Testimony of Chairman Frampton

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September 12, 2000



Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee,

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today regarding the Administration's program to restore Columbia River salmon and our progress toward completion of updated biological opinions on operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System.

I am joined today by Will Stelle, Regional Administrator for the Northwest Region of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Judi Johansen, Administrator and Chief Executive Officer for the Department of Energy's Bonneville Power Administration, Colonel Eric T. Mogren, Deputy Division Engineer for the Northwest Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and David Cottingham of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These officials have worked together with my agency and many representatives from state, tribal, and local governments, and dozens of stakeholder groups to develop our comprehensive approach to Columbia River salmon recovery.

As you know, on July 27, 2000, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released their draft biological opinions on operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System for technical review by state and tribal scientists. The NMFS is developing a biological opinion for Pacific salmon and the FWS is developing a biological opinion for the Kootenai River sturgeon, bull trout and bald eagle. On the same day, we released a revised draft of the Administration's "Basin-wide Recovery Strategy." This document was previously known as the "All-H" paper because it addresses the four key factors affecting salmon survival; harvest, habitat, hatcheries, and hydropower. We renamed it to better describe this Administration's overall proposal for Columbia River basin salmon recovery.

Mr. Chairman, this Administration is committed to help sustain the special character of the Pacific Northwest's communities and natural resources. The people of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana expect the federal government to share their determination to protect the region's quality of life and to work in active partnership with them to achieve that goal. The release of our draft Basin-wide Recovery Strategy and the draft Biological Opinion are significant steps towards fulfilling that expectation and working as partners.

Our release of these documents coincided with some outstanding opportunities to build just such a partnership for salmon recovery. Most significantly, a few days before we released the draft Strategy and Opinion, the governors of Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Montana released recommendations that are generally consistent with the federal approach. In their recommendations, they acknowledge a broad regional responsibility to protect fish and wildlife species and make specific recommendations on habitat restoration needs, hydropower system reforms, harvest and fisheries management, and changes to hatcheries. The governors' recommendations reflect regional support for many key elements of fish recovery that must be pursued, with coordination amongst the various Federal, State and Tribal authorities, as the options for lower Snake River dams are evaluated. The governors eloquently summarize the challenge at hand:

"Regardless of the ultimate fate of the dams, the region must be prepared in the near term to recover salmon and meet its larger fish and wildlife restoration obligations by acting now in areas of agreement without resort to breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River. In order to succeed, the region must have the necessary tools including a clear and comprehensive plan, adequate time, and sufficient funding."

Working with the States and Tribes, we intend to build a partnership based on these tools. I thank the governors for these detailed and substantive recommendations.

The governors also note that such an effort is under way through the Northwest Power Planning Council's fish and wildlife program amendments. Coordination with this fish and wildlife program is an essential feature of the federal strategy, and I want to thank the Council for their leadership in this area. The completion, and successful implementation, of the federal Basin-wide Recovery Strategy and Biological Opinion must be based on close coordination with this effort.

I also want to thank the tribal leaders for their contributions to the development of the draft Basin-wide Strategy and Biological Opinions. Government-to-government consultation with the Tribes has, and will be, integral to the development of a regional program for salmon recovery. Our obligations to restore salmon are rooted in treaties and a longstanding trust relationship. The Tribes, as co-managers of these fisheries, have provided invaluable technical expertise and advice on how to meet these trust responsibilities.

The initial reaction to the details of the Basin-wide Recovery Strategy and Biological Opinion has generally been solid and encouraging. Critics have described them as a framework that can work, but needs improvements. We expect to make improvements through outreach, consultation and the receipt of comments, particularly State and Tribal comments on the draft Biological Opinion. This is a comprehensive strategy that will need significant input from stakeholders. But, as the Oregonian editorial board stated, "the plan looks at all the factors in the salmon's decline over the last half century so comprehensively that we believe it has a chance to work." We ask that region rise to this challenge and make this plan work for the recovery of salmon

The leaders of the Northwest can help meet this challenge. Northwesterners have sent to Washington, and in fact to this Committee, some of the most thoughtful leaders in the struggle to reconcile the region's economic desires with its strongly held conservation values. The Columbia River basin and its salmon have been at the heart of that struggle for decades. Senators Jackson, Magnuson, McClure, Hatfield, and Evans, and many others lent their wisdom to legislation aimed at protecting the salmon, while also making use of the river's hydroelectric potential and other non-fishery economic uses. Other Northwesterners, such as Justice William O. Douglas, Senator Frank Church, Interior Secretary and Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus and Oregon Governor Tom McCall devoted years of effort to help the Federal government and the states find the right balance on the Columbia.

