Request for Recommendations to Amend the Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program

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.

Legal Background

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:

  • “measures which can be expected to be implemented by the [Bonneville] Administrator, using authorities under this Act and other laws, and other federal agencies to protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife, including related spawning grounds and habitat, affected by the development and operation of any hydroelectric project on the Columbia River;
  • establishing objectives for the development and operation of such projects on the Columbia River and its tributaries in a manner designed to protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife; and
  • fish and wildlife management coordination and research and development (including funding) which, among other things, will assist protection, mitigation, and enhancement of anadromous fish at, and between, the region's hydroelectric dams.”
  • All recommendations must be accompanied by detailed information and data in support of the recommendations.

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:

  • Program Framework and Basinwide Vision, Scientific Principles, and Substantive Strategies. The Council believes that the program framework continues to serve the program well. The Council believes many of the basinwide provisions retain their general validity, but may need review and minimal revisions to bring them up to date. This includes the Basinwide Vision statement, the associated Planning Assumptions, the Scientific Principles, and the statements of rights and roles in the 2000 Program.
  • Certain Basinwide Strategies. The Council suggests that parties focus their attention on the elements of the program clearly in need of significant revision or elaboration. This includes the Basinwide Strategies regarding Monitoring and Evaluation; Research; Data Management; Wildlife; Program Implementation, Management, and Coordination; and Project Review.
  • Performance Metrics and Reporting. The program has not previously focused on performance metrics and reporting requirements. The Council requests parties to focus attention on the following questions:  Should the program goals only focus on performance metrics within the responsibility of the power system?  What form would these goals and biological performance measures take for anadromous fish, resident fish, and wildlife?  Should the program focus more on trying to improve quantitative measurements of anadromous fish survival at and through the mainstem Snake and Columbia Riverhydropower projects, or improved productivity in upstream habitat?  How should the associated reporting requirements be addressed?
  • Province and Basinwide Biological Objectives. The Council also requests that parties focus attention on confirming or revising the biological objectives of the program at the basinwide level and on adding interim or long-term biological objectives at the province level that would be meaningful for evaluating and reporting program process.
  • Mainstem Objectives and Measures. The mainstem portions of the Fish and Wildlife Program are open for recommended amendments. In the past, the Council deferred that portion of the program to a separate amendment process. The mainstem objectives and measures will be integrated with the other parts of the program during this amendment process. Parties should consider whether the overarching approach to the mainstem portion of the program that the Council followed in the 2003 Mainstem Amendment process remains valid.

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.

  • Subbasin Plans. The Council continues to support subbasin plans as a basis for implementing the program. The Council encourages parties preparing recommendations to use the subbasin plans to help shape their recommendations.

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:

  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. 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
  4. 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:

  • Developments related to the federal Endangered Species Act, including the culmination of a review of the Pacific salmon listings and re-listing of the Columbia ESUs, an approach to listing and to the review of hatchery influences on populations again called into question by the courts; the invalidation of the 2004 FCRPS Biological Opinion; more than two years of intensive work among representatives of federal, state, and tribal entities on a revised FCRPS consultation culminating at this point in a Proposed Action and draft 2008 Biological Opinion [draft is expected in November 2007]; and a wealth of technical analyses on the issue of recovery, and several draft and final recovery plans.
  • A number of recent scientific reviews and reports that address many aspects of the Columbia River Basin, including the effects of climate change and population growth, the Council’s research plan (2006-3) and monitoring and evaluation framework, a basinwide data center proposal, the results of a recent Science-Policy Exchange workshop hosted by the Council, and recent scientific reviews of key mainstem issues including latent mortality hypotheses and a new fish passage model, COMPASS. The Council’s program amendment web page has gathered and made available many of these important reviews and reports. In addition, throughout the past year or so the Council has heard numerous technical presentations on various subjects associated with the Fish and Wildlife Program. The technical information presented to the Council is posted on the Council’s web page under the agenda headings for each meeting.
  • Several decisions from the federal courts that have the potential to strongly influence the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program.
  • Policy developments regarding in-lieu limitations on funding by Bonneville, capital spending, and other areas have also emerged and have the potential to substantially influence fish and wildlife-related decisions.

Parties should consider the implications of these developments carefully as they formulate program amendment recommendations.

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.