conservation groups intend to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, seeking to force
the Corps to begin an Endangered Species Act consultation with NOAA Fisheries
over the Corps’ hatchery summer
steelhead program in Oregon’s Willamette and Santiam rivers.
the Corps is in violation of the ESA due to the impacts of its summer steelhead
program on wild winter steelhead in the rivers, Willamette Riverkeeper and The
Conservation Angler sent the agency a 60-day notice threatening to sue if the
agency does not reinitiate the consultation. The letter of intent was delivered
to the Corps March 8.
River wild winter steelhead were listed as threatened under the ESA in 1999 and
the two conservation groups say the hatchery summer steelhead released from
Corps-owned hatcheries and stocked for a sport fishery are contributing to wild
winter steelhead decline.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which operates and manages hatcheries
on the two rivers for the Corps, began producing the summer steelhead in the
1960s as mitigation for Corps dams in the rivers’ upper reaches and the
resulting decline of the wild winter run of steelhead, according to the groups.
summer steelhead originated from the Washougal River in Washington so are not
native to the Willamette River watershed.
they began stocking a hatchery fish that was never present in the Willamette,
to make up for the dams’ impact on native winter steelhead,” said Travis
Williams, executive director of Willamette Riverkeeper.
conservation groups are targeting production of summer steelhead at two
Corps-owned hatcheries: Marion Forks and South Santiam hatcheries.
the Corps said it is seeking new contracts for hatchery operations in the
Willamette and hopes to sole-source those contracts to ODFW. The hatcheries are
Marion Forks Hatchery on Marion Creek, a tributary of the Santiam River, South
Santiam Fish Hatchery, Willamette Fish Hatchery near Oakridge, and the McKenzie
Hatchery. The Corps is currently seeking approval from Corps headquarters in
the timing of the LOI is not tied to the Corps’ current contract negotiations
with ODFW, said David Moscowitz of the Conservation Angler.
and ODFW have known for a long time that stocking summer steelhead (and rainbow
trout) create significant impediments to recovering wild winter steelhead and
spring chinook, and that it makes no sense to continue these stocking programs
while at the same time the public is spending hundreds of thousands (even
millions) of dollars trying to recover wild stocks,” he said.
groups say that the summer steelhead produced at the hatchery compete with the
wild winter steelhead because their presence in the Willamette and its
tributaries overlap during spawning and, when they do, hatchery and wild pairs
may spawn together. They “do not produce successful offspring so it wastes the
productivity of the wild fish,” Moscowitz said.
addition, some hatchery smolts remain as resident fish and prey on both
juvenile wild steelhead and spring chinook, said Bill Bakke, Director of
Science and Conservation for The Conservation Angler. They also “compete for
food and rearing space, reducing the overall productivity of wild juveniles
during rearing and outmigration. And when they do return as adults, they
interfere with the spawning success of wild winter steelhead. This has an
impact on recovery of threatened winter steelhead.”
2008 biological opinion came to the same conclusions, according to the groups’
LOI, adding that studies by state and federal biologists also have identified
the harmful impacts from hatchery summer steelhead on wild winter steelhead.
hatcheries in the Willamette River basin also produce spring chinook salmon as
mitigation for losses caused by the construction of dams, but those hatchery
programs are based on native fish, the groups said, and are not a part of the
did note in their LOI to the Corps that the agency has “failed to consult” with
NOAA Fisheries about the production of trout at a Corps-owned hatchery (Leaburg
Hatchery) which compete with both wild winter steelhead and wild spring
of the trout are released upstream of Corps dams, which is another area where
they compete with wild steelhead and spring chinook salmon, the LOI says. In
reintroduction efforts by ODFW, adult winter steelhead and spring chinook are
transported above Foster Dam on the South Santiam River and adult spring
chinook are transported upstream of Detroit Dam on the North Santiam River.
They spawn and rear in those blocked areas.
Corps, the groups say, do not have a legal take permit for these activities and
that activity, too, requires consultation with NOAA Fisheries.
similar claim was made in a 2012 lawsuit for McKenzie River Hatchery (operated
by ODFW) releases of chinook salmon. Filed by the McKenzie Flyfishers (based in
Eugene) and the Steamboaters (based in Roseburg), they claimed that the release
of hatchery chinook salmon “adversely affects the productivity and recovery of
wild spring Chinook salmon by competing with the wild salmon for food, habitat,
and spawning space, by potentially spreading disease to the wild salmon, and by
creating offspring [that] have reduced fitness and reproductive success when
hatchery salmon spawn with wild salmon.”
relief asked for in the McKenzie suit was denied by U.S. Magistrate Judge Tom
Coffin, finding that ODFW is protected from liability under the federal ESA,
but he ordered ODFW to come up with a plan that would set the number of
hatchery smolts released into the river with a goal of reducing the proportion
of hatchery origin fish on spawning grounds to 10 percent.
goal of the 60-day notice by Willamette Riverkeepers and The Conservation
Angler is to require the Corps “to engage NOAA Fisheries in reinitiating
consultation with the Corps on the impacts of out-of-basin hatchery summer
steelhead on ESA-listed wild winter steelhead.”
Riverkeeper, founded in 1996, is focused on protecting and restoring natural
resources in the Willamette River basin (http://willamette-riverkeeper.org/).
The Conservation Angler (http://www.wildsalmonrivers.org/) advocates for wild
fish and fisheries.
two groups are represented by Peter Frost of the Western Environmental Law
Center in Eugene.
March 10, 2017, “Corps Says Five Oregon Mitigation Hatcheries Could Stay With
ODFW, May Solicit Bids For Two Others,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438455.aspx
February 10, 2017, “Corps To Bid Out Operations At Seven Corps-Owned Oregon
Hatcheries Now Managed By ODFW, http://www.cbbulletin.com/438309.aspx
March 27, 2015, “Judge Rules McKenzie River Salmon Hatchery Releases Sufficient
To Protect Wild Fish,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/433511.aspx