Mr. Chairman, most of your predecessors, while confronted by profoundly difficult issues, were not confronted with the challenge that you, and we, face now. This Congress and this Administration today bear the responsibility to prevent extinction of Columbia River wild salmon runs. The fates of at least a dozen endangered wild stocks rest on our decisions and our actions. We must find the way to save these fish while continuing to sustain and improve the regional economy.

Four wild stocks of Snake River salmon, and eight stocks from the Columbia are listed under the ESA. The best science available today indicates that Snake River and Columbia River stocks could become extinct within our lifetimes.

The strong return of hatchery salmon to the Columbia River this year has offered hope that wild runs may also be improving. Improved ocean conditions should benefit hatchery and wild fish alike. But we cannot treat one year's returns as anything like evidence that the problems are behind us. Actual returns of the endangered wild fish remain far below historic levels and far below the levels needed for recovery. Moreover, the strong hatchery runs may actually present increased problems because some hatchery fish may stray into the habitats of wild fish and compete for food and spawning areas.

Columbia River native salmon are on the brink because of the cumulative adverse effects of thousands of decisions made over the years regarding hydropower development, hatchery operations, harvest management, and habitat modification through forestry, farming, urban development, and water diversion.

No one intended or fully foresaw this day of reckoning for the salmon, but it is undeniable that the day has arrived. There is no one cause and no single solution to this deeply entangled legacy. If they ever existed, we are out of easy answers. We know they will not work and the courts will not tolerate any pretense otherwise. In 1994, U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Marsh overturned an earlier NMFS biological opinion regarding the Columbia River hydropower system, and he wrote this:

NMFS has clearly made an effort to create a rational, reasoned process for determining how the action agencies are doing in their efforts to save the listed salmon species. But the process is seriously, "significantly," flawed because it is too heavily geared towards a status quo that has allowed all forms of river activity to proceed in a deficit situation-that is, relatively small steps, minor improvements and adjustments-when the situation literally cries out for a major overhaul. Instead of looking for what can be done to protect the species from jeopardy, NMFS and the action agencies have narrowly focused their attention on what the establishment is capable of handling with minimal disruption.

Judge Marsh had it right: The situation cries out for a major overhaul. In this respect, we are fortunate that our predecessors handed down to us an array of powerful tools to tackle the job.

Those tools include federal laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act (ESA), Northwest Power Act, Wilderness Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Clean Water Act, National Forest Management Act and Federal Land Policy and Manarement Act. Each of these statutes bears the fingerprints or actual authorship of Pacific Northwest lawmakers. And each of these statutes shows the determination of the people of the Northwest, and indeed the nation as a whole, that their government should act - and help them act - to conserve for all time the region's wild salmon and other natural assets, while honoring legitimate economic aspirations.

Federal law demands that we prevent extinction of the stocks. The ESA calls on all agencies to administer their programs to conserve both listed species and the ecosystems on which they depend. Federal land management laws provide for the preservation of biological diversity. Environmental statutes mandate clean rivers and estuaries. The Northwest Power Act commits hydrosystem revenues to restoration programs. Our moral obligation to future generations is the same as our legal duty today. This Administration and the region itself have invested heavily in salmon restoration efforts and in advancing salmon science. We are obliged to find ways to protect that investment. We also know that the people of the Northwest want and expect all of us to succeed at this effort. Over the course of six weeks earlier this year, my colleagues from all nine involved federal agencies held 15 hearings on the Administration's salmon recovery program in five states, including Alaska. Nine thousand Northwest citizens attended these meetings, and more than 50,000 gave us their comments, written, e-mailed, recorded and in person. The overwhelming message they delivered was stark and direct: Bring back these fish. There is not a single region-wide consensus on the pathway to that end, but there is clear consensus that we must reach it. As the Idaho Statesman editorialized late last year: "It is our lifestyle, pocketbooks and legacy to our grandchildren at stake." The Tri-City Herald offered a similar view, writing: "The situation begs for urgent action and for leadership. Snake spring and summer chinook cannot weather many more political battles."

