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Weekly Fish and Wildlife News
April 13, 2012 Issue No. 616

All stories below are posted on the CBB's website at www.cbbulletin.com
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Table of Contents

* Request For Preliminary Injunction Filed As States Continue Trapping, Euthanizing Sea Lions

* Big Water Moving Through Hydro System: Involuntary Spill, Reservoirs Drafted To Prepare For Spring Melt

* Crane Needed To Remove Big Log At Bonneville Dam Holding Up Large Spring Creek Hatchery Release

* Lousy Per Rod Catch Rates, But Commercial Fishery Suggest Plenty Of Spring Chinook Still To Come

* Sections Of Lower Snake River Open To Spring Chinook Fishing April 20; 129,000 Hatchery Fish Expected

* Research On ESA-Listed Columbia River Eulachon Smelt Looks At Habitat Needs, Other Factors

* NMFS’ Draft BiOp Says Three Pesticides Likely Jeopardize Salmon, Proposes Measures To Reduce Exposure

* Science Review Of Resident Fish, Data Management Projects Under Council Program Open For Comment

* Research Looks At Ecosystem Impacts If Salmon Escapements Allowed To Increase

* Research: Less Major Predators, More Large Herbivores Harms Ecosystems, Diversity

* New Report Details Potential of Hydropower Generation At Existing Bureau Of Reclamation Canal Sites


* Request For Preliminary Injunction Filed As States Continue Trapping, Euthanizing Sea Lions

The confrontations between those who want the California sea lion presence lessened in the lower Columbia River and those who do not continued this week both on the river and in the courtroom.

Oregon and Washington officials continued their effort to trap and lethally remove California sea lions that are known to prey on protected salmon and steelhead below the lower (river mile 146) Columbia’s Bonneville Dam. The states this week trapped two animals that were deemed eligible for removal. The two animals were euthanized, bringing the 2012 toll to four California sea lions.

Also on the river, representatives of Sea Shepherd and the Sea Lion Defense Brigade have launched a campaign to alert the public and the governors of Oregon and Washington about what the animal rights activists believe is a scapegoating of the marine mammals for the human-caused decline of the basin’s salmon population.

Sharing that opinion is the Humane Society of the United States, which last week filed with the U.S. District Court a request for a preliminary injunction to stop the lethal removals. The states were granted lethal removal authority under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act via a March 15 by NOAA Fisheries Service. That decision was immediately challenged with a complaint filed March 19 by HSUS.

“We’re still formulating our plan” Scott West, the Sea Shepherd’s director of Intelligence and Investigations, said of the group’s potential future attempts to discourage the removals.

And while some monitoring of the sea lion trapping activities has been ongoing over the past two weeks, the organizations want it beefed up.

“We want to put a lot of people on the ground to monitor the situation” and “to keep attention drawn to this.” An effort is being made online to encourage people that are opposed to the removal program to call their governor.

He called the sea lions scapegoats.

“The real issues are all human induced,” West said of decline of salmon populations. He cited hydro power development, pollution, “rigid” tribal rights, fishing and other causes that are bigger limiting factors for salmon populations.

The states, using four floating traps below the dams, captured five California sea lions this week. The first captured Tuesday, which was euthanized, had been observed previously at the dam feeding on salmon. On Wednesday, a pair of sea lions were captured and outfitted with GPS tags so their whereabouts could be monitored, and released. They were not on the list of animals that are eligible under the authorization for removal.

Another eligible California sea lion was captured and removed Thursday and an ineligible animal was captured, branded for identification purposes, and released.

California sea lion activity at the dam so far has been relatively light, according to researchers at the dam who observe the pinnipeds comings and goings and predation activity.

The maximum number California sea lions seen below the dam his year on any one day through Wednesday has been eight which is the lowest count through that date since the year the study began in 2002. The researchers have documented 18 different California sea lions at the dam so far this season. Last year’s total for the entire season, which ends at the end of May, was 54.

So far, fewer salmon are being taken this year, according to the researchers. The salmon counts in Bonneville’s fish ladders are the lowest in recent years.

“Total salmonid catch by sea lions through April 11 (255 expanded by interpolating for weekends) is lower than any year since we began observing (2011 – 659, 2010 – 1479, 2009 – 1,289, 2008 – 1,463, 2007 - 877, 2006 – 732, 2005 – 276, 2004 – 1,478, 2003 - 959, 2002 - 447),” according to the researchers weekly update.

The court battle over the authorization has begun. The initial complaint was followed up April 6 with the filing of the preliminary injunction request by HSUS and the Wild Fish Conservancy in the District of Columbia’s U.S. District Court. The lawsuit was transferred late last week to Oregon’s U.S. District Court. The lawsuit was assigned Thursday to Judge Michael H. Simon.

“…without the Court’s immediate intervention, the States will kill federally protected sea lions based on an administrative decision which is virtually identical to a previous decision set aside as unlawful by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit…,” the injunction request says.

NOAA Fisheries in 2008 granted authority to the states under the MMPA’s Section 120 to lethally remove California sea lions that were known to have a “significant” impact on the recovery of listed salmon and steelhead stocks.

The states say the sea lion predation, which sprouted since the turn of the century, is hindering efforts to recover wild salmon and steelhead stocks that are ESA listed.

