Improving the lot of wild Snake River steelhead is the primary focus of two west-central Idaho habitat restoration projects recommended by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council Tuesday for $3.8 million in funding during the fiscal year 2011-2014 period.
The projects, “Protect and Restore the Crooked and American River Watersheds” and “Protect and Restore Selway River Watershed” are intended to answer needs outlined in NOAA Fisheries’ 2008 Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion. The BiOp describes actions that the federal agency feels are necessary to mitigate for negative dam impacts on salmon and steelhead stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species. Snake River steelhead were listed as threatened in 1997.
The projects were submitted in November by the Nez Perce Tribe and Bonneville Power Administration for scrutiny by the Council and its Independent Scientific Review Panel. The tribe will implement the projects. BPA funds the NPCC’s Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Program as mitigation for hydro impacts on fish and wildlife and, as a FCRPS “action” agency, has a responsibility to assure that a listed species existence isn’t jeopardized by the dams. Bonneville markets power generated in the FCRPS.
The American, Crooked and Selway all feed into the South Fork of the Clearwater River, which flows into the Clearwater, the Snake and then the Columbia.
The American-Crooked project, earmarked for $3 million in funding over the four-year period, focuses on mainstem (Crooked River) and tributary stream restoration, reducing sedimentation from the existing road/trail system through decommissioning/ improving roads, replacing or removing failed and/or barrier stream crossings, and an acquisition of 149 acres of prime meadow habitat in American River will also be pursued to protect the intact spawning and over-wintering habitat. In addition, several watershed specific assessments will be conducted to further define and understand priority restoration work (road, stream crossing assessments, and a watershed assessment for American River).
The Nez Perce Tribe is carrying out the project in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service’s Nez Perce National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management and private landowners to address the primary factors limiting abundance and productivity of ESA listed steelhead in the American and Crooked River watersheds. These actions would also improve habitat used by other aquatic species such as spring chinook salmon, westslope cutthroat trout, and bull trout. The bull trout and Snake River spring/summer chinook are also ESA listed.
The project proposal says that addressing steelhead limiting factors in the two watersheds will contribute towards the 14 percent habitat improvement for the South Fork of the Clearwater that is targeted by the BiOp.
Both projects received ISRP “meets scientific review criteria” approval. The tribe will also work with the Nez Perce National Forest to implement a Selway project that aims to replace barriers to steelhead migration in order to allow access to additional habitat, reduce road densities to address excessive sedimentation and restore the riparian corridor to reduce stream temperatures. The project was recommended for $800,000 in funding.