We agree with those sentiments. Legally, and morally, extinction of these salmon is simply not an option. President Clinton and Vice President Gore are committed to use all existing executive authorities, and to seek additional authorities where needed, to restore the Columbia's wild salmon.

Let me describe the draft documents that provide the details of that commitment.

The first document, the draft Basin-wide Recovery Strategy, is a revised draft of what was previously called the "All-H Paper." This document describes the Administration's overall strategy for salmon recovery in the Columbia River basin; it applies to both listed salmon and steelhead stocks, and to resident fish. It charts not only the steps that the federal agencies must take, but those we will call on States, Tribes, the Congress, and other local stakeholders to undertake as well. The second document is a draft biological opinion issued under the Endangered Species Act concerning operations of the Federal Columbia River Power System. This document conveys the expert opinion of the National Marine Fisheries Service on those reasonable and prudent alternatives that must be taken by the federal hydropower system to avoid jeopardizing the continued existence of wild salmon stocks listed under the ESA. The measures called for by the biological opinion for the hydropower system form a key part of the Basin-wide Recovery Strategy and are integrated within that strategy's comprehensive scope.

The biological opinion is a scientific document and we openly acknowledge that there is significant uncertainty in the science, and some good faith differences of opinion among experts. It has been conveyed to the Columbia River basin States and Tribes for technical review and possible revision by NMFS in accord with their comments.

When it is finalized, this biological opinion will be the third such issued since 1994 when Judge Marsh ordered the federal government to take much more direct and comprehensive actions to protect listed salmon from the effects of the hydropower system. In tandem with the actions described in the Basin-wide Recovery strategy, implementation of the measures in this biological opinion will achieve continued solid progress toward achieving the "complete overhaul" of the system sought by the federal court, as well as the balance and partnership demanded by the region.

Mr. Chairman, the biological opinion and the Basin-wide Recovery Strategy address the range of impacts to salmon and restoration options in great detail. I would like to summarize the salient points of this framework in the draft Basin-wide Recovery Strategy.

First, the Strategy contains a broad array of aggressive actions that must be taken in all four of the "H's", centering on those measures that offer the most immediate, short- as well as long-term benefits for all twelve listed runs, as well as resident fish. Second, as mentioned above, the federal government cannot restore Columbia River salmon acting alone--much less the Executive Branch of the federal government. So the actions called for in our draft proposed Strategy are broken down into "action plans" outlining what the federal agencies must do, what we believe the Congress must do, what the states must do, what tribes must do, and what other stakeholders must do. Only through a partnership of all the participants who must cooperate to achieve restoration will we be able to achieve our goals.

Second, as part of the proposed strategy, we are developing performance standards by which we will be able to evaluate, objectively, whether our restoration efforts are moving in the right direction, or not.

As you know, the draft proposed strategy does not recommend an immediate petition to Congress to authorize breaching of the Snake River Dams. Dam breaching is one step among many that holds promise for recovering the Snake River runs. All our modeling and predictions indicate that it may be very helpful to four of the listed runs that migrate up the Snake river - - although no restoration of this type has every been attempted, and there are certainly major uncertainties and risks that would be involved. But breaching the Snake River dams may not be essential to recovering these runs, and probably would not be sufficient. And it would do nothing for the other listed stocks on the mainstem of the Columbia, some of which are at greater risk today than Snake River stocks. Moreover, dam breaching will require Congressional authorization, funding, detailed planning and execution - over an uncertain period that is not likely to be less than a decade, and perhaps much longer. And it could excessively divert extensive resources from other actions.

The proposed draft strategy therefore focuses on those actions that will give the greatest short-term impact on survival and restoration. It incorporates performance standards that we propose to apply at five to ten years from the commencement of the program to evaluate the actual trends in overall survival, and adjust course if necessary. These biological and associated physical performance standards consist of a "safety net" and a "report card." The report card will allow us to evaluate whether the various actors, including the federal government, have in fact taken the actions laid out in the Basin-wide Recovery Strategy and biological opinion. The safety net will check objectively whether the trend of overall life-cycle survival is moving in the right direction, or not. If not, then reconsideration of the strategy and the possibility of seeking authorization for dam breaching may well be necessary.

Third, the proposed strategy envisions a new collaborative science effort over the next ten years, and an independent peer review/evaluation of the performance standards, so that by the time (in at least five years) they must be applied, they will command broad scientific consensus.

