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Weekly Fish and Wildlife News
March 19, 2010
Issue No. 524

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Table of Contents

* NOAA To List Columbia River's Smelt As Threatened; Cites Climate Change As Biggest Threat

* NOAA Launches Assessment Of All West Coast Salmon, Steelhead ESA Listings

* Researchers Identifying Origin Of Chinook Salmon Consumed By Endangered Orcas

* Council Recommends Moving Ahead On Mid-Columbia Coho Restoration; Broodstock Issues Debated

* Spring Chinook Fishing For Boat Anglers Picking Up; 98 Percent Marked Keepers

* River Managers Adjust Operations, Ending Chum Flows, Improving Steelhead Kelt Passage

* Council Taking Comments On Draft 'Monitoring, Evaluation, Research And Reporting' Plan

* $11 Million Contract Awarded For Developing Safer Turbine For Fish; First One Slated For Ice Harbor

* ODFW Researchers Studying Newly Discovered Sturgeon Spawning Area In Willamette River

* CBB Shorts: Bull Trout Comment Period; Annual Wolf Report; Reclamation's New Northwest Director; Nuke Ruling Impact On BPA Ratepayers; Canal Piping Funds; Klamath Water Allocations


* NOAA To List Columbia River's Smelt As Threatened; Cites Climate Change As Biggest Threat

NOAA's Fisheries Service announced Tuesday it is listing Pacific smelt as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The final listing will take effect on May 17.

Under the ESA, a threatened species is one judged to be in danger of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future. An endangered species is defined under the ESA as in danger of extinction in all or part of its range.

Pacific smelt, known officially as eulachon, are small ocean-going fish that historically ranged from northern California to the Bering Sea in Alaska. The typically spend three to five years in saltwater before returning to freshwater to spawn in late winter through mid spring.

In the portion of the species' range that lies south of the U.S.-Canada border, most eulachon production originates in the Columbia River basin. Other river basins in the United States where eulachon have been documented include the Mad River, Redwood Creek, and the Klamath River in California; the Umpqua River in Oregon; and infrequently in coastal rivers (primarily the Quinault and Elwha rivers) in Washington.

The listing determination said that NOAA Fisheries had "identified changes in ocean conditions due to climate change as the most significant threat to eulachon and their habitats" and that climate-induced change to freshwater habitats is a moderate threat.

Returns in recent years have been so low that only limited fishing opportunity has been allowed in the Columbia and Washington's Cowlitz River, a lower Columbia tributary that is a primary spawning ground for the smelt. What fishing that has been allowed is used as a tool to help evaluate smelt abundance and thus the status of the stock.

"The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife supports the listing of Pacific smelt as threatened under the federal ESA," said Phil Anderson, director of WDFW. "The decline of this important forage fish species over the past two decades is a serious concern and one that deserves our best effort to reverse.

"During this time period, WDFW has worked closely with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to reduce the harvest of smelt to low levels without a positive response from the smelt resource," Anderson said. "WDFW will continue to work with NOAA Fisheries, ODFW, and the Cowlitz Tribe to identify corrective actions that will lead to recovery this important resource."

One measure of annual run strength is commercial landings, which from 1938-1992 were in the millions of pounds annually from the Columbia River and its tributaries. But by 1994 the catch had dropped to only 43,000 pounds and in 1995 fishery restrictions were enacted.

Smelt commercial harvest improved significantly in 2001, and stayed strong through 2003 when more than a million pounds were harvested in the mainstem Columbia and in Oregon and Washington tributaries.

That total dipped to only 200 pounds in 2005 and annual harvests have been only marginally better since. The smelt "catch per unit of effort" by the commercial fleet in each of past five years has been among the lowest on record. Landings totaled 5,600 pounds in 2009 and recreational fishing was poor due to low abundance. In 2010 only 3,600 pounds were caught in the Columbia.

A similar precipitous drop occurred in the 2005 Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans' (CDFO) New Westminster eulachon test fishery and in 2006 the northern British Columbia (BC) stock (e.g. Skeena River), and central British Columbia stock (e.g. Bella Coola River) groups collapsed as well as the southern stocks (Fraser River and Columbia River). The low landings during 2005-2007 suggest poor production for all components (Age 3-5) of the 2010 run.

The little fish is so high in body fat during spawning that it can be dried, strung on a wick and burned, lending another name to its list of aliases -- candlefish. Eulachon, rich in calories, are important to marine and freshwater food webs, commercial and recreational fishermen, and indigenous people from northern California to Alaska. They have a life history similar to that of Pacific salmon; hatching in freshwater, rearing and maturing in the ocean

A team of biologists from NOAA's Fisheries Service and two other federal agencies concluded last year that there are at least two Pacific smelt distinct population segments on the West Coast. The one listed this week extends from the Mad River in northern California north into British Columbia. These population segments are different from the endangered delta smelt, a freshwater species found in California's Sacramento River delta.

Smelt have historically played an important role in the culture of Northwest native tribes, representing a seasonally important food source and a valuable trade item. Columbia River smelt were first described by Meriwether Lewis in 1806 during the Corps of Discovery; he lauded the fatty fish for their excellent taste.

The Cowlitz Indian tribe in Washington State petitioned NOAA's Fisheries Service in 2007 to list the fish populations in Washington, Oregon and California. The tribe's petition described severe declines in smelt runs along the entire Pacific Coast, with possible local extinctions in California and Oregon.

