Public and scientific influence in recovery of Columbia salmon for orcas

Great news last week from Save our Wild Salmon et al.: Judge Redden has again ruled that the Biological Opinion for managing Columbia Basin salmon is illegal and scientifically inadequate. This KPLU story on the timeline for revising or renewing the BiOp suggests that the Locke/Lubchenko team will probably not have time to react before the 2012 elections.  The Judge has allowed the current BiOp to guide management decisions through 2013.

Chris Dunagan’s synopsis (including a link to a PDF of the Judge’s opinion) references an OregonLive piece that quoted NOAA Regional Director Will Stelle implying that habitat restoration (not dam removal or more spill) will likely satisfy Redden’s concerns:

Will Stelle, NOAA’s Northwest regional director, said he thinks adding more detail to future habitat projects will satisfy the judge. Redden endorsed the plan through 2013, Stelle noted, and his conclusions about habitat were “totally understandable.”  “He ordered us to tighten up on the habitat program after 2013, and that’s fine,” Stelle said. “We were intending to do it anyway.”

So, it seems that local NOAA leadership is focused on saving salmon and orcas by restoring habitat in the Columbia basin while considering the needs of killer whales in the management of recreational and commercial fisheries.  Back in February, Stelle/NOAA proposed a series of workshops to assess the effect of salmon fisheries on (southern resident) killer whales.  The second workshop is due to occur about now: “Workshop 2 (~ 2 days) would occur in late summer or autumn of 2011.”  Does anyone have any news about the first workshop or a particular date for the second?

At the Federal level, NOAA leadership on salmon management has been profoundly disappointing.  I would love to understand how Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke (past WA Governor) and NOAA Director Jane Lubchenko (an established marine ecologist from OSU) managed to squander such a rare opportunity to derive a progressive plan and begin implementing it during their 4 years with Obama.  If the Democrats lose in 2012, Gary and Jane should be remembered most for failing the salmon, killer whales, and conservationists of the Pacific Northwest.

How did Gary and Jane fail the King of Fish?  Does anyone have any insights into the politics behind their actions?  Were the WA Senators influencing the process to retain votes in Eastern Washington?  If so, how did they motivate the appointed leaders within the Department of Commerce?

Another question is whether it is worth organizing now (as killer whale and salmon conservationists) to motivate Lubchenko to create a new BiOp that is fully based in science and politically progressive.  Perhaps it would be strategic to motivate them to create a plan in the next year so that it is in place before the 2012 elections and the potential changes in leadership that will occur as 2013 starts?  If the Democrats win and Gary/Jane are retained by Barak, then how GREAT would it be if they had a new and innovative BiOp ready for implementation on the first day of 2014 — halfway through their second term — or even sooner?

In any case, we should lobby for much greater transparency in the derivation of a new BiOp, or the revision of the old BiOps.  In preparation, we need to understand how the previous processes were NOT transparent.  Some history, insightful questions, and observations arose during the KUOW Weekday discussion about Salmon and Snake River Dams July 5, 2011:

Steven Hawley (journalist) — Has the process by which the Federal agencies (including the BPA) have made public policy been transparent (enough)?

  1. 2005 — Judge remanded Bush-era plan back to Federal agencies (he had rejected Clinton plan in 2000)
  2. 2005 — BPA Utilities and Senator Craig tried to cut funding for Fish Passage Center (that had published data showing more water is good for fish)
  3. 2006 — Concern about fish passage model led to scientists being pulled from a panel
  4. 2007 — BPA violated court-ordered spill program…

How can the public influence the plan and vision for the Columbia River Basin and its management (as opposed to scientists and the Federal government)?

Were scientists consulting (for a 2009 science meeting related to the Biop) required to sign confidentiality agreements (within their contracts)?

How has the National Academy of Scientists been in involved?  What overlap — if any — was there between NAS members and consulting scientists?

William Rogers is happy about the returns.  What are the recent trends?  GRAPH?

Hawley: Should we be measuring success in some way other than standard of 93-96% survival PER DAM of migrating juveniles and adults?  The cumulative (downstream?) impact of the hydropower system is to reduce runs by ~50%.

Lorri Bodi (BPA): “In 2011 our spring chinook run (wild and hatchery) was the fifth highest since 1938.  In 2011 the summer chinook run (wild and hatchery) is expected to be the biggest in 30 years.”

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