Fourth, the federal agencies propose economic mitigation studies to evaluate the costs of various proposed actions, how to mitigate those costs, and how to spread their imposition. Such studies will include mitigation studies for costs of dam breaching, should performance standards drive us to such a course. In addition, engineering studies to more finely evaluate the dam breaching alternative will be undertaken.

This is a demanding program. Under the biological opinion, the federal hydropower system will be called upon to make operational changes, including increased flows. The system will continue to make major structural changes, as well, in order to improve juvenile fish passage. The federal hydropower system will probably serve as the primary source of funding to achieve many of the restoration-related measures.

We are not going to leave the success or failure of these or the Basin-wide Recovery Strategy measures up to chance. We will define performance standards and we will commit to a specific timetable within which to decide whether additional or different actions need to be taken to achieve recovery of the stocks.

We fully intend to continue planning for the possibility that the Snake River dams will need to be breached. This means that we will continue engineering planning and assessment of the economic and other mitigation actions that should be performed if the dams are breached.

It is important to emphasize something here: The degree to which the Federal hydropower system has to be modified, even in some possible cases breached, will be driven by the success or failure of actions we, the States, Tribes and local communities take with regard to the other H's - namely, habitat, hatcheries, and harvest. Everything affecting salmon survival is connected. One does not have to be able to draw precise numeric correlations among the H's to understand that the better we do in one area, the less pressure there should be to act in others.

We fully intend to use our authorities to reduce all sources of mortalities across the board. We believe our approach can work without undue economic cost, and is properly balanced. But the federal government controls only part of the range of factors that affect salmon survival. States, Tribes and local communities govern the rest, especially private land and water uses.

The Basin-wide Recovery Strategy outlines steps we believe must be taken by states and tribes, and, because we all have run out of easy choices, many of these choices will be hard and controversial.

Habitat will be a major element to recovery. Protecting and restoring habitat is more difficult than breaching dams. Breaching dams does not necessarily depend upon winning the cooperation of all the state, tribal and local governments and landowners throughout the region. But habitat touches all of them.

We believe that the measures we have outlined for non-federal leadership will need to be taken, and if they are not, or if they fail, the federal hydropower system and federal land, hatchery, and harvest managers will have no choice but to try to take up the slack by implementing whatever difficult or unpopular measures are still on the table. If it comes to that, we may have no choice but to ask you to decide to breach the dams.

Salmon science is still evolving, and there is considerable uncertainty regarding many things. The imperiled status of the stocks demands that we take strong actions now and for the foreseeable future. Uncertainty is not a reason to stand still, but it is a reason to move forward with care, humility, and in strong partnerships with others seeking the same ends as we. Our approach will be driven by the best available science, but it will also be tailored to advance the state of scientific understanding.

The program is not based on any single constituency's wish list. It is being developed through an open process that includes wide public and agency participation. It will reflect an unprecedented federal effort to balance recovery burdens and benefits between the upper and lower basins. It is intended to grant a new level of respect to cultural resources, resident fish and reservoir levels. We expect that the program will improve Columbia River water quality.

We have designed the program consciously to help reinforce similar or complementary state and tribal programs, including particularly the Northwest Power Planning Council's fish and wildlife program. We focused on a sequence of measures that would have immediate results - in part as a way to build faith within the region and to draw in even greater cooperation and support.

This is a deliberate strategy of involvement. It is a strategy meant to engage the people and the governments of the Pacific Northwest - because recovery of salmon stocks will require cooperation on a massive level. This means cooperation at every level of government. And it means cooperation between governments, private landowners and private citizens.

This program will require cooperation between the Administration and Congress. The Administration and the Northwest delegation will need to work together to win the understanding and support of the full Congress for the funding required to implement all aspects of this program, including, as appropriate, support for state, tribal, and local projects.

In addition, we all must be willing to allow the program and its funding to follow science where it leads. This program will only succeed if it is driven by the real needs of the fish, and not by human preconceptions of the right or wrong answers or the blame game.

We find ourselves confronted by this crisis because our predecessors followed well-intended, but ultimately inadequate and unscientific concepts about the effects of dams, benefits of hatcheries, tolerance of salmon populations to harvest, and the place of salmon in responsible land and water management. We know better now. We can do better if we use the information we have, take full advantage of the laws written by the Senate Energy Committee and others, and bear always in mind that the people of the Pacific Northwest unequivocally expect us to save the salmon.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify.

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