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THE COLUMBIA BASIN BULLETIN: Weekly Fish and Wildlife News
January 21, 2011 Issue No. 560

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Table of Contents

* NOAA Won’t Ask For Rehearing On Ninth Circuit’s Sea Lion Removal Ruling

* Mitchell Act Economic Impact: 17 Hatcheries, 70 Million Juveniles, Almost Half The Basin Harvest

* Mitchell Act Fund Expansion Aimed At Segregating Wild Salmon From Hatchery-Produced

* Mysis Shrimp Invasion Changed Entire Flathead Food Web, Study Says

* Corps Report On Bradford Island Cleanup Says Contaminants Exceed ‘Risk Screening Levels’

* Lower Columbia Chum Survey Shows Good Returns With Over 500 Redds

* ODFW Says Imnaha Wolf Pack May Have Increased By Six Pups In 2010

* Public Meetings Set To Gather Information For Lower Columbia Coho Critical Habitat Designation

* WDFW Director To Hold Public Roundtable In Kennewick On Fish, Wildlife Issues

* Lewis River Forest Land Protected As Part Of Hydro Relicensing Settlement Agreement

* Wet, Warm Weather Forces Northwest Dam Operators To Flush Water Downriver


* NOAA Won’t Ask For Rehearing On Ninth Circuit’s Sea Lion Removal Ruling

NOAA Fisheries announced Wednesday it won’t seek further review of an appellate court decision that, in effect, requires the agency to rethink its authorization that allows Washington, Oregon and Idaho to trap and kill California sea lions that feed on salmon below the lower Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam.

A U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit panel in a Nov. 23 opinion remanded the issue to Portland’s U.S. District Court “with instructions to vacate the decision of NMFS and remand to NMFS.” The lower federal court had in November 2009 declared NOAA Fisheries’ March 2008 decision legal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act as well as the Administrative Procedures Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

The NOAA decision was challenged in district court by the Humane Society of the United States, which also filed the appeal of the lower court decision.

The agency and federal attorneys decided “not to pursue this through the court,” NOAA Fisheries’ Garth Griffin said of the option of asking the appellate court for a rehearing. The court rules allow 45 days from the date of the judicial decision to make such a request.

The fisheries agency said in a Wednesday press release that it believes the Ninth Circuit decision gives it sufficient flexibility to potentially fix what the court described as “flaws” in the 2008 authorization. The agency also said resolving the conflict between a robust population of California sea lions and Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead is a high priority.

Griffin, who led the process leading to the decision on lethal take authority, said it is time to get to work again to analyze whether lethal take authority is justified, and legal, under the MMPA and NEPA. It has not been decided yet whether the agency would the rethinking of the lethal take decision would require that agency develop a new NEPA environmental assessment, a relatively lengthy process.

It will consider the advice of a task force reconvened this past fall to offer advice on how, and if, the five-year program should proceed into its fourth year.

(For more information see CBB, Dec. 23, 2010, “Pinniped Task Forces Releases Final Report/Recommendations On Toughening Sea Lion Removal” http://www.cbbulletin.com/403315.aspx)

Foremost will be consideration of those “flaws” outlined by the Ninth Circuit panel. The press release said the agency has the goal of completing its new determination by early spring. That’s when numbers of spring chinook, particularly, and California sea lions begin to rise.

The Ninth Circuit order said:

“Plaintiffs contend that NMFS’s application of the MMPA is ‘arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.’ We agree with their contention, at least to the extent that we conclude that NMFS has not satisfactorily explained the basis of its decision.”

“Here, we hold that NMFS has not offered a satisfactory explanation for its action. First, the agency has not adequately explained its finding that sea lions are having a ‘significant negative impact’ on the decline or recovery of listed salmonid populations given earlier factual findings by NMFS that fisheries that cause similar or greater mortality among these populations are not having significant negative impacts,” the order said. “Second, the agency has not adequately explained why a California sea lion predation rate of 1 percent would have a significant negative impact on the decline or recovery of these salmonid populations.

“These procedural errors require us to direct the district court to vacate NMFS’s decision and remand to the agency to reconsider the action or provide a fuller explanation.”

The Ninth Circuit noted that according to federal estimates, California sea lions kill between 0.4 and 4.2 percent of migrating salmonids each year over the past decade, though the estimates are considered to be minimums because predation events elsewhere in the river are not charted by dam-based researchers who compile the estimates.

“NMFS has not adequately explained its finding that sea lion predation is having a significant negative impact on salmonid decline or recovery in light of its positive environmental assessments of harvest plans having greater mortality impacts,” the Ninth Circuit order says.

“The absence of an explanation is particularly concerning with respect to the 2005 fishery environmental assessment. In that assessment, NMFS found that a plan providing for fisheries to take between 5.5 and 17 percent of listed salmonids annually, depending on run size, would be expected to result in ‘minimal adverse effects on Listed Salmonid [populations] in the Columbia River Basin,’ and that the ‘[c]umulative impacts from NMFS’s Proposed Action would be minor if at all measurable.’”