NOAA's own scientific review found that this smelt stock is indeed declining throughout its range, and further declines are expected as climate change affects the availability of its prey.

Climate change is also expected to change the timing and volume of spring flows in Northwest rivers. Those flows are critical to successful Pacific smelt spawning and these changes could have a negative effect on spawning success. The agency's review also concluded that Pacific smelt are vulnerable to being caught in shrimp fisheries in the United States and Canada because the areas occupied by shrimp and smelt often overlap.

The agency said other threats to the fish include water flows in the Klamath and Columbia River basins and bird, seal and sea lion predation, especially in Canadian streams and rivers.

Recreational fishers catch smelt in dip nets, and typically fry and eat them whole. These fish are also the bait of choice for sturgeon fishers, and are often caught specifically for that purpose.

Now that Pacific smelt have been listed as threatened, the agency said it would turn its attention to determining what, if any, protective measures -- known as 4(d) rules -- are needed for smelt. It would also determine the extent of the fish's critical habitat. In addition, the ESA requires federal agencies to ensure that activities they authorize, fund or conduct are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species.

Prohibitions against harming them would apply only to Pacific smelt in U.S. waters or to U.S. citizens on the high seas, even though the population extends into Canada.

All of the West Coast states individually manage their own small commercial and recreational smelt fisheries and are responsible for writing and enforcing fishing regulations.

For more information on the eulachon ESA listing, see the Web at: http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Other-Marine-Species/Eulachon.cfm


* NOAA Launches Assessment Of All West Coast Salmon, Steelhead ESA Listings

NOAA Fisheries has initiated its planned five-year review of Pacific salmon and steelhead populations listed under the Endangered Species Act to ensure the accuracy and classification of each listing.

The review announced in the Federal Register will assess 16 evolutionarily significant units of Pacific salmon listed in 2005, 11 distinct population segments of steelhead listed in 2006, and Puget Sound steelhead listed in 2007.

The public will be able to submit scientific or commercial data that has become available since the dates listed above. Generally, scientists are looking for changes in population numbers, habitat condition or species distribution.

Information should be submitted by May 17, 2010. For more information go to http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/ESA-Salmon-Listings/5-yr-review.cfm

The ESA requires a review of listed species at least every five years. Based on the review a determination is made whether a species should be delisted, reclassified from endangered to threatened or threatened to endangered, or whether the current classification should be retained.

The following salmon species ESUs will be reviewed: (1) Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon; (2) Upper Columbia River spring-run Chinook salmon; (3) Snake River spring/summer-run Chinook salmon; (4) Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon; (5) California Coastal Chinook salmon; (6) Puget Sound Chinook salmon; (7) Lower Columbia River Chinook salmon; (8) Upper Willamette River Chinook salmon; (9) Snake River Fall-run Chinook salmon; (10) Hood Canal summer-run chum salmon; (11) Columbia River chum salmon; (12) Central California Coast coho salmon; (13) Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast coho salmon; (14) Lower Columbia River coho salmon; (15) Snake River sockeye salmon; and (16) Ozette Lake Sockeye salmon.

The following steelhead DPSs will be reviewed: (1)Southern California; (2) Upper Columbia River; (3) Middle Columbia River; (4) Snake River Basin; (5) Lower Columbia River; (6) Upper Willamette; (7) South-Central California Coast; (8) Central California Coast; (9) Northern California; (10) California Central Valley; and (11) Puget Sound.

For more details about these populations, see http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/ESA-Salmon-Listings/Salmon-Populations/Index.cfm
and http://swr.nmfs.noaa.gov/recovery/Salm_Steel.htm


* Researchers Identifying Origin Of Chinook Salmon Consumed By Endangered Orcas

New advances in genetic testing have allowed scientists to determine the specific origin of chinook salmon that were consumed by killer whales in the inland waters of Washington and British Columbia, according to new research by NOAA Fisheries scientists and others.

The researchers say their findings will play a significant role in assisting the recovery of this group of endangered whales.

"Our findings identified specific chinook stocks from Canada's Fraser River that fish managers need to pay particular attention to because these killer whales are so dependent on them," said Brad Hanson, lead author of the study and a marine mammal scientist with NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. This group of killer whales, known to scientists as the Southern Resident population, is protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and Canada's Species at Risk Act.

Both governments identified lack of food as a risk factor that could interfere with the recovery of these killer whales.

Southern resident killer whales spend their time in the inland waters of Washington and British Columbia from late spring to early fall before swimming to the Pacific Ocean for the winter months.

"During the fall, winter and spring months, the whales spend most of their time in outer coastal waters, ranging from central California to northern BC (Krahn et al, 2004) where they would have access to numerous other stocks of Chinook salmon (Weitkamp 2010) as well as other potential prey sources," the study said. "Even during the summer months, the whales sometimes make multi-day sojourns to the outer coastal waters, so the estimated prey composition we reported in the present study does not necessarily reflect their overall summer diet.

"It will therefore be important to conduct similar studies in outer coastal areas in order to gain a more complete understanding of the whales' diet composition."

"We don't know a lot about what they do out there," Hanson said.

Eventually, researchers would like to stretch that research up and down the coast to determine if the endangered orca populations also pursue their favored foodstuff in other locations, perhaps snagging fish returning to the Columbia River, in late fall, winter and spring. The study so far has been limited to inland marine waters during the summer months.

"I don't get enough ship time on the outer coast to meet my needs," Hanson said.

