Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon. D.C. No. CV-93-01603-MFM. Malcolm F. Marsh, District Judge, Presiding.
Before: Cynthia Holcomb Hall, Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, and Pamela Ann Rymer, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge O'Scannlain.
O'SCANNLAIN, Circuit Judge:
In this second of three related cases,*fn1 we must decide whether the National Marine Fisheries Service complied with its duties under the Endangered Species Act, specifically with respect to its approval of the 1993 Operations Plan for the hydropower system on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the "Corps"), the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation ("BuRec"), and the Bonneville Power Administration ("BPA") jointly manage the dams, reservoirs, and other facilities in the Columbia and Snake River Basin that constitute the Federal Columbia River Power System (the "FCRPS"). The Corps and BuRec operate the dams while BPA markets the hydroelectric power generated by the FCRPS.
As we have discussed elsewhere, "it is generally accepted that the Basin's hydropower system is a major factor in the decline of some salmon and steelhead runs to a point of near extinction." N.W. Resource Info. Ctr. v. N.W. Power Planning Council, 35 F.3d 1371, 1376 (9th Cir. 1994) (quotation omitted). In 1980, in the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. § 837 et seq., Congress reacted to the rapidly diminishing salmon populations by directing BPA and the other federal agencies to take steps to protect the salmon harmed by the federal hydropower system. Despite the agencies' efforts, populations of wild salmon continued to decline. As a result, the National Marine Fisheries Service ("NMFS") listed the Snake River sockeye salmon as an endangered species in 1991 and the Snake River spring/summer and fall chinook salmon as threatened species in 1992.
The Corps, BuRec, and BPA jointly develop an operational plan for the FCRPS, which must take into account its many uses - electric power production, flood control, navigation, irrigation, and recreation. In February 1993, the agencies issued the 1993 Operations of the Federal Columbia River Power System ("1993 Operations Plan"), which covered operations from April 1993 through January 1994. In addition to setting forth the general workings of the hydropower system, the 1993 Operations Plan also contained several actions that were specifically designed to benefit the salmon. These included flow-related actions, spill-related actions, a transportation program, a predator removal program, and stricter law enforcement.
Like the exhausting migration of the salmon, agency actions that affect the salmon must make their way through a river of paper. The Endangered Species Act ("ESA"), 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq., contains several substantive and procedural provisions designed to protect endangered species. These provisions are triggered when a species is listed as endangered or threatened. 16 U.S.C. § 1533. Under section 7(a)(2) of the ESA, federal agencies must "insure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by such agency . . . is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species[.]" 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2).
Before undertaking any action that could affect a listed species, an agency must consult with the Secretary (or in this case NMFS)*fn2 either formally or informally. 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(4); 50 C.F.R. § 402.14(a). In formal consultation, the agency must prepare a Biological Assessment ("BA") evaluating the potential effects its action will have on the listed species. 50 C.F.R. § 402.12. NMFS must then prepare a Biological Opinion ("BO") evaluating the effects of the action. If NMFS concludes that the agency action will jeopardize a listed species, it issues a "jeopardy opinion." 16 U.S.C. § 1536(b)(3)(A); 50 C.F.R. § 402.14(h)(3). If the BO makes such a jeopardy finding, NMFS may also suggest "reasonable and prudent alternatives" to the proposed action that would avoid creating jeopardy. Id. If NMFS determines that the agency action is not likely to jeopardize a listed species, it issues a "no jeopardy opinion." 16 U.S.C. § 1536(b)(4)(B)(ii); 50 C.F.R. § 402.02. If the BO makes such a no jeopardy finding, NMFS may also suggest "reasonable and prudent measures" that would reduce the number of species that are incidentally taken (i.e., harmed or killed) by the action. Id.
Pursuant to the ESA, the Corps, BuRec, and BPA consulted with NMFS on the 1993 Operations Plan in order to insure that it would not jeopardize the salmon. The federal agencies also submitted a BA to NMFS that analyzed the effects of the actions set forth in the 1993 Operations Plan on the salmon. Initially, in preparing its BO, NMFS drafted a jeopardy opinion. This draft jeopardy opinion included augmented flow measures as part of a reasonable and prudent alternative that would not jeopardize the salmon. NMFS did not ultimately issue the jeopardy opinion, however, because of improved forecasts for natural spring and summer flow, and because the federal agencies agreed by letter to modify their 1993 Operations Plan to incorporate NMFS's recommended flow augmentation measures.
On May 26, 1993, NMFS issued a final BO finding that the revised 1993 Operations Plan was not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the salmon. In the BO, NMFS applied a two-step analysis to determine if the proposed actions would jeopardize the salmon within the meaning of section 7 of the ESA. NMFS analyzed: (1) whether the 1993 Operations Plan would reduce salmon mortality relative to an environmental baseline period of 1986-1990; and (2) whether the 1993 Operations Plan along with all other proposed actions affecting the salmon (i.e. harvest limits, hatchery releases, and habitat modifications) were reasonably likely to reduce salmon mortality over the long term such that populations would stabilize.
The federal agencies, although they took issue with NMFS' two-step analysis, issued Records of Decision ("RODs") implementing the 1993 ...