NOAA Fisheries says it will prepare critical habitat designation proposals for lower Columbia River coho salmon and Puget Sound steelhead, both currently listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The areas under consideration include watersheds in the lower Columbia River basin in southwest Washington and northwest Oregon, as well as watersheds in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington.
Comments and information regarding the designation process and areas being considered for designation as critical habitat may be sent to NOAA Fisheries no later than 5 p.m. on March 11. Comments may be sent to Chief, Protected Resources Division, NMFS, 525 NE Oregon Street—Suite 500, Portland, OR 97232. Comments may also be sent via fax to 503 230-5441 or submitted online via the Federal Rulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov.
Public meetings have been scheduled to discuss and seek input on the approach to designating critical habitat for these species. Details regarding the meeting format and related information will be posted by January 25, 2011, on the NOAA Fisheries Northwest Office website http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Salmon-Habitat/Critical-Habitat/LCR-coho-PS-stlhd.cfm
Meeting times and locations are as follows:
-- Jan. 26 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel, 1000 NE. Multnomah Street, Portland; and
-- Feb. 1 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the NOAA Campus, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Building 9, Seattle. (Please note -- all attendees of the Seattle meeting will need to show photo identification in order to be permitted onto the NOAA campus.)
For more information, see the Federal Register notice http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2011/01/10/2011-283/endangered-and-threatened-species-designation-of-critical-habitat-for-threatened-lower-columbia
NOAA is currently gathering information prior to proposing critical habitat for LCR coho and Puget Sound steelhead. The ESA suggest a number of questions the agency should consider when designating critical habitat:
-- What areas were occupied by the species at the time of listing?
-- What physical and biological features are essential to the species' conservation?
-- Are those essential features ones that may require special management considerations or protection?
-- Are there any areas outside those currently occupied that are “essential for conservation?”
-- What are the benefits to the species of critical habitat designation?
-- What economic, national security and other relevant impacts would result from a critical habitat designation?
-- What is the appropriate geographic scale for weighing the benefits of exclusion and benefits of designation?
-- Will the failure to designate any particular area as critical habitat result in the extinction of the species?
The Lower Columbia River coho includes all naturally spawned populations of coho in the Columbia River and its tributaries in Washington and Oregon, from the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to and including the Big White Salmon and Hood rivers, and including the lower Willamette River up to Willamette Falls, Ore., as well as coho from 25 artificial propagation programs located in numerous watersheds.
These coho populations display one of two major life history types based on when and where adults migrate from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in fresh water. Early returning coho typically forage in marine waters south of the Columbia River and return beginning in mid-August, while late returning coho generally forage to the north and return to the Columbia River from late September through December.
It is thought that early returning coho migrate to headwater areas and late returning fish migrate to the lower reaches of larger rivers or into smaller streams and creeks along the Columbia River. Although there is some level of reproductive isolation and ecological specialization between early and late types, there is some uncertainty regarding the importance of these differences. Some tributaries historically supported spawning by both run types.
Mature coho of both types typically enter fresh water to spawn from late summer to late autumn. Spawning typically occurs between November and January.