The 2008 decision was upheld in district court, but later struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which said the federal agency failed to adequately explain why it determined that the animals were having a significant impact, or how the animals impact could be deemed significant when other causes of fish mortality were more severe.

While the authority was in place from 2008 through 2010, a total of 38 California sea lions were removed.

The states reapplied for the lethal removal authority and it was granted by NOAA Fisheries, which has said it remedied the legal deficiencies cited by the appellate court.

The injunction request says those flaws remain.

“NMFS’s 2012 decision suffers from similar defects. NMFS failed to offer a cogent rationale for why killing California sea lions, who eat at most 4.2 percent of adult salmon and steelhead runs (and a mere 1.1 percent of the run last year), is warranted in light of its prior factual findings that much greater takes by fisheries and dams, both of which NMFS authorizes to take up to 17 percent of adult salmonid runs, are not significant,” the April 6 HSUS injunction memo says.

“Indeed, NMFS itself has flatly conceded that “[i]n general, predation rates on salmon are considered to be an insignificant contribution to the large declines observed in west coast populations”, the memo says in citing NMFS” Pacific Salmonids: Major Threats and Impacts, http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/fish/salmon.htm “and did not list predation by native species among the factors limiting salmon recovery in its 2011 Report to Congress. NMFS, 2011 Report to Congress: Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund FY 2000-2010.”

“In short, NMFS has failed to comply with the Ninth Circuit’s remand and its obligations under law. There is nothing in the record on NMFS’s 2012 authorization that might support a finding that sea lions must be killed immediately, and certainly not before this case can be resolved on the merits,” the memo says.

“Plaintiffs and their members regularly see, enjoy watching, and recognize specific sea lions at the Dam, including some of the “individually identifiable” animals targeted to be killed, and thus will be irreparably harmed if these federally protected animals are killed simply for eating fish before such time as the Court can resolve Plaintiffs’ request for preliminary injunction. Thus, in order to stop the unlawful killing of federally protected sea lions, prevent irreparable harm to Plaintiffs, and simply preserve the status quo as it has existed for over 35 years, Plaintiffs ask that the Court issue the requested injunction.”

The parties have agreed to a proposed briefing schedule that would allow the defendant federal government to respond to the plaintiffs’ motion on or before April 20 and then give the HSUS until April 27 to reply.


* Big Water Moving Through Hydro System: Involuntary Spill, Reservoirs Drafted To Prepare For Spring Melt

The surf’s up as Columbia and lower Snake rivers and tributaries flow with rains and runoff from bountiful snowpacks -- water that is pouring down through the system earlier and at a higher level than normal.

So-called “involuntary spill” has been called on at times in recent weeks to move water along in anticipation of the annual spring meltdown that is highlighted by the flow freshet yet to come.

“There are times when they do involuntarily spill basically due to lack of load,” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Karl Kanbergs said of nighttime and weekend periods of lower power demand. The Corps operates four lower Columbia River and four lower Snake River mainstem hydro projects.

The release of specified amounts of water through spill gates was triggered on the lower Snake April 3 and the lower Columbia April 10 as required by NOAA Fisheries’ Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion. The goal is to provide an additional bypass route, aside from turbine and mechanical bypass, for outmigrating juvenile salmon and steelhead that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

In high runoff times, “involuntary” spill beyond ESA requirements is often needed to pass water.

Flows are already up as storage reservoirs such as east central Idaho’s Dworkshak Dam in the Snake system and central Washington’s Grand Coulee Dam on the mid-Columbia shed water to carve reservoir space for the larger runoff ahead. That space is needed to provide flood control in the coming weeks as snowmelt increases.

The NOAA National Weather Service’s Northwest River Forecast Center in a forecast released Tuesday predicts that runoff past The Dalles Dam on the lower Columbia will total 110 million acre feet from April-September, which would be 112 percent of the 1971-2000 average and the 13th highest amount in the past 52 years.

The Dalles prediction is fortified by strong forecasts from the upper Columbia in the United States and British Columbia. Most of the water supply forecasts for British Columbia are well above average. Inflows to Mica Dam’s reservoir in the very upper part of the Columbia basin are expected to be at 116 percent of average for the April through July period when juvenile salmon and steelhead are headed to the sea.

Inflows to Libby Dam’s reservoir in northwest Montana are forecast to be 112 percent of average for April-July and the Clark Fork River above Missoula, Mont., is expected to pass 130 percent of its average annual flow. Forecasts, in the most likely scenario, for the Flathead River basin, as measured at Columbia Falls, Mont., are 109 percent of normal and 111 percent over that 30-year average on the Pend Oreille River as projected at Albeni Falls Dam in the Idaho panhandle. The Flathead and Pend Oreille waters funnel into the Columbia.

The snowpack through Wednesday in the Montana portion of the Kootenai River drainage was at 128 percent of average and had received 113 percent of its average precipitation for the season, according to data from National Resources Conservation Service automated SNOTEL measuring sites. Overall, mountain snow accumulations generally peak around the first of April.

In anticipation of heavy runoff later in the season, Lake Roosevelt is being drafted to a level of 1,220.2 feet elevation. Bureau of Reclamation dam operators are amidst a “heavy draft” of the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam.

“We’re drafting as hard as we can right now” to reach the April 30 flood control elevation prompted by the early April runoff forecast, said the Bureau’s John Roache. As of midnight Wednesday the reservoir was at 1,246 feet elevation.