The panel also concluded that further explanation is required for NMFS’ conclusion that California sea lion predation greater than 1 percent would have a significant negative impact on the decline or recovery or the listed salmonid populations. NOAA Fisheries letter of approval said that if predation fell to below 1 percent of the salmon run in any given year, no lethal take of pinnipeds could be undertaken the following year.

The Ninth Circuit order said that the federal government’s explanations were “incomplete and inadequate to permit meaningful judicial review,” and thus the agency’s action is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

“In so holding, we do not impose an undue burden on NMFS on remand. The APA requires only a ‘cogent explanation.’

“We recognize the challenges NMFS faces in addressing salmonid conservation and recovery in the Columbia River, the efforts it has taken to address multiple sources of mortality and the practical difficulties presented by uncertainties and changing conditions on the ground,” the Nov. 23 order says. “We also recognize that sea lion predation is a serious and potentially significant problem in this location, and that Congress, in enacting section 120 of the MMPA, has authorized NMFS to give priority to ESA-listed salmonid populations over MMPA-protected pinnipeds under specific circumstances.

“As judges, our limited role is to ensure that NMFS has properly determined that those specific circumstances exist. To do so, we require an explanation from the agency that enables meaningful judicial review. We conclude that a remand is necessary in this case to permit us to fulfill our function.”

The states in November 2006 applied to NMFS for the authorization to lethally remove California sea lions under the terms of Section 120 of the MMPA, which “authorize[s] the intentional lethal taking of individually identifiable pinnipeds which are having a significant negative impact on the decline or recovery of salmonid fishery stocks which . . . have been listed as threatened . . . or endangered species under the [ESA].”

Sea lions have in recent years gathered in greater numbers in springtime below the dam to hunt spawning salmon and steelhead that are searching for passage up and over the dam.

During the first three years of the program removed a total of only 37 animals that were trapped at the dam. Predation on the spring salmon run has continues at least 2-3 percent annually. Goals were to remove at least 30 animals per year (and as many as 85).

For more information go to http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Marine-Mammals/Seals-and-Sea-Lions/States-MMPA-Request.cfm

* Mitchell Act Economic Impact: 17 Hatcheries, 70 Million Juveniles, Almost Half The Basin Harvest

Lower Columbia hatchery operations funded through the Mitchell Act provide nearly half of the salmon and steelhead caught by sport and commercial fishers in the Columbia River basin, according to the results of a recent study.

That hatchery output provides a “substantial” economic boost, particularly to rural communities up and down the Columbia River and along the coast, resources economist Tom Wegge said.

Wegge of TCW Economics briefed fishery officials on the recently completed study Tuesday in Portland. The federal, state and tribal hatchery co-managers were gathered for what is believed to be the first Mitchell Act program annual meeting. NOAA Fisheries Service organized the meeting.

“We intend to do this every year from now on,” said NOAA Fisheries’ Rob Jones, who heads the Northwest Region’s Propagation and Inland Fisheries Branch. NOAA Fisheries, which allocates money appropriated by Congress to fund the Mitchell Act program, organized the two-day session as an opportunity for co-managers to update each other on the status of their individual projects and the program as a whole. The meeting was conducted under the theme: “Helping to support Resilient Fisheries and Sustainable Economies.”

The Mitchell Act was enacted in 1938 to provide for conservation of anadromous (salmon and steelhead) fishery resources of the Columbia River. The program now has three primary components, according to the agency:

-- Operation of 17 fish hatcheries (which is down from a high of 25 hatcheries and major rearing ponds) with the release of as many as 70 million juvenile salmon and steelhead annually in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Rising costs and level funding over the past 15 years has resulted in a number of programs in the lower river being shut down, Jones said. Mitchell Act facilities once produced more than 124 million smolts annually.
-- Construction, operation and maintenance of more than 700 fish screens at irrigation diversions to protect juvenile salmon and steelhead in the three states.
-- Ongoing operations and maintenance of 90 fishways enhancing adult fish passage to nearly 2,000 miles of stream habitat.

NOAA Fisheries retained TCE Economics to conduct an analysis of the economic contribution of salmon and steelhead produced in Mitchell Act-funded hatcheries in the basin. The analysis is similar to that conducted for the “Draft Environmental Impact Statement to Inform Columbia River Basin Hatchery Operations and the Funding of Mitchell Act Hatchery Programs” that was offered for public comment this past autumn.

The EIS when finalized will be used to develop a NMFS policy direction that will 1) guide NMFS’s distribution of Mitchell Act hatchery funds and 2) inform NMFS’s future review of individual Columbia River basin hatchery programs under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The draft EIS analyzes and compares the direct, indirect and cumulative effects, including economic impacts, of operating all 178 hatchery programs in the Columbia River basin under a full range of five alternatives. The analysis previewed this week focuses just on the Mitchell Act facilities.

