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Council Votes To Move Forward On Salmon/Steelhead Habitat Assessment Above Grand Coulee
Posted on Friday, April 15, 2016 (PST)

On a six-to-two vote, an assessment of the potential amount and quality of salmon and steelhead habitat upstream of Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams will move forward, with a contract that would kick-off the project to be signed by the end of June.


After a mostly favorable review of the project by the Independent Scientific Review Panel (completed in January), the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee voted to approve the project at its March meeting in Portland, and Wednesday the full Council approved the habitat assessment on a split vote at its Council meeting in Missoula, Montana.


The study will assess whether reintroducing salmon and steelhead into waters upstream of Grand Coulee Dam is feasible as it researches the potential habitat available to support spawning and juvenile rearing. The $200,000 contract has been awarded to the Spokane Tribe of Indians.


Council vice chair Bill Booth and Council member James Yost, both of Idaho, opposed the project at Wednesday’s Council meeting.


Booth, however, said he could “support some kind of enhanced mitigation” that would haul adult salmon over the dams, mostly to be used for ceremonial purposes and angling, but that he couldn’t support the current “proposal to reintroduce a sea run of salmon.”


Since the assessment proposal would not add costs for ratepayers – the study will be paid out of cost-savings from other Fish and Wildlife Program projects – Tom Karier, Council member from Washington, said he will support the study. In addition, it fulfills the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program’s commitment to explore the feasibility of reintroducing salmon above blocked areas, he added.


On the other hand, Yost said he was not pleased with the approach taken by this project and that, instead, the logical first step should be to determine what happens in the reach – reintroduce the salmon or just get fish above the dams.


“I wouldn’t object to some mitigation to provide fish to some habitat up there,” he said, agreeing with Booth. “In the meantime, we should have the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) do a feasibility study before we talk reintroduction.”


He added that “we are a long ways from knowing how to get big fish above the dam, let alone getting the small fish back down the river,” referring to adults moving upstream to spawn and smolts migrating downstream. “I would like to be recorded as voting no.”


The Tribe, along with a collaborative group of co-managers, submitted the only research proposal the Council received from a request for proposals released jointly by the Council and the Bonneville Power Administration in mid-October, 2015 (see RFP at


That group includes the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and with technical support from the U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia River Research Laboratory and NOAA Fisheries.


The Council received the proposal by the Dec. 15, 2015 deadline and then sent it to the ISRP for review.


The ISRP’s report, “Review of Proposed Habitat Suitability Assessment for Anadromous Salmonid Reintroduction in the Blocked Areas of the U.S. portion of the Upper Columbia Basin,” is available at


“I support the proposal,” said Washington Council member Phil Rockefeller. “I want to call attention to my colleagues that in the run-up to the 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program we received comments calling for a careful step by step feasibility of reintroduction. It’s important to recognize this is a feasibility study, not outright introduction.”


The study is a starting point, he added. “If there is not suitable habitat, then we know from the outset that reintroduction will not work.”


According to a decision memorandum provided by Laura Robinson (,  implementation and liaison specialist with Council staff, the habitat assessment is the first step of the Council’s 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program measure to “investigate the reintroduction of anadromous fish above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams to mainstem reaches and tributaries in the United States, which is part of the Program’s Anadromous Fish Mitigation in Blocked Areas Strategy and is identified as one of the Council’s emerging program priorities.”


See for the Strategy and for emerging priorities.


The goals of the proposal, according to the decision memorandum, are:


1) Identify the potential geographic distribution of reintroduced Chinook salmon and steelhead, should passage at Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams be facilitated;

2) Identify stream reaches and estimate the linear distance and streambed area of habitats that would be both available to and suitable for reintroduced salmonids; and

3) Compile existing habitat data into a database as a means to identify gaps or uncertainties that need to be filled, which will enable a quantitative assessment of current conditions that will be completed at a later time.


A report on the findings of the project is due to the Council and the ISRP for review by the end of calendar year 2017.


Also see:

--CBB, March 11, 2016, “Council FW Committee Moves Forward On Salmon Reintroduction Study Above Grand Coulee,”


-- CBB, Feb. 5, 2016, “Washington Legislature Considers Memorial For Salmon Re-Introduction In Upper Columbia Blocked Areas,”


-- CBB, December 18, 2015, “Council Moves Proposal For Evaluating Salmon Habitat Above Grand Coulee To Science Review,”


-- CBB, October 16, 2015, “Can Salmon, Steelhead Survive Above Grand Coulee Dam? Council Investigation May Provide Answer,”


-- CBB, September 18, 2015, “Council Moves Ahead With Plan To Assess Potential Salmon Habitat Blocked By Grand Coulee,”


-- CBB, Jan. 16, 2015, “Tribes Lay Out Process For Investigating Feasibility Of Salmon Reintroduction Above Grand Coulee Dam”


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