Thursday, April 28, 2011

Running the Gauntlet

Airing this Sunday May 1st the PBS television show Nature examines the complexity of recovering salmon in the Columbia.

Watch the full episode. See more Nature.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Take Action for Yakima River Salmon

The Washington Department of Ecology is accepting comments on their Draft Yakima Water Management Plan. The plan which seeks to address the long term water demands of both fish and irrigators proposes roughly $4 billion dollars in increased storage, water conservation and marketing, fish passage, and extensive habitat protection and restoration. The plan includes provisions to increase water storage in the Yakima Basin through the construction of Wymer dam in the Lluma Creek drainage, as well as storage in Cle Elum and Bumping Lakes. It also proposes to create fish passage at a number of dams in the basin and implement operational changes at dams throughout the basin to provide a more natural hydrograph which will speed the outmigration of smolts in spring and improve spawning and rearing habitat in the mainstem Yakima and tributaries.

The timing of dam releases and withdrawals designed to meet irrigation needs are currently a major limitation to the recovery of listed Chinook and steelhead in the Yakima. Low winter flows, a truncated runoff season, artificially high summer flows and the “flip-flop” whereby Yakima River flows are dramatically reduced and replaced by Naches River reservoir supply during the early fall have all taken their toll the on the capacity of the Yakima and Naches to support healthy anadromous runs.

Despite previous opposition to the construction of Black Rock Reservoir, many in the Yakima basin appear resigned to the possibility that increased water storage will be needed in the future. The billion dollar Wymer dam is proposed for the Lmuma Creek drainage, a small ephemeral creek in the Lower Canyon. The plan calls for water to being pumped into the reservoir from the Upper Canyon reach near Thorp. The diversion could potentially benefit fish by reducing unnaturally high summer irrigation flows in the stretch between Thorp and the bottom of the Lower Canyon, allowing for additional pulsed releases during the smolt outmigration. The plan also proposes increased winter base flows and pumping additional water from Keechelus Lake to Kachess allowing the upper 11 miles of the Yakima to be managed under a relatively natural flow regime. Operations at the Roza and Chandler power plants would also reduce water diversions to supporting increased stream flows in the reaches immediately downstream which have previously been largely dewatered for major portions of the year.
All told the plan has the potential to greatly benefit fish populations in the Yakima basin, but it is critical that the measures which benefit fisheries be implemented fully and be given equal priority in federally appropriated funds. Comment today on the draft plan and tell the department of Ecology to:

  • Prioritize fish recovery and water conservation actions for immediate implementation even without congressional authorization for the full $4 billion in funding.
  • Increase storage capacity only after thorough environmental review and a determination that doing so will not have undue impacts on listed bull trout or other species.
  • Manage increased water storage such that it provides a more natural hydrograph and improved habitat conditions in the mainstem Yakima, and Naches Rivers.
  • Prioritize protection and restoration of the Teanaway River basin, where there is an imminent development threat but also considerable potential for salmon, steelhead, and bull trout recovery.
  • Include in the EIS an assessment of how the various alternatives will (or won’t) help fish populations survive and recover in the face of climate change
Comments are due by May 19th and can be sent to:

Attention: Candace McKinley, Environmental Program manager,

1917 Marsh Road

Yakima, WA 98901;

or by e-mail to

More information at Ecology's website:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Editorials Run Amok

In the run up to Judge James Redden's landmark court decision this May, columns and guest editorials by interests on each side of the Columbia BiOp have appeared in news papers across the region. Editorials by NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco and another by Congressmen Peter DeFazio and Doc Hastings appeared in the Oregonian calling for an end to litigation and for the adoption and implementation of the current plan. Another, from editorial staff at the Wenatchee world claimed that recent increases in the abundance of salmon in the Columbia make the current court proceedings pointless. All this begs the question, what reality are these individuals living in and what do they see as an acceptable outcome for the future of Columbia and Snake Salmon?

Since 2000, some stocks of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin have made modest recoveries, but as guest columnists Buzz Ramsey and Ron Richards point out in their reply to the original Wenatchee world editorial; the current "recovery" on the Columbia is from historic lows in abundance during the 1990s which prompted a wave of ESA listings throughout the basin. Furthermore, while many hatchery programs have seen record returns over the last decade, wild fish have only experienced a modest improvement in abundance throughout the Columbia and in some instances have continued to decline. The unfortunate truth about the current BiOp is that it has been largely insulated from the input of many stakeholder groups. Rather than defending a legally dubious plan rammed through by the agenda of a few powerful lobbies and political players, NOAA should adopt a process similar to that which took place in the Klamath Basin; where all of the important user groups are at the table. This would facilitate much more widespread agreement on the future of the Columbia system and specifically the Snake River dams, which many scientists agree are currently the greatest impediment to salmon recovery in the region.

