Greetings and best wishes for spring. As a reminder, the “Chair’s Quarterly Update” is intended to provide members a digest of recent developments and upcoming plans. I’ve included a few highlights from the Adaptive Management (AM) Workshop because it’s such an important event each year, so this report is a little longer than usual.
First, as previously announced, we recently lost a member of the MRRIC community. Aaron Balliet unexpectedly passed away in early April. I sent a card to his parents expressing condolences on behalf of the Committee, and heard back yesterday that the note was comforting. If you would like to send a message to them, you can use this link: https://www.meyerbroschapels.com/obituary/aaron-balliet.
In this update you can find:
- information about recent developments, including:
- funding for the Recovery Program in the President’s Budget (PBUD) for FY’2023,
- responses to MRRIC recommendations from December,
- release of the draft Adaptive Management Compliance Report and
- work group activities;
- upcoming activities including work being done by the Joint Fish/HC Work Group on an IRC recommendation and plans for virtual plenary sessions over a multi-week period in July;
- highlights from the recent AM Workshop; and
- “news you can use.”
The FY’2023 PBUD includes slightly over $25 million for the Missouri River Recovery Program (MRRP). This is significantly higher than the $8 million received for the current fiscal year, though less than the approximately $30 million in the capability estimates in last year’s updated Strategic Plan estimates. A new update to the program’s five year Strategic Plan is anticipated in early June and will include information on how the proposed funding would be allocated.
The Lead Agencies sent responses to three of the four MRRIC recommendations from December. While we have not yet received a direct response from USACE headquarters to the funding recommendation letter, the increased funding for the MRRP in the FY’2023 PBUD is encouraging.
- USFWS responded to the recommendation that the agency give high priority to funding completion of the Species Status Assessment and to updating the Northern Great Plains Piping Plover Recovery Plan saying, in essence, that “The Service has placed a high priority on completing the Northern Great Plains Piping Plover Species Status Assessment (SSA)” and “at this time it has not be determined if a task force or recovery plan is warranted.” You can find the full response letter here.
- USACE responded to the recommendation that there be a formal “discuss and feedback” (D&F) process with ISAP regarding their recommendations on the 2019 and 2020 AMCR, concurring that these are “an efficient way to engage with the ISAP on many topics recognizing that technical engagements with the science panel related to monitoring, modeling, data analysis and efficient reporting formats are important and have proven helpful in the past” and adding that, while budget constraints preclude such engagements this year, “If these budget limitations are overcome in future years, we will revisit the possibility of having discussion and feedback engagements as recommended.” The draft 2021 AMCR includes a Technical Note (Marmorek et al. 2021; Technical Note 2021-008) describing MRRP technical activities which relate to the ISAP’s recommendations in their review of the 2019 AMCR. You can find the full response here.
- USACE and USFWS sent a joint response to the 22 recommendations originally developed in 2020 and approved in 2021. I don’t think I can do justice either to the recommendations or the responses by trying to summarize them. You can find the full response letter here. I encourage you to read it carefully. I will be consulting the POCs about follow up they think is important.
USFWS held a call on March 10 with Bird Work Group members, and others who had expressed interest, to provide an update on the SSA. The SSA is expected to be completed in 2023.
The draft AMCR came out in early March and webinars were held the week of March 14-18 to orient MRRIC and others to the contents. You can find the draft AMCR online here.
The AM Workshop was held virtually the week of April 11-15 to discuss the implications of information in the draft AMCR for the MRRP Strategic Plan. Highlights from the AM Workshop are provided below.
The Joint Fish/HC Work Group held calls on March 11 and April 1. Members heard an update on the first call regarding engagements to assess candidate IRC sites, particularly with respect to follow up
consultations with navigators on the five “more promising” sites identified at the November 15 meeting. During the second call, members heard a presentation on ERDC’s preliminary findings concerning IRCs. ERDC is modeling changes to flows at the Moberly site (with and without IRC construction) to validate and calibrate the model. The next step will be to apply the model to a possible future IRC location to make projections as to possible HC impacts, which then can inform designs to avoid or minimize those impacts. The other topic on the agenda was a review of possible elements for an IRC recommendation, which will be discussed by the joint work groups on future calls (see below).
