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Willamette Plan Released; Calls For Reintroducing Salmon, Steelhead Above Santiam, McKenzie Dams
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2011 (PST)

The state of Oregon late last week released a conservation plan for Upper Willamette chinook salmon and steelhead, fish that have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1999.


The plan calls for actions to restore natural production of spring chinook salmon and winter steelhead in the Willamette River and its subbasins. Patterns of declining abundance and range reductions provided scientific evidence that supported listing the two species under the federal ESA and on the state’s threatened/endangered species list.


In addition to habitat and hatchery improvements, the plan includes substantive efforts to reintroduce chinook and steelhead into habitat above dams in the North and South Santiam, McKenzie and Middle Fork Willamette rivers.


The “Upper Willamette River Conservation and Recovery Plan for Chinook Salmon and Steelhead” describes the population status and recovery plans for chinook salmon populations in the Clackamas, Molalla, North Santiam, South Santiam, Calapooia, McKenzie, and Middle Fork Willamette subbasins, and steelhead populations in the Molalla, North Santiam, South Santiam, Calapooia subbasins.


According to Dave Jepsen, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife conservation plan specialist, credit for the plan goes to a number of agencies, individuals and organizations.


“We developed this plan with the help of a very diverse group of stakeholders, all of whom are passionate about restoring salmon and steelhead populations,” he said. Stakeholders include government agencies, watershed and environmental groups, native tribes and others.


Adopted Aug. 5 by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, the plan will serve as a state conservation plan under ODFW’s Native Fish Conservation Policy.


Once it is approved by NOAA Fisheries as an official federal Endangered Species Act recovery plan it will be posted in the Federal Register. Those administrative steps are expected to be completed later this month, Jepsen said. He and NOAA Fisheries’ Rob Walton will at the start guide implementation of mitigation measures outlined in the plan.


The ESA requires that recovery plans contain: (1) a description of site-specific management actions necessary to achieve the plan’s goal for the conservation and survival of the species; (2) objective, measurable criteria which, when met, would result in a determination that the species should be removed from the list; and, (3) estimates of the time required and cost to carry out the measures needed to achieve the plan’s goal and to achieve intermediate steps toward that goal.


The plan lays out a roadmap for individuals and public and private entities to improve conditions for these listed species. The goal of all conservation and recovery plans is to bring about naturally self-sustaining fish populations that no longer need federal protection under the ESA.


According to Jepsen, the most important part of this plan will be the implementation.


“Implementation will have to be about more than just a single agency doing the right thing,” he said. “Putting this plan into place will require the cooperation and volunteer efforts of individual Oregonians, state, local, federal and tribal agencies and private industry.”


The final plan is available on-line at:


NOAA Fisheries published the proposed Upper Willamette River Conservation and Recovery Plan for Salmon and Steelhead in the Federal Register on Oct 22, 2010, and the federal agency, ODFW and the Oregon Governor’s Office held four formal public meetings and a number of informal sessions in order to obtain comments on the proposed plan. More than thirty sets of comments were received.


NMFS and ODFW reviewed all comments received for substantive issues and new information and revised the recovery plan as appropriate.


Based comments, the final Plan places additional emphasis on:


“-- the importance of successful reintroduction of naturally reproducing salmon and steelhead above the flood control dams in the Willamette River subbasins and providing downstream passage for their offspring;

“-- the long-term challenges associated with setting priorities to protect existing salmon and steelhead habitat and restoring the additional habitat needed to recover these two species, including the high priority habitat in the North and South Santiam, Middle Fork Willamette, and McKenzie subbasins, and the rearing habitat in the entire mainstem Willamette River (including the lower Willamette River below Willamette Falls);

“-- the need for over-all integration of research, monitoring, and evaluation of Chinook, steelhead, and their habitat, to better inform future decisions;

“-- climate change and human population growth and how salmon and steelhead recovery efforts can adapt; and

“-- details describing strategies and actions concerning the effects of hatcheries,” the plan says.


“The Plan has two recovery goals for UWR salmon and steelhead,” according to the plan’s executive summary. “These are: 1) achieve delisting from the federal ESA threatened and endangered species list, and 2) achieve ‘broad sense recovery’, defined by Oregon as having populations of naturally produced salmon and steelhead that maintain self-sustaining SMUs while providing for significant ecological, cultural, and economic benefits.”


“Recovery of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead will require actions that conserve and restore the key biological, ecological, and landscape processes that support the ecosystems upon which salmonid species depend,” the summary concludes. “These measures will require implementation of specific habitat protection and restoration actions and complementary management of harvest, hatchery, and hydropower programs.”


“The development of an effective implementation framework coupled with a responsive RME and adaptive management plan provides the best assurance that the Upper Willamette River Conservation and Recovery Plan for Chinook Salmon and Steelhead will be fully implemented and effective.


“The Plan’s identification of desired statuses, key and secondary factors that have caused gaps between current and desired statuses, and actions to close gaps will ensure that delisting goals will be achieved if the Plan is fully implemented, and that progress will be made towards achieving broad sense recovery goals.”


NOAA Fisheries in 2008 issued an ESA biological opinion on the operation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Willamette Project facilities, including 13 dams and reservoirs, 42 miles of bank protection projects, and a hatchery mitigation program. Corps dams now block fish access to the most of the upper reaches of the Willamette and its tributaries.


The BiOP determined the project jeopardized the listed stocks and identified actions aimed at boosting wild populations.


The new plan takes recovery a step further, targeting habitat improvements in basins not affected by the Corps dams.


There are populations in non-flood control basins “that are hurting too,” Jepsen said.

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