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Weekly Fish and Wildlife News
September 27, 2013
Issue No. 678

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Table of Contents

* High Toxicity Levels In Resident Fish From Bonneville To McNary Prompts Fish Consumption Warnings

* States, NW Delegation Urged To Update Water Quality Standards, Pass Columbia Basin Toxins Legislation

* Most Fall Chinook At Mouth Of Columbia Since 1940s; B Stock Steelhead, Early Coho Downgraded

* Over A Million Fish Spurring Record Fall Chinook Catch Rates; Tribes See Best Zone 6 Harvest Back To 1938

* Cooler Weather Helps Record Breaking Fall Chinook Numbers Cross Lower Granite, Including Many Wild Fish

* U.S. Releases Draft Recommendations For ‘Modernizing’ Columbia River Treaty; Includes Ecosystem-Based Function

* Columbia River Sub-Basin Study Suggests Dams Buffer Region From Climate Change Impacts

* Study: Charred Forests In Columbia Basin Headwaters Leads To Changed Snow Runoff Patterns

* Council Receives Hundreds Of Recommendations For Amending Columbia Basin Fish/Wildlife Program

* Ninth Circuit Affirms Council’s Northwest Power Plan; Orders Two Provisions Be Fixed

* Corps Plans Test Drawdown At South Santiam’s Foster Dam For Improving Chinook, Steelhead Survival

* Montana Nearing End Of 10-Year Project To Remove Non-Native Trout In South Fork Flathead Drainage

* Grizzly Bear Shooting In Idaho, Orphaned Cubs, Prompts Management, Legal Decisions

* Corps Lowering Lake Pend Oreille For Flood Control; Kokanee Spawning Ecology Being Re-examined

* Removal Of Unused Dam In Northern Idaho Reopens Prime Spawning Habitat For Listed Snake River Steelhead


* High Toxicity Levels In Resident Fish From Bonneville To McNary Prompts Fish Consumption Warnings

Oregon and Washington health officials this week issued fish consumption advisories for certain species from two sections of the Columbia River due to elevated levels of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found in fish tissue.

Migratory fish like salmon, which pass down the big river as juveniles on their way to the Pacific and then again upstream as adults to spawn, should still be on the menu.

But so-called “resident fish” – stocks like bass, walleye and sturgeon that spend their entire life in the river section near Bonneville Dam – should not be eaten, while consumption of the fish living farther upstream between Bonneville and McNary Dam, should be limited. Resident fish are more likely to absorb contaminants in the water and river bottom sediments.

Tribal leaders immediately called for state and federal responses to the fish contaminant issues. Salmon and steelhead are core to the tribes’ high fish-consuming diets, but so are resident fish, particularly sturgeon.

Together, the two advisories, jointly issued Monday by the Oregon Health Authority and the Washington Department of Health, extend from Bonneville Dam at river mile 146 upstream 150 miles to McNary Dam. Public health officials do not know how long the advisories will last.

“Their hallmark is their persistency,” the OHA’s health toxicologist, David Farrer said of toxic chemicals such as PCBs that were engineered to last and used primarily in industrial applications.

“They were banned in the 1970s and we’re still dealing with their effects,” said the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Aaron Borisenko. And PCBs also linger in long-lived fish such as the sturgeon.

The reason for the advisories is that mercury and PCBs built up in resident fish like bass, bluegill, yellow perch, crappie, walleye, carp, catfish, suckers and sturgeon that stay in the area and are exposed over their lifecycles. People who eat too much contaminated fish can suffer negative health effects over time such as damage to organs, the nervous system and reproductive system.

The advisories do not affect migratory fish species such as salmon, steelhead, American shad and lamprey, which should remain part of a healthy diet, the state health organizations say.

The advisories are as follows:

-- Bonneville Dam – OHA and WA Health recommend no consumption of any resident fish species taken from Bonneville Dam to Oregon’s Ruckel Creek, one mile upstream from Bonneville Dam.
-- Middle Columbia River – OHA and WA Health recommend eating no more than one meal per week – four meals per month – of any resident fish species taken from the river between Ruckel Creek and McNary Dam.