The Mitchell Act hatcheries are largely in the lower river, stringing from Elochoman, Grays River and Big Creek down in the lower estuary to Ringgold on the mid-Columbia. Involved in the program are the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe with Oregon, Washington and the USFWS winning the vast majority of the funding.

The fish produced by the remaining Mitchell Act programs now provide about 46 percent of the salmon and steelhead caught in the Columbia River basin, the study says. That’s a surprising total given that money spent to produce those fish represents only about 10-15 percent of the money spent on artificial propagation in the basin, Jones said. The Mitchell Act hatchery operations cost about $17.3 million per year, according to the new study.

The study estimates that 21 percent of the adult salmon and steelhead caught along the Oregon and Washington coasts are of Mitchell Act origin.

In the Columbia basin, Mitchell Act smolts account, on average, for 70 percent of the adult salmon and steelhead caught in commercial fisheries (tribal and non-tribal) and 26 percent of the fish caught in recreational fisheries. Along the coast 17 percent of the commercial catch and 27 percent of the sport catch originated in a Mitchell Act Hatchery, according to the study.

For the purposes of the study the commercial catch was estimated to 110,647 Mitchell Act salmon annually in the Columbia River basin with 42, 049 harvested by tribal fishers. More than 90,000 of the fish caught were coho.

The sport fishery in the river yields 47,209 Mitchell Act fish.

To calculate the economic benefits the study estimates a coastal catch of 57,001 Mitchell Act fish by commercial fishers and 37,194 by recreational fishers.

The research indicates that 870 full and part-time jobs are sustained by the program. That amounts to an infusion of $36 million in personal income overall. That includes 705 jobs and $30.1 million in personal income in Columbia River economies and 166 jobs and$6.4 million in personal income along the coasts of Oregon and Washington.

The sport catch of Mitchell Act fish annually generates, on average, $12.3 million in trip-related spending by recreational anglers in the basin and $2.9 million along the coast.

The commercial harvest of adult Mitchell Act fish produced on average $2.3 million in economic (es-vessel) value to harvesters in the Columbia River basin and $2.4 million along the coast.

“From a fisheries aspect, the Mitchell Act is crucial,” Jones said.


* Mitchell Act Fund Expansion Aimed At Segregating Wild Salmon From Hatchery-Produced

Lower Columbia fish managers’ desire to implement hatchery reforms got a boost this past year with an infusion of a specially earmarked $10 million appropriation to help steer toward the dual goals of conserving wild salmon and steelhead while maintaining harvests of hatchery fish.

Leading the charge was Washington U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, who steered the “Mitchell Act 2010 Expansion To Implement Hatchery Reform” through a House appropriations committee in the summer of 2009. The bill language required salmon management activities that “begin implementation of reforms developed by the Hatchery Scientific Review Group to operate these [Mitchell Act] facilities in a manner more conducive to salmon recovery.’’

The aim was to fund projects that help reduce the straying of hatchery fish onto spawning grounds, to develop local hatchery broodstocks and to bring hatcheries into better compliance with environmental requirements.

The congressman noted the review group's contention that recovery of wild salmon and steelhead was not possible without addressing the genetic impacts caused by hatchery fish spawning with wild fish. He said the additional funds that will be available to the Columbia River hatcheries in the next year can provide for physical barriers to segregate wild and hatchery populations, as well as for efforts -- such as clipping the adipose fin -- to distinguish hatchery fish and allow for a selective fishery.

The list of projects chosen for funding is indeed getting projects on the ground “that advance the goals of the HSRG” and the parallel goals of his agency’s Conservation and Sustainable Fisheries Plan, said Patrick Frazier of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The HSRG’s review of all Columbia-Snake River basin salmon hatcheries was completed early in 2009.

The WDFW was the lead agency lobbying for the Mitchell Act budget expansion to fund hatchery reform actions. It also garnered the largest share of the add-on budget, $6.7 million. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife earned $2.5 million in hatchery reform funding, the Yakama Nation $560,480 and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service $213,761.

The base Mitchell Act budget for fiscal year 2010 was $11,066,221 to help operate 17 hatcheries on the lower Columbia and operate and maintain fish screens at irrigation outlets as well as fishways to assure passage along nearly 2,000 miles of stream habitat.

The funding helped “jump start” a number of hoped-for projects that had no funding source, Frazier said. Among them was an effort by WDFW to test commercial fishing gear in the lower Columbia that might allow a the harvest of marked hatchery fish and the live release of unmarked, presumably wild, salmon and steelhead. The funding, $1.98 million, allowed the gear testing effort to be advanced more aggressively than it could have otherwise.

“Without that I wouldn’t have been able to put 13 bodies on the water” to test various types of gear, Frazier said. A $450,000 award was granted to further the ODFW effort to develop and implement mark-selective gear for tule fall chinook.