"They're out there. We've routinely picked them up in the spring months," Hanson said of killer whale calls recorded off the mouth of the Columbia, near Westport, Wash., and elsewhere down the coast. As part of the research, a network of seven acoustic recorders has been established along the coast as far south as Point Reyes just north of San Francisco.

The goal is to learn more about the killer whales whereabouts and potentially identify ESA "critical habitat" for the creatures that make up J, K and L pods. Each of the pods can be identified by their vocalizations. Killer whales make 36 different calls and certain pods use certain calls more frequently than the other pods, Hanson said.

"They do occur down there, probably more than people realize," Hanson said.

Scientists estimated that the vast majority of the chinook the whales ate -- as much as 90 percent -- was from the Fraser River. The whales ate mostly salmon from the Upper Fraser in June, the Middle Fraser in July, and from the South Thompson and Lower Fraser in August and September. Only 6 to 14 percent originated from Puget Sound area rivers.

Salmon return to the same stream or branch of a river where they had hatched to spawn. Therefore, salmon from a particular stream become a genetically distinct population from those that spawn in other streams or river systems. Each population returns at a slightly different time of year than other populations. The whales ate the salmon as the fish returned to the Fraser River to spawn.

The four-year study involved collecting fish tissue and scales, as well as whale feces, while the killer whales fed during the summer months. In the laboratory, scientists used a relatively new molecular genetic tool to identify which fish species were eaten and, more specifically, where they came from. 

"This study not only confirmed previous research that suggested these whales eat mostly chinook salmon, it also allowed us to identify the specific genetic groups, and therefore the specific areas from within the river system, from which these salmon came," said Hanson. That gives managers more information with which to make decisions about conservation measures to ensure survival of these salmon stocks, which in turn are vital to the survival of the killer whales.

The new information could be of significant value in guiding management actions to recover the southern resident killer whale population. Those actions could include fishery management, since the abundance of killer whales is directly linked to the abundance of their favorite prey species, chinook.

Hatchery management could also be influenced. And orca recovery could at times be at odds with salmon recovery.

"In the long term, hatchery production has been identified as an important risk factor impacting the viability of wild salmon stocks (Myers et al. 1998), and reducing hatchery releases has been used as a conservation strategy for wild salmon (Mobrand et al. 2005, Buhle et al," according to the study. 2009). "In the short term, however, our results suggest that managers may need to consider the potential impacts of reduced killer whale prey that may result by reducing releases of hatchery salmon."

The study, titled "Species and stock identification of prey consumed by endangered 'Southern Resident' killer whats in their summer range" was published in the journal "Endangered Species Research." Collaborators included scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and in Washington, Cascadia Research Collective, the Center for Whale Research, the University of Washington and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The research paper can be found at:

For more information on Southern Resident killer whale recovery, see http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Marine-Mammals/Whales-Dolphins-Porpoise/Killer-Whales/ESA-Status/Orca-Recovery-Plan.cfm


* Council Recommends Moving Ahead On Mid-Columbia Coho Restoration; Broodstock Issues Debated

A "difference of scientific opinion" will be rethought even as the Yakama Nation moves forward with preliminary and final planning for the construction component of its Mid-Columbia Coho Restoration Project.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council last week voted 6 to 2 to recommend the expenditure of $1.4 million between now and the end of fiscal year 2011 for master plan completion, submittal and support for reviews during the Council's three-step process, design work costs, both preliminary and final, as well as costs associated with completing environmental compliance which will include environmental impact statement and facility permitting.

The project's goal is to re-establish naturally spawning coho populations in mid-Columbia tributaries for sustainable and significant harvest. Its basic premise is that non-local, domesticated hatchery stocks can be used to develop self-sustaining, naturally reproducing populations in the Wenatchee and Methow subbasins.

Oregon Council members Melinda Eden and Joan Dukes voted against funding at least for now, noting that the Council's Independent Scientific Review Panel disagreed with how the project sponsors proposed using broodstock.

The ISRP, which reviews projects proposed for funding under the Council's Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, said latest draft version of the project master plan "does not meet scientific criteria" because:

-- The performance metrics at each stage of the project were insufficient;
-- The reporting of the feasibility studies did not provide explicit status of the appropriate metrics;
-- The rationale for the design of Broodstock Development Phase 2, Natural Production Implementation Phase, and Natural Production Support Phases I and II were not
scientifically supported by the results from the feasibility studies or modeling.

"I believe we should resolve this before we move on," said Oregon's Joan Dukes, who suggested the project sponsors address the ISRP's concerns before taking the step 2 --preliminary design -- and step 3 -- final planning.

"It's pretty hard to stop a project when it's that far along," Dukes said of a later decision on whether or not to approve $7 million in construction activities at the end of the process.

The Yakama Nation's Tom Scribner told the Council that the first two issues can be resolved with relative ease through the assemblage and transfer of information. The third issue is more nettlesome.

"It is on genetic theory" and different geneticists can have different theories about how a broodstock should be built, Scribner said. The tribal scientists and ISRP could well be at an impasse, he said.

The project has been long-running, since 1996, and is experiencing considerable recent success. The tribal scientists started the program with hatchery stock from the lower Columbia. The young fish were acclimated at streamside much further upstream in the Wenatchee and Methow river basins and released.

Some of those young fish matured in the Pacific Ocean and returned to the central Washington streams to spawn and to offer themselves as fuel to produce more hatchery smolts for release in the central Washington streams.

