Pacific Salmon: Ecology and Management of Western Alaska’s Populations

Science and Politics-an Uncomfortable Alliance: Lessons Learned from the Fish and Wildlife Program of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council

Richard N. Williams and James A. Lichatowich


Abstract.—The Pacific Northwest states of Oregon, Washington, California, and Idaho are engaged in a massive effort to restore depleted populations of Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp. We examine here how science has been used by the Northwest Planning and Conservation Council (Council) in their Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program from 1997 to 2006, and how their decisions reflect a dynamic and uneasy interaction between science and politics, particularly with respect to artificial production. The Council directs approximately $125 million USD per year toward recovery actions that mitigate the Columbia River hydrosystem’s (electricity, irrigation) impacts on fish and wildlife. The program does not have a clear and unambiguous goal, therefore, it is not clear how success is defined. In 1996, an amendment to the Northwest Power Act created a peer review process for projects funded through the Council’s program. We use the record of that review process to examine how science has been used in the program. The scientific underpinnings of the Fish and Wildlife Program were strengthened in 1996, when the Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) was formed to provide technical peer review of projects for the Council. Over the past decade, the Council has relied upon the ISRP’s technical recommendations and the overall technical quality of projects has increased, as has project-level monitoring and evaluation. Recent versions of the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program (2000, 2004) used an explicit ecological and salmonid life-history-based conceptual foundation to direct program activities and funding decisions. The habitat portion of the fish and wildlife program is being directed by this conceptual foundation; however, many of the region’s decisions about artificial production continue to rely on an outdated production-based conceptual foundation that is not ecologically sound. The region’s reliance on large-scale artificial production programs to obtain recovery and rebuilding goals provides an example of the differences between the two conceptual foundations—they lead to different approaches and programs. Political interference, fragmented institutional structures, and an inadequate scientific (conceptual) foundation have reduced program effectiveness, hampered program evaluation, and hindered use of adaptive management approaches.