Council recommends short-term funding for research projects; future funding would depend on demonstrated effectiveness

see decision memo and project list

The Council today recommended limited, short-term funding for 40 research and monitoring projects to improve knowledge about fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin. The Council stressed the experimental nature of the projects and the need for quarterly updates or reports over the next year to two years to demonstrate effectiveness as a condition of further funding.

For that reason, none of the projects approved today would be funded initially for longer than two years. During that time, the Council will conduct extensive reviews of all the projects to determine whether they should continue in the longer term. Three projects regarding ocean research were held for further consideration and will be taken up by the Council in July.

Collectively, the projects approved today represent more than $30 million in funding, beginning in Fiscal Year 2012. The funding would be provided by the federal Bonneville Power Administration as part of its requirement to mitigate the impacts of hydropower dams on fish and wildlife.

The vote in favor of the projects was 6-2, with Council Chair Bruce Measure of Montana and Idaho member Jim Yost voting no. Measure said that while he supported many of the projects, he was not convinced that they exclusively address impacts occasioned by the Columbia River Basin hydropower system, and accordingly those projects should be more closely scrutinized to determine whether they are the responsibility of Bonneville ratepayers.

Today’s decision is the culmination of nearly two years of work on research, monitoring, and fish hatchery projects by the Council and its Independent Scientific Review Panel. The recommended projects address survival of salmon in the near-shore ocean and the Columbia River estuary, plus research on sturgeon and Pacific lamprey in the lower Columbia River, fish-tagging for research and harvest-enumeration purposes, and monitoring the effectiveness of projects designed to improve fish habitat. In April the Council approved 100 projects in this same category, potentially totaling more than $80 million in funding. The projects would be implemented by Indian tribes, state fish and wildlife agencies, independent researchers, and others.

The review of project proposals was managed for the Council by its Fish and Wildlife Committee, chaired by Council member Bill Booth.

"Collectively, these projects comprise more than half of the roughly $220 million annual budget of our fish and wildlife program, which is why we have been so careful," Booth said. "Future funding for these projects is not guaranteed. We achieved about $4.5 million in savings with the projects we’ve approved, and I expect that over the next two years we will we identify further efficiencies. Projects in this category have been significantly improved. We have better-focused projects, the project sponsors were asked to answer the ‘what-for’ and ‘so-what’ questions, and as a result we have better coordination and better efficiencies and the projects have been divided up logically so we will be able to keep better track of them through regular reporting by the sponsors."

The Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program is largely based on habitat improvements, aiming to rebuild healthy, naturally producing fish and wildlife populations by protecting, mitigating, and restoring habitats and the biological systems within them.