"In both basins the trend has been up," tribal biologist Keeli Murdoch told the Council. The researchers have now seen the return of a third generation of coho to the Wenatchee and a second generation to the Methow. And there have been no releases of lower Columbia coho in the Wenatchee or Methow since 2004. All of the fish planted now are the product of mid-Columbia fish.

In 2009 nearly 20,000 coho adults passed Rock Island Dam, the sixth hydro project they encounter on their way upstream to spawn.

"That shows that it is possible" for fish to adapt over time and survive, and make the long swim to and from the ocean, Murdoch said.

Phase 2 is designed to encourage further adaption of broodstock by moving broodstock capture sites farther upstream where stamina and run-timing may be stretched to the limit.

Mid-Columbia coho salmon populations had gone extinct in the early 1900s as a result of the construction of impassable dams, harmful forestry practices, unscreened irrigation diversions and high harvest rates in the lower Columbia.

The ultimate goal of the program is to establish self-sustaining, naturally spawning coho populations that can provide significant harvests, by 2028.

"We have a unique goal for a hatchery program, to say you're going to quit," Scribner said of the plan to stop the hatchery supplementation once wild populations reach certain levels.


* Spring Chinook Fishing For Boat Anglers Picking Up; 98 Percent Marked Keepers

Spring chinook salmon fishing is starting to pick up on the lower Columbia River, as are counts of upriver fish crossing over Bonneville Dam, in what is expected to be the tip of the iceberg -- an overall return of 559,900 to the Columbia-Snake River basin.

Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife staff during the second week of March surveyed 1,103 boat anglers (493 boats) that had caught a total of 86 adult chinook and three steelhead. Also sampled were 196 bank anglers with a lone adult chinook and two steelhead.

That chinook catch total is nearly triple the count from the previous week, March 1-7, when 1,013 boat anglers (471 boats) were surveyed and told state officials that they had caught only 31 chinook and three steelhead. And 324 bank anglers that were surveyed had not landed any chinook and harvested only three steelhead.

Another sign that more fish are arriving in-river is the fact that Bonneville counts are beginning to climb. From Jan. 1 through March 9 a total of 11 fish had crossed over the dam's fish ladders. But over the past week daily counts have climbed from 2 to 4 to 6 to 7 to 9 this past Sunday and Monday to 11 on Tuesday.

According to the preseason forecast, the 2010 spring chinook salmon is expected to include 470,000 adult salmon that are bound for hatcheries and tributary spawning grounds above Bonneville in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. That would be the largest upriver run since at least 1938 when construction of Bonneville was completed and fish counts began there.

"Spring chinook have been striking in fits and starts, but catch rates should start ramping up any day," said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist. "Regardless of how big this run turns out to be, fishing will almost certainly improve in the days ahead."

The mark rate -- the percentage of fish identified with a clipped adipose fin -- was extremely high. Overall, 98 percent of the adult chinook and 60 percent of the steelhead caught last week (March 8-14) were kept. Anglers must release fish with an intact adipose fin. Of the adult chinook sampled, 56 percent were lower river stock based on visual stock identification.
A Saturday survey over the lower Columbia -- from Bonneville Dam 146 river miles down to the river mouth -- showed the angler effort to include 600 boats and nearly 300 bank anglers. That's slightly less effort that the previous Saturday when nearly 800 boats and 500 bank anglers counted.
From Feb. 1-March 14, there have been an estimated 21,500 angler trips to the lower Columbia with 800 chinook handled from the lower Columbia mainstem sport fishery below Bonneville Dam. Of that total, 698 (88 percent) of the chinook caught were kept and 68 percent of the chinook kept were lower river stock.

Hymer said boat anglers, fishing between Cathlamet and Vancouver, have taken most of the springers hooked so far this year. Lower river stocks -- including some lunkers up to 30 pounds -- have accounted for about half the catch, although upriver fish have been increasing in number in recent days.

"If you put in some time, there's a good chance you'll take home a spring chinook," Hymer said. "Boat anglers have better odds, because the river's so low right now."

Anglers fishing below Bonneville Dam may retain one adult spring chinook salmon per day, while those fishing above the dam can keep two per day. As in previous years, only hatchery-reared fish marked with a clipped adipose fin and a healed scar may be retained. All wild spring chinook, identifiable by an intact adipose fin, must be released unharmed.

From Buoy 10 to the Interstate 5 bridge at Portland, fishing for hatchery chinook, hatchery steelhead, and shad is closed on Tuesdays through March 30. From the I-5 Bridge to Bonneville Dam, fishing for hatchery salmon, hatchery steelhead, and shad is open only Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through April 3. Only bank fishing is allowed through April from the I-205 Bridge (which connects the east sides of Portland and Vancouver, Wash.,) upstream to Bonneville Dam.

Spring chinook fishing opened March 16 upstream of Bonneville on the lower Wind River and at Drano Lake in Washington, although Hymer noted that the action won't pick up there until more fish pass Bonneville Dam. Anglers can check fish counts at the dam on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website at https://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/op/fishdata/home.asp .

Below Bonneville, spring chinook are starting to make an appearance in several tributaries, although late-run hatchery winter steelhead continue to make up the bulk of the catch on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers in Washington. At the Cowlitz Hatchery, 24 adult spring chinook and 225 winter-run steelhead were recovered during the second week of March.

