Friday, August 31, 2012

Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead in Hot Water

So far this summer, the water temperatures in the Columbia River have exceeded 70 degrees for 80 days. Water temperatures above the mid-60s place tremendous stress on migrating salmon and steelhaed and 70 is considered the critical threshold where water temperatures become lethal to fish. Under these conditions fish are forced to delay migrations and seek cool water refugia, typically in tributaries of the Columbia which run cooler than the mainstem. Even with the available temperature refuges, many fish fall victim to the high water temperatures, and prespawn mortality in the Columbia system is thought to be high for summer migrating species. 

While the Columbia has always been warmer than many coastal rivers, dams which slow the flow of water and increase the river's surface area have exacerbated the problem tremendously. Combine that with the changes already underwater from climate change and we can expect warmer temperatures and reduced flow during summer. That means, unless something changes the future looks pretty bleak for salmon in the Snake and Columbia rivers. 

Removing the four Lower Snake River dams is the only way to ensure the survival of anadromous fish in the basin and must move forward. Unfortunately, entrenched politicians and lobbying interests continue to see the Columbia system as nothing more than a conduit for their economic aspirations, a means to and end which is cheap subsidized barging, freely flowing irrigation water, and hydroelectricity. While no one can deny the important benefits of irrigation and hydroelectricity, we must seek to strike a more healthy balance between these uses and the need to restore and protect salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake. The lower four Snake River dams have got to go and we better move fast, otherwise wild salmon and steelhead will find themselves in increasingly hot water. 

More information in a good write up from Save our Wild Salmon:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Proposed Kitimat Oil Refinery Doesn't Change the Facts about Enbridge

Last week, millionare newspaper mogul David Black caused a stir in the media when he went public with his proposal to build an oil refinery in Kitimat that would process oil from the Enbridge pipeline. One of the longstanding criticisms of the Enbridge Pipeline has been that it would provide very few jobs in British Columbia, but would require the province to should the burden of the environmental risks and the the jobs that a spill could cost coastal communities in sustainable tourism, fishing and other industries. Black's plan makes the calculation that British Columbians - of whom 80% oppose the Enbridge Pipeline - would support the Enbridge Pipeline if, rather than pumping raw bitumen for export to China it provided oil for a Canadian owned refinery.

While the logic may be tempting to some in light of the few thousand jobs a refinery would support, the reality is, refining the oil in Kitimat doesn't reduce the environmental risks one iota. The oil would still have to be piped over the Fraser, down the Skeena and loaded onto tankers before being shipped out Douglas Channel. That means it still has the potential to unleash catastrophic environmental damage that would not only ruin some of the most intact and productive salmon bearing ecosystems for decades, it would jeopardize a huge number of jobs in sustainable industries on the BC Coast. That's not to mention the air quality issues posed by a massive refinery in a Coastal Valley.

Sorry David Black, sorry Enbridge, looks like the project is still a bad idea.

Here's a good write up from the David Suzuki foundation:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Last Salmon Forest

Check out this award winning short film on the Alaska's Tongass National Forest and visit this website about the Tongass and the challenges facing SE Alaska. Makes us wonder if they're planning on making a feature length film.

"The Last Salmon Forest" The Drake awards submission from Detonation Studios on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Elwha Chinook Return to Olympic National Park

For the first time in almost a century, Chinook salmon are able to access the Elwha River within the boundaries of Olympic National Park. On Monday, park biologists spotted summer Chinook salmon rolling in the Elwha River about 2 miles above the park boundary. The presence of Chinook, which were once abundant in the Elwha marks a major milestone in the recovery. Earlier this spring, biologists tagged and tracked several wild steelhead into the river above Elwha Dam where they spawned, primarily in two tributaries the Little River and the Indian River.

More information from the Seattle Times:

Track the dam removal and recovery on the Elwha:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Worst Dam Bill EVER

Earlier this month we brought you news of a bill brought forth by eastern Washington Congressman Doc Hastings. The bill which has been titled the Saving our Dams and New Hydropower Development and Jobs Act has been renamed simply the Worst Dam Bill Ever by sane observers. After 20 years of fighting for river restoration and salmon recovery this bill would take us back to the hydropower stone ages, a time when the federal government squandered millions of taxpayer dollars building hydropower and irrigation dams which not only blocked thousands of miles of salmon and steelhead habitat but also produced only a few cents on the dollar of tax payer investment.

