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Economic and dam related articles

Council Recommends $34 Million in FY 2004 Mainstem Spending

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, June 13, 2003

The Northwest Power Planning Council voted unanimously this week to recommend that BPA fund nearly $34 million in fiscal year 2004 for fish and wildlife proposals focused on the mainstem Columbia River, the centerpiece of its $139 million program. The recommendations call for funding most projects for the next three years.

Federal and state agencies, along with tribes and other fish groups, initially submitted about $76 million in mainstem proposals to the Bonneville Power Administration. The proposals were then reviewed by fish and wildlife agencies, independent scientists and the council staff prior to last week's vote.

A lengthy discussion preceded the vote, which was taken during the council's three-day meeting in Boise. The session included a day-long meeting of the council's fish and wildlife committee, during which Therese Lamb, BPA's acting vice president for environment, fish and wildlife, asked for about $12 million more annually for the next three years to fund essential research and monitoring needed for the hydro Biological Opinion.

Some council members balked when they realized that approving BPA's request would likely mean additional pruning of the overall fish and wildlife budget, which has been trimmed by $40 million to accommodate BPA's fiscal crisis. To add to the difficulties, some of the requested proposals have not yet passed muster with the council's independent science panel. BPA's position is clear: the projects affected by the $12 million request must eventually be funded for 2004, but could undergo more refinement before a final decision is made.

Washington council member Larry Cassidy said the budget exercise that trimmed $40 million from the program had already combed out all non-essential elements. Asking regional sponsors for more cuts now would be a "hard sell," he said.

Idaho member and council Chair Judi Danielson was also discouraged. "We might as well close up subbasin planning," she said.

Lamb said there may be a way to create a more flexible budget over the next few years that would not require "re-prioritization," yet fund BPA's BiOp needs. She said discussion with fish and wildlife agencies would be directed towards that goal.

With the BPA requests on hold, the council followed many recommendations from the science panel and voted to cut a $500,000 project that continued the study of bird predation on salmon and steelhead. Council members also slashed funding for the pikeminnow predation program, cutting it to about $1.4 million annually. The panel said current efforts by fishermen, who receive a bounty for catching the pikeminnow, have likely reduced populations enough to stabilize benefits to migrating salmon. It is estimated that recreational anglers now catch enough pikeminnow each year to allow 3 million to 5 million additional hatchery and wild smolts to migrate successfully through the hydro system.

The council also whacked in half the core budget for the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority. CBFWA is the umbrella organization that coordinates activities of the region's federal, state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies ,and also makes annual funding recommendations for BPA's F&W program. Pared down to $1.2 million for next year, the council may boost the CBFWA budget later after further consultation.

A controversial $900,000 study of the effects of small-mesh nets on the harvest and release of fish listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act was canned as well. The project was designed to see if tanglenets would improve the survival of wild chinook, which must be released alive.

The net study was initially funded to reduce the economic plight of commercial fishermen and to encourage a spring gillnet harvest on hatchery salmon in the lower Columbia River. Sports fishermen have been highly critical of the project ever since large numbers of steelhead were caught incidentally last year when gillnetters tried using their old sockeye gear to catch chinook by entangling them. However, they caught large numbers of winter steelhead in the process. Washington member Cassidy said he had received more public comment on this particular issue than any other part of the program.

This year, the fishermen were forced to use even smaller-mesh nets, and it was reported that few steelhead were entangled. The council decided that such management activities should now be funded by the appropriate states.

One of the sleeper projects boosted into the fundable category was a $1.1 million project designed to tease out the potential delayed effects of dam passage on the survival of Snake River fish. NOAA Fisheries scientists sponsoring the project say the work could provide important answers to the effects of dams and barging fish that are now termed "critical uncertainties" in the hydro BiOp.

The council also recommended $3 million in capital spending for several projects that BPA has categorized as "expenses." It's an accounting issue that hasn't yet been resolved.

Bill Rudolph
Council Recommends $34 Million in FY 2004 Mainstem Spending
NW Fishletter, June 13, 2003

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