The reservoir elevation will likely to cross the 1,228 foot elevation by about April 23. That low level prevents use of the Inchelium ferry, which hauls automobiles across the reservoir about 16 miles above Grand Coulee. Roache said the ferry would be out of operation “until probably sometime in May” when the Bureau can start refilling the reservoir.

The reservoir behind Dworshak Dam, with a forebay elevation of 1,515 at midday Thursday, is headed for an April 30 flood control elevation of 1,499.6 feet.

The April 10 forecast, based on snowpack, precipitation, runoff, soil moisture and other data through April 9, pegs runoff past Grand Coulee to be 114 percent of the 30-year average or 61.145 MAF during the April-July period. All of the British Columbia, northeast Washington, north Idaho and northwest Montana parts of the Columbia basin flow past Grand Coulee.

The runoff from the Snake River basin is expected to be less robust. The recent NWRFC forecast projects that runoff past Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake will be 102 percent of average, about 22 MAF, for the April-July period. Low snowpacks for the Owyhee and Malheur basins bog that forecast down with anticipated flows at 53 percent of normal. Snowpack “snow-water equivalents” were at 51 percent of normal at midweek, even those basins had received 85 percent of average precipitation for the season (Oct. 1 through April 11).

The Owyhee and Malheur rivers flow into the Snake along the Idaho-south Oregon border. The Snake feeds into the Columbia in southeast Washington.

Precipitation for the season has largely been above average. In the Columbia-Snake basin above The Dalles precipitation has been 107 percent of normal Oct. 1-April 9 and 112 percent of normal above the mid-Columbia’s Grand Coulee. The Snake River basin above Ice Harbor Dam has had 101 percent of its average precipitation for the period. Ice Harbor is in southeast Washington just above the Snake’s confluence with the Columbia.


* Crane Needed To Remove Big Log At Bonneville Dam Holding Up Large Spring Creek Hatchery Release

Mother Nature, in the form of a big log flushed down the Columbia River by high early spring flows, served to stall the release nearly 6 million subyearling Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery “tule” fall chinook – but by only two days much to the relief of everyone involved.

The release of 6.2 million juvenile fish into Bonneville Dam’s reservoir was planned Wednesday with the hatchery’s rearing facilities bursting at the seams because of the fishes’ growth. The young salmon’s biological output was beginning to tax the capacity of the filtration system that cleans the water in the hatchery’s recycling system.

More than 900,000 young fish had been flushed into the river Wednesday morning before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers realized that the log had become lodged across the front of the Bonneville Dam’s Powerhouse 1 ice and trash sluiceway, which along with the dam’s spill bays are the primary and safest routes of down passage for the tule chinook headed toward the Pacific. The Corps operates the dam.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the hatchery, was quickly notified and suspended the salmon releases. The Spring Creek NFH’s produce, after grown to adulthood in the ocean, is an important component of salmon harvests along the coasts of Washington and British Columbia as well as in the Columbia River.

After an initial failed attempt Wednesday to “pick” the log, which had become lodged across the front of the Bonneville Dam’s Powerhouse 1 ice and trash sluiceway, with a crane, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials, as well as fishery managers had become resigned to a longer term solution. High flows made hands-on work, the cutting up and removal of the log, unsafe. So the plan was to build bulkheads, a two-day process, upstream of the ice and trash sluiceway to shunt the river flows and allow workers safe access.

The Corps’ Doug Baus said his agency estimated that the removal work would then take about a half day and would be followed by about a two-day bulkhead removal process, making it five days total before the fish could access that passage route.

“We’d rather have all passage routes available” before releasing the fish, the USFWS’ Dave Wills said.

But in a last attempt, Corps crews managed to “pick the log” with crane and cable Thursday afternoon even as crews were launching into the bulkhead work, Baus said.

As a result, the April hatchery releases were to be completed today in about four hours, according to Speros Doulos, head of the USFWS’ Columbia Gorge complex hatcheries – Spring Creek, Little White Salmon, Carson and Willard. Each hatchery also has an on-site manager.

Doulos said that the Spring Creek filtration system could potentially have maintained reasonable good water quality conditions for the fish until Monday, and possibly even until next Wednesday, if the bulkhead work was needed to shut off flows, and the ice and trash sluiceway. As it turns out, there was no need to hold the fish past today.

Ironically, passing debris is exactly “what it was intended to do,” Baus said of the sluiceway. But the crossways log proved too much to handle.

Wills said that fish managers expect about 30-40 percent of the young fish to pass the dam through the sluiceway, a more surface oriented and benign route than the Powerhouse 1 turbines. Most of the fish will pass through the now active spillway.


* Lousy Per Rod Catch Rates, But Commercial Fishery Suggests Plenty Of Spring Chinook Still To Come

Both sport and commercial fishermen continue to get a bite at the apple as fishery managers await what they still believe will be a relatively high return of upriver spring chinook salmon to the Columbia-Snake river system.

Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon on Thursday approved an eight-day extension of the spring chinook fishing season on the lower Columbia mainstem based on catch reports that show current harvest levels remain well below expectations and catch allocations, and the fact that a Tuesday commercial season indicates that more adult fish -- spawners -- indeed are present in the lower river.

The fishery was initially scheduled to close at the end of the day Friday, April 13.