A creel survey that week on the Cowlitz turned up 17 hatchery steelhead and one adult chinook among 44 boat anglers. Eighty-eight bank anglers had caught 14 hatchery steelhead and released two others.

The odds of catching hatchery steelhead were even better that week on the Kalama River, also in Washington, where 12 boat anglers had caught five fish and released three others.

"Fishing for late-run hatchery steelhead is peaking right now, providing a great fishing opportunity as more spring chinook move into the rivers," said Hymer, noting that anglers have also been catching some steelhead in The Dalles Pool.

Anglers should be aware, however, that March 15 was the last day to fish for steelhead on Abernathy, Cedar (Clark Co.), Germany, Mill (Cowlitz Co.), Rock (Skamania Co.), Salmon (Clark Co.) creeks and on the Coweeman, Elochoman, Grays, East Fork Lewis and Washougal rivers.


* River Managers Adjust Operations, Ending Chum Flows, Improving Steelhead Kelt Passage

The completed emergence of chum salmon fry from redds at Ives Island and the mouth of Hamilton Creek just below the lower Columbia River's Bonneville Dam has allowed more flexibility to implement operations intended to benefit another protected species, steelhead.

"The chum redds are no longer a concern," Dan Feil, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said this morning. "The emergence of fry is probably mostly completed."

The Corps had since early November operated the dam to maintain a tailwater elevation no lower than 11.3 feet to assure that eggs laid in the Ives Island-Hamilton Creek area remained under water. Columbia River chum salmon are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

But, with emergence judged to have begun about March 5, members of the Technical Management Team decided last week that the tailwater elevation could be ramped down beginning this week so more water could be reserved upstream to help enhance flows later in the spring for other juvenile salmon and steelhead that will be migrating toward the ocean. Grand Coulee Dam's storage on the Mid-Columbia has been called on to maintain the flows needed to steady Bonneville's tailwater elevation.

TMT's federal, state and tribal members mull Columbia-Snake river hydro operations that might be implemented to improve fish survival.

It was also decided last week to open the corner collector at Bonneville's second powerhouse to provide a surface passage route for spawned out steelhead, which are called kelt. The collector is the powerhouse's ice and trash sluice chute, which was retrofitted to provide another non-turbine passage route at the dam for, primarily, juvenile salmon and steelhead. The renovation, completed in 2004, has proven efficient at attracting juvenile fish and provides the most benign passage route at the dam.

The 5,000 cubic feet per second of water that flows down the chute from the forebay to the tailrace does stir up gas levels in the water below. Because elevated gas levels can negatively affect chum and other aquatic organisms, state rules require in winter that total dissolved gas levels be held at 105 percent or lower in shallow water area such as the Ives-Hamilton spawning grounds along the Washington shore.

With the TDG level close to the legal limit, the corner collector was opened Sunday. In order to eliminate any gas they might produce, attraction flows at spillgates 1 and 18 were closed, as was the trash sluiceway at powerhouse 1 near the Oregon shore.

The daytime attraction flows, about 2 kcfs, are implemented as a means of drawing salmon spawners toward the dam's fish ladders.

But with gas levels rising above the cap, the corner collector was closed Tuesday morning.

With some of the gas dissipated, the passage route was reopened Wednesday.

And now it looks like the collector might stay open. By week's end the hydro and fish managers were notified by Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality that, with chum emergence judged completed, the gas cap had been raised to 110 percent.

That allowed the corner collector to be reopened for kelt passage. So far this month 33 kelt "fallbacks" have been observed at the dam.

NOAA Fisheries 2008 Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion says federal agencies should "evaluate operation of the Bonneville PH2 corner collector from March 1 through start of spill as a potential means to provide a safer downstream passage route for steelhead kelts, and implement if warranted." The Corps owns and operates the dam.

The BiOp also says that "NOAA Fisheries considers improvement in kelt survival a key element to improving the survival of all steelhead ESUs." Because of their relatively poor post-spawning condition, kelt survival is generally considered to be quite low irregardless of what they encounter. The BiOp outlines measures NOAA Fisheries says must be implemented to avoid jeopardizing salmon and steelhead stocks -- "evolutionarily significant units -- that are listed under the ESA. They include naturally produced Mid-Columbia, Upper Columbia Snake River steelhead.


* Council Taking Comments On Draft 'Monitoring, Evaluation, Research And Reporting' Plan

The draft Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Reporting plan released March 15 for public comment outlines "expectations for, and guidance on, how RME and reporting are conducted" for projects funded through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.

Comments on the MERR plan will be accepted through April 26. The draft report is posted on the Council's website: www.nwcouncil.org/library/2010/2010-04.htm

The draft document consists of three parts:

-- A Strategic Plan that provides broad policy guidance to assist in allocation of resources during program implementation of research, monitoring, and evaluation and reporting actions.
-- An Implementation Framework that provides direction for focusing and conducting RME and reporting.
-- Implementation Strategies that provide specific guidance on what and how RME and reporting will be conducted for anadromous fish, resident fish, wildlife, and their habitat.

The strategies are to be collaboratively developed with the region's experts and managers and are to be appended to the MERR Plan.

The Council invites public comments on the plan, both in general and more specifically on:

-- the suggested program -- prioritization criteria, priority species and habitat characteristics, and higher-ranked program biological objectives;
-- research, monitoring, reporting and evaluation approaches;
-- the tools and approaches suggested to assist in prioritization and decision-making, and
-- the general guidelines and regional approach for developing the implementation strategies.