Upcoming Activities – May through July
The Joint Fish/HC Work Group anticipates two calls prior to a July plenary to consider draft recommendations related to IRCs, aiming for MRRIC consideration at a virtual plenary session in July. These recommendations identify two specific candidate sites – Plowboy A (RM: 174.5 to 173.2) and Pelican B (RM: 15.8 to 13.4) – as the next two sites to begin design work on prior to issuing a draft EA based on the lesser degree of HC concerns at these sites among the sites currently under consideration, assuming that these sites also fit the criteria for the IRC experiment. The recommendations also include ideas for implementing the IRC management action as a whole, building on the considerable investment made by USACE, MRRIC members and others to understand and work through issues of concern about how to accomplish the objectives of the management action while avoiding or minimizing adverse impacts on human considerations. Examples include factoring into IRC designs the results of the ERDC report and monitoring from “areas of enhanced capture” (formerly “hot spots”), as well as continuing stakeholder consultation.
If you are not on the Fish or HC Work Groups and have an interest in this recommendation, I urge you to contact me, the vice chair or one of the POCs.
The HC Work Group anticipates a call to discuss the BSNP Mitigation Program (perhaps jointly with the Fish Work Group). Other work group sessions are being discussed with the planning groups.
The focus for July will be a series of virtual plenary sessions over a multi-week period. An Agenda Work Group call will be held in May to help plan these sessions, and a scheduling doodle will be sent shortly.
AM Workshop Highlights
Four virtual AM workshop meetings were held the week of April 11-15. The focus was on strategic priorities organized around specific management actions. Highlights include:
For the session on lower river fish issues (April 11) – related to IRCs, evaluation of lower river flows at Gavins Point and spawning habitat:
With respect to IRCs:
- Progress made in 2021 despite lack of construction included:
- Level 1 research to understand the processes of larval dispersal and interception at Areas of Enhanced Capture (AECs) in order to design better IRCs;
- A decision scenario exercise to articulate what forms of evidence are sufficient for various key questions in a decision tree for IRCs; and
- Engagement with Tribes and stakeholders to determine which candidate IRC sites are most promising in meeting both Program and HC needs.
- Budgets for FY23 and beyond include construction of 2 IRCs in each year at a cost of $7.5M per year, with additional funds set aside for maintenance or adjustments to constructed sites, if needed to address unintended impacts.
- Participants at the meeting commented that the stakeholder engagement process to identify opportunities and concerns for candidate IRC sites was useful and important, and had increased trust. Ideas for future engagement included possible site visits and tow simulations based on designs, if funding permits.
- ISAP members asked technical questions about IRC monitoring and surrogacy issues; USACE hopes there will be sufficient resources for more engagement with the ISAP in FY23 and beyond.
With respect to evaluation of lower river flows:
- Planned research and monitoring efforts are intended to understand the relationship between flow variation and recruitment. A one-time Level 2 flow release experiment could be implemented, if evidence supports it, after 9 years of evaluation of pallid sturgeon responses to naturally occurring flows.
- USACE reported that in 2021:
- field work built on the improved telemetry network;
- a decision scenario exercise examined how to use gathered data to support decisions in 2027, relating:
- biological measures (i.e., production of embryos and larvae; upstream movement, successful spawning, synchronization of males and females, successful reproduction) with
- flow attributes (i.e., discharge, temperature, turbidity);
- analyses to test-drive existing data were planned in 2021 but not completed due to lack of funds.
With respect to spawning habitat projects:
- No spawning habitat projects were planned or constructed in 2021 and the Strategic Plan currently has no funds allocated for construction from 2021 to 2024.
- Past spawning events used habitats prevalent in the Lower Missouri River (deep, fast water on hard substrates), but it is not clear in designing spawning habitat projects whether the habitats used are “preferred” by pallid sturgeon. Scientists also do not know if past spawning was successful, or if enough spawning occurred to support the population.
- Modeling is being used to understand these dynamics and work is being done on the use of tags to determine where / when egg deposition occurs, though this didn’t work as well in the field in 2021 as in earlier lab tests.
- Next Steps: USACE and USFWS will review the decision to delay implementation in 2022 and determine the process for, and key inputs to, a decision. If construction is to proceed in the next few years, then researchers and engineers will need to determine where / how spawning habitat should be constructed.
