PORTLAND, Ore. -- Leaders of the Columbia River treaty-fishing tribes on
Jan. 26 roundly condemned a decision by the Bonneville Power Administration
to vanquish a long-serving science center.
The 20-year-old Fish Passage Center had provided critical technical data to
the state and federal agencies and tribes that protect and manage Columbia
River salmon runs and fisheries. BPA announced its plan to transfer the
functions of the FPC to new entities at a briefing to the Northwest Power
and Conservation Council, whose fish and wildlife program requires the FPC
be funded by BPA. The loss of the FPC strips the Columbia Basin treaty
tribes as well as the fish and wildlife agencies of Oregon, Washington,
Idaho and Montana of their ability to fully participate in regional salmon
"Today's decision is the result of a terribly flawed process that started
from a false, predetermined conclusion -- that the Fish Passage Center
needed to be replaced," said Rebecca Miles, chairman of the Nez Perce
Tribal executive committee. "[Jan. 25], a White House official spoke to the
region about sharing responsibility in rebuilding salmon runs and argued
that hydroelectric impacts had been addressed. Today a federal agency, BPA,
shuts down an established, efficient science center and shifts the work to
an assemblage of less experienced and unproven entities virtually
guaranteeing that the regional collaborative effort will suffer, perhaps
flat out fail. Actions speak louder than words."
In November 2005, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, inserted language into the
Energy & Water appropriations report to direct the BPA and the Northwest
Power and Conservation Council to halt funding of the FPC and transfer its
functions to another entity in the region within 120 days. Despite numerous
requests by tribes, states, business leaders and members of the Northwest
congressional delegation to keep the FPC intact, Craig's language was
included in the final Energy & Water appropriations report and signed into
law on Nov. 19.
The announcement came just days after salmon-based businesses and
conservation groups filed a lawsuit asserting that BPA's decision to
shutter the FPC unlawfully circumvents the Northwest Power Act because the
report language does not have the force of law.
"This raises huge questions about the authorities of States and Tribes to
access the best scientific data and manage a regional resource," added
Miles. "Congress was clear 26 years ago when it passed the Northwest Power
Act laying out the roles and responsibilities of tribes and federal and
state fishery agencies. If this stands, it says that any member of
Congress, behind closed doors, can undo a decades-long effort with words
hidden in a legislative report."
Authorized by the Northwest Power Act, and operating for the past 20 years,
the FPC collected, analyzed and made public vital information about salmon
and steelhead numbers on the Columbia and Snake rivers. State and tribal
decision-makers rely heavily on the information provided by the FPC to
analyze the impact of hydro operations on salmon. The loss of the
independent science it provides comes at a crucial time for the region.
This information will be especially critical during the next year of
court-ordered salmon recovery negotiations between the states, tribes, BPA
and the Bush administration.
"We have just begun to identify the substantive, dense, technical questions
that would lead to a long-awaited court-approved federal salmon plan," said
Olney Patt Jr., chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish
Commission. "The Fish Passage Center is, hands down, the science agency
best suited to take on that work. Hopefully the legal challenge can clarify
this and bring common sense back to the matter."