The Council expects that the guidance will help it and regional partners with:

-- prioritizing implementation of the program's RME actions and projects;
-- reducing duplication of RME efforts by facilitating communication and coordination among project proponents and funding agencies within the basin;
-- adaptively managing the program;
-- reporting on program progress for accountability purposes, and
-- providing guidance for the Independent Science Review Panel's review of projects and of the program.

The Council is charged under the Northwest Power Act with adopting and overseeing implementation of the fish and wildlife program. In order to assure the region that the program is implemented in a cost-effective and efficient manner, the Council needs to: (1) assess its progress toward meeting its responsibilities under the Power Act; and, (2) report on program progress.

The MERR policy will help the Council to do just that. Ongoing RM&E projects now take up nearly 40 percent of the program budget. The Bonneville Power Administration spent $178.2 million through the program ($156.8 million in project "expense" and $21.4 for capital projects) during fiscal year 2009, according to the power marketing agency's web site, cbfish.org. BPA funds the program as mitigation for impacts to fish and wildlife program caused by the federal Columbia-Snake river hydrosystem.

In the past the Council has lacked an adequate RM&E framework, a shortcoming that 2009 amendments require be corrected. The new plan seeks to address the need by: 1) providing information for Council management and policy decisions; 2) assessing the Council's progress towards meeting program objectives; 3) aiding in prioritizing critical research uncertainties; 4) assuring that the appropriate level of monitoring effort is applied for program actions; and 5) assisting the Council in deciding which actions will likely benefit species and habitat the most.


* $11 Million Contract Awarded For Developing Safer Turbine For Fish; First One Slated For Ice Harbor

Engineers will develop the first of a new generation of advanced hydroelectric turbines for the Federal Columbia River Power System to provide safer passage for fish, under a contract awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week.

The $10.9-million contract awarded to Voith Hydro Inc. of York, Pa., calls for design and manufacture of a new runner for an aging hydroelectric turbine at Ice Harbor Lock and Dam on the Snake River near Burbank, Wash. A runner is the part of a turbine that rotates in water to generate power.

The contract, funded by the Bonneville Power Administration, calls for multiple design cycles using state-of-the-art computer modeling and tests with physical models to examine water flow and pressures. Private and government biological and engineering experts will collaborate in the design process, which is unique because it makes fish passage improvements a primary goal, ahead of power and efficiency gains.

"Our mission includes more than just generating power; it includes environmental stewardship of the nation's natural resources," said Witt Anderson, director of programs for the Corps' Northwestern Division. "We want to take advantage of technology that wasn't around when the dams were constructed and design the most advanced runner available to help improve fish passage in the region."

The need to replace the Turbine Unit Number 2 runner at Ice Harbor presented the opportunity to pursue a new design with fish passage improvement as a priority. The Unit-2 runner has experienced numerous mechanical problems during its 30-plus years of operation. The benefits will extend beyond Ice Harbor, because several dams have turbines also nearing the end of their design life.

The Corps and BPA crafted this contract as a model to demonstrate a science-based runner design and development process that can also guide replacement of other aging turbines. Development and post-installation testing are expected to improve understanding of fish passage through the turbine environment, with potential application to other hydropower sites.

"It will take more work on the front end," said Mark Jones, BPA's manager of Federal Hydro Projects. "But we'll pave the way for upgrades at dams all through the Federal Columbia River Power System that provide the Northwest with renewable power."

The improved turbine components are slated for operation in 2015 and will help meet goals of the 2008 biological opinion that protects salmon and steelhead listed as threatened or endangered.


* ODFW Researchers Studying Newly Discovered Sturgeon Spawning Area In Willamette River

Researchers from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recently began surveying the Willamette River downstream of Willamette Falls to learn more about a previously unknown white sturgeon spawning area.

According to Tucker Jones, ODFW white sturgeon project leader, researchers were surprised to discover white sturgeon spawning in the Willamette River last spring. Until then, the only known spawning grounds for the lower Columbia River white sturgeon population, which includes sturgeon in the lower Willamette River, was immediately downstream of Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

"White sturgeon are important recreationally, commercially, culturally and ecologically," said Jones. "Identifying another sturgeon spawning area is a big deal."

Researchers have received a $44,187 grant from the ODFW Fish Restoration and Enhancement Program to help get a clearer picture of the extent and timing of sturgeon spawning in the Willamette.

To determine the level of white sturgeon spawning activity downstream of Willamette Falls, researchers will try to collect eggs using substrate mats that will catch the eggs as they settle on the river bottom.

Sturgeon are broadcast spawners, laying their eggs throughout the water column. The eggs then sink and adhere to the river bottom to incubate.

Tucker planned to conduct the survey from April to the end of June, when seasonal water temperatures are usually optimal for sturgeon spawning. However, unseasonably warm weather this spring has prompted an earlier start to the research.

In time, researchers hope to map the exact size and location the spawning area in the Willamette River, and document when spawning takes place and what environmental conditions, such as water temperature, influence spawning activity.

The white sturgeon is an ancient species of fish native to the Pacific Coast of North America from Alaska south to Baja California. They can live in the ocean, estuaries or freshwater rivers, but only spawn in the Columbia, Sacramento, and Fraser river systems. Growing up to 20 feet long, they are the largest freshwater fish in North America.

The lower Columbia River sturgeon population provides an important and popular recreation fishery and almost 180,000 lower Columbia River white sturgeon were harvested by anglers between 2003 and 2008.