The extra funding also allowed $2.3 million to be steered toward the externally mass marking of hatchery fish at both WDFW and ODFW Mitchell Act Hatcheries.

More than $3 million of the $10 million budget expansion is earmarked for two projects to improve the WDFW’s ability to trap and sort returning salmon and steelhead so that wild steelhead in particular can be transported above the Kalama Falls Hatchery for release back into the upper river. The Kalama River is home to more Endangered Species Act listed species than any watershed in the lower Columbia. That list includes spring and fall chinook, early and late run coho and summer and winter steelhead.

The largest share, $2.5 million, will be spent to design, permit and construct an adult fish handling system at Kalama Falls Hatchery to trap, handle and sort hatchery from wild fish and pass wild fish upriver. The agency is the process of selecting a consultant to design the planned facility.

The existing system is “very labor intensive and not a very good way to handle fish,” Frazier said.

The fish ladder now dead-ends at the hatchery so the fish have to be physically transported about 100 yards to holding ponds where they are sorted.

“It’s pretty archaic how the fish are handled,” the WDFW’s Eric Kinne said. The project aims to extend the ladder to avoid the extra handling.

Another $450,000 is earmarked to modify the existing Modrow trap down near the mouth of the Kalama to enable the sorting and release of wild fish on site.

The WDFW will also have built a weir in Coweeman River, a tributary to the Cowlitz River in southwest Washington, to control the number of hatchery origin fish that might stray on the spawning grounds of protected wild tule chinook.

Among the environmental compliance projects to be funded is the installation of improved screening at the ODFW’s Big Creek Hatchery to bring the facility within NOAA Fisheries standards. The project was allocated $805,000.

The extra Mitchell Act funding will allow the ODFW to provide a $330,000 cost share on a project to implement passage and screening at Sandy Hatchery. The city of Portland will pay the balance, $3.7 million. Completing the project will open more than 15 miles of habitat.


* Mysis Shrimp Invasion Changed Entire Flathead Food Web, Study Says

Research conducted at the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station has provided important data about how introductions or invasions of nonnative organisms can lead to major changes in the structure of aquatic ecosystems.

UM assistant research professor Bonnie Ellis and FLBS Director Jack Stanford were among a team of scientists from around the Pacific Northwest who studied how the invasion or introduction of organisms into the lake has affected its biological diversity.

The research was published in the Jan. 18 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the scientists’ study, “Long-term Effects of a Trophic Cascade in a Large Lake Ecosystem,” was highlight in the Jan. 13 edition of Nature. The article can be found at:
http://www.pnas.org/content/current or http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v469/n7329/index.html

The researchers looked at a 120-year record of the food web structure and dynamics of the lake, the largest freshwater lake in the western United States. They examined the mechanisms of what is known as a trophic cascade, which occurs when reciprocal effects of predators on prey alter the abundance, biomass or productivity of a population, community or trophic level across more than one link in the food web.

The data reveal four distinguishable periods: the pre-1920 native period, when native species dominated the fish community (although numerous nonnative fishes had been introduced); the kokanee period from 1920 to 1984, when many nonnative fish species first appeared and nonnative kokanee expanded to a large population size, replacing cutthroat trout as the predominant angler catch; the period from 1985 to 1988, when the population of introduced opossum shrimp, Mysis diluviana, grew rapidly and then declined to less than half the peak density while the kokanee population crashed; and the lake trout period from 1988 to today, when a new community dominated by the roles of the opossum shrimp and lake trout seem to have stabilized.

In particular, the team looked at the invasion of the opossum shrimp during the 1980s.

“The population of opossum shrimp in the lake exploded from 1985 to 1988,” Ellis said. “During that time, the population of kokanee in the lake fell and never recovered, bull trout declined and lake trout came to be the dominant top predator. At the same time as the kokanee decline, bald eagle numbers dropped with the collapse of their primary prey.

“But the most important and unexpected finding is that the rate of primary productivity (growth of algae) increased suddenly by 21 percent, exactly coherent with the peak mysid numbers in 1986, and has not decreased since then. Basically, the mysid invasion changed the entire food web and in that way altered the water quality in Flathead Lake by increasing algae growth.”

The study also noted the loss of the kokanee salmon. Anglers reported kokanee, landlocked sockeye salmon, in Flathead Lake as early as the 1920s. The Flathead Lake stock came from the hatchery at Bonneville, Ore. The kokanee began spawning very successfully in two groundwater upwelling zones on the lake shoreline. By 1940 kokanee replaced cutthroat trout as the dominant catch of anglers.
During 1979-83 the kokanee population was estimated at 1.6 million to 2.3 million. From 1980 to 1985, high congregations of bald eagles gathered to feed on the kokanee spawning run at the McDonald Creek spawning site.