After nearly two decades of litigation, all parties are ready to leave the courtroom. However the insistence on the part of the Federal Government that dam removal not be on the table and the fact that the changes to the current BiOp were made without consultation to the plantiffs in the case, means that we maybe no closer to a resolution than we were in 1998. We owe it to the citizens of the Columbia Basin and the fish to foster a plan for the basin that can truly serve as a guide to recovery and sadly, the current plan falls short.

Read a guest Editoral by Buzz Ramsey and Ron Richards

Wild Steelhead Coalition Meeting May 4th

Join The Wild Steelhead Coalition May 4th for a discussion with Dave Pflug Seattle City Light biologist. Pflug will discuss the impact of hatchery programs on wild steelhead in the Skagit River. Information below

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Changes Likely Coming for Columbia Commercial Fleet

The effort to reduce the impact of commercial salmon fisheries on ESA listed wild fish in the Columbia has been a long and contentious battle. This year the Oregon State Senate is consider a measure that would ban gill netting in the mainstem Columbia and limit commercial fishing to off channel areas where hatchery fish return in large numbers. Predictably, commercial fishers are opposed to the bill and it remains to be seen how much traction it will get in the Oregon legislature. Perhaps more encouraging though is the ongoing work being done by state agencies and commercial fishers on the Lower Columbia to implement selective fishing gear for the commercial fleet. Pilot studies over the last several years have demonstrated the feasibility of non-lethal gear types such as seines and trap nets.

The Colville tribe in North Eastern Washington has already successfully implemented a selective fishery using seines to harvest marked hatchery fish and releasing ESA listed wild Chinook and steelhead. That project as well as the successful pilot project on the Lower Columbia have demonstrated the effectiveness of alternative gear both for catching marked hatchery fish and ensuring the survival of the released fish wild fish.

Commercial and sport fisheries remain limited on the Columbia to control take of listed stocks and in recent years the commercial industry has become more receptive to implementing changes that meet the goals of reducing their impact on fragile populations while ensuring fishing. With continued success WDFW hopes that selective gear will go full fleet by 2013 providing a peaceful and sustainable resolution to the long battle over gillnetting on the Columbia.

An article from the Seattle Times on Oregon's proposed gillnet ban:

The Columbia Basin Bulletin on selective fishing on the Lower Columbia:

Video of the Colville Tribe's selective fishing operation

Friday, April 22, 2011

Gregoire Signs Bill to Improve Oil Spill Protection in Puget Sound

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire signed legislation Wednesday to update and improve protections against oil spills in Washington's marine waters. More than 15 billion gallons of oil are shipped through Puget Sound each year and Bill 1186 adds much needed funding and strengthens regulations for spill prevention and clean up. The bill comes on the one year anniversary of the gulf horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. More information in a press release from the Department of Ecology.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hatchery Programs Come Front and Center in Debate Over Wild Salmon

The Native Fish Society and the Pacific Rivers Council announced last week that they will sue the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) over hatcheries on the Sandy River which they believe are in violation of the ESA. The Sandy is home to ESA listed populations of Winter Steelhead, Coho and Chinook and federal biologists identified hatchery supplementation as one of the most important factors in limiting the productivity of wild salmonids in the basin. Annually ODFW releases nearly 1.5 million hatchery chinook, coho and steelhead into the Sandy to support sport fisheries, however since 1980 wild winter steelhead have declined from approximately 4000 fish to fewer than 1000.