Steve Williams ODFW assistant administrator for Columbia River Fisheries, reminded anglers there probably will not be another season extension until after managers can update the run forecast in mid-May.

“With fish passage at Bonneville Dam well behind expectations, we’ll be hesitant to extend the season further until we have a better idea on how the run is progressing,” he said.

The upriver spring chinook return – predicted in preseason to be 314,200 adult fish – has been slow to materialize, as has been the case in recent years. As of Wednesday a total of only 138 adults spring chinook salmon had been counted climbing up and over the fish ladders at the lower Columbia’s Bonneville. Upriver spring chinook, which typically make up the super-majority of the spring chinook spawning run, are fish that originated in tributary spawning grounds and hatcheries above Bonneville. Wild Snake River and Upper Columbia stocks are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

That April 11 cumulative count is the lowest since 2006 when the tally was 135 and 2005 when the total was 143 so far that season. The actual return to the mouth of the Columbia, which is about 146 river miles downstream, was 132,600 in 2006 and 106,900 in 2005.

But predicting the run’s size, and the timing of their surge upriver, can be tricky. Last year, only 709 upriver spring chinook adult fish had been counted at Bonneville through April 11. But the overall run size that year ultimately was judged to be 221,200.

The sport fishery had been extended from today’s planned end-of-the-day closure through next weekend. The extension through April 22 is intended to allow anglers to catch more hatchery-reared fish available for harvest. Angers can catch and keep hatchery fish, which are in large part marked with a clipped adipose fin, but must release unmarked fish, most of which are presumed to be wild, protected salmon.

During the extended fishing period, the sport fishery will be closed Tuesday, April 17, to accommodate a possible commercial fishery.

Cindy Le Fleur, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said poor river conditions continue to delay the run and make angling for difficult. That has resulted in low catch rates for anglers. A WDFW report based on April 2-8 angler surveys said that the catch rate for the period was 12.7 fish per rod, the worst catch rate for the 2000-2012 period. Last year, which also was highlighted by extremely high flows, the catch rate was 10.5. The next lowest catch rate for the 12-year period was 5.9 chinook per rod in 2009.

Fishery managers are hoping that large numbers of fish are waiting for the right conditions to make the spawning run.

A Tuesday commercial fishery might have shown hints of what’s to come. Preliminary landings reports from a six-hour fishery in the lower river (Bonneville to the mouth) were at 3,560, with 32 percent of the catch in Zone 1 (the lower river estuary). That total included both upriver and lower river spring chinook.

“That’s a good sign for fish coming into the river,” the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s John North said during a Thursday joint Oregon-Washington state hearing to discuss the sport fishery extension. He also said that NOAA Fisheries test fishing in the estuary for research purposes also showed relatively high catch rates.

"We have scheduled another meeting April 19 to further discuss the season," Le Fleur said of the sport fishery. "But we really need to start seeing higher numbers of fish make their way upriver before we can consider any additional fishing opportunities in late April."

Lower Columbia River treaty tribes, which fish for the most part above Bonneville, urged caution in testimony Monday to the Columbia River Compact and at Thursday’s sport hearing. The Compact, comprised of ODFW and WDFW officials, sets the mainstem commercial fisheries.

“We don’t want to see intense lower river fisheries that will affect our fisheries in Zone 6,” according to a statement from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission read during Thursdays hearing by Bruce Jim. “So far, we have only harvested a very small number of fish. Had the states chosen to not catch so many fish in lower river fisheries, some of those fish would surely have passed Bonneville which would have helped our early ceremonial fisheries.”

“If the upriver fish start to show up in numbers that increase our confidence that we will get a good return this year, then our concerns about the non-treaty fisheries will be reduced. But until that time, we want the states to show increased conservatism and delay any further fisheries in the Lower Columbia River,” The CRITFC statement says. CRITFC represents the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes.

The extension does not affect spring chinook fisheries under way above Bonneville Dam.

Anglers fishing downriver from the dam may retain one marked, adult hatchery chinook per day. All wild chinook salmon must be released immediately.

Through April 13, the catch of hatchery spring chinook by anglers fishing below the dam is projected to reach 2,837 fish - well below the 14,500 spring chinook available for harvest before the run forecast is updated in May. That allocation is based on the preseason forecast

Only about 1,908 of the sport catch through April 13 are expected to count toward the 12,700-fish harvest guideline for upriver fish.

The pre-season forecast of 314,200 upriver spring chinook would be the fourth-largest run on record.

Along with the eight additional fishing days in April, lower-river anglers could get another chance to catch spring chinook in May, once fishery managers update the run forecast. To guard against overestimating this year’s run, Le Fleur said the states are managing spring chinook fisheries with a 30 percent buffer until the May update.

The commercial fleet in two outings on the lower river – 12- and 6-hour fisheries have netted a total of 6,030 spring chinook salmon, including both upriver and downriver fish such as Willamette stocks, according to the states’ preliminary estimates. That catch is considerably better than 2011 when the gill-netters corralled 2,006 chinook during March 29 and April 6 fisheries, according to data posted by the ODFW.


* Sections Of Lower Snake River Open To Spring Chinook Fishing April 20; 129,000 Hatchery Fish Expected

Four sections of the Snake River in southeast Washington will open to fishing for spring chinook salmon this month, starting April 20 with the stretch below Ice Harbor Dam.

Three other sections of the river, near Little Goose Dam, Lower Granite Dam and Clarkston, will open April 25.