“With the invasion of the opossum shrimp, lake trout that had been introduced 80 years earlier but remained at low densities flourished,” Stanford said. “The shrimp provided a deep water source of food where little had been available previously. Lake trout, who fed on the shrimp, now dominate the lake fishery, at the expense of the native fishes.”

In addition to the loss of the kokanee population in the lake, native bull and westslope cutthroat trout also are imperiled, he said. The research shows that recovery of bull and cutthroat trout will be difficult given strong food web control by the expansive lake trout population.

“An important challenge now is to determine the tipping point for what might be the next ecosystem state as the community continues its internally driven dynamics – and how external drivers such as climate change and direct human intervention, such as introduction of yet another exotic species or manipulation of the lake trout population by netting in an attempt to protect the remaining bull trout, affect those dynamics,” Ellis said.


* Corps Report On Bradford Island Cleanup Says Contaminants Exceed ‘Risk Screening Levels’

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District, has released a draft report on its investigation of contamination on Bradford Island and in the water near the island at Bonneville Lock and Dam.

The draft report documents the district’s investigation; identifies the sources, nature and extent of the remaining environmental contamination; and identifies potential concerns to human health and the environment.

The report concludes that contaminants both on land and in the water exceed risk screening levels, and proposes a feasibility study to identify remedial actions that will lower concentrations in the in-water area to an acceptable risk level.

It also proposes either a feasibility study or a site-specific baseline “Human Health Risk Assessment” or “Level III Ecological Risk Assessment” for the land areas to determine if risks to human health or ecological receptors are unacceptable.

The full report is available for public review and comment on Portland District’s FTP site at ftp://ftp.usace.army.mil/pub/nwp/Bradford_Island_Draft_Final_Remedial_Investigation/

The district has been working with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to remove contaminated sediments from on and near Bradford Island since 1997. The contamination resulted from the disposal of electrical equipment on Bradford Island and in the Columbia River through the 1970s. The contaminated areas include a historic landfill, a sandblast area, a pistol target range and an area where waste was disposed directly into the Columbia River.

The Corps removed electrical debris and some contaminated sediment from the river in 2002, and removed 0.83 acre of highly contaminated sediments from the same area in October 2007. Corps officials say both efforts seem to have considerably reduced the in-water contamination.

The Corps continues to work with state and tribal health agencies to inform area anglers about the danger of eating contaminated fish.


* Lower Columbia Chum Survey Shows Good Returns With Over 500 Redds

Lower Columbia River chum salmon finished spawning in late December, and biologists say the returns look good for the threatened species this year.

Biologists counted well over 500 chum salmon nests --  redds -- in the mainstem below Bonneville Dam.

The 2010 chum return is good, but not record-breaking, says BPA fisheries biologist Scott Bettin.

“Chum are a different fish,” says Bettin, “and we don’t really know as much about what affects them.”

Chum, listed under the Endangered Species Act, don’t spend much time in the river -- they hatch and leave for the ocean right away. They spawn below the dams, so they’re not affected by dam passage. They are harvested almost solely in the ocean.

Operators manage the water elevations and flow levels below Bonneville Dam from early November through early April to help the chum spawn safely. This year, they began additional water releases from Bonneville Dam on Nov. 1 to encourage the females to place their redds at an elevation that could be maintained through early April. The first redds were spotted at Ives Island Nov. 2.

In late December, when no more new redds were showing up in spawning surveys, federal agencies consulted with tribes and states to decide on the elevation and flow levels that would best keep the redds covered while also refilling reservoirs to boost flows for other migrating salmon in the spring.

The level is a little higher than usual, says Bettin, because the heavy rains in November and December meant river levels were higher when the chum established their redds. Operators will continue to monitor redd temperatures and manage flows below Bonneville to keep the redds covered until early April when the chum fry will finish emerging.

The first ones to hatch and head out to the ocean could leave as early as January, says Bettin. “They’re the last in, first out,” he says. In order to incubate that quickly, the chum have to plant their eggs in ground water upwelling or near hot springs in shallow water. Like other salmon, they stay in the ocean for two to five years before they return to the river to spawn.


* ODFW Says Imnaha Wolf Pack May Have Increased By Six Pups In 2010

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s December Wolf Report says the Inmaha Pack may have produced six pups in 2010.

“Location data was collected from the Imnaha Pack during six days in December,” says the report. “On four of the days, the pack was found using the lower elevation areas west of Little Sheep Creek. The area (Zumwalt area) has a large wintering elk herd and a maximum count of 16 wolves was made of this pack by aircraft on Dec. 6. The pack has nine gray, six black, and one unknown color. In addition, this count suggests that six pups may have been produced by the Imnaha Pack in 2010, which ODFW will try to confirm this winter and spring.

“Wolves of this pack are not always together and on one day during December, OR-3 (3-year-old sub-dominant male) was located approximately 23 miles away from OR-2 (alpha female). It is notable that the radio-signal from OR-5 (yearling female) has not been detected since 11/29.”

