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Tribes Get Go-Ahead On Planning For $14 Million Hatchery To Boost Spring Chinook In Upper Salmon
Posted on Friday, August 10, 2012 (PST)
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council on Tuesday gave the go-ahead for planning and explorations related to a hatchery proposal that aims to both boost spring chinook salmon returns to the upper Salmon River drainage in south-central Idaho and supplement Yellowstone trout stocks there to provide more fishing opportunities.

Current salmon abundance in the upper Salmon River basin in Idaho is estimated at about half of 1 percent of historical runs. Recent harvest opportunities for tribal members have only provided half a pound of salmon per tribal member compared to historical use of about 700 pounds per person, according to a July 26 memo prepared by NPCC program implementation manager Mark Fritsch.

The goal of the project proposed by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes is to boost their harvest opportunities on returning spring chinook salmon from about three fish annually on average in recent years, to as many 1,000 adult spring/summer chinook salmon in the Yankee Fork and 800 adult spring chinook salmon in Panther Creek for terminal harvest by the SBT.

“Additional harvest will likely occur outside the respective subbasins, while fish are migrating,” the memo says.

The hatchery proposal has a goal too of boosting natural spawning by the spring/summer chinook, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and also provide fish to fuel the hatchery program.

The capital and expense funds for the Crystal Springs Fish Hatchery improvements including planning, operation and maintenance, and construction totaling $14,000,000 are reserved in memorandum of agreement budgets between the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and the federal Columbia River Power System “action agencies” – the Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation.

The Corps and Bureau own and operate dams on the lower Columbia and Snake rivers and BPA markets power generated at those projects. They are obligated under the Endangered Species Act and other statutes to mitigate for impacts to fish and wildlife caused by dam operations.

The Yankee Fork chinook population is now at an extremely high risk of extinction, the memo says.

The chinook program proposed for Panther Creek would attempt to recolonize habitat that was severely compromised by mining activities in the subbasin, and left bereft of salmon.

“Over the last decade, significant habitat restoration activities have resulted in documented observations of stray Chinook and various other aquatic species in Panther Creek, signaling the timeliness to initiate the proposed program,” the memo says.

A 2014 construction start is targeted for the project.

The Council recommendation made Tuesday essentially OKs the conceptual master plan for the project with its cost projections and allows the tribes to launch into Steps 2 and 3 of the Council’s three-step approval process for capital construction projects. The next steps involve more detailed planning with the goal, if approvals are forthcoming, of launching construction.

The recommendation is conditioned on the understanding that scientific questions posed by the Council’s Independent Scientific Review Panel be addressed as part of the Step 2/3 submittal and review process. It is also contingent upon the understanding that the final construction contract will be negotiated at the completion of the final design and after Council approval of the Step 2/3 documents.

The Council requests confirmation of final costs, as part of the revised master plan, associated with the entire Crystal Springs Fish Hatchery and associated support facilities, including confirmation of cost share and in-kind contributions. The most recent construction estimates are nearly $2.5 million greater than the $7,500 earmarked in the MOA signed in 2009.

“Cost share funding is being pursued by the SBT from the Blackbird Trustee Council to assist with needed facilities in Panther Creek (i.e., trap, holding and rearing) as per a consent decree obligation,” the July26 memo says. The Blackbird Trust was established via a 1995 lawsuit settlement that requires mining company to provide cleanup and environmental mitigation for impacts from the operation of the Blackbird Mine in the Panther Creek drainage.

“In addition, the Lower Snake River Compensation Program (LSRCP) has indicated a need to begin trapping and enumerating steelhead in the Yankee Fork Salmon River, and has further indicated support for installing a permanent satellite facility in that watershed. This action would also assist in savings to the Crystal Springs Fish Hatchery,” which also would need such a facility, the Fritsch memo says.

The Crystal Springs Fish Hatchery Master Plan proposes to help restore two native fish species of cultural and economic significance to the tribes: spring/summer chinook salmon and Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

“The recovery and long-term sustainability of the Chinook salmon will occur in geographically distinct regions of Idaho. Chinook salmon produced at Crystal Springs Hatchery will be acclimated and released in the Yankee Fork and in Panther Creek, both tributaries to the upper Salmon River,” the memo says. “Artificial production of Yellowstone cutthroat trout will be used to meet the need for additional catch and harvest opportunities for both tribal and sport fishers in a spring-fed, isolated 16-acre oxbow located on the SBT reservation.”

Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon would be collected from and released into the Yankee Fork and Panther Creek in the Upper Salmon subbasin. They would be incubated and reared at a new hatchery near American Falls Reservoir in the Upper Snake subbasin.

In addition, the Crystal Springs Fish Hatchery will be used to rear and release 5,000 catchable Yellowstone cutthroat trout in an isolated lake on the SBT reservation in the upper Snake River subbasin.

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