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Commentaries and editorials

Project Sponsors Mull
Council's Mainstem Funding Decision

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 13, 2003

Fish and wildlife managers, researchers and federal officials chafed this week as many of their favored project proposals were left off the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's recommended short list for funding through the mainstem/systemwide category of the NPCC's fish and wildlife program.

Previously funded tribal conservation enforcement programs were told to pursue other funding or, at best, win support if somehow more funding is found. Also cut adrift were research programs tracking the impact of the world's largest colony of Caspian terns on migrating salmon and, with some qualifications, a project aimed at the evaluating the effectiveness of "tangle" nets as a selective commercial harvest technique.

The project that has for the past several years paid sport anglers to catch salmon-eating northern pikeminnow was given two options in the Council funding recommendation -- show that biological benefits (reduction in salmon consumption) can be achieved at half the cost or face a total loss of funding.

And the organization that represents the region's fish and wildlife managers -- the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority -- is ticketed for a 40 percent reduction in funding from last year unless it can show the Council that the tasks CBFWA intends to perform are worth the price.

The Council on Wednesday recommended that 35 research and administrative projects be funded during the 2004-2006 fiscal years at a cost of about $31 million in the fish and wildlife program's mainstem/systemwide category. Additionally the members recommended that three projects be funded at a cost of $3 million per year as "capital," as opposed to expense. In all, nearly $60 million worth of projects were considered.

The recommendation would pull more than $6 million worth of "new" projects into the program, most of which address "critical needs" for implementation of the Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion. It outlines actions that federal agencies feel must be taken to avoid hydrosystem jeopardy to the survival of salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Council proposal would also shelve projects funded in past years.

The $31 million is the mainstem/systemwide category's prorated share of the $139 million maximum that the Bonneville Power Administration has said it will spend annually in the NPCC fish and wildlife program. Placeholders take about $28 million of the total and the rest is spent on fish and wildlife projects in the Columbia Basin's geographical provinces. The mainstem/systemwide category is a catchall for research along the Columbia/Snake river mainstem and for other work that brings systemwide benefits.

The proposed budget for CBFWA has bobbed around recently with the Council staff initially recommending a budget of $1.2 million. CBFWA's nine-member staff coordinates fish and wildlife agency participation in regional mitigation activities regarding implementation of the Council program and provides annual project and funding recommendations. Its staff and 19 members also participate in the Council's rolling provincial review, subbasin planning, and program amendment recommendations. CBFWA members include 19 state, federal and tribal entities involved in Columbia River basin fish and wildlife management.

CBFWA had requested $2.2 million in a proposal that was submitted 18 months ago along with other mainstem/systemwide projects for fiscal 2003-2005. But a Council decision on the projects was long-delayed, so ongoing projects such as CBFWA were funded for the current fiscal year at static levels. The Council opted to make recommendations for the 2004-2006 period.

Meanwhile, two primary tasks that required time and expense for both CBFWA staff and staff of the member agencies have been largely accomplished, the NPCC staff reasoned in trimming the budget. But at the direction of NPCC fish and wildlife director Doug Marker, $500,000 was added back into the budget -- an amount that was added to the base CBFWA budget in 2002 for member travel and other expenses to allow their participation in regional processes.

The Council, however, decided Wednesday to leave the CBFWA budget at $1.2 million with the stipulation that additional money may be made available if CBFWA members and staff better line up the costs with the tasks they intend to accomplish.

A June 6 letter from CBFWA Chairman John Palensky to Council Chair Judi Danielson of Idaho said that the budget cut was "apparently based upon the premise that objectives relating to the Rolling Provincial Review, coordination of Program amendments, and monitoring and evaluation no longer apply.." He said that was not true, adding that some regional process for selecting and reviewing proposals is still required. CBFWA would likely help facilitate that process, Palensky wrote.

"We also see a continuing need to coordinate input to the NWPCC's amendment process, since the NWPCC's program must be amended to incorporate the subbasin plans due in May of 2004," Palensky wrote. The CBFWA also intends to assist in "rebuilding working relationships among the BPA, NWPCC and CBFWA" and contribute to business practices improvements for administering the program.

"If you made this choice (the budget cut), it would be very hard for us to do that," CBFWA Executive Director Rod Sando said of the tasks listed in the letter. He agreed to deliver within the next several weeks an updated description of CBFWA's intended tasks.