Despite its proximity to the Portland Metro area the Sandy remains one of the most intact large river systems in Oregon and over the last decade the removal of Marmot Dam as well as millions of dollars invested in habitat restoration have set the stage for recovery of wild salmon in the basin. More information in and article from the Oregonian:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Yakima Draft Water Plan up for Public Comment

The Washington Department of Ecology and The Federal Beurau of Reclamation along with a host of local agencies, the Yakama Tribe and irrigation districts recently released the Draft Water Management Plan for the Yakima River. The 4 billion dollar plan lays out actions to be implemented over the next 15 to 20 years to protect and restore fish and wildlife in the basin and improve the reliability of the water supply for irrigation. Among the measures outlined in the plan are:
  • possible fish passage facilities at several dams which currently block anadromous fish
  • floodplain and tributary restoration
  • structural and operational changes at several facilities in the watershed
  • improved conservation of water
  • the possibility of increased storage in the region
The Yakima valley is among the most important agricultural regions in Washington where irrigation supports a multi-million dollar orchard industry. The Yakima is also among the most important rivers in the Columbia basin for wild salmon recovery. Historically the Yakima is thought to have supported returns of nearly 1 million salmon and steelhead annually, including summer steelhead, fall and spring chinook, coho, sockeye and bulltrout. While irrigation withdrawls, dams, nutrient pollution and other water quality issues continue to plauge the Yakima, recovery efforts in the basin have paid major dividends over the last several years.

The plan is open for public comment through May 19th and can be sent to:

Attention: Candace McKinley, Environmental Program manager,

1917 Marsh Road

Yakima, WA 98901;

or by e-mail to

More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Election, Cohen Commission Bring Promise of Change for BC Salmon Policy

With an election looming in early May, changing leadership in the BC liberal party and the Cohen commission underway, many Canadians are hoping that the political tides may finally be turning in favor of wild salmon. Among the key issues are: a proposed pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to the BC coastline, run of the river hydroelectricity and of course open net pen fish farming.

In BC over 700 applications are in place for private power development, however public backlash against these run of river hydroprojects is growing. Government imposed contracts which force BC hydro to buy private power at non-competitive rates have already resulted in substantial rate hikes with more on the way. Even more concerning are the biological consequences of IPPs which often divert more than 50% of a rivers surface flow for several kilometers, dewatering river channels reducing rearing capacity for juvenile salmonids and placing undue stress on migrating adults. John Horgan a candidate for the BC NDP leadership role has said he would like to see a moratorium on any new IPP permits until the province has conducted a thorough review of those currently pending. Christy Clark, the newly elected leader of the Liberal Party and Premier of BC has been less clear on her position however the issue is coming to the forefront.

more from the Common Sense Canadian:

A court decision last year found that aquaculture was a fishery and as such must be regulated by the federal government, meaning that this federal election could have huge implications for the future of wild salmon in the Georgia Basin. Among the key issues is how DFO will use its newfound regulatory power. So far DFO has acted largely as a booster and facilitator for the status quo, however with new leadership at the national level there is some hope that the agency will adopt a more responsible approach to regulating the aquaculture industry.

Wild fish advocates are working hard to keep these issues in the public eye asking political hopefuls to clarify their positions for the public. More at Vote Salmon

Recovering A Lost River

Just in time for a looming court decision on the future of the Columbia River BiOp (the court is scheduled to rule May 9th) comes a book from local author Steven Hawley. A long time resident of the Columbia River basin, Hawley examines the past, present and future of the Snake River in his book Recovering a Lost River, making a compelling argument for dam removal on the Snake. More information in a write up from Save Our Wild Salmon:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sandy River Guides Speak Out Against Hatcheries

In a guest editorial to the Oregonian today, eight of Oregon's finest fishing guides are speaking out against ODFW's hatchery operations on the Sandy. The River once supported more than 20,000 wild winter steelhead. As recently as the 1980s the basin supported more than 4000 winter steelhead, and today despite millions of dollars invested in habitat and fish passage wild runs have dwindled below 1000 fish. While many factors have contributed to the decline of wild Sandy River steelhead and salmon, improved habitat and passage has not had the intended benefit of improving the productivity of wild stocks. This is largely due to massive, unsustainable hatchery programs which depress wild productivity through reproductive introgression, competition for resources and the host of other ecological perils associated with large scale hatcheries. The Native Fish Society has called on ODFW to dramatically reduce the number of hatchery fish released into the Sandy to make wild recovery possible. Read more in the Oregonian:

Save Sandy Salmon:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Federal Government Falls Short on Protecting National Forests, Take Action and Demand Better Regulations

