The 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program represents a renewed commitment to adaptive management and meeting program objectives through improved monitoring, reporting, and evaluation. As it becomes more evident where these actions are effective and where they are not, the Council will prioritize its project-funding recommendations to Bonneville. The Council also notes the importance of the commitment of federal action agencies to make decisions consistent with program goals, objectives, and measures, in a manner that meets their legal obligations under the Northwest Power Act. Specifically, greater attention to reporting progress of the program will help the Council address discrepancies, contradictions, and deficiencies that develop over time, including for example:
Hydropower system: Mainstem dam operations for listed species are addressed in the 2014 Supplemental Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion. In the past, the Council’s programs have encouraged experimentation with hydrosystem operations including spill, flow augmentation, and reservoir drafting under adaptive management principles. Going forward, the Council takes note that the referenced biological opinion expires in 2018. There is uncertainty as to the future of measures currently included in our program that are derived from that biological opinion. In addition, the Council recognizes the need for careful consideration of experimental operations to test the impacts on listed fish and other aquatic species.
Habitat: Dam construction resulted in a loss of more than half of the fish and wildlife habitat in the Columbia River Basin, and mitigating this loss has been a major focus of the Council’s program since its inception in 1982. For at least the last decade, habitat-related projects represented 26-40 percent of total program costs.
As a general policy, consistent with the intent of Section 2(6) of the Act, the Council has directed most of its habitat restoration funds for anadromous fish below blocked areas. As well, there has been little or no effort to prioritize funding based on biological performance of a specific area, largely because biological response is unknown. Finally, the Independent Scientific Advisory Board has cautioned the Council that while habitat work to date within each subbasin has been largely successful, these investments may be threatened by outside influences (for example, climate change, toxic substances in air and water, non-native species, invasive species) and that habitat strategies must be based on an ecosystem approach in order to appreciate all impacts on habitat purchased as mitigation through the program. The Council also anticipates that many habitat projects (i.e., fish screens) will require ongoing maintenance to ensure proper functioning. In each of these instances, improved reporting of project progress will help the Council make better-informed decisions in the future.
Hatcheries: In its 2009 report on salmon and steelhead hatcheries in the Columbia River Basin, the congressionally created Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG) recommended principles for hatchery management based on: 1) setting clear goals; 2) scientific defensibility; and 3) monitoring, evaluation, and adaptive management. While the Council’s program has a primary focus on habitat, hatcheries are closely tied to habitat improvements as the program seeks to rebuild natural-origin fish populations. The HSRG conducted a detailed, thorough and comprehensive review of 178 hatchery programs and 351 salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia River Basin. The resulting population-specific recommendations were intended to provide scientific guidance for managing each hatchery more effectively in the future. In a review of the 2009 Program, the Independent Scientific Advisory Board recommended that the Council’s hatchery strategies be revised to incorporate conclusions from the HSRG review and that supplementation, harvest, and habitat-restoration programs must be well integrated to be effective. According to the February 2009 report of the HSRG:
Hatcheries play an important role in the management of salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia River Basin. Nevertheless, the traditional practice of replacing natural populations with hatchery fish to mitigate for habitat loss and mortality due to hydroelectric dams is not consistent with today’s conservation principles and scientific knowledge. Hatchery fish cannot replace lost habitat or the natural populations that rely on that habitat. Therefore, hatchery programs must be viewed not as surrogates or replacements for lost habitat, but as tools that can be managed as part of a coordinated strategy to meet watershed or regional resource goals, in concert with actions affecting habitat, harvest rates, water allocation and other important components of the human environment.
While the Council recognizes hatcheries as a necessary mitigation tool, at least for the current time until hatchery-supplemented populations rebuild, the Council also recognizes that hatchery actions can have associated risks to natural populations, including demographic, genetic or environmental risks. The challenge for the program is how to balance the need for fish abundance provided by hatchery programs while assuring that hatchery practices are conducted in a manner that will not impede wild fish recovery.
Harvest: The Council is not responsible for harvest management, but the Council encourages harvest practices that are consistent with program goals. The Council’s policies for hatcheries and habitat restoration incorporate goals for some programs of restoring anadromous and resident fish species to harvestable levels. However, harvest management decisions can affect how many fish return to areas where populations are being restored with the goal, in some instances, of restoring harvestable populations. Improved monitoring and evaluation of harvest management, habitat actions, and hatcheries would help the Council better understand where these actions are effective and where they are not -- such as, for example, the impacts of harvest on program goals for fish population abundance.
Anadromous biological objectives: Current basinwide biological objectives for anadromous fish have been insufficient to allow for accountability at the population scale. Salmon and steelhead trends are positive in some areas of the Columbia Basin, but not in others. As well, it is not clear whether populations are rebuilding to the point that there will be sufficient numbers of recruits per spawner to achieve self-sustaining populations. The ability of the region to achieve these biological objectives will depend on the coordinated actions of many parties.
Human demands on resources: The population of the Pacific Northwest has nearly doubled in the past 35 years and is expected to steadily increase over the next 20 years. Population growth will result in an increasing demand for resources, which can have a significant impact on fish and wildlife habitat. Climate change may exacerbate these impacts in terms of population shifts, temperature variability affecting power supply and demand, and water availability for human needs. The Council recognizes the need to consider human population and land use trajectories, as well as increasing demands on the hydropower system, in all aspects of its planning. Ultimately, however, human demand for resources without corresponding resource planning and stewardship may undermine the policy objectives set forth in this plan.