American Fisheries Society Report Critiques Science in BiOpby Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 10, 2005
... the benefits to Snake River stock survival and recovery
would be assured with the removal of the lower four dams on that system ...
A federal salmon protection plan thrown recently into legal limbo by a federal judge was ripped again last week, this time in a report released by fishery managers and scientists.
Late last year the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians requested an "independent and objective" review of NOAA Fisheries' Nov. 30, 2004, biological opinion on the Federal Columbia River Power System's effects on migrating salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act. The BiOp judged that the federal action agencies' "Updated Proposed Action" -- their hydrosystem operational plan for power production, fish protection and other purposes -- did not jeopardize the survival of the 12 listed salmon and steelhead stocks.
The American Fisheries Society was called on to undertake the review. The AFS work was oriented exclusively at reviewing the science used in the biological opinion and ESA consultation and at whether the science supported the policy and the 'no jeopardy' conclusion. The AFS review did not concern itself with policy or the purported legal interpretation of the scope of the BiOp.
"While the [BiOp] appears to provide some improved measures for preserving salmon stocks in the Columbia system, it fails to reach objective, science-based conclusions on the impacts to listed populations and their future survival as a species," according to a June 1 press release from the AFS' Western Division announcing the review's release.
The BiOp "provides few tangible measures stringent enough to provide adequate confidence that those federal responsibilities to citizens and tribes will be met. Further, it was found that the RBO (remanded biological opinion) did not conclusively prove that the hydropower system will not obstruct recovery of fish populations to viable, sustainable and harvestable levels. Natural and stochastic events represent a particularly troubling scenario given the acceptance in the RBO of short-term operations and use of near-term, nonfigurative data," according to the AFS.
"In conclusion, there was consensus that the mitigation proposed for the UPA must be far more aggressive and focused to ensure survival and commence recovery of listed stocks in the Columbia watershed," the AFS review says.
The 2004 BiOp late last year replaced a 2000 NOAA FCRPS BiOp that U.S. District Court Judge James A. Redden declared arbitrary and capricious in May 2003. The 2004 document was immediately challenged by a coalition of fishing and conservation groups. In a May 26 order the Portland-based judge cited numerous flaws in the 2004 BiOp jeopardy analysis and declared it arbitrary and capricious.
Specifically the AFS independent scientific review considered: (1) whether the information provided was valid, and, (2) if the conservation measures proposed could realistically ensure no jeopardy to listed stocks. Officers and committee chairs from the AFS assembled a team of expert reviewers employed by government, tribes, and the private sector from both inside and outside the basin to consider the BiOp's findings. All reviewers conducted their reviews independently, and on their own time and represented considerable expertise and familiarity with the region and federal hydropower system, according to the AFS.
The BiOp "accepted ever further degradation and 'near-term' population declines for many of the stocks from the UPA," the review says. It also "proposed implementation of new technologies that have largely been untested and used faulty analysis to reach many of its conclusions, while ignoring significant literature and current knowledge about the effects of the hydropower system on fish survival, diversity, spatial structure and overall life history."
The AFS review noted that one "of the major differences between the 2000 BO and 2004 RBO is the effort to distinguish between the existence of the FCRPS and its operation."
The AFS "recognizes the logic applied in this approach, in that it would be incumbent to first determine if there is the capacity within the realm of operations, mitigations and restoration actions to protect the ESA stocks, before determining if societal scale intervention such as dam removal is necessary to achieve stock recovery.
"However, while it remains unclear if there is the potential to achieve stock recovery through the removal of most hydro projects in the Columbia watershed (i.e., given the adaptation of some stocks to the current conditions), the economic benefits of some of the lower four dams on the Snake River remain equivocal and largely replaceable through other public works investment. In contrast to the uncertainty of success from the removal of hydro projects in other portions of the basin, the benefits to Snake River stock survival and recovery would be assured with the removal of the lower four dams on that system (i.e., the lack of any significant recovery in these stocks suggests little adaptation has occurred in these populations)."
ATNI member tribes see the report, and Judge Redden's recent opinion, as validation for their long-held belief that the federal action plan is inadequate.
"In view of the recent Federal Court opinion on the 2004 hydrosystem BiOp, the AFS review confirms what the Columbia River Tribes have been saying since the BiOp was released; this plan is fatally flawed on both its procedural and scientific merits," said AFNI Executive Committee member Davis Washines of the Yakama Nation.
"We certainly hope the AFS review will encourage the federal action agencies to go back to the drawing board and, in consultation with the fishery co-managers, design a plan that meets the legal requirements of the Endangered Species Act as well as the biological requirements of the listed fish. The ATNI member tribes continue to be willing and able to help in this effort," Washines said.
(The consolidated review comments can be found on the Western Division AFS web-site www.wdafs.org)
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