Hastings who hails from Eastern Washington is a long time crusader for a return to the era of pork barrel dam projects and has a more than cozy relationship with the irrgation and hydropower lobbies. Among the highlights of the bill are:

  • Jeopardizes “spill” at the Columbia and Snake River dams – a salmon protection measure that significantly increases salmon survival.
  • Prohibits any federal money from being spent on removing, partially removing, or even studying the removal of any dam in the United States (public or private) that currently generates or at one time generated hydropower (without explicit approval from Congress).
  • Prevents any federal money from being spent on dam removal mitigation or restoration measures (without explicit approval from Congress).
  • Requires that Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) define “foregone revenue” as a fish and wildlife compliance cost.
  • Prevent any federal funding for important energy efficiency and renewable energy programs and initiatives proposed by the Department of Energy
Hastings and his cronies, troubled by the growing momentum of the dam removal movement are lashing out, flailing in hopes of defending their beloved slab of federal pork. This is the classic congressional dog an pony show, trotting out a bill that is ideological and destined to fail for the purpose of political credibility. However, its important that the residents of the Pacific Northwest speak out loudly against this bill and let our representatives and senators know that we want a future with wild salmon and steelhead. 

More in an editorial to the Spokane Spokesman Review:

Take action at Save our Wild Salmon's website:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Just Two More Weeks to Weigh in on Enbridge Pipeline

There are just two more weeks before the public comment period on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. Please take a few minutes to speak up against the pipeline, which if approved, would be among the greatest environmental travesties of our time. The pipeline path crosses the Fraser, runs down the Skeena, before being loaded onto tankers 10 times the size of the Exxon Valdez at Kitimat. The unprocessed crude bitumen (an oily slude mined in the tar sand) must then be shipped out the Douglas Channel en route to markets in China. A spill anywhere along the proposed route would spell catastrophe, and even Enbridge admits that there is not guarantee against such a disaster. It really is only a matter of time if the pipeline is approved. First Nations along the route are understandably alarmed and unanimously oppose to the proposal. Polling also suggests that the residents of British Columbia do not support the pipeline with more than 70% of respondents in recent polls saying they do not support the pipeline proposal.

The bottom line is, the Enbridge Pipeline poses potentially catastrophic environmental risks to a huge swath of British Columbia, including  three of the most productive salmon bearing ecosystems on earth. Furthermore, opening up a massive artery for the export of fossil fuels mined from the boreal forest of Alberta puts our planet's climate on an extremely dangerous trajectory providing only a few hundred jobs in British Columbia.

The Enbridge Pipeline is not only unethical, it risks many of the sustainable resource based industries which are the backbone of Coastal BC's economy. Yet, in the rush to appease their allies in the oil and gas industry the federal government has done everything they can to pave the way for the project, cutting funding for oil spill first responders, gutting the Federal Fisheries Act, and eliminating the Ocean Pollution Monitoring program. By all accounts the Joint Review Panel process has been a fiasco with Enbridge's representatives and the JRP panel members treating community members with an unprecedented level of contempt and disrespect, reflecting the disregard the Canadian federal government has for local communities.

Please take a few minutes to submit comments on the pipeline, and help stem the tide against the destruction of British Columbia's wild salmon and the communities that depend on them.

More information from the Steelhead Society of British Columbia:

Note: the bulletin from the Steelhead Society lists the deadline as March 2012, but the comment period was extended.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Oregonian Coverage of Oregon Gill Net Ban Initiative

This November Oregon voters will weigh in on Measure 81, which if passed into law would ban the use of gill nets in non-tribal fisheries.  Opponents of gill nets point out that they are non-selective, meaning they kill ESA listed wild salmon and steelhead while targeting more abundant hatchery origin fish. With a rash of ESA listings in the Columbia during the last 20 years, gillnetters have seen their opportunities sharply limited, and both Washington and Oregon have sought to develop more selective fisheries which allow the release of wild fish.

While the implications of the law for the Columbia River which forms the border between Washington  and Oregon are somewhat unclear, the fact that Oregon voters could vote to outlaw gill netting is pushing the issue to the forefront and forcing Oregon's governor John Kitzhaber into the fray. Kitzhaber last week released his plan which would move gill net fisheries out of the mainstem Columbia and into sloughs where gill netters could conduct terminal fisheries for hatchery fish. The governor further called for ODFW to prioritize selective recreational fisheries in harvest management on the mainstem Columbia.

More information in the Oregonian:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Beyond River Mile 5 - A short film on Elwha recovery

Check out this interesting short film about some of the research efforts that are tracking salmon and steelhead recolonization in the Elwha. The film gives viewers a good idea of what researchers do in the field and how their work will help inform recovery actions on the Elwha and elsewhere.

Beyond River Mile Five from Alan Lovewell on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

CRITFC Refuses to Acknowledge Hatchery Impacts

The Columbia and Snake watersheds are home to more than 80 hatchery programs which release almost 150 million hatchery juveniles each year. Many of these hatcheries are intended to provide harvest opportunity and fish are adipose clipped to allow selective harvest. However, for other programs, the stated purpose is to "recover" wild populations. In a tiny number of cases conservation hatcheries may be a valuable tool in preventing the extinction of fragile populations which are teetering on the brink, but as a widespread strategy for the recovery of ESA listed wild stocks managers couldn't pick a more costly, ineffective and ultimately harmful recovery plan. Unfortunately many of the tribes in the Columbia Basin have lined up behind these "recovery" hatcheries and are increasingly pushing for expanded hatchery programs on the premise that integrated hatcheries can help recover wild fish.

