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Federal Agencies Release Evaluation On Progress Toward BiOp Salmon/Steelhead Requirements
Posted on Friday, March 10, 2017 (PST)

Federal dam operating agencies released last week an annual evaluation of progress toward meeting the conservation requirements of the federal power system’s 2008 biological opinion and the 2014 supplemental BiOp for Columbia/Snake river salmon and steelhead.

 

The 2007 to 2015 Comprehensive Evaluation is a cumulative report of the operating agencies’ progress in carrying out the salmon and steelhead conservation actions of the Federal Columbia River Power System BiOps as they operate 14 dams in the Columbia River basin. It is a stretch of river where 13 evolutionary significant units of salmon and steelhead are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. The evaluation covers 2015, but draws on accomplishments over the entire span of the report.

 

“The FCRPS BiOp reflects an extensive effort by the Action Agencies - The Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Bonneville Power Administration, in partnership with regional federal agencies, states and tribes - to protect and improve listed species of Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead and their designated critical habitat,” the report says.

 

“As a result of the efforts of the Action Agencies and other stakeholders, most populations that suffered severe declines in the past have stabilized and increased.”

 

The agencies say they are on track to complete the improvements required by the BiOps and that those improvements are increasing survival of the listed species, as well as other species not on an ESA list.

 

According to a statement by Lorri Bodi, vice president of Environment Fish and Wildlife for BPA, in an Oregon Public Broadcasting story, the report “says we’re making very good progress in bringing fish back to the rivers and improving the numbers of fish in the Columbia River Basin. But we still have a ways to go to achieve our goals.”

 

The report also will be used in creating a court-ordered environmental impact statement under a 5-year long National Environmental Policy Act review. The NEPA process was put into motion by U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon in May 2016 when he remanded the latest 2014 NOAA Fisheries’ biological opinion governing river operations to protect salmon and steelhead throughout the Columbia River basin.

 

See CBB, March 3, 2017, “Agencies Receive Over 250,000 Comments On Scoping For Upcoming EIS On Columbia/Snake Hydro System,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438422.aspx

 

Actions described in the report include improvements made at dams to facilitate safe adult and juvenile fish passage, increase fish survival, protect and enhance important habitats, improve hatchery practices, manage and reduce predation, and enhance river conditions for migrating fish.

 

Some of the improvements listed in the evaluation include:

 

--the report itself fulfills a Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA) of the BiOps.

--habitat restoration work includes 3,000 miles of spawning and rearing habitat and 14 square miles of estuary habitat.

--the addition of surface passage systems which take advantage of juvenile salmon’s surface-oriented migration behavior to safely pass fish at dams,

--upgraded juvenile bypass systems that improve fish survival.

--hundreds of habitat improvements in the basin tributaries and in the estuary.

--among the habitat restoration projects are reconnecting floodplain habitat and protecting them with permanent conservation easements, as well as breaching dikes and levees.

 

The report also touts an extensive program of research, monitoring and evaluation that allows for adaptive management.

 

And, it points to the Columbia Basin Fish Accords (2008 – 2018) to demonstrate the regional nature of this effort. The agreements that provide funding over 10 years for fish and their habitats are the product of the three federal agencies, six Northwest Indian tribes, the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, and three of the four Northwest states. The agencies call it “a sweeping effort to protect and strengthen the basin’s threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead populations.”

 

Success of all these actions is in the status of fish runs and the report points to some progress. More than 2.27 million salmon and steelhead passed Bonneville Dam in 2015, including natural-origin and hatchery produced fish. That’s the second highest count since 1938 when counting began at the dam. Only the 2014 count was higher. The 10-year average is 1.643 million salmonids.

 

However, steelhead at 268,730 and coho at 42,267 were far below their 10-year averages. For steelhead the average is 347,762 and for coho it is 133,262. Coho entered the ocean in 2014 and encountered poor ocean conditions, the report says.

 

Sockeye salmon had a good run year with 510,706 of the fish passing the dam (the 10-year average is 285,186). It was third highest run, exceeded only by 2014 and 2012, but in 2015 they had a tough time making it to their spawning grounds due to high water temperatures.

 

On the other hand chinook salmon had a banner year, the largest since 1938. That was largely due to good ocean conditions as the juveniles entered the ocean in 2012 and 2013. The fall chinook run was the highest ever at 1,037,424 fish (the 10-year average is 587,736). Spring and summer runs were also among the highest counts, the reports say. Some 233,794 spring chinook passed the dam (10-year average is 171,288) and 179,465 summer chinook passed (10-year average is 117,335).

 

The number of Snake River fall chinook, listed as threatened in 1992, is on the rise. The 10-year average is 10,609, but over the last four years the average has climbed to 16,515.

 

The overall abundance of Snake River spring and summer chinook, also listed as threatened in 1992, has been rising as well. The 10-year average is 18,864, but over the last four years the average has climbed to 22,966.

 

Snake River sockeye, listed as endangered in 1991, had a rocky year in 2015 due to extremely high temperatures in the lower Snake River. Some 4,069 sockeye passed Bonneville, but just 1,052 passed Ice Harbor Dam, the lowest of the Snake River dams, and 440 made it to Lower Granite Dam, the upper dam. Of those fish, 51 were transported from Lower Granite for the broodstock program and only 56 made it on their own to the Sawtooth Valley.

 

Snake River steelhead have seen a small uptick from a 10-year average of 30,452 to a four-year average of 32,663.

 

The four-year average (3,967) of upper Columbia River spring chinook, listed as endangered in 1989, is higher than the 10-year average (2,354) as counted at Rock Island Dam, but the report says that is not a statistically significant trend in abundance.

 

For Upper Columbia River steelhead, listed as endangered in 1997 and reclassified as threatened in 2009, the10-year average is 4,209 and the most recent four-year average is 4,792 fish.

 

The 10-year average for middle Columbia River steelhead, listed as threatened in 1999, is 4,511 and the four-year average is 5,117.

 

The Comprehensive Evaluation is available at https://www.salmonrecovery.gov/BiologicalOpinions/FCRPSBiOp/fcrps-2016-comprehensive-evaluation.

 

A Citizens guide is available at https://www.salmonrecovery.gov/doc/default-source/default-document-library/2016-citizen's-guidee56923bab16b6cf0b057ff00002e0fb7.pdf?sfvrsn=0.

 

The report itself has two sections. Section 1 highlights implementation and accomplishments that “will inform continued RPA action implementation and provide the foundation for new proposals,” the report sayshttps://www.salmonrecovery.gov/doc/default-source/default-document-library/fcrps2016comprehensiveevaluationsection1.pdf?sfvrsn=0.

 

Section 2 is a detailed report of reasonable and prudent alternative implementation (https://www.salmonrecovery.gov/doc/default-source/default-document-library/fcrps-2016-comprehensive-evaluation-section-2.pdf?sfvrsn=0).

 

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