ODFW says it has widened the search area for this collar as she may have dispersed from the pack.

Also in the report:

--- Wenaha Pack: Wolf surveys in the Wenaha Unit were conducted over three days during December – all by snow machine. A minimum of two wolves was documented on Dec. 31, when tracks were found at the site of a cougar-killed deer.

--- Ukiah Unit: In response to a public wolf report in the Ukiah Unit, ODFW and USFS personnel conducted 49 miles of transect in the north half (Pearson Creek area) of the Unit. No wolf sign was found (new snow), but this area will continue to be monitored.

-- Starkey Unit: Surveys for wolf activity were conducted in the Starkey (Shaw Mountain and Glass Hill) Unit over two days in December. A total of 60 miles was surveyed (snow track surveys) with no wolf sign found.

-- Reports of Wolf Activity: Twenty one wolf reports were received by ODFW during the reporting period as follows; east wolf management zone (17) and west wolf management zone (4). (Note: State’s east and west wolf zones divided by Hwy 97/20/395.) Wolf reports received were categorized as sighting reports (13), track/scat reports (3), and howling reports (5).


* Public Meetings Set To Gather Information For Lower Columbia Coho Critical Habitat Designation

NOAA Fisheries says it will prepare critical habitat designation proposals for lower Columbia River coho salmon and Puget Sound steelhead, both currently listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The areas under consideration include watersheds in the lower Columbia River basin in southwest Washington and northwest Oregon, as well as watersheds in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington.

Comments and information regarding the designation process and areas being considered for designation as critical habitat may be sent to NOAA Fisheries no later than 5 p.m. on March 11. Comments may be sent to Chief, Protected Resources Division, NMFS, 525 NE Oregon Street—Suite 500, Portland, OR 97232. Comments may also be sent via fax to 503 230-5441 or submitted online via the Federal Rulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov.

Public meetings have been scheduled to discuss and seek input on the approach to designating critical habitat for these species. Details regarding the meeting format and related information will be posted by January 25, 2011, on the NOAA Fisheries Northwest Office website http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Salmon-Habitat/Critical-Habitat/LCR-coho-PS-stlhd.cfm

Meeting times and locations are as follows:
-- Jan. 26 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel, 1000 NE. Multnomah Street, Portland; and
-- Feb. 1 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the NOAA Campus, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Building 9, Seattle. (Please note -- all attendees of the Seattle meeting will need to show photo identification in order to be permitted onto the NOAA campus.)

For more information, see the Federal Register notice http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2011/01/10/2011-283/endangered-and-threatened-species-designation-of-critical-habitat-for-threatened-lower-columbia

NOAA is currently gathering information prior to proposing critical habitat for LCR coho and Puget Sound steelhead. The ESA suggest a number of questions the agency should consider when designating critical habitat:

-- What areas were occupied by the species at the time of listing?
-- What physical and biological features are essential to the species' conservation?
-- Are those essential features ones that may require special management considerations or protection?
-- Are there any areas outside those currently occupied that are “essential for conservation?”
-- What are the benefits to the species of critical habitat designation?
-- What economic, national security and other relevant impacts would result from a critical habitat designation?
-- What is the appropriate geographic scale for weighing the benefits of exclusion and benefits of designation?
-- Will the failure to designate any particular area as critical habitat result in the extinction of the species?

The Lower Columbia River coho includes all naturally spawned populations of coho in the Columbia River and its tributaries in Washington and Oregon, from the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to and including the Big White Salmon and Hood rivers, and including the lower Willamette River up to Willamette Falls, Ore., as well as coho from 25 artificial propagation programs located in numerous watersheds.

These coho populations display one of two major life history types based on when and where adults migrate from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in fresh water. Early returning coho typically forage in marine waters south of the Columbia River and return beginning in mid-August, while late returning coho generally forage to the north and return to the Columbia River from late September through December.

It is thought that early returning coho migrate to headwater areas and late returning fish migrate to the lower reaches of larger rivers or into smaller streams and creeks along the Columbia River. Although there is some level of reproductive isolation and ecological specialization between early and late types, there is some uncertainty regarding the importance of these differences. Some tributaries historically supported spawning by both run types.

Mature coho of both types typically enter fresh water to spawn from late summer to late autumn. Spawning typically occurs between November and January.


* WDFW Director To Hold Public Roundtable In Kennewick On Fish, Wildlife Issues

South-central Washington residents can discuss fish and wildlife issues with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson and regional WDFW staff in a roundtable-style meeting Feb. 9 in Kennewick.

The meeting is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Benton PUD auditorium, 2721 W. 10th Ave. in Kennewick.

Anderson and WDFW staff conducted similar roundtables in north-central and coastal Washington last fall, and more will be offered in other areas of the state in coming months.