"It's more than fair to come back and justify the work effort," Sando said.

Tribal officials on Wednesday lobbied the Council's fish and wildlife committee to recommend funding for four tribal law enforcement projects that Council staff had lodged in a "tier 2" -- projects to be funded if funding becomes available. The Council ultimately recommended funding only staff-recommended tier 1 projects.

The enforcement programs proposed by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Umatilla, Nez Perce and Colville tribes would cost nearly $1.3 million.

The Nez Perce Tribe's fisheries program manager, David Johnson, told the Council that the lack of tribal law enforcement would leave poaching unchecked.

"It would directly affect the number of fish that reach the spawning grounds," Johnson said. The tribes have no other source to fund the programs, he said. And it makes no sense, he said, to leave without law enforcement that segment of the population -- the treaty tribes -- that are legally allowed a harvest of 50 percent of the returning salmon and steelhead.

The projects "speaks to the heart of the Council program," which is to protect and restore fish and wildlife populations, he said.

"These projects have a direct relationship to fish survival by reducing unlawful harvest," said Olney Patt Jr., CRITFC's executive director. He and Johnson also said that the federal biological opinion assumes that the enforcement activity will continue.

"The risk of not funding these projects will be the loss of ESA-focused resource protection provided by 14.75 conservation officers throughout the Columbia basin.," according to a letter from Johnson and CRITFC enforcement manager John B. Johnson.

The Council recommended against funding a research project that has for the past several years been evaluating the impact predatory Caspian terns -- and particularly a huge colony in the Columbia estuary -- are having on juvenile salmon and steelhead migrants. Many of those fish stocks are listed under the Endangered Species Act. A part of the project involved drawing the colony from Rice Island to East Sand Island. The East Sand site is nearer the ocean and thus affords the birds a bill of fare that includes more marine fishes and fewer salmonids.

The Council staff said that research has accomplished its task.

"The ratepayer contribution to the research to date has been significant and well spent," according to a staff memo. "However, unless and until actual significant management actions aimed at substantially reducing predation on juvenile salmon are implemented, the staff believes that Bonneville funding should be eliminated." The memo said that the Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should fund continuing research. The Corps created from dredge spoils the island that now serves as the primary tern nesting area. The USFWS has management jurisdiction over the birds.

The proposal requested an average of nearly $700,000 annually for 2004-2006. Federal agencies charged with improving survival of listed salmon and steelhead recommended the project be funded through the Council program.

The staff, and Council, also recommended against further funding for an evaluation of so-called "tangle nets" for commercial Columbia River fishers. The Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife had requested about $900,000 per year to continue the study.

"The staff believes that, having proven the functionality of the gear, the obligation to fund the enforcement and monitoring of the fishery shifts to the state management entities," according to the June 6 memo. The Council did leave open the possibility that a small portion of the study, the evaluation of steelhead survival rates following their release from the nets, could be funded. The project was in a second grouping of projects that BPA wants funded to satisfy ESA biological opinion requirements.

BPA's acting vice president for Environment, Fish and Wildlife, Therese Lamb, told the Council Fish and Wildlife Committee that "there aren't ready funding sources" to take over projects such as the tangle net and tern predation evaluations for the 2004 season. Three projects aimed at investigating how salmon use the estuary plume and continental shelf face a similar fate without program funding. The Council said their $3.2 million cost should be shouldered by NOAA Fisheries.

The Council recommendation would also lop in half one of the program's larger ongoing projects -- the northern pikeminnow management program. A requested $2.8 million budget for 2004 would have paid for the administration of a program that pays bounties to sport anglers for pikeminnow, a notorious predator on juvenile salmon.

The Council staff recommended the budget be halved, based on an opinion by the Independent Scientific Review Panel that the project could be scaled back without greatly reducing biological benefit (for the salmon).

Various parts of the pikeminnow project are managed by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, and the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife. The Council funding recommendation of $1.4 million was made with the proviso that those involved provide feedback about whether the project can succeed at that level of funding.

"If they can do it, fine. If they can't, why spend the money," said Larry Cassidy, Councilor from Washington.

A complete list of the recommended projects will be posted on the Council's website,

Related Sites:

Barry Espenson
Project Sponsors Mull Council's Mainstem Funding Decision
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 13, 2003

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