The Bonneville Dam advisory was derived from smallmouth bass testing. The advisory was applied to all resident fish as a precaution because the PCB concentrations were so high in the smallmouth bass.
The middle Columbia advisory was based on smallmouth bass and largescale suckers sampling and analysis. They represent the two major categories of game fish: predatory fish that eat smaller fish (bass) and bottom feeders (suckers).

PCB contamination in fish sampled upstream of Ruckel Creek was much lower than those found in the Bradford Island area. Those above-Ruckel studies were conducted in 2009 by the ODEQ with funding help from the Environmental Protection Agency. The ODEQ study, summarized in a 2011 report, sampled 23 sites from Bonneville up to McNary Dam for ecological conditions and water quality in the water column as well as for fish contamination.

The studies of contamination in the Bonneville to Ruckel Creek area were conducted for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Bonneville’s “backwater” essentially extends that one mile.

The source of much of the PCB contamination in the Bonneville area is believed to be an unregulated landfill maintained by the Corps at the east tip of Bradford Island for approximately 40 years until 1983. Bradford Island is amidst the Bonneville Dam complex. The Corps operates the dam.

During a 1996 internal environmental audit of Bonneville Dam, the Corps determined that the former unregulated landfill could pose threats to human health and the environment. A variety of assessment and cleanup activities have been conducted since.

Research conducted by the Corps in 2011 included the sampling of 19 bass collected in the dam forebay (near Bradford Island). Another 19 bass were collected in an upstream reference zone in the Cascade Locks, Ore.,-Stevenson, Wash., area.

The results showed that, as in the past, PCBs are the primary contaminants of concern. Of the 19 fish samples collected from the forebay, PCB concentrations in four of the fish were extremely high, up to 183 parts per million, according to data released in late July.

A safe level is considered less than one part per billion, according to environmental cleanup site information posted on the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality web site http://www.deq.state.or.us/lq/ECSI/ecsidetailfull.asp?seqnbr=2010.

The other 15 fish from the forebay had PCB concentrations ranging from 15 to 277 parts per billion. These concentrations are above the safe level, but are similar to PCB concentrations in the 19 fish found in a reference area.

The Corps, which operates the dam, used the east end of the island as a landfill and dumped electrical components and other debris in the river near the northeast corner of the island. Some of the equipment was highly toxic, containing chemicals that do not break down readily and can bioaccumulate in resident fish.

The last cleanup activity at the site was in 2007 when the Corps removed PCB-contaminated sediments from the river. The agency also removed PCB-containing electrical equipment from the river in 2000 and 2002. The most recent sampling of sediments, clams and smallmouth bass indicate that PCB concentrations are still too high to protect fish living nearby, and people who eat the fish.

“The highest fish (levels of contamination) were at least two times higher” around the Bradford site in 2011 than found in the most contaminated fish tested in 2006 for PCB levels, said Mike Gross, the Corps’ technical lead on the Bradford Island cleanup project.

“We expected the levels to go down, but they did not,” Gross said. Levels in the reference area upstream remained about the same. Mercury levels were above the state threshold but about the same in 2006 and 2011.

The state study showed that mercury levels in bass and largescale suckers sampled had a maximum level of 0.77, with an average of 0.26. The threshold in that area up to McNary Dam is 0.2.

“There the mercury is driving it,” more so than PCB, Farrar said of the upriver advisory.

The Corps has said it will conduct a feasibility study to identify and evaluate future clean-up actions at the dam.

That feasibility study is expected to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2014, roughly a year from now, according to Gross.

The ODEQ report on which the above-Ruckel advisory was based “showed that while the river’s fish and bank habitat is degraded, its water quality is generally good, with low levels of metals and organic compounds known as polyacromatic hyrdrocarbons. Unfortunately, bass and largescale sucker fish fillets sampled from the river as part of this study show accumulation of potentially harmful levels of mercury, chlorinated pesticides and other toxic or cancer-causing chemicals, including dioxins, furans, and PCBs.”

PCBs in fish tested by the state averaged about 20 parts/million, much lower than the Bonneville area.

But even the 20 is high compared to the advisory threshold of 0.047, Farrer said.