“I enjoy visiting communities and talking with our stakeholders to get perspectives from as many people as possible about their fish and wildlife interests,” said Anderson.

The roundtable in Kennewick will include discussion of WDFW budget challenges and resource-management issues.

WDFW staff will answer questions and take comments on fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing, habitat protection, enforcement and other fish- and wildlife-related issues.

“This is a good opportunity for area residents to get to know WDFW administrators and local staff and to share their views on fish and wildlife issues,” said Jeff Tayer, WDFW’s regional director for south-central Washington.


* Lewis River Forest Land Protected As Part Of Hydro Relicensing Settlement Agreement

Nearly 1,000 acres of forest lands near the North Fork of the Lewis River in Washington have now been protected from potential development and will be managed to enhance wildlife habitat.

PacifiCorp, working closely with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, purchased land in late December 2010 from Longview Timber to help fulfill terms of its Lewis River Hydroelectric Relicensing Settlement Agreement. The lands were identified as an important acquisition by multiple state and federal agencies and stakeholders including the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Cowlitz Tribe that oversee PacifiCorp’s management of more than 11,000 acres near the Lewis River.

Two tracts, both just under 500 acres and southwest of Mount St. Helens, are involved in the latest purchase. The first, north of PacifiCorp’s Swift Reservoir and west of Marble Mountain, adjoins Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The second lies along the Lewis River between Yale Reservoir and Lake Merwin in an area near other PacifiCorp holdings.

Both tracts also are in areas of residential and recreational development. The recent purchase ensures that these properties remain as open space for the future and will be managed to enhance the existing habitat for many species of wildlife, but particularly elk. PacifiCorp has habitat management plans that allow for forestry, but include larger buffers for streams and wetlands, permanent forage areas for deer and elk, wetlands, old growth forests and protecting other unique habitats.

The lands are open to the public (non-motorized access) and law enforcement is enhanced to protect these areas and enforce regulations through contracts with state and county enforcement agencies.

Both tracts are used year-round by a significant number of Roosevelt’s elk -- crucial habitat in a region where Mount St. Helens’ national monument designation, management restrictions and overgrown forests are causing the decline of a once-productive elk herd. PacifiCorp will manage both tracts, with input from a committee of state, federal, tribal and private individuals to emphasize intermediate-succession habitat and increased forage for elk and black-tailed deer. Black bears and cougars, along with species of concern such as bald eagles, bats, salamanders and turtles, also inhabit the area.

Kirk Naylor, principle scientist of wildlife and forestry for PacifiCorp, said, “The tract near Yale Reservoir is only 490 acres of mostly second growth timber, but it lies adjacent to one of our most heavily used and well-established elk foraging areas within the Lewis River Wildlife Habitat Management Area, which now totals over 11,000 acres. Had these 490 acres been developed or even logged aggressively as private timberland can sometimes be, it would have been a loss to a far greater area.”

“Conserving and managing this habitat on the southwest slopes of Mt. St. Helens, where elk are threatened by forage loss from forest succession and habitat loss to development—all within 50 miles of Portland and Vancouver—is a major accomplishment,” said Bill Richardson, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation lands program manager for Oregon and Washington.

PacifiCorp also worked together with these same parties in 2009 to acquire and conserve 52 acres in the same area. The land is meadow habitat that also helps support Roosevelt’s elk from the Mount. St. Helens herd.

The Lewis River Hydroelectric Relicensing Settlement Agreement was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which granted new hydroelectric operation licenses in 2008. The licenses provide for 50 years of continued operation of four dams and hydroelectric facilities along the Lewis River. Included are plans to re-open up to 174 miles of potential salmon habitat, improve local flood management and boost recreational opportunities. Negotiators representing PacifiCorp, tribes, federal and state resource agencies, three counties and several conservation groups signed the agreement.


* Wet, Warm Weather Forces Northwest Dam Operators To Flush Water Downriver

Water discharge from Dworshak Dam near Orofino, Idaho, has been temporarily increased to make room in the reservoir for flood risk management purposes, US. Army Corps of Engineers operations officials announced.

Discharge flow was increased Thursday from approximately 10,500, which is powerhouse capacity, to 14,000 cubic feet per second by sending more than 3 cfs through the spillway and will be maintained until further notice.

“The rainfall and associated runoff over the past week or so brought the reservoir water level up to 1,536 feet in elevation,” said Stephen Hall, Walla Walla District senior water manager. “We have to maintain space in the reservoir to manage flood risk through the spring season – that means we need to get the water elevation back down to 1,526 feet to keep on track for having room for the seasonal snowmelt inflows a couple of months from now.”

Hall said it would likely take a couple of weeks of increased flows to reach that target elevation.

Corps officials advise boaters and other persons using waterways both in Dworshak Reservoir and below the dam on the Clearwater River to be alert to changes in water elevation and volume of flow during this time period.

