Independent scientific review is a critical part of fish and wildlife project implementation, research, and development in the Columbia River Basin. Independent scientific review can help decision-makers separate scientific variables from other considerations (political, economic, cultural, etc.) and help ensure environmental decision-making reflects the best scientific knowledge. Independent scientific review for the fish and wildlife program is implemented by two groups: the Independent Scientific Review Panel and the Independent Scientific Advisory Board. Review of economic issues is the responsibility of the Independent Economic Analysis Board. All three groups were created by the Council in 1996, and each provides distinct services to the program:
- The Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) – The ISRP reviews individual projects in the context of the program and makes recommendations on matters related to those projects. Over the past two decades, the ISRP has reviewed all projects proposed for funding through the fish and wildlife program, amounting to several thousand proposals. These reviews help ensure program accountability and improve project design, documentation, and implementation.
- The Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) – The 11-member ISAB was established by the Council and NOAA Fisheries, and its administration is overseen by the Council, NOAA Fisheries, and the Columbia River Indian tribes. The ISAB provides advice to the region on key scientific issues affecting Columbia River Basin fish and wildlife with the intent to avoid gridlock over scientific uncertainty, circumvent unnecessary additional research, and resolve conflicting advice and opinions on recovery issues and measures. ISAB reviews have covered the traditional aspects of fish and wildlife mitigation and recovery including hatcheries, harvest, hydrosystem, and habitat issues (the 4 Hs). In addition, the ISAB evaluates topics that expand the region’s perspectives on recovery including non-native species and climate change impacts; food web relationships; and landscape-scale restoration principles. ISAB and ISRP reports are publicly available on the Council’s website.
- The Independent Economic Analysis Board (IEAB) – The Independent Economic Advisory Board advises the Council on the economics of issues within the Council’s statutory responsibilities. The IEAB helps to satisfy the Council's obligation under the Act to establish a scientific and statistical advisory committee.
The responsibilities of all groups are provided below. Both science groups, and the economic group, have guidelines for conflicts of interest, appointment processes, review protocols, and administrative procedures that ensure their independence and effectiveness.
The ISRP and peer review groups have responsibilities in three areas:
- Review projects proposed for Bonneville funding to implement the Council’s program: The 1996 amendment directs the ISRP to review annually projects that are proposed for Bonneville funding to implement the Council’s program. The Act specifies the review standards that the ISRP is to use and the kinds of recommendations to make to the Council. The Council must fully consider the ISRP’s reports prior to making funding recommendations to Bonneville, and must explain in writing wherever the Council’s recommendations differ from the ISRP’s.
- Review program results: The 1996 amendment also directs the ISRP to annually review the results of prior-year expenditures based on the project review criteria and submit its findings to the Council. The retrospective review should focus on the measurable benefits to fish and wildlife made through projects funded by Bonneville and previously reviewed. The ISRP’s findings should provide biological information for the Council’s ongoing accounting and evaluation of Bonneville’s expenditures and the level of success in meeting the objectives of the program, as described in the monitoring and evaluation section of the program. Also as part of the ISRP’sannual retrospective report, the panel should summarize major basinwide programmatic issues identified during project reviews.
- Review projects funded through Bonneville’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 review the fish and wildlife projects, programs, or measures included in federal agency budgets that are reimbursed by Bonneville, using the same standards and making recommendations as in its review of the projects proposed to implement the Council’s program. These programs include the Corps’ Columbia River Fish Mitigation Program and the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan. Further details of the ISRP’s project review responsibilities are described above, in the section on project selection.
The ISAB’s review responsibilities include:
- Evaluate the fish and wildlife program on its scientific merits in time to inform amendments to the program and before the Council requests recommendations from the region
- Evaluate NOAA Fisheries’ recovery plans for Columbia River Basin stocks and aspects of the recovery process when requested
- Provide scientific advice and review of topics identified as critical to fish recovery and conservation in the Columbia River Basin
- Evaluate the scientific merits of plans and measures proposed to ensure satisfaction and continuation of tribal treaty fishing rights in the Columbia River Basin and other tribal efforts to restore and manage fish and wildlife resources
- Provide specific scientific advice on topics and questions requested from the region or the ISAB and approved by majority vote of the Council’s, NOAA Fisheries’, and the tribes’ representatives overseeing the ISAB’s administration.
The IEAB’s responsibilities include:
- Advising the Council on the appropriate methods of economic analysis for proposed fish protection and mitigation measures and projects as well as other issues within the Council’s statutory responsibilities. This advice will include the appropriate role and limits of economic analysis in making policy decisions and, where applicable, the associated economic costs and benefits of those decisions. The Independent Economic Analysis Board will fulfill this role by:
- Interacting as an advisory committee with the Council regarding methods of economic analysis for alternative fish recovery measures and other issues, including economic costs and benefits, within the Council’s statutory responsibilities
- Assisting the Council to evaluate new analytical tools, and advising on the most appropriate study designs
- Helping to identify sources of information and data
- Performing specific tasks assigned by the Council on a cost reimbursement basis
- Assisting in the review and interpretation of study results