Independent scientific review is an established tradition in research and development programs in the United States and much of the world. Scientific review can help decision-makers separate scientific issues from other considerations (political, economic, cultural, etc.) and help ensure that environmental decision making reflects the best available scientific knowledge. In the Columbia River Basin, the magnitude of scientific research undertaken and uncertainties that remain are staggering. Independent scientific review can identify where there is consensus or disagreement among scientists and help focus implementation and research on those areas most relevant to management and policy decisions.
Independent scientific review for the fish and wildlife program is implemented by two groups: the Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) and the Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB). Each group provides unique services to the program. The ISRP is formed under the Council's program and reviews individual fish and wildlife projects funded by Bonneville Power Administration and makes recommendations on matters related to those projects. The ISAB operates in conjunction with the National Marine Fisheries Service and reviews programmatic and scientific issues in the basin.
The ISRP was created by the Council in response to section 4(h)(10)(D) of the Northwest Power Act as amended in 1996. Under the amended Act, the ISRP provides the Council with independent scientific review of projects funded by the Bonneville Power Administration. The amended Northwest Power Act and subsequent Congressional report language defined three major areas of focus for the ISRP:
1) Review of projects proposed for direct funding by the Bonneville Power Administration under this program.
The 1996 amendment to the Northwest Power Act directed the ISRP to advise the Council regarding projects that are directly funded by Bonneville Power Administration under this program. This refers to projects proposed for funding in response to measures contained within the Council's fish and wildlife program.
The amended Act directs the ISRP to review projects in the context of the Council's program and in regard to whether they:
- are based on sound science principles;
- benefit fish and wildlife;
- have clearly defined objectives and outcomes; and
- have provisions for monitoring and evaluation of results.
The ISRP reports the results of its review before the Council adopts funding recommendations. The Council uses the ISRP review as a basis for making recommendations regarding funding, and will provide an explanation in writing where its recommendations diverge from those of the ISRP.
2) Retrospective review of project accomplishments
The amended Power Act also directs the ISRP to prepare for the Council a retrospective report based on a review of results from the projects funded the previous year.
3) Review projects funded through the Bonneville Power Administration's "reimbursable" program
In 1998, the U.S. Congress? Senate-House conference report on the fiscal year 1999 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill directed the ISRP to annually review all fish and wildlife projects, programs, or measures included in federal agency budgets that are reimbursed by Bonneville. Many of these projects are not directly referenced in the Council's program. The ISRP is to determine whether the proposals are consistent with the criteria specified for direct program projects in the 1996 amendment.
The four major components of the reimbursable program include:
- Columbia River Fisheries Mitigation Program (Corps of Engineers)
- Fish and Wildlife Operations and Maintenance Budget (Corps of Engineers)
- Lower Snake River Compensation Plan (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
- Leavenworth Hatchery (Bureau of Reclamation).
Implementation of responsibilities
The amended Power Act established the Independent Scientific Review Panel as an eleven-member group of scientists. The Act also provides for the creation of Peer Review Groups to assist the ISRP in its review. These are groups formed to provide the panel with specific expertise and review. Appointments to the ISRP and Peer Review Groups are made by the Council based on recommendations from the National Research Council. The Act specifies that the panel should include expertise in fish and wildlife and in ocean sciences.
The ISRP provides the Council with independent scientific review of fish and wildlife recovery projects within the context of the Council's program. The Council directs the ISRP to focus its review on those projects that, in the panel's judgment, would benefit from scientific review. This includes especially research, evaluation, and management projects. The Council also may ask the ISRP to review subbasin and other plans to ensure that strategies are consistent with the Scientific Principles, guidelines and other established scientific information. Most projects to support coordination between parties should not require scientific review. Similarly, projects that are confined to engineering or construction of a previously reviewed strategy may not require additional scientific review.
Sequencing and scheduling of project review are based on the annual project review procedures agreed to among the Council, Bonneville Power Administration, ISRP, and the region's fishery managers and tribes. The review of direct and reimbursable projects are scheduled to provide the Council sufficient time to make recommendations to Bonneville and to mesh with funding cycles.
ISRP reviews are based on written proposals prepared by project sponsors and submitted in accord with Bonneville funding procedures. The Panel also utilizes additional written reports and materials that assists them in understanding the scope and context for the proposal. In some cases, the panel directly communicates with proposers or conducts site visits; however, there are procedures to ensure that all communications are conducted in a fair and open manner that maintains the independence of the panel.