With more and more science each year suggesting that hatcheries are a major impediment to the recovery of productive, locally adapted wild stocks, there is understandably skepticism on the part of managers and scientists and an increasing recognition that hatchery programs in the Columbia may need to be scaled back to facilitate recovery of wild populations.  The Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP), an independent body of scientists tasked with review fish management plans in the Columbia, has been particularly eloquent in their critiques of several planned hatchery programs and consequently have drawn the ire of the hatchery loving Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC). 

In an article published in the latest edition of the Northwest Fishletter titled "Tribes offer Spirited Defense of Hatchery Supplementation",  Paul Lumley the executive director of CRITFC dismisses the multitude of recent scientific evidence demonstrating the reduced fitness and productivity of hatchery fish when spawning in the wild, arguing that researchers are biased because, "by bashing hatcheries, you can say that we need to keep the wild fish and the hatchery fish separated." He goes on to assert that the scientists conducting the research essentially sought to preserve the status quo of intensive segregated hatchery supplementation in the Columbia Basin, but the reality is research have been equally unforgiving on the impacts of segregated programs, particularly because the number of hatchery fish spawning in the wild almost always eclipses 5% guideline laid out by the Hatchery Scientific Review Group. The reality is, hatchery reform is going to have to be a part of recovery on the Columbia and whether or not CRITFC believes the science unchecked hatchery supplementation, whether it is in the form of integrated or segregated hatcheries is fundamentally incompatible with the recovery of ESA listed wild stocks. Fortunately the federal government seems to be getting the message at least in part, and a number of options outlined in the latest EIS for the Columbia Hatcheries could make significant steps towards recovering wild salmon and steelhead in the basin. The final EIS with the feds preferred alternative has yet to be released but is due out by the end of the year. 

Read the whole article in the Northwest Fishletter:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Despite Record Returns, Snake River Sockeye Returns Remain Poor

In a year of record sockeye returns to the Columbia Basin when more than 500,000 sockeye have passed above Bonneville Dam, counts of Sockeye returning to the Snake River remain poor. As of last week only 429 sockeye adults had passed Lower Granite Dam on the Lower Snake River. Historically the Stanley Basin in Idaho supported between 25 and 30 thousand sockeye annually, but by the 1990's the run was nearly extinct and between 1991 and 1998 only 16 fish returned including the now famed Lonesome Larry. Returns in recent years have been buoyed slightly by court ordered spill, improved ocean conditions and largescale hatchery supplementation, and more than 1000 fish have returned each of the last three years breaking modern records.

Fortunately these efforts appear to have dramatically reduced the risk of extincction in the near term, but the reality is Sockeye in the Snake River basin are far from recovered. The vast majority of returning fish originate in the Redfish Lake Captive Broodstock program, and until the four Lower Snake River Dams are removed the future remains grim for the once abundant Sockeye which migrate  900 miles from the Pacific to their spawning grounds more than a mile above sea level.

More information in the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Follow the runs at the Columbia River DART website:

Monday, August 6, 2012

More IHN in Clayouqot Fish Farms

Testing conducted by the British Columbia's provincial animal health lab last week con confirmed the presence of the Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis virus in an Atlantic Salmon farm located in Millar Channel. The findings follow the detection of IHN at farms in Clayoquot in the spring which resulted in the culling of more than half a million fish. Mainstream operates 17 fish farms in the area and in recent years wild salmon populations in the Clayouqot Sound region have collapsed, sparking concern that high densities of fish farms and the pathogens and parasites they transmit to wild salmon may be contributing to the declines. 

More info from the Vancouver Sun:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hastings Introduces Dangerous Pro-Hydropower Bill

Congressman Doc Hastings long time dam hugger and Republican Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee introduced a bill today called the Saving our Dams and New Hydropower Development and Jobs Act. Hastings who hails from eastern Washington, is a long time ally of dam advocates and has fought tirelessly over the last decade to ensure that the discussion on the removal of the four lower Snake River Dams does not move forward. 

While this bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, it would cripple progress towards dam removal and the recovery of wild salmon. Among the more heinous provisions are those that would 
  • Prohibits federal funding for studying or removing dams unless explicitly authorized by congress
  • Prohibit federal funding for organizations that have engaged in legal actions against federal dam projects
  • Prioritizes hydropower generation above other more sustainable energy sources. 
  • Allow private hydropower development 
  • Cutting the cost and regulations associated with dam re-licensing
All in all this bill would spell catastrophe for the nascent dam removal movement and it is critical that it not pass. While it is likely to pass in congress, it is far less likely to pass once it reaches the Senate. We'll keep a close eye on the proceedings and update you as needed.