The daily catch limit for most of the open areas is two hatchery-reared adult chinook – marked with a clipped adipose fin – and four hatchery jacks measuring less than 24 inches.

The exception is the area between the juvenile bypass return pipe and Little Goose Dam along the south shoreline, including the walkway area locally known as "the wall" in front of the juvenile collection facility, where anglers may retain only one jack and one adult hatchery chinook.

In all areas, anglers are required to use barbless hooks, and must stop fishing for the day when they reach their daily limit of adult chinook salmon. All chinook with the adipose fin intact, and all steelhead, must immediately be released unharmed.

John Whalen, eastern regional fish program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the fishery below Ice Harbor Dam is tentatively scheduled to remain open through May 24 – and through May 31 in the other areas – but may close earlier if impacts on wild stocks reach federal limits.

“Our ability to closely monitor this fishery, as required by federal permit, is due in large part to funds from the Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement,” Whalen said. “Without the monitoring, we wouldn’t be able to open this fishery.”

The endorsement, required of all anglers fishing for salmon or steelhead in the Columbia River system (which includes the Snake River), costs $8.25; seniors and youth pay $6.60.

A total of 168,000 spring chinook salmon are expected to return to the Snake River basin this year, including 129,000 hatchery fish. Last year’s forecast anticipated a return of 194,000 spring chinook, but only 66,000 hatchery fish.

The section of the Snake River scheduled to open April 20 below Ice Harbor Dam extends from the Highway 12 bridge at Pasco upstream about seven miles to about 400 feet below the dam.

The three sections of the river scheduled to open April 25 are:

-- Near Little Goose Dam: From the railroad bridge approximately a half-mile downstream from the mouth of the Tucannon River, upriver to the fishing restriction boundary below Little Goose Dam, and from Little Goose Dam to the Corps of Engineers boat launch approximately one mile upstream of Little Goose Dam. This zone includes the area between the juvenile bypass return pipe and Little Goose Dam along the south shoreline of the facility and the walkway area locally known as “the Wall” in front of the juvenile collection facility.

-- Below Lower Granite Dam: From Casey Creek Canyon Road in Garfield County (located about six miles downstream of Lower Granite Dam) to about 400 feet below Lower Granite Dam.

-- Near Clarkston: From the intersection of Steptoe Canyon Road with Highway 193 in Whitman County, upriver about 12 miles to the Idaho state line (identified as a line from the north end of the rock levee on the east side of the Greenbelt boat launch near the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office), northwest across the Snake River to the Idaho/Washington marker on the north shore.


* Research On ESA-Listed Columbia River Eulachon Smelt Looks At Habitat Needs, Other Factors

They are among the smallest, least understood, and yet most important fish in the Columbia River and its tributaries.

Eulachons, better known as smelt, appear to be returning in stronger numbers the last two years than in the recent past, although they are still listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act and, as such, are off limits to fishing.

Following a relatively large run in the Cowlitz River on the Washington side of the Columbia this year, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is expecting smelt could show up in the Sandy River. In anticipation of the fish’s arrival, usually in the spring, the department posted signs along the lower reaches of the Sandy reminding anglers that smelt fishing seasons remain closed.

“We want to make sure people remember that smelt are now protected and need to be left alone,” said Danette Faucera, assistant fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Smelt arrive in waves, and in the past when one was seen in the Sandy River within hours lots of people were fishing for them. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen if the smelt show up in the Sandy this year.”

Once so abundant they were caught by the bucket load with dip nets, eulachon numbers have dropped precipitously since the 1940s when they entered the Columbia in such large numbers they literally choked tributaries like the Cowlitz and Sandy river with tremendous silvery schools of migrating fish. Their ability to reproduce in large numbers – one 6- to 8-inch adult female can produce up to 40,000 eggs – is crucial to their survival since they are prey for many other species, including humans.

Since NOAA Fisheries listed eulachons for protection under the ESA on May 17, 2010, biologists have begun taking a closer look at them and what it will take to protect the species. This task is more complicated now that sport and commercial seasons are closed. Those fisheries were valuable to researchers because they provided population indicators that scientists used to monitor and track trends in eulachon abundance.

“With the close of smelt fisheries we lost a tool that has been used to follow abundance trends for decades,” said Tom Rien, ODFW’s Columbia River Coordination Program manager. “So we must now use other monitoring to track trends in abundance.”

Biologists are now generating population estimates by measuring smelt eggs and larvae, which are collected at multiple points along the Columbia River from Bonneville dam downstream 105 miles to Westport. Twice a week, an ODFW research vessel moves up and down the river lowering and raising a fine mesh net shaped like an airport wind sock to collect eggs and larvae that are virtually invisible to the naked eye. ODFW researchers also retrieve eggs from fibrous mats laid out on the bottom of the river. The mats, which look like furnace filters, are designed to catch the microscopic eggs as they settle on the river bottom. Tethered to bright orange buoys, the mats are pulled from the river floor onto the research boat and flushed with river water to wash the eggs into containers that can be taken back to the lab for analysis under a microscope.

Oregon’s work is concentrated on the eulachon’s use of upstream habitat. When researchers find larvae in the water they know spawning occurred upstream from that area.

In cooperation with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff, ODFW researchers are trying to identify critical habitats, reproductive success, timing and other factors in the main stem Columbia River, according to Erick VanDyke, ODFW eulachon fisheries project leader.

