American Fisheries Society Approves
by Bill Rudolph
Before the new BiOp even hit the streets Nov. 30, Northwest tribes called for a peer review of the controversial document. And the American Fisheries Society has agreed to a request by the 54 Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest to review it by Jan. 31.
The Tribes said they believed that AFS scientists could help "interpret, in an objective and disciplined manner, whether the science supports the new findings."
A draft BiOp released in September concluded that dam operations don't jeopardize ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks in the Columbia Basin, a conclusion re-iterated last week in the final version.
The tribes included a list of questions "to guide this review," and also provided a list of potential reviewers that was not released publicly. Tana Klum, tribal coordinator with the Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Authority, said she didn't have clearance from the Tribes or the AFS to release the list. "AFS selects their own reviewers," she said in an e-mail, "some of which remain 'blind' to obtain maximum objectivity."
Lynn Starnes, president of the western division of the AFS, outlined the process in his Nov. 9 letter to the Tribes. He gave their questions to the AFS Environmental Concerns Committee, which will form a review committee from a combined list that includes names from the tribes' own list.
"When that review is completed, the report will then go through a review by our Executive Committee and our Policy Committee," Starnes said. "If we concur that a credible, independent review has been conducted, then the review will be released to you and others within the American Fisheries Society."
Starnes recognized potential pitfalls in the process. "Key will be choosing the scientists who can review the available data yet remain separate from the prevailing politics," he wrote to the Tribes.
The request has some Northwest scientists, who already believe the AFS plays too much of an advocacy role, shaking their heads. Several say they quit the organization 10 years ago for precisely this reason.
"They went off the deep end in the 1990s," said a biologist, who has since left the AFS. In 2000, the Oregon AFS chapter voted 103-0 to adopt a resolution affirming the necessity for breaching the four lower Snake River dams to restore wild salmon populations.
But the AFS review may prove especially difficult because some of the questions asked by the tribes seem to mix scientific and legal issues, such as their queries about the framework of the feds' analysis. "Is acceptance of the federal power system as part of the natural environment supported by the science? Does sufficient technical capacity exist to differentiate between operation and existence of the FCRPS [Federal Columbia River Power System] in a manner that fully documents all impacts to fish (lethal and non-lethal, including passage, water quality, predation, harassment, etc.)?"
NOAA policymakers like regional administrator Bob Lohn say improved survival data allows the analysts to focus on dam operations in the new BiOp and measure the difference between proposed operations and a hypothetical operation that's maxed-out for fish survival.
The new analysis is part of the BiOp remand ordered by Oregon District Court Judge James Redden, who ruled last year that offsite mitigation promised to make up for fish losses in the federal hydro system wasn't really certain to occur.
But Redden wasn't prepared for a whole new BiOp with a completely new framework for analysis unveiled in draft form last September. He called the revision a potential "train wreck." Since then, plaintiffs in the original BiOp lawsuit have promised to sue again if the judge doesn't throw it out, and both sides have been discussing a schedule for new litigation once the latest BiOp became official.
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