|The Mountain-Prairie Region|
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
April 28, 2004 Contacts: Mark Butler 303-445-2103 Diane Katzenberger 303-236-4578
of Science Releases Report
The National Academy of Sciences’ preliminary report has concluded that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used the best available science in determining recommendations for the conservation and recovery of the threatened and endangered species of the Platte River.
The purpose of the report was to determine whether current central and lower Platte River habitat conditions affect the survival and recovery of the whopping crane, piping plover, least tern, and pallid sturgeon, and to assess the validity of the science supporting the designation of critical habitat for the whooping crane and piping plover. The report also reviewed the interrelationships of sediment, flow, vegetation, and channel morphology in the Platte River.
“This report provides important information that will help guide the recovery actions necessary for the long-term survival of the Platte River endangered species,” said Ralph Morgenweck, the Service’s Director of the Mountain-Prairie Region. “It is our hope that this document along with the draft Environmental Impact Statement and the Service’s biological opinion will provide the necessary information for all parties to make informed decisions based on sound science regarding a basin-wide program that will improve flow conditions and provide habitat restoration to support the recovery of the species.”
This report represents the unanimous consensus of the 14-member National Research Council Committee assembled to complete this task. The Committee held two public hearings in Kearney, Nebraska to obtain testimony, on May 6, 2003, and on August 11, 2003. Several members of the Platte River Governance Committee and other members of the public, along with researchers from several organizations provided testimony. The report was peer reviewed internally as well as externally by 13 independent reviewers.
The Committee found that valid science and engineering related to hydrology, geomorphology, sediment transport and riparian ecology support the Service’s instream flow recommendations for the central Platte River.
The Committee’s findings support the data and science used by the Fish and Wildlife Service in the designation of critical habitat for the whooping crane and piping plover. The report states that the Service’s views on stream-flow and habitat needs of the protected species have been an important factor in management decisions, but the formal designation of critical habitat has not.
The report concluded that current habitat conditions along the central Platte River adversely affect the likelihood of survival and recovery of the whooping crane. It further states that the central Platte River occupies a critical position along the migration route of the species between the wintering grounds in coastal Texas and the summer breeding grounds in north central Canada and that there are no apparent suitable alternatives to replace the central Platte River as habitat for migrating whooping cranes.
The Committee found that current habitat conditions on the central and lower Platte River adversely affect the likelihood of survival and recovery of piping plovers and that decline in the plover’s population has been coincidental with the loss of its preferred habitat, especially in the central Platte River. For the same reasons, the committee found that current Platte River conditions adversely affect the survival and recovery of the least tern.
The Committee acknowledged that the endangered population of pallid sturgeon is exceptionally small and apparently declining. Because much of its original habitat in the Missouri River has been altered by dams and reservoirs, the lower Platte River habitat is the most similar to the original, unaltered habitat of pallid sturgeon. Therefore, the report concludes that current habitat conditions on the lower Platte do not adversely affect the likelihood of survival and recovery of the pallid sturgeon. However, the Committee considers the lower Platte River to be pivotal in the management and recovery of the species, and that the loss of lower Platte River habitat would probably result in a catastrophic reduction on the pallid sturgeon population. The Committee believes any recovery efforts for the pallid sturgeon will of necessity include the lower Platte River and further states that degradation of current conditions might irreparably alter this habitat for pallid sturgeon use.
The Academy also identified areas that should receive additional attention, including: a multispecies approach to habitat management, a basin-wide plan of river operations and data collection, research on the wider species distribution, connections between ground and surface water, the cost-effectiveness of habitat improvements, and expanded monitoring of the results of management actions.
At the request of Congressman Tom Osborne of Nebraska, the Department of the Interior provided funds to the National Academy of Science for a review of the science related to the endangered species issues on the Platte River. The Academy convened a review panel of 14 members in April of 2003, with Professor William Graf of the University of South Carolina as chair. The panel contains experts in hydrology, geomorphology, the biology of the four species, recovery of endangered species, environmental law, economics, natural resources management, farming, engineering, and river ecology.
Ten questions were prepared by the Platte River Governance Committee, consisting of representatives from the Department of the Interior (Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), the States of Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming, Platte Basin water users, and environmental organizations.
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters.
The full report may be viewed at the National Academy of Sciences website, http://www4.nationalacademies.org, or at www.platteriver.org.
Ten Questions Addressed by NAS Panel
1. Do current Central Platte habitat conditions affect the likelihood of survival of the whooping crane? Do they limit its recovery?
2. Is the current designation of Central Platte River habitat as "critical habitat" for the whooping crane supported by the existing science?
3. Do current Central Platte habitat conditions affect the likelihood of survival of the piping plover? Do they limit its recovery?
4. Is the current designation of Central Platte River habitat as "critical habitat" for the piping plover supported by the existing science?
5. Do current Central Platte habitat conditions affect the likelihood of survival of the interior least tern? Do they limit its recovery?
6. Do current habitat conditions in the Lower Platte (below the mouth of the Elkhorn River) affect the likelihood of survival of the pallid sturgeon? Do they limit its recovery?
7. Were the processes and methodologies used by the USFWS in developing its Central Platte River Instream Flow Recommendations (i.e. species, annual pulse flows, & peak flows) scientifically valid?
8. Are the characteristics described in the USFWS habitat suitability guidelines for the Central Platte River supported by the existing science and are they essential to the survival of the listed avian species? To the recovery of those species? Are there other Platte River habitats that provide the same values that are essential to the survival of the listed avian species and their recovery?
9. Are the conclusions of the Department of the Interior about the interrelationship of sediment, flow, vegetation, and channel morphology in the Central Platte River supported by the existing science?
10. What were the key information and data gaps that the NAS identified during their review?
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