“Smelt are a pivotal species in the Columbia River,” said VanDyke. “They sustained Native American populations during the winter and are forage for many animals.”

The Cowlitz Tribe, which originally filed the petition asking the federal government to list smelt under the ESA, is also cooperating in smelt research. Its efforts are focused in the Cowlitz River, where it conducted a test fishery this year and confirmed the presence of a relatively large run of eulachons. Cowlitz tribal biologists are also conducting research in the Sandy River in cooperation with ODFW and NOAA Fisheries.

Scientists agree that smelt are important, although eulachons are less extensively researched than other inhabitants of Columbia River waters. Scientists don’t know, for example, how smelt find their way back from the ocean, what kind of habitat they need or why returns can be very small one year and quite large the next.

With their listing under the ESA more attention will be focused on smelt in the years ahead as state, federal and tribal fisheries managers develop a recovery plan for Pacific eulachon.

Commercial and recreational smelt fishing may return to the region someday but probably not before a team of federal, state and tribal biologists develop an approved smelt recovery plan. The plan will likely address not only sport and commercial fishing but other activities that could impact the fish as well, including dredging and hydroelectric facilities.

There is a lot to learn about how, where and when smelt use the Columbia River and tributary habitats. Smelt use the same migration corridors and some of the same spawning and rearing habitats that sustain salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon. Efforts to understand and protect these important areas should benefit all native species, according to Rien.


* NMFS’ Draft BiOp Says Three Pesticides Likely Jeopardize Salmon, Proposes Measures To Reduce Exposure

The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking comments by April 30 on measures proposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect threatened and endangered pacific salmon from potential effects from three pesticides -- oryzalin, pendimethalin, and trifluralin.

The Reasonable and Prudent Measures (RPMs) and Alternatives (RPAs) are part of a draft biological opinion developed by NMFS to assess effects of pesticide products containing the three pesticides on the 28 Pacific salmon and steelhead species listed under the Endangered Species Act, and critical habitat designated for those species.

The EPA received the draft biological opinion from NMFS on March 30, 2012. It is available on EPA’s Endangered Species Protection Program web page at www.epa.gov/espp/

After considering the status of the listed species and the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of the pesticides, NMFS determined in the biological opinion that the three pesticides could have an adverse effect on most listed salmonids. For some listed species, the effects from the pesticide exposure may be extensive enough to rise to the level of jeopardy, while for other listed species the effects may not.

NMFS concluded in the biological opinion that products containing the three pesticides are likely to jeopardize approximately half of the ESA-listed Pacific salmonid species and adversely modify their designated critical habitat.

For ESA-listed Columbia River salmonids, NMFS determined that pendimethalin and trifluralin are likely to jeopardize Lower Columbia River Chinook, coho and steelhead, Upper Willamette River Chinook and steelhead, and Middle Columbia River steelhead. Oryzalin is likely to jeopardize Upper Willamette River Chinook and steelhead and Middle Columbia River steelhead.

The RPMs and RPAs identified in the draft biological opinion contain elements that reduce salmonid exposure to the pesticides. NMFS proposed the RPMs and RPAs to remove the likelihood of jeopardy and adverse potential effects from the pesticides on the listed species and their designated critical habitat.

The EPA is encouraging input from state, tribal and local governments on the draft RPMs and RPAs to determine whether the alternatives or measures can be reasonably implemented, and whether there are different measures that may provide adequate protection but result in less impact on pesticide users.

The EPA invites all interested parties to submit comments on the RPAs and RPMs in this draft biological opinion by April 30, 2012. EPA will forward all public comments received on the draft biological opinion to NMFS for their consideration. EPA also plans to provide NMFS comments on the draft opinion. NMFS has a legal deadline to issue the final Biological Opinion by May 31, 2012.


* Science Review Of Resident Fish, Data Management Projects Under Council Program Open For Comment

The Independent Scientific Review Panel’s recently completed final review of 71 “Resident Fish, Data Management, and Regional Coordination” proposals includes a thumbs up for 14 projects submitted for funding through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Program.

ISRP Chair Rich Alldredge and Vice-Chair Dennis Scarnecchia brief the Council on the report during its meeting Wednesday at Skamania Lodge near Stevenon, Wa. The ISRP to review individual fish and wildlife projects funded through the program by the Bonneville Power Administration and makes recommendations on matters related to those projects.

The ISRP report also said that 37 of the proposals meet scientific criteria outlined by the Council and recommends, with qualifications, that those projects be moved forward. The science panel judged that three of the submittals did not meet science criteria.

The ISRP comments included extensive discussions of programmatic issues the scientists say the Council needs to unravel. They also include a retrospective evaluation of results produced by ongoing projects within the Resident Fish, Data Management, and Regional Coordination project category.

In the preliminary review, the ISRP made a specific programmatic recommendation that applies to the 17 regional coordination proposals. Coordination projects, proposed primarily by involved states and tribes, aim to facilitate participation in activities and tasks that directly support Fish and Wildlife Program implementation, reporting, and technical policy development at the program level.

In addition to these 71 proposals, the ISRP considered 9 “contextual” projects that had been reviewed recently but were included in this review for reference because of their relation to the proposals under review.