The discovery of a sturgeon spawning ground in the Willamette River recently prompted the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to adopt new sport fishing regulations to help protect spawning fish. These include: a) establishing a seasonal sturgeon spawning sanctuary on the Willamette River between Willamette Falls and the Interstate 205 bridge from May through July, and b) closing the bank fishing area in Oregon City known colloquially as "The Wall."

The ODFW Fish Restoration and Enhancement Program, which provided funding for the research, was created by the Oregon Legislature in 1989 and is funded by a surcharge on sport and commercial fishing licenses and commercial poundage fees. The program's seven-member citizen board reviews fish restoration and enhancement project proposals and makes funding recommendations to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.


* CBB Shorts: Bull Trout Comment Period; Annual Wolf Report; Reclamation's New Northwest Director; Nuke Ruling Impact On BPA Ratepayers; Canal Piping Funds; Klamath Water Allocations

-- USFWS Reopens Bull Trout Critical Habitat Comment Period

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced its intent to reopen the comment period for the proposed critical habitat revision for bull trout, a threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The original closing date for comments on the proposed critical habitat designation and the draft economic analysis was March 15. Due to Federal Register publication processes, the comment period could not be extended and therefore the the agency will pursue a new comment period that will close April 5.

In total, the USFWS proposes to designate approximately 22,679 miles of streams and 533,426 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Nevada as critical habitat for the wide-ranging fish. The proposal includes 985 miles of marine shoreline in Washington.

If finalized, the proposal would increase the amount of stream miles designated as bull trout critical habitat in the five states by 18,851 miles and the amount of lakes and reservoirs designated as critical habitat by 390,208 acres. This includes approximately 166 miles of critical habitat proposed in the Jarbidge River basin, where no critical habitat was designated in 2005. No change is proposed in the 985 miles of marine shoreline in Washington that were designated in 2005.

The proposal, developed by a team of federal scientists, is intended to provide sufficient habitat to allow for genetic and life-history diversity, ensure bull trout are well distributed across representative habitats, ensure sufficient connectivity among populations and allow for the ability to address threats facing the species.

State-by-state descriptions of the critical habitat units, maps, photographs, general biological information and other materials relating to the announcement may be found at http://www.fws.gov/pacific/bulltrout


--- Report: Northern Rocky Mountain Wolves at 1,706 in 242 Packs

The 2009 Interagency Annual Wolf Report for the Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segment is now posted online at http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov
The report is a cooperative effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nez Perce Tribe, National Park Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Idaho Fish and Game, Blackfeet Nation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and USDA Wildlife Service.

The 2009 NRM wolf population increased over 2008 levels and now includes at least 1,706 wolves in 242 packs and 115 breeding pairs.

Wolf packs and especially breeding pairs largely remain within the core recovery areas, but for the first time breeding pairs were confirmed in eastern Washington and Oregon.

Agency control, hunting and the natural territorial behavior of wolves slowed population growth to less than 4 percent in 2009, the lowest growth rate since 1995.

In 2009 federal agencies spent $3,763,000 for wolf management. Private and state agencies paid $457,785 in compensation for wolf-damage to livestock in 2009. Confirmed cattle losses in 2009 (192) were lower than in 2008 (214), but confirmed sheep losses (721) and dog losses (24) were higher than in 2008 (355 and 14 respectively). Montana removed 145 wolves by agency control and 72 by hunting. Idaho removed 93 by agency control and 134 by hunting. In Wyoming, 32 wolves were removed by agency control. In Oregon, two wolves were removed by agency control. No wolves were controlled in Washington or Utah.

Wolves in the NRM, except in Wyoming, were delisted on May 4, 2009. The decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist is being litigated in federal district courts in Wyoming and Montana.

The report represents information on the status, distribution and management of the NRM wolf population from January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2009, and is composed of five sections: 1) Montana; 2) Wyoming; 3) Idaho; 4) USFWS overview of dispersal, funding, litigation, and relevant publications; and 5) tables and figures of wolves and wolf depredations


--- Karl Wirkus Selected As Reclamation's Pacific Northwest Regional Director

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor has named Karl Wirkus as the new dDirector for Reclamation's Pacific Northwest Region. Wirkus has served as Reclamation's deputy commissioner for operations since 2007.

"The experience and knowledge that Karl has about Reclamation and the Pacific Northwest will be invaluable," said Connor. "I am delighted he has accepted this position."

As deputy commissioner for operations, Wirkus oversaw the operations in Reclamation's five regions, the Technical Service Center, Research and Development Office, the Native American and International Affairs Office, Power Liaison, and Dam Safety Officer/Design, Estimating, Construction. He will start in his new position on April 5.

Wirkus began his Reclamation career in 1981 in the Pacific Northwest Region's Geology Branch and subsequently served as a project geologist for dam safety modifications as well as construction manager for dam safety projects in southwestern Montana and Idaho.

He became the area manager for the Klamath Basin Area Office beginning in 1996. Prior to coming to Washington in the role of deputy commissioner, Wirkus served as deputy regional director in the Pacific Northwest Region's headquarters in Boise, representing Reclamation in complex negotiations on Endangered Species Act issues and providing support in all other regional programs.

Wirkus graduated from Boise State University in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in geology.

The Pacific Northwest Region encompasses the Columbia River Basin and coastal watersheds of Oregon and Washington.


