NOAA Responds to Hastings' Concerns on
NOAA chief Kathryn D. Sullivan in a March 18 letter provides assurances to Washington Congressman Doc Hastings that one path towards rebuilding populations of imperiled Columbia River salmon and steelhead stocks will not block, or sidetrack, another.
The letter comes in response to a Feb. 5 Hastings' letter to then-NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, who left the post early this year. Hastings expressed his concerns that contracts the agency had signed in December directing private entities to conduct "closed interviews" with individuals about their opinions of ongoing salmon recovery activities in the Columbia River basin could hinder other important work.
(See CBB, Feb. 8, 2013, "House Committee To Review NOAA's 'Situation Assessment' Of Basin Salmon Recovery Planning")
The U.S. representative said the assessments could "undermine the successful and unprecedented collaboration" ongoing between those states and tribes and the federal government to develop a legally-sound biological opinion governing the continued operation of the Northwest's federal hydro system.
The two processes can and do co-exist, according to Sullivan. The ongoing Endangered Species Act recovery process targets the long-term the recovery of 13 listed salmon and steelhead stocks - and their ultimate delisting. The Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion now being reconstructed under court order is slated to judge whether Columbia-Snake river hydro projects' existence and operations "jeopardize" those listed stocks.
NOAA Fisheries officials, which launched the assessment, have said that that work was contracted out in order to assure that staff would not be distracted from the work at hand. . . the development of a new BiOP and accompanying mitigation package that would assure, legally and biologically, that the threatened and endangered stocks are not jeopardized.
"The assessment is directed at gathering options for discussing long-term, post 2018 salmon recovery," wrote Sullivan, acting NOAA administrator. "It is not intended to affect delivery of a revised FCRPS Biological Opinion in mid-December 2013, or disrupt the state and tribal collaboration that is a foundation of the remand process." The current BiOp, issued in 2008 and updated in 2010, is scheduled to expire in 2018.
"We continue to fully support theses existing sovereign collaboration processes, and we are committed to producing a timely FCRPS Biological opinion," the Sullivan letter says. "Similarly, other regional processes will continue through their existing forums."
"The purpose of the Columbia Basin Assessment is to capture a range of perspectives about potential options for involving multiple and diverse parties and interests on long-term salmon recovery," Sullivan says. "Completion of integrated recovery planning across the Basin extends well beyond the scope and duration of the FCRPS Biological Opinion.
"We are intentionally using the neutral profession expertise of the Ruckelshaus Center and the Oregon Consensus Program to survey existing perspectives on where - and, if so, how - to engage in a broader regional dialogue for shaping a constructive path forward."
Sullivan assumed the role of acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and acting NOAA administrator on Feb. 28.
In his Feb. 5 letter to Lubchenco, Hastings urged that " NOAA postpone this effort and instead re-double this Administration's commitment and focus to defend the Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion crafted with the support of three Northwest states, numerous tribes and other stakeholders, rather than create another distractive process that could engender divisive proposals, such as dam removal, and provide fodder for new costly and unproductive litigation, all to the detriment of the listed stocks and the region's economy."
The House Natural Resources Committee that Hastings chairs has oversight responsibilities over the ESA and Northwest salmon programs. In his letter Hastings said that the committee would review NOAA's process for pursuing and carrying out the "situation assessment" contracts.
Hastings spokesman Neal Kirby said the Sullivan letter is still being reviewed, "but it's my understanding that the letter was vague. It did not specifically answer what they are planning to do exactly with the taxpayer's money."
He said the committee will continue to monitor NOAA's actions and hold oversight hearings accordingly during the Congress.
Barry Thom, NOAA Fisheries Northwest Region deputy administrator, said in announcing the initiative that the assessment process is intended to "build on the momentum of our positive collaborations with local watershed councils, recovery boards, and other local groups over the last few years and take another step forward. We want to ensure our existing and future recovery plans are comprehensive and integrated."
An e-mail notice of the planned process was sent out to about 150 entities and/or persons that have long been involved in salmon restoration/recovery issues. The mailing list includes entities representing federal, state and tribal governments, as well as well as power, agriculture, navigation, recreation, environmental and other interests. Any other interested parties were invited to join in.
The scope of the assessment is fairly broad, seeking views on recovery planning processes that would be used to address habitat, hatchery, harvest and hydro strategies, according NOAA Fisheries. At the conclusion of interviews with interested parties, the centers will provide a summary report that identifies key issues, themes and options that might be useful in the long term.
Thom said he expects the assessment report will be available in late summer 2013.
Doc Hastings Launches a New Effort to Save Dams from Salmon by Daniel Jack Chasan, Crosscut, 8/29/12
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Hastings letter can be found at hastings.house.gov/uploadedfiles/hastingsltrresalmonassessment02-04-13.pdf
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