In addition to individual project reviews, this report contains comments on issues that cut across projects and apply to the Program in general. Topics covered include non-native fish management, trout stocking strategies, monitoring and evaluation, regional coordination, results reporting, and process issues.

The Council and the Bonneville Power Administration are using this review to ensure that projects meet the needs and commitments of the 2009 Fish and Wildlife Program, the 2006 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion regarding the effects of Libby Dam operations on Kootenai River white sturgeon, bull trout and Kootenai sturgeon critical habitat, and the 2008 Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion on Endangered Species Act listed salmon and steelhead. BPA funds the Fish and Wildlife Program as mitigation for impacts to fish and wildlife caused by the Columbia-Snake river hydro system and has obligations to fund worked aimed at improving the status of listed species and that promote tribal treaty rights.

The project category development did not involve an open solicitation for projects. Only projects specifically identified by Bonneville and the Council were allowed to submit proposals.

“However, as a result of this review, gaps may be identified that could be filled by proposals submitted through targeted and potentially competitive solicitations,” the ISRP review says.
In general, a central purpose of category reviews is to highlight issues common to similar projects such as relevancy, duplication, coordination, scope, and consistency with the broad basinwide objectives and provisions in the Fish and Wildlife Program, according to the ISRP.

The new ISRP review is now available for public comment through May 4. It can be found at:

The NPCC staff expects to produce recommendation regarding funding for the projects and will forward those to the NPCC Fish and Wildlife Committee for discussion during its May 8 meeting in Hood River, Ore.

Council funding recommendations are tentatively scheduled to be made during it June meeting in Missoula, Mont.


* Research Looks At Ecosystem Impacts If Salmon Escapements Allowed To Increase

New research suggests that allowing more Pacific salmon to spawn in coastal streams will not only benefit the natural environment, including grizzly bears, but could also lead to more salmon in the ocean and thus larger salmon harvests in the long term.

In a new article and accompanying synopsis published April 10 in the online, open-access journal PLoS Biology, Taal Levi and co-authors from UC Santa Cruz and Canada investigate how increasing "escapement"—the number of salmon that escape fishing nets to enter streams and spawn—can improve the natural environment.

"Salmon are an essential resource that propagates through not only marine but also creek and terrestrial food webs," said lead author Levi, an environmental studies doctoral candidate at UCSC, specializing in conservation biology and wildlife ecology.

Salmon fisheries in the northwest Pacific are generally well managed, Levi said. Managers determine how much salmon to allocate to spawning and how much to harvest. Fish are counted as they enter the coastal streams.

However, there is concern that humans are harvesting too many salmon and leaving too little for the ecosystem, he said.

To assess this, the team focused on the relationship between grizzly bears and salmon. Taal and his colleagues first used data to find a relationship between how much salmon were available to eighteen grizzly bear populations in British Columbia, and what percentage of their diet was made up of salmon.

"We asked, is it enough for the ecosystem? What would happen if you increase escapement—the number of fish being released? We found that in most cases, bears, fishers, and ecosystems would mutually benefit," Levi said.

The relationship between salmon and bears is basic, Levi said. "Bears are salmon-consuming machines. Give them more salmon and they will consume more—and importantly, they will occur at higher densities. So, letting more salmon spawn and be available to bears helps not only bears but also the ecosystems they nourish when they distribute the uneaten remains of salmon."

When salmon are plentiful in coastal streams, bears won't eat as much of an individual fish, preferring the nutrient-rich brains and eggs and casting aside the remainder to feed other animals and fertilize the land. In contrast, when salmon are scarce, bears eat more of a fish. Less discarded salmon enters the surrounding ecosystem to enrich downstream life, and a richer stream life means a better environment for salmon.

In four out of the six study systems, allowing more salmon to spawn will not only help bears and the terrestrial landscape but would also lead to more salmon in the ocean.

More salmon in the ocean means larger harvests, which in turn benefits fishers. However, in two of the systems, helping bears would hurt fisheries. In these cases, the researchers estimated the potential financial cost—they looked at two salmon runs on the Fraser River, B.C., and predicted an economic cost of about $500,000 to $700,000 annually. This cost to the human economy could help support locally threatened grizzly bear populations, they argue.

While these fisheries are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, the researchers suggest that the MSC principle that fisheries have minimal ecosystem impact might not be satisfied if the fishery is contributing to grizzly bear conservation problems.


* Research: Less Major Predators, More Large Herbivores Harms Ecosystems, Diversity

A survey on the loss in the Northern Hemisphere of large predators, particularly wolves, concludes that current populations of moose, deer, and other large herbivores far exceed their historic levels and are contributing to disrupted ecosystems.

The research, http://hdl.handle.net/1957/28411, published this week by scientists from Oregon State University, examined 42 studies done over the past 50 years.

It found that the loss of major predators in forest ecosystems has allowed game animal populations to greatly increase, crippling the growth of young trees and reducing biodiversity. This also contributes to deforestation and results in less carbon sequestration, a potential concern with climate change.

“These issues do not just affect the United States and a few national parks,” said William Ripple, an OSU professor of forestry and lead author of the study. “The data from Canada, Alaska, the Yukon, Northern Europe and Asia are all showing similar results. There’s consistent evidence that large predators help keep populations of large herbivores in check, with positive effects on ecosystem health.”

