Steven Wright.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the federal agency in charge of restoring threatened and endangered salmon.

The proposed hatchery was listed in biological opinions covering federal dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers as one of the measures that would help chinook salmon recover.

However, U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland recently ruled against management plans for dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers, saying they would not prevent chinook salmon from going extinct. A new biological opinion is being written by federal agencies and plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to Redden's decision.

The BPA wants to make sure the new hatchery will be considered a help to recovering salmon runs and not be ruled as detrimental after it is built.

"We need to be assured it is not going to be treated as a deterrent," Greg Delwiche, BPA vice president of environment, fish and wildlife, told The Lewiston Tribune.

"We have every hope and intention to fund this hatchery," Scott Simms, a spokesman with BPA, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "I think we just want to make sure we go through the appropriate process with NOAA Fisheries to do this hatchery right."

The hatchery has been planned for several decades, and last May the project was recommended to receive money by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

By law, the BPA is required to help mitigate effects dams have on wildlife. Those efforts include measures to improve salmon passage through dams for both adult and juvenile salmon, as well as building fish hatcheries to mitigate lost spawning habitat.

The new hatchery would be built on the Lostine River near the town of Lostine. It would be a "supplementation hatchery," which uses wild salmon to produce juvenile fish. The juvenile fish, called smolts, would be released to migrate to the ocean. Most of the returning adults would be allowed to spawn in the wild.

BPA officials say they are concerned the hatchery will produce chinook that spawn with wild fish. Some biologists say mixing hatchery-raised salmon with wild salmon weakens the genetic strength of the wild fish, making them more susceptible to extinction.

The agency also is concerned that the hatchery would lead to tribal anglers harvesting more wild salmon and hinder recovery of the species.

The agency says those factors combined could mean the hatchery might harm recovery of wild salmon rather than help the species under the Endangered Species Act.


Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com

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