Statutory authority: the Northwest Power Act directs the Council to develop a “program to protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife including related spawning grounds and habitat on the Columbia River and its tributaries.” See 16 U.S.C. section 839b(h)(1)(A). The Act also directs the Council to develop “a general scheme for implementing conservation measures and developing resources pursuant to section 6 of the Act to reduce or meet the Administrator’s obligations with due consideration by the Council for (a) environmental quality, (b) compatibility with the existing regional power system, (c) protection, mitigation, and enhancement of fish and wildlife and related spawning grounds and habitat, including sufficient quantity and quality of flows for successful migration, survival, and propagation of anadromous fish, and (d) other criteria which may be set forth in the plan.” See 16 U.S.C. section 839b(e)(2).
1988 protected areas rule: In August of 1988, the Council amended its fish and wildlife program and power plan to designate approximately 44,000 miles of Northwest streams as “protected areas.” Protected areas are river reaches which contain important habitat for certain valued species of resident fish or wildlife or some combination of these categories. The Council maintains a data base which lists the designation for each reach and the specific species of concern on each reach.
Protected areas designations basically apply to new hydroelectric projects only. Dams in existence or licensed as of August 10, 1988 are not covered by the protected areas rule. In addition the protected areas rule provides that developers may seek exemption from the Council for a project with “exceptional fish and wildlife benefits.”
Previous amendments to protected areas: The protected areas rule recognizes that amendments to the protected designations will be needed from time to time. The rule commits the Council to taking up proposed amendments “on a regular schedule” and also allows amendments to be considered on an expedited basis when there is a need to do so.
A special expedited amendment process was conducted in early 1989 on a small number of changes. The first amendment process was begun in the fall of 1989 and concluded with the issuance of final amendments and a response to comments in August, 1990. The rulemaking described in this document was the second regular amendment process.
1991-1992 amendment process: In August of 1991, the Council announced that it would receive petitions for amendments to be considered in 1992. Petitions were received through November 15, 1991. Each petition was referred for review and recommendations to the protected areas coordinating agency in the state affected by the petition. In the case of these amendments, the coordinating agencies were the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Washington Department of Wildlife.
On the basis of these petitions, on February 12, 1992, the Council voted to initiate rulemaking pursuant to section 4(d)(1) of the Northwest Power Act to consider amending the protected areas provisions of the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program and the 1991 Northwest Power Plan.
During the rulemaking, public comment was received on the proposed amendments through Friday, May 1, 1992. During this period, public hearings on the proposal amendments were held at the following locations:
A final decision on the proposed amendments to protected areas was approved by the Council at its June 10 meeting in Post Falls, Idaho.
Because of the large number of comments, the summaries of comments which appear here do not list all of the commentors on each of the proposed changes. However, each comment received by the Council was taken into consideration and has been included in the record of this rulemaking.