Densities of large mammalian herbivores were six times greater in areas without wolves, compared to those in which wolves were present, the researchers concluded. They also found that combinations of predators, such as wolves and bears, can create an important synergy for moderating the size of large herbivore populations.

“Wolves can provide food that bears scavenge, helping to maintain a healthy bear population,” said Robert Beschta, a professor emeritus at OSU and co-author of the study. “The bears then often prey on young moose, deer or elk – in Yellowstone more young elk calves are killed by bears than by wolves, coyotes and cougars combined.”

In Europe, the coexistence of wolves with lynx also resulted in lower deer densities than when wolves existed alone.

In recent years, OSU researchers have helped lead efforts to understand how major predators help to reduce herbivore population levels, improve ecosystem function and even change how herbivores behave when they feel threatened by predation – an important aspect they call the “ecology of fear.”

“In systems where large predators remain, they appear to have a major role in sustaining the diversity and productivity of native plant communities, thus maintaining healthy ecosystems,” said Beschta. “When the role of major predators is more fully appreciated, it may allow managers to reconsider some of their assumptions about the management of wildlife.”

In Idaho and Montana, hundreds of wolves are now being killed in an attempt to reduce ranching conflicts and increase game herd levels.

The new analysis makes clear that the potential beneficial ecosystem effects of large predators is far more pervasive, over much larger areas, than has often been appreciated.

It points out how large predators can help maintain native plant communities by keeping large herbivore densities in check, allow small trees to survive and grow, reduce stream bank erosion, and contribute to the health of forests, streams, fisheries and other wildlife.

It also concludes that human hunting, due to its limited duration and impact, is not effective in preventing hyper-abundant densities of large herbivores. This is partly “because hunting by humans is often not functionally equivalent to predation by large, wide-ranging carnivores such as wolves,” the researchers wrote in their report.

“More studies are necessary to understand how many wolves are needed in managed ecosystems,” Ripple said. “It is likely that wolves need to be maintained at sufficient densities before we see their resulting effects on ecosystems.”

The research was published online this week in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, a professional journal.

“The preservation or recovery of large predators may represent an important conservation need for helping to maintain the resiliency of northern forest ecosystems,” the researchers concluded, “especially in the face of a rapidly changing climate.”


* New Report Details Potential of Hydropower Generation At Existing Bureau Of Reclamation Canal Sites

As part of President Obama’s “all-of-the-above” strategy for American energy, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle announced this week that 373 existing Bureau of Reclamation canals and conduits have the combined potential of generating an additional 365,219 megawatt-hours of hydropower annually.

This finding builds upon the 191 existing Reclamation dam and reservoir sites identified in 2011 with a potential of 1.2 million MWh annually. Reclamation has now identified a potential for 1.565 million MWh of additional electricity that could be generated annually at existing Reclamation conduits.

"Hydropower is an important part of President Obama's initiative to generate 80 percent of electricity in this country from a diverse set of clean energy sources by 2035," Salazar said. "Identifying and developing hydropower potential at existing facilities is one way we’re putting the all-of-the-above strategy to develop American energy sources into practice."

The new March 2012 report, “Site Inventory and Hydropower Energy Assessment of Reclamation Owned Conduits,” prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation, supplements a March 2011 report, “Hydropower Resource Assessment at Existing Reclamation Facilities.”

The 2011 report estimated that additional hydropower capabilities could create enough renewable energy to annually power more than 104,000 households. The 2012 report adds the potential from canals and conduits. The 2011 and 2012 reports are available www.usbr.gov/power

"Developing hydropower in existing publicly owned canals gives us an additional source of consistent, sustainable and reliable energy supplies in the West, with minimal impact on other natural resources," Castle said. "Adding power generation to these canals would provide power for up to 32,500 households. Combined with the generation potential at existing dams and reservoirs, up to 136,500 households could be served. These reports highlight the exciting potential for new, environmentally sustainable hydropower development and creation of related jobs at existing facilities throughout the western United States."

The assessment released today on canals shows that about 70 percent of the potential capacity is located in three states: Colorado, Oregon and Wyoming, although 13 of the 17 western states have new generation potential from conduits.

This assessment provides information to Reclamation and potential private developers so they can determine whether to study these sites for development. The report includes the capacity, energy potential and proximity to distribution/transmission lines for each site. The report also provides site maps.

Development of hydropower at the identified sites would proceed along one of Reclamation's normal hydropower development processes—either through Reclamation's Lease of Power Privilege process or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's licensing process, depending on which entity has jurisdiction over a particular project.

If a project is developed under Reclamation's Lease of Power Privilege process, the project may be eligible to proceed through an existing Categorical Exclusion from NEPA requirements which should save the developer time and money. Reclamation recently issued a temporary directive and standard for its Lease of Power Privilege requirements and process. It is also available for public review and comment at www.usbr.gov/recman.

The Bureau of Reclamation manages more than 47,000 miles of canals, laterals, drains, pipelines and tunnels. Sites included in this supplemental report as having potential for hydropower development have a drop of at least five feet, operate for at least four months of the year, and have a generation potential of at least 50 kW based upon flow rate of canal and the drop height. Not all of Reclamation's canals meet these criteria.

Both the 2011 and 2012 reports support the 2010 Memorandum of Understanding among the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, and the Army Corps of Engineers that enhances the coordination of their efforts to provide the nation with affordable, reliable and environmentally sustainable hydropower.

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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