For the session on issues related to the Pallid Sturgeon Population Assessment Program (PSPAP) (April 13):
- The original purpose of PSPAP was to provide an assessment of long-term trends relevant to the 2003 BiOp, but it was redesigned over 2015-2018 to meet the needs of the MRRP for population monitoring, as described in SAMP Appendix D.
- PSPAP informs three major things: MRRP objectives, metrics relevant to incidental take, and population models, based on an integrated set of field activities: age-0 trawling, bend seeding; mark recapture of juveniles, subadults & adults; segment telemetry sweeps; and detections from passive telemetry arrays.
- The discussion focused on work being done by the Fish Technical Team to evaluate the costs and benefits of different levels of effort on each of the PSPAP activities.
For the session on management actions for Northern Great Plains Piping Plover (April 14):
- All targets except fledge rate for the plover are being met, and the fledge ratio is improving. So, the focus for the next few years will be on maintaining habitat quality through vegetation management.
- An ISAP member encouraged thinking about management choices for the plover and the link between population growth rate and the fledge ratio in the context of the plover’s full range rather than just the population on the Missouri River. Another ISAP member added that when birds are not found on the Missouri River it doesn’t mean they are dead; they may just have moved elsewhere temporarily. The population is substantially more robust than understood previously. A scientist from USGS added that there’s also risk if the habitats outside the Missouri experience a problem, they might not supply a source of immigrants to the Missouri River.
- When funding becomes available the Sandbar Optimization Study will be a high priority. Phase 1 will be to understand the relationship between habitat quality, quantity and bird productivity. What determines habitat quality is Phase II.
- An ISAP member commented that caging has more promise for population growth than predator removal, but managing habitat is better than caging, e.g. through vegetation control.
For the session on upper river fish issues (April 15) – related to Ft. Peck test flows and the Intake fish bypass:
With respect to Ft. Peck test flows:
- No test flow will be done in 2022 due to reservoir storage and runoff conditions.
- Current work includes drafting monitoring plans for physical and biological conditions and for concerns about human considerations. Monitoring information not only will be useful for evaluating the management action when it occurs, but there can be useful information gathered in non-test flow years for how to achieve the objectives of a test flow while minimizing potential adverse effects.
- Decisions for 2023 and beyond will be coordinated through the Annual Operating Plan (AOP) process. Whether the forecast looks favorable for the following spring will be discussed at the fall AOP meeting and then again at the spring meeting based on current conditions.
- 5-day old fish released in the 2019 drift study can survive to age one and age 2, but 1- day old fish were not recovered. It was noted that the drift study was conducted when temperatures were colder than anticipated for a test flow and at a point 70 miles downstream from the dam.
- Advances also were made in modeling during 2021.
With respect to Intake:
- The bypass channel and replacement weir are to be completed in 2022 (water is flowing through the channel now), and there will be continued tracking of translocated and telemetered fish.
- A decision tree has been completed as part of work on decision scenarios for Intake and the Yellowstone River.
- Work is ongoing on the development of a coordinated monitoring plan for the Yellowstone, involving Reclamation, USFWS, MFWP, USGS and USACE.
- Key takeaways for the strategic plan are that:
- Pallid sturgeon in the Upper Missouri River (UMR) and Yellowstone represent one population. Population outcomes in the Yellowstone can affect UMR decisions, so the science must be well coordinated.
- USACE and Reclamation are joint leads on implementation of Intake; USACE does not have decision authority on the Yellowstone beyond construction involved in the fish bypass and the first year of physical monitoring. (USACE does not operate any dams on the Yellowstone, which constrains what it can fund.)
- There is some overlap between the science activities of relevance to the UMR and the Yellowstone River. USACE has co-funded some activities on the Yellowstone that interact with the UMR.
Chair’s Coffee Hour
I have put out feelers on a few ideas for “coffee hours” but obviously have not yet held any after the first one. I still plan to do this on occasion, so let me know if you have a topic you’d like to discuss with others.
News You Can Use
Please feel free to send me items you think will be of interest to members and do let me know what you’d like to see in these Quarterly Reports. And, as always, I welcome your input on other matters related to the work of the Committee.
Warm regards, Gail