We present and discuss critical ecological uncertainties that identify important gaps in our knowledge of the resources and functional relationships that determine fish and wildlife productivity in the Columbia River ecosystem. These uncertainties compromise progress toward achieving the goals of the Northwest Power Planning Council's Fish and Wildlife Program (FWP).
The FWP assumes that a) the number of adult salmonids recruited is primarily a simple, positive response to the number-of smolts or juveniles produced, b) salmonid production can be increased by focusing management primarily on in-river components of the Columbia River ecosystem and c) massive management actions, especially mainstem flow augmentation from headwater reservoirs intended to promote anadromous fish productivity, will not compromise other components of the ecosystem, such as headwater rivers. These assumptions may not be valid and constitute an uncertainty that subsumes others we identified. This uncertainty arises because the FWP lacks a solid conceptual foundation that couples salmonid life histories and production with appropriate ecosystem (headwater, mainstem, estuary and ocean) components.
Other critical uncertainties relate to questions about the long-term sustainability of anadromous salmonid productivity and stock diversity, given the massive extent of environmental change in the ecosystem. We emphasize the need to clearly identify and rank factors that limit natural and artificial production, including possible impacts that hatchery operations may have on wild salmonid stocks. With regard to wildlife actions, we question the implicit assumption of the FWP that increased numbers of target wildlife species will result simply by producing or improving site-specific habitats.
Few of the current FWP projects in the annual implementation work plan are explicitly responsive to our critical uncertainties. However, these projects were not developed from the broad-based uncertainties perspective we present herein.
We recommend development of an explicit, conceptual foundation for the FWP that is based upon thorough review and synthesis of existing scientific information. This will clarify and elaborate critical uncertainties and responses to them. We reiterate a previous recommendation to implement a peer-review process that is responsive to critical uncertainties in the FWP and insures that key gaps in the knowledge base are filled. Finally, we again call for immediate development and implementation of a system-wide monitoring and evaluation program that also is responsive to critical uncertainties.