If tribes pursue a salmon and steelhead
reintroduction program upstream of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, some
1,160 miles of tributary habitat would be available for steelhead and 355 miles
of tributary habitat would be available for spring chinook salmon, according to
an overview of a draft assessment of potential habitat in the blocked areas
presented at the Lake Roosevelt Forum, April 24 - 25.
For adult returns, potential habitat would
accommodate up to 4,168 steelhead, up to 13,339 spring/summer chinook, and
34,066 to more than 1 million sockeye salmon, the draft assessment says.
Furthermore, Lake Rufus Woods, the reservoir
behind Chief Joseph Dam, has the habitat capacity to support around 600 to
20,000 summer/fall chinook and Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee could support
between 12 million and 48.5 million sockeye juveniles.
Conor Giorgi, anadromous program manager with
the Spokane Tribe, and Casey Baldwin, senior research scientist with the
Colville Confederated Tribes, outlined preliminary data of the potential for
reintroducing salmon and steelhead in the blocked areas upstream of the two
dams at the Forum. Their presentation is at http://lrf.org/conference-presentations/2018/4.25.18-9.40cGiogi-BaldwinPhase1HabitatAssessments-LRF2018v4.pdf.
The two-year habitat assessment began in June 2016
after the Northwest Power and Conservation Council approved a $200,000 contract
for the work with the Spokane Tribe of Indians in March of the same year. The
study assesses whether reintroducing salmon and steelhead into waters upstream
of Grand Coulee Dam is feasible by researching the potential habitat available
to support adult spawning and juvenile rearing. The study is nearly complete
and the Council’s Fish and Wildlife committee is expecting to see a near-final
product at one of its meetings in June or July 2018.
The habitat assessment is phase one of a
three-phase process that eventually could lead to actual reintroduction
efforts. Phase two would begin experimental reintroductions. Both of the first
phases are intended to inform the reintroduction decision in the future. The
Council’s 2014 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program calls for the
three-phase investigation of reintroducing anadromous fish upstream of the two
However, the Council has yet to vote on
whether reintroduction should proceed and at least two Council members have
already expressed their opposition to the effort – Jim Yost and Bill Booth of
(For background, see CBB, April 15, 2016,
“Council Votes To Move Forward On Salmon/Steelhead Habitat Assessment Above
Grand Coulee” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436490.aspx)
For spring chinook, the 355 miles of potential
habitat includes 82 miles in the Sanpoil River subbasin, 214 miles in the
Spokane River subbasin and 59 miles in the upper Columbia River subbasin, all
in the U.S.
The 1,161 miles of potential habitat for
steelhead includes 187 miles in the Sanpoil subbasin, 662 miles in the Spokane
subbasin and 312 miles in the upper Columbia subbasin.
Assuming this is all potential habitat,
preliminary estimates of returning adults are 1,201 spring chinook, 12,138
summer/fall chinook and 4,168 steelhead for a total of 17,507 fish. By river,
that breaks down to: 498 spring chinook, 2,206 summer/fall chinook and 1,709 steelhead
to the Sanpoil; 543 spring chinook, 9,535 summer/fall chinook and 2,064
steelhead to the Spokane; and 160 spring chinook, 397 summer/fall chinook and
385 steelhead to the upper Columbia.
Using 25 percent of the available habitat in
the Sanpoil River, sockeye returns could be 70,585 to 252,091 fish: if using
100 percent of available habitat, returns could be as high as 1,008,362
sockeye. Sockeye smolt rearing capacity in Lake Roosevelt ranges from about 12
million to 48,584,000.
Both U.S. tribes and Canadian First nations
are identifying stocks of fish that could be used for reintroduction. Some 40
stocks have been identified and ranked for their reintroduction feasibility
based on criteria such as the least impact on downstream stocks and resident
fish, disease history of the species, and compatibility with the upper Columbia
environment, Baldwin said. Those stocks include seven sockeye, 10 summer/fall
chinook, 10 spring chinook, seven steelhead, seven sockeye, and six coho
populations. While some of these populations are ESA-listed, he said the tribes
are committed to reintroduction with fish that are not listed.
Recognizing that reintroducing salmon to the
blocked areas upstream of Grand Coulee is likely an international issue (the
area has been blocked to salmon migration since the 1930s), U.S. tribes have
been working with Canadian First Nations on the habitat feasibility assessment.
The Ktunaxa Nation Council of Cranbrook has undertaken its own similar studies
in British Columbia, finding that the transboundary reach of the river is
predicted to have suitable habitat for at least hundreds, and perhaps
thousands, of chinook spawning pairs, Bill Green of the Ktunaxa Nation said at
He added that suitable donor stocks available
for this reach are most likely a species of summer/fall chinook. The studies to
date are not comprehensive regarding whether reintroduction is feasible, “but
they provide encouraging support of the feasibility and the approach,” he said.
The work to date also does not address the potential cost of reintroduction,
but that experimental releases of fish, with risk assessment and careful
monitoring, “will be far more informative” regarding cost. Green’s report is at
According to John Harrison of the Northwest
Power and Conservation Council, who attended the Forum and reported this week
to the Council, there is also other encouraging news. Harrison’s May memorandum
to the Council is at https://www.nwcouncil.org/media/7491691/4.pdf.
“For example, the Columbia Basin Trust, the
Council’s closest counterpart agency in British Columbia, hosted a
‘Collaborative Salmon Dialogue’ in Vancouver in April and plans a follow-up.
The three First Nations in the Canadian Columbia Basin attended the first session as did federal and provincial fish
agencies and dam operators,” Harrison reported. “Environment and Climate Change
Canada, the federal environmental agency, created an environmental damages fund
that Green said provides a major, multiyear funding opportunity for
reintroduction work and that the agency ‘has a strong interest in proposals
from indigenous nations and dealing with salmon restoration.’”
Both federal and provincial governments “seem
prepared to discuss salmon restoration in the context of the Columbia River
Treaty renewal process,” Green said.
--CBB, September 22, 2017, “Council Updated On
Assessing Stock, Habitat For Potential Salmonid Reintroduction Above Grand
-- CBB, July 22, 2016, “Council Evaluates Fish
Passage Systems That Might Be Used At High-Head Dams Blocking Salmonids,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437176.aspx
-- CBB, April 15, 2016, “Council Votes To Move
Forward On Salmon/Steelhead Habitat Assessment Above Grand Coulee” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436490.aspx
--CBB, March 11, 2016, “Council FW Committee
Moves Forward On Salmon Reintroduction Study Above Grand Coulee,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436211.aspx
-- 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,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435731.aspx
-- CBB, October 16, 2015, “Can Salmon,
Steelhead Survive Above Grand Coulee Dam? Council Investigation May Provide
-- CBB, September 18, 2015, “Council Moves
Ahead With Plan To Assess Potential Salmon Habitat Blocked By Grand Coulee,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435022.aspx
-- CBB, Jan. 16, 2015, “Tribes Lay Out Process
For Investigating Feasibility Of Salmon Reintroduction Above Grand Coulee Dam” http://www.cbbulletin.com/432935.asp