NOAA Fisheries has released a proposed Endangered Species Act recovery plan for Lower Columbia River salmon and steelhead, and is requesting public review and comment.
The proposed plan addresses recovery of lower Columbia River chinook, coho and steelhead, and Columbia River chum, all of which spawn and rear in the lower Columbia River or its tributaries in Oregon and Washington.
The comment period ends July 16. The plan and related documents can be found
The proposed plan provides a road map to recover four salmon and steelhead species that spawn and rear in the lower Columbia River or its tributaries in Oregon and Washington: Lower Columbia River chinook salmon, Lower Columbia River steelhead, Lower Columbia River coho salmon, and Columbia River chum salmon. These salmon and steelhead were listed as threatened under the ESA between 1998 and 2005.
Under the ESA, a recovered salmon or steelhead species must be self-sustaining and able to survive typical variations in ocean conditions and productivity. Healthy, abundant salmon runs can provide opportunities for sustainable harvest and allow local communities, including tribes, to engage in their historical traditions.
Local Oregon and Washington recovery plans form the basis of the federal plan. The proposed Lower Columbia Recovery Plan is based on three locally developed plans, each of which covers a different portion of the species’ range:
-- The Oregon Lower Columbia Conservation and Recovery Plan for Salmon and Steelhead, by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (2010)
-- The ESA Salmon Recovery Plan for the White Salmon River Subbasin, by NOAA Fisheries
-- The Washington Lower Columbia Salmon Recovery and Fish & Wildlife Subbasin Plan, by the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board (2010)
These plans were developed in collaborative processes that included tribes, other government entities (including NOAA Fisheries), industry, environmental groups, and the public.
Two other documents -- the Columbia River Estuary ESA Recovery Plan Module for Salmon and Steelhead and the Recovery Plan Module: Mainstem Columbia River Hydropower Projects, both by NOAA Fisheries—also inform the proposed plan. The locally developed plans and the modules are appendices to the plan.
Recovery plans identify the key factors impeding salmon survival, known as limiting factors, and target the right actions in the right places to reduce those limiting factors. Recovery will require actions that conserve and restore the key biological, ecological, and landscape processes that support Lower Columbia salmon and steelhead and the ecosystems they depend on.
The proposed plan calls for tributary and estuary habitat protection and restoration actions; changes in management of harvest, hatchery, and hydropower programs; and predation control.
Tributary habitat degradation from past and/or current land and water use is a limiting factor for all Lower Columbia salmon and steelhead populations, says the plan.
The tributary habitat strategy is directed toward habitat protection and restoration to achieve adequate quantities of high-quality, well-functioning salmon and steelhead habitat.
This will be accomplished through a combination of “(1) site-specific projects that will protect habitat or provide benefits relatively quickly, (2) watershed-based actions that will repair habitat forming processes and provide benefits over the long term, and (3) landscape-scale programmatic actions that affect a class of activities (such as stormwater management or forest practices) over multiple watersheds.”
Although many habitat-related actions already have been undertaken, the plan says “current activities do not reflect the scale of improvements needed. Estuary habitat strategies focus on providing adequate off-channel and intertidal habitats, such as tidal swamp and marsh; restoring habitat complexity in areas modified by agricultural or rural residential use; and decreasing exposure to toxic contaminants.”
Mainstem or tributary hydropower projects affect passage and local habitat conditions for some populations, and estuarine habitat conditions for all populations.
The plan’s regional hydropower strategy focuses on: “(1) improving passage survival at Bonneville Dam for Lower Columbia River populations that spawn above the dam, (2) addressing impacts in tributaries by implementing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission agreements regarding operation of tributary dams, and (3) implementing mainstem flow management operations designed to benefit migrants from the interior Columbia Basin, which we expect will improve estuarine survival.”
When hatchery-origin fish spawn with natural-origin fish, says the plan, “adverse genetic changes can be transmitted to the naturally produced fish. The goals of the hatchery strategy for Lower Columbia salmon are to (1) reduce hatchery impacts on natural-origin populations as appropriate for each population, (2) ensure that some populations have no in-subbasin hatchery releases and are isolated from stray out-of-subbasin hatchery fish, (3) use hatchery stocks in the short term for reintroduction or supplementation programs to restore naturally spawning populations in some watersheds, and (4) ensure rigorous monitoring and evaluation to better understand existing population status and the effects of hatchery strategies on natural populations.”
Maintaining harvest opportunities created by hatchery fish is a societal goal that NOAA Fisheries has carried forward from the local plans to the proposed recovery plan.
“Harvest managers have substantially reduced impacts on Lower Columbia River species since they were listed under the ESA. For Lower Columbia River spring chinook salmon, steelhead, and chum salmon, the recovery plan recommends precautionary measures to ensure that harvest does not adversely affect future conservation and recovery efforts.
For Lower Columbia fall chinook and coho salmon, efforts will focus on (1) refinements in harvest management to further reduce impacts to naturally produced fish, and (2) continued review of overall harvest rates.”
The plan includes actions to reduce predation on salmon and steelhead by birds, fish, and marine mammals. It also incorporates a regional climate change strategy focused on “(1) implementation of greenhouse gas reduction strategies, such as through the West Coast Governors’ Global Warming Initiative and the Oregon Global Warming Commission’s recommendations, and (2) adaptation to reduce the impacts of climate change. Local recovery planners have also developed or will develop specific research, monitoring, and evaluation plans for their respective geographic areas that are based on regional guidance.”
Recovery plans are not regulatory documents. Their implementation is voluntary (except when they incorporate actions required as part of an ESA regulatory process).
The total estimated cost of recovery actions for the four threatened species in the lower Columbia River over the next 25 years is estimated at $2.1 billion, of which $614 million is anticipated to be needed in the first 5 years. The total cost includes $592 million ($164 in the first 5 years) for actions in the Columbia River estuary that are expected to benefit all Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead. The cost estimates are expected to change as implementation schedules are developed and actions are more clearly scoped and planned.