--- Nuclear Ruling May Benefit BPA Ratepayers

Northwest electric ratepayers may benefit from a recent federal court decision involving the storage of spent nuclear fuel from Columbia Generating Station, the Northwest's only nuclear plant, near Richland, Wash.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims in 2006 found that the federal government had partially breached its contract with Energy Northwest, which operates the nuclear plant, because the government did not begin accepting spent fuel for deposit at the federal Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada as scheduled in 1998. Northwest ratepayers have paid a surcharge on nuclear power since 1983 to help fund Yucca Mountain, but the repository never opened.

When it became clear that the government would not accept waste at Yucca Mountain as scheduled, Energy Northwest built a storage facility at the nuclear plant site near Richland to continue plant operation and sought damages from the government to cover the costs. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims last week awarded Energy Northwest $56.9 million.

The government may appeal the award, so it is not clear when payment might actually be received.

BPA purchases all CGS power and pays for the plant's operation with ratepayer funds, so BPA ratepayers have paid the costs of building the fuel storage facility at the CGS site near Richland. If the award to Energy Northwest withstands appeal, the payment will temporarily offset BPA's funding of the plant in the year the payment is received and reduce the CGS costs built into BPA's rates.

"We're glad that BPA and the ratepayers may be compensated for the significant investment that was made in constructing the storage facility," said Andy Rapacz, manager of BPA's Contract Generating Resources.

Many other nuclear plant operators have sought similar damages from the government related to spent fuel storage costs. Many of these cases are ongoing, although some have settled and some have resulted in judgments against DOE.


--- DEQ, Three Sisters Irrigation District Sign Agreement For Main Canal Piping Project

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has signed an agreement with the Three Sisters Irrigation District for a $2 million Clean Water State Revolving Fund loan to construct pipelines to replace an open irrigation canal.

The canal is connected to Whychus Creek in the drainage area of the Deschutes River upstream from Lake Billy Chinook. The canal supplies irrigation water for approximately 7,500 acres.

Currently, Whychus Creek does not meet federal and state water quality standards for temperature because it is too warm to support habitat for bull trout, an endangered species, to live and reproduce. The pipeline project will restore water flow throughout the summer in Whychus Creek and that will result in lower temperature.

Currently the irrigation canal loses water because of seepage. The irrigation district will replace the existing canal with two buried pipelines made of high-density polyethylene.

The loan has a 20-year repayment term with no interest.

The Oregon DEQ Clean Water State Revolving Fund program loans money to public entities across the state, helping communities complete a variety of water quality improvement projects. Loans have ranged from $7,000 to $35 million. Oregon DEQ administers the program, which is supported from loan repayments along with annual grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

-- Interior Announces Klamath Project Water Allocations

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar this week announced expected Klamath Project allocations of 30 to 40 percent of average annual releases -- approximately 150,000 acre feet -- to be made available to Upper Klamath Lake irrigators.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service also announced that drought-impacted farmers in the Klamath Project will be eligible to apply for $2 million in special drought-related funding under its Environmental Quality Incentives Program, $1 million for Oregon farmers and $1 million for California farmers.

An additional 50,000 acre feet or more could be added through a water bank funded by the Bureau of Reclamation, boosting overall deliveries to approximately 50 percent of average annual deliveries.

In response to this year's dry conditions, Reclamation consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service to develop a 2010 project operations approach that is fully protective of protected species in the basin while allowing for some meaningful irrigation releases.

Reclamation and NMFS executed a new biological opinion that protects downstream fisheries, and based on its consultation with USFWS and current modeling forecasts, Reclamation estimates that irrigation deliveries could begin as soon as May 15, depending upon additional precipitation in the Klamath Basin and Upper Klamath Lake levels.

Additional information regarding the forecasted release is available at http://www.usbr.gov/mp/kbao/conditions.html

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said the decision means that irrigators will be able to receive some water from Upper Klamath Lake while still providing for the protection of endangered fish species.

"Today's decision represents an appropriate and balanced approach -- protecting endangered fish species and economic livelihoods - as the basin faces what will be a challenging water year this growing season," Kulongoski said. "It provides the certainty we need as the state begins to work one-on-one with farmers and ranchers on other sources of water. This is the type of collaboration the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement created -- and will continue -- as we work together to get through this water shortage."


Message to Readers: The CBB will not be published next week. We will return April 2.

For more information about the CBB contact:
-- BILL CRAMPTON, Editor/Writer, bcrampton@cbbulletin.com, phone:
541-312-8860 or
-- BARRY ESPENSON, Senior Writer, bespenson@msn.com, phone: 360-696-4005; fax: 360-694-1530

The stories in this e-mail newsletter are posted on the Columbia Basin Bulletin website at www.cbbulletin.com. If you would like access to the CBB archives, please consider becoming a Member of the CBB website for as little as $5 a month. Your membership will help support maintenance of the 10-year (1998-2008) news database and the production of trustworthy, timely news and information about Columbia Basin fish and wildlife issues.


Feedback comments should be sent by e-mail to the Editor at bcrampton@cbbulletin.com. Please put "feedback"in the subject line. We encourage comments about particular stories, complaints about inaccuracies or omissions; additional information; general views about the topic covered; or opinions that counterbalance statements reported.

The Columbia Basin Bulletin e-mail newsletter is produced by Intermountain Communications of Bend, Oregon and supported with Bonneville Power Administration fish and wildlife funds through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.


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