The wet, warm weather has also forced Avista Utilities to adjust its hydro operations for the Spokane River Hydroelectric Project in response to rising Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe River flows and Coeur d’Alene Lake levels. More specifically, the planned drawdown at Lake Spokane, the reservoir created by Long Lake Dam, has been cancelled.

Avista’s Spokane River Project includes Post Falls Dam, which affects the level of Lake Coeur d’Alene, as well the Spokane River and the downstream Upper Falls, Monroe Street, Nine Mile and Long Lake dams. Coeur d’Alene Lake was roughly two feet above its summer full-pool elevation of 2,128’ on Wednesday and river flows in downtown Spokane reached 21,000 cfs.

In an effort to maintain the level of Coeur d’Alene Lake and to prevent flooding, Avista has opened all spill gates at Post Falls Dam. At the same time operators are working to keep Lake Spokane slightly below full pool to help prevent flood conditions near the confluence of Little Spokane River and Lake Spokane. As flows decrease Avista will probably bring the Lake Spokane elevations up near summer full-pool levels.

Depending on weather conditions and subsequent levels along the river and in Lake Coeur d’Alene, Avista will reassess whether to draw down Lake Spokane as previously planned.
Property owners and lake-users are reminded to make necessary preparations, including removing boats from the water, and removing or securing docks and boathouses to accommodate changing water conditions.

Water levels are subject to change quickly due to a variety of factors, including weather. Lake and river users should always be alert to signs of such changes and exercise the highest level of personal caution and safety when using the waterway.

Updated reservoir level information is available by calling Avista's recorded Lake Information Line at (509) 495-8043. Current lake and river levels can be seen online at http://www.avistautilities.com/inside/resources/Pages/waterflow.aspx.

The Corps' Seattle District has wrapped up flood fight operations in the Yakima, Snohomish, Skagit and Chehalis river basins in Washington and at Libby Dam in northwest Montana, but levee patrollers remain on duty in areas of concern.

A Yakima River basin flood team completed work in support of Yakima County to shore up an area of erosion on the Rock Creek Levee on the Naches River, and a team in Ellensburg raised a portion of Riverbottom Road along the Yakima River at the Jensen Levee at the request of Kittitas County. The Corps also provided technical support for work on a levee in Mount Vernon on the Skagit River downstream of Interstate 5 in support of Diking District 17.

In reservoir operations, the Corps has held Howard Hanson Dam outflows around 7,000 cfs, while inflows peaked above 20,000 cfs. The Corps is operating the dam to keep flows at Auburn about 10,500 cfs, below the 12,000 cfs level of concern for levees from Auburn downstream. The Corps held water behind the dam that pushed the reservoir level to a peak of 1,155 feet above sea level, above an elevation (1,147 feet) that triggers increased on-site monitoring to ensure dam safety, and the dam performed well, according to engineers.

Teams are out in the White and Green river basins monitoring conditions in the basin and communicating what they see back to the Seattle District's reservoir control center and emergency operations center. Flows are above or near levels--6,000 cubic feet per second along the White River and 9,000 cfs along the Green River -- that trigger the Corps to monitor levees 24 hours a day.

There is a risk of flooding for property owners along the non-leveed middle Green basin, the rural portion of the river upstream from Auburn to Howard Hanson Dam. Flows above 9,000 cubic feet per second as measured at the Auburn gage triggered a flood warning from the National Weather Service due to flooding concerns in the Middle Green River. These flows do not present flooding concerns for the more highly populated areas downstream, including Auburn, Kent, Tukwila or Renton.

The Corps keeps the reservoirs empty at Mud Mountain Dam along the White River and Howard Hanson Dam along the Green River until storage is required for flood risk management, and both had empty reservoirs on Jan. 14. Mud Mountain Dam water storage reduced peak inflows of 25,000 cfs to outflows of 6,300 cfs.

Current flow information for any of the river basins in western Washington may be found here: http://www.nwd-wc.usace.army.mil/nws/hh/index-j.html

The Seattle Seattle District has seen high inflows to Lake Pend Oreille in north Idaho that are now causing operators of Albeni Falls Dam to spill water in an effort to maintain a steady lake elevation.

On Tuesday average releases from Albeni Falls Dam increased to 29,000 cfs, up from 21,000 cfs. Current releases are 41,000 cfs. Releases could continue to increase this week in an effort to keep the lake elevation as close to 2,056 feet above sea level as possible.

Inflows to Lake Pend Oreille have gone above 41,000 cfs, up from 17,000 the previous week. Water managers will continue to monitor the inflows and make adjustments as necessary, but higher outflows (above 30,000 cfs) are expected to be necessary through the weekend.

For real time flow information, visit ://www.nwd-wc.usace.army.mil/nws/hh/basins/

The Corps operates Albeni Falls Dam as a multiple-purpose project, providing flood risk management, power generation, navigation and recreation.
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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