The federal government is in the process of updating the laws which govern the use of National Forest lands, something which occurs extremely infrequently. The current regulations have been on the books since 1982 and updating the rules provides a tremendous opportunity to strengthen protections for federally managed forests and watersheds. Unfortunately the rules put forth by the Obama administration fall well short of that goal and in many ways are a step back from the the 1982 regulations. National forests include many of our most important salmon bearing watersheds, 193 million acres to be exact. The regulations as currently proposed fall short in a number of ways, specifically they do not provide clear criteria for watersheds that warrant protection and restoration, fail to ensure 100 foot stream buffers from logging, and lack clear guidelines for what activities may take place on publicly owned lands. Visit Earthjustice's website and comment on the proposed plan today, because we can't afford to spend the next 30 years living with inadequate protection for National Forest lands and the rivers which flow through them.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Opposition to Kokish Hydro Project Growing

With the recent explosion of permit applications for private run of the river hydroelectricity development in BC a number of important salmon bearing rivers have come under threat. While there are hundreds of applications currently pending for run of the river hydro development, many of which could have a substantial negative impact on anadromous salmon and steelhead, one in particular has drawn the ire of conservationists. A proposed hydro project on Vancouver Island's Kokish River would divert the majority of the rivers flow nine miles through pipes for power generation, reducing instream flows for rearing juvenile salmonids and placing further stress on already vulnerable populations of summer steelhead and coho. Recently the Steelhead Society of BC drafted a letter to Christy Clark, the newly elected premier of BC.

Learn more about the threats IPPs pose to BC's salmon bearing rivers:

The Letter:

Dear Premier Clark

Re: Kokish River Hydroelectric Project

The Kokish River is a small stream on northern Vancouver Island with extremely high fisheries and biodiversity values. The Kokish contains a rare population of wild summer-run steelhead (as opposed to the more common winter-run steelhead). Only two other streams on the east coast of Vancouver Island still have reasonably healthy runs of wild summer-run steelhead. Summer-run steelhead are highly prized by sport anglers and the Kokish fishery is an important contributor to the local tourism economy.

The mainstem Kokish River is only about ten kilometres in length. Brookfield Renewable Power proposes to divert the majority of the stream flow into nine kilometres of pipe in order to produce “run of the river” electricity. The entire length of the proposed diversion reach is important rearing, spawning and migration habitat for summer-run steelhead and other anadromous trout, char and salmon.

If the project proceeds, we anticipate at least three major, ongoing fisheries habitat impacts:

1. The amount and quality of fish habitat in the diversion reach will be severely reduced as a result of decreased stream flow;

2. Blockage or delay of adult fish migrating upstream at the both the upstream water intake and the downstream tailrace, as well as in the reduced-flow diversion reach; and

3. Entrainment, blockage or delay of juvenile fish migrating downstream by the water intake, and further delay in the reduced-flow diversion reach.

The Steelhead Society does not believe these impacts can be sufficiently mitigated with any degree of certainty. In terms of potential anadromous fisheries impacts, the Kokish proposal may be the worst example of an existing or proposed small hydro project in British Columbia. This is not “green power” as any perceived carbon reduction values cannot possibly outweigh the destruction of this very valuable and unique fish habitat. This proposal reflects poorly on all hydro power projects.

Premier Clark, in order to save Kokish River steelhead, we ask you to halt the proposed Kokish Hydroelectric Project. We look forward to your response.


Brian Braidwood


Steelhead Society of BC

Monday, April 4, 2011

Portland Group Wins 10,000 Dollars for Restoration

The Johnson Creek Watershed Council was recently awarded 10,000 dollars as a part of an initiative by MillerCoors in cooperation with the Portland based non-profit RiverNetwork to support their work cleaning up and restoring Portland's Johnson Creek. The group has set a larger goal of raising $275,000 for a salmon restoration project and the money puts them that much closer to achieving that. Matt Clark, the groups executive director says they're withing about $65,000 of their total fundraising goal and that they expect to reach it by this summer. The plan is to improve habitat where Johnson Creek meets the Willamette restoring six acres of riparian forest and installing 16 large woody debris structures along a quarter mile of the stream.

check out the Johnson Creek watershed council here for more information and opportunities to get involved:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Kamchatka Steelhead Project

Check out this cool trailer from the folks at the conservation angler. They've been studying steelhead on the Kamchatka peninsula in collaboration with biologists from Moscow State University to understand patterns of abundance and diversity in steelhead on the Kamchatka peninsula. Steelhead are listed under the Russian redbook and the rivers of the Kamchatka peninsula represent unique strongholds for anadromous O.mykiss. Take a look at this preliminary report from the 2010 season and a video. They're looking for anglers for the 2011 season.

The Kamchatka Steelhead Project from ryan peterson on Vimeo.