The Northwest Power and Conservation Council (Council) is requesting recommendations to amend the Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. This letter describes the Council’s expectations, requirements, and schedule for the amendment process. The letter, associated materials, news, and information relating to the amendment process may also be found on the Council’s Program Amendments page.
Under the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act of 1980 (Northwest Power Act), Congress charged the Council with developing, and periodically amending, a fish and wildlife program for the Columbia River Basin to protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife affected by the development and operation of hydroelectric facilities, while assuring the Pacific Northwest an adequate, efficient, economical, and reliable power supply. The Council’s current Fish and Wildlife Program consists of the program framework and basinwide provisions adopted as the 2000 Fish and Wildlife Program, the 2003 Mainstem Amendments, and the Subbasin Plans adopted in 2004-05.
The Northwest Power Act requires the Council to call for recommendations to amend the Fish and Wildlife Program at least every five years, prior to the five-year review of the Council’s Power Plan.
The Council must begin a program amendment process with a formal request in writing to the region’s Indian tribes and state and federal fish and wildlife agencies for recommendations for:
This letter serves as the required written request.
The Northwest Power Act also allows recommendations to be submitted by federal and state water management agencies, by the region’s electric power producing agencies and customers, and by the public. This letter also serves as notice for members of the public and other interested parties to submit their program amendment recommendations.
Building on the existing Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program
In the 2000 Fish and Wildlife Program amendment process, the Council reorganized the program around a comprehensive framework of scientific and policy principles, the first step in what became a complete revision of the 20-year old program. The fundamental elements of the revised program framework are thevision, describing what the program is trying to accomplish with regard to fish and wildlife and other desired benefits from the river; biological objectives, describing the changes in environmental conditions and fish and wildlife population characteristics needed to achieve the vision; implementation strategies, guiding or describing the actions needed to achieve the desired ecological conditions; and a scientific foundation, linking these elements and explaining why the Council believes certain kinds of actions should result in desired habitat conditions, and why these conditions should improve fish and wildlife populations in the desired way.
The 2000 program framework also organized the work of the program geographically at four different levels: basinwide, 11 ecological provinces, the Columbiaand Snake mainstem (cutting across the provinces), and the subbasins of the Columbia system consisting of the tributaries, estuary, and distinct mainstem reaches. In the 2000 program, the Council adopted basinwide-level program provisions, including the vision for the program, biological objectives, substantive strategies, and implementation provisions for the program as a whole, and an overarching set of scientific principles tying the elements together.
The program framework amendments in 2000 set the stage for subsequent phases of the program revision process. In the 2003 Mainstem Amendments, the Council adopted specific objectives and measures for the river’s mainstem, consistent with the program’s basinwide vision, objectives, strategies, and underlying scientific foundation. The Council then followed with the adoption of 57 subbasin plans into the program in 2004-05, consisting of technical assessments and then specific objectives and measures organized in management plans for the tributary subbasins, mainstem reaches, and estuary.
Parties submitting recommendations are free to recommend amendments to any part of this program. At the same time, the Council believes that the program amendment process will be better served if parties focus their recommendations on certain elements of the program, and not on others, as follows:
In the 2003 Mainstem Amendment process, the Council recognized and incorporated into the program the measures for operating the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) in the biological opinions from NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These measures are intended to benefit populations of salmon, steelhead, bull trout, and Kootenai white sturgeon listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. But the mainstem provisions of the program also included a set of habitat considerations, biological objectives, and strategies intended to protect, mitigate, and enhance all the fish and wildlife of the Columbia River Basin affected by the development, operation, and management of the hydrosystem, whether listed or not, as required of the Council by the Northwest Power Act. The Mainstem Amendments also included provisions to subject all the mainstem measures, including those from the biological opinions, to systematic and rigorous monitoring and evaluation to determine if the measures have the biological benefits expected, represent the most cost-effective actions to achieve these benefits, and coordinate with an adequate, efficient, economical, and reliable power supply. If this approach to the mainstem portion of the program remains valid, as seems likely, parties should focus their attention on updating and improving how the program addresses all species and associated biological requirements beyond the biological opinion measures.
The Council does not believe this amendment process is the appropriate place and time for amending the adopted subbasin plans. Instead, the Council encourages parties to recommend a general process and schedule for how subbasin plans will be updated in the relatively near future. In general, the Council will defer recommendations that seek to change a particular subbasin plan to that subsequent process.
The Council realizes there may be good reasons to recognize exceptions to this general principle. For example, it may make sense in this amendment process to consider adopting into the program, and integrating into the subbasin plans, the relevant portions of final recovery plans that are based on, but have further developed, the management plan elements of one or more subbasin plans. Please include in any such recommendations a clear explanation as to how a final recovery plan has added to or revised the subbasin plans that the recovery plan subsumes. The Council will continue to consult internally and with others on the most appropriate way to handle these kinds of recommendations.
The Council also anticipates receiving recommendations that will sharpen how subbasin plans are implemented in the next few years, either by recommending a near-term implementation action plan to add to the subbasin plans, or by providing a more specific, definitive prioritization framework for a subbasin plan. Any such recommendations will be evaluated for consistency with the objectives, strategies, and priorities already in the subbasin plans. For more information, see the following section.
Possible Implementation Recommendations. The Council recognizes that recent events provide an incentive for parties to submit recommendations for measures that represent specific implementation action plans for the near term up to 10 years. These events include the implications of the January and May 2007 decisions of the Ninth Circuit in Northwest Environmental Defense Center v. Bonneville Power Administration and Golden Northwest Aluminum v. Bonneville Power Administration, and the fact that the upcoming revised FCRPS Biological Opinion is likely to include 10 years’ worth of actions related to the portion of the program addressing Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead. For the Council to consider recommendations of this nature, the recommending entity should explain:
- how the actions recommended for implementation are consistent with the program, including the program framework, the objectives, strategies, and priorities in the subbasin plans, and other relevant portions of the program;
- for anadromous fish, what additional biological and legal objectives will be furthered by the recommended actions that are in addition to the actions that Bonneville has committed to fund in the Proposed Action;
- why the recommended actions represent the highest priority for implementation over the years recommended, compared to other actions that might be implemented consistent with the subbasin plans and other portions of the program; and
- how the actions to be implemented will be accompanied by the right provisions for periodic scientific review, evaluation, and reporting to assure proper and legal accountability.
Developments to Consider in Formulating Recommendations
As you formulate the amendment recommendations, please consider the implications of a large number of recent and important policy, scientific, and legal developments that have occurred since the Council finished the last amendment process with the adoption of the subbasin plans. This includes:
Parties should consider the implications of these developments carefully as they formulate program amendment recommendations.
A glossary of terms is available to assist anyone making program amendment recommendations.
Submittal of Program Amendment Recommendations
Recommendations for amendments must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. Pacific time on February 1, 2008. If you are interested in submitting a program amendment recommendation, please fill out the online recommendation form. The form and instructions are at the Amendments page. You will receive a confirmation email after you submit your completed recommendation. Completed recommendations will be stored by the Council and made available for public review and comment shortly after February 1, as required by the Northwest Power Act. Check back at the above link for news and updates regarding the amendment process and for notification of public meetings.
Please remember, recommendations must be completed and submitted to the Council by the close of business on February 1, 2008.