Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What to Watch in 2013 #1: Dam removal and wild fish recovery

1. Elwha and White Salmon Recovery: Condit dam is gone, entirely and the White Salmon River is already showing encouraging signs of recovery. The river has exported much of the sediment stored behind the dam and wild fish are colonizing the habitat above the dam. Last summer, steelhead were spotted leaping at BZ falls for the first time in a century.

On the Elwha, removal of the two dams is well underway. In March 2012, Elwha Dam, the lower of the two dams was removed. Shortly thereafter wild winter steelhead were spotted spawning above the dam in the Lost River and in Indian Creek, two large tributaries that are unimpacted by sediment from the dam removal. Glines Canyon dam is expect to be out in the first half of 2013 allowing fish access into miles of pristine habitat protected within the Olympic National Park.

While the dam removal process has proceeded as expected, the details of the fish recovery plan remain unresolved. In the fall of 2011 we joined the Wild Fish Conservancy, the Wild Steelhead Coalition and the Conservation Angler in a legal challenge to the fish recovery plan which had never gone for public comment, did not have approval from NOAA and had not undergone an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

In the absence of a biologically and legally defensible process for planning fish recovery on the Elwha, NOAA, WDFW and the Lower Elwha Klallam had agreed on a plan which focused heavily on hatchery production, releasing nearly 4.5 million hatchery origin fish into the Elwha each year during the recovery period. Since our challenge, the tribe has agreed to curtail the release of non-native Chambers Creek stock steelhead, however hatchery releases remain a central part of the recovery plan despite their impact on the productivity and diversity of wild populations, and the co-managers have yet to put forth an adaptive management plan detailing how the massive hatchery programs will be phased out to allow wild fish to fully colonize the 90 miles of pristine habtiat now available to them.

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