Unborn fetuses, nursing babies and small children are most vulnerable to the health effects of PCBs and mercury, so it is especially important that pregnant and nursing women follow this advice, according to a press release issued Monday by the OHA. Fetuses and babies exposed to high levels of mercury and PCBs can suffer lifelong learning and behavior problems. The state health agencies recommend all women of childbearing age (18 to 45) follow fish advisories.

Anglers also should not give resident fish caught from the middle Columbia River to others unless the recipients are aware of where the fish were caught, and they understand the recommendations in these fish advisories, the press release says.

Washington already has a statewide fish advisory that warns women of childbearing age to not eat northern pikeminnow (a native fish found up and down the Columbia River) and advises them to limit largemouth and smallmouth bass consumption (based on harvest location) due to elevated mercury levels.

For a map of those harvest locations go to: http://www.doh.wa.gov/CommunityandEnvironment/Food/Fish/Advisories.aspx

By issuing the advisories, health officials hope to increase the public’s awareness of fish species they should avoid or limit consumption of, and those they can keep eating. While it is important for people to know about contaminants in fish, it is equally important to keep fish on the table.

Health officials from both states continue to encourage people, including pregnant women, to eat a variety of fish as part of a healthy diet. Migratory fish such as salmon and steelhead are an essential source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients, and are low in contaminants.

“Our iconic salmon, steelhead and other migratory fish are fine,” said Farrer. “People still need to eat at least two meals of fish per week. We just want people to pay attention to these advisories and continue to eat migratory fish from these stretches of the river.”

He said that migratory fish spend most of their lives in the ocean, which tends to be cleaner than contaminated rivers because pollutants are so much more diluted in the large volume of water.

When these fish come back up through the rivers they are just quickly passing through contaminated areas and not eating much, since they are mainly focused on reproduction and not food at that point in their life cycle.

Recent tests of salmon caught in the Portland Harbor Superfund site in the lower Willamette River have shown levels of contaminants were very much lower than in resident fish species caught in the same area.

“Because salmon spend most of their lives at sea, pollution measured in them is a reflection of conditions in the ocean as opposed to conditions in contaminated areas of the Columbia or Willamette rivers,” Farrar said. “This is also why salmon caught in the Willamette River can be thought of as representative of salmon one would expect to catch in the Columbia River” since they are both returning from the Pacific Ocean.

To learn more online about why fish is good for you and get information about fish consumption advisories in Oregon, visit www.healthoregon.org/fishadv.

For information about Washington’s fish consumption advisories, visit http://www.doh.wa.gov/fish.

Most of the mercury that contaminates fish comes from household and industrial waste that is incinerated or released during the burning of coal and other fossil fuels, according to WDH.

Products containing mercury that are improperly thrown in the garbage or washed down drains end up in landfills, incinerators, or sewage treatment facilities. The mercury then leaches into the ground and water.

Once mercury enters the water and soil, it is naturally converted to methylymercury by bacteria. In water, the bacteria are eaten by plankton and other small creatures, which in turn are eaten by small fish, then larger fish. Mercury doesn't easily leave the body of an organism, so the amount of mercury builds up in species as they go up the food. Larger, older fish accumulate more contaminants than smaller,

The Corps in October 2007 completed the removal of 65 tons of sediment from a 0.83-acre area along the shoreline of Bradford Island, an oblong piece of land near the Oregon shore that anchors the north end of the hydro project's first power house and the south end of its spillway.

From the 1940s until about 1982, a landfill on Bradford Island's upstream tip was used to dispose of project waste materials like oil and grease, paint and solvents, scrap metals, mercury vapor lamps, cables and sand blast grit, according to the Corps. Some electrical transmission components like switchgear, insulators and possibly light ballasts were also placed in the landfill. Household waste came from a small community of homes used by construction workers and later project personnel until 1976.

The 2007 effort involved suctioning 2.2 million gallons of water and sediment from the river bottom and filtering to remove contaminants. The resulting filtered water that was returned to the river was non-detectable for PCBs at five parts per trillion, the Corps said. The captured sediment that was taken to a licensed landfill was non-detectable for PCBs at 80 parts per billion, far lower than originally estimated.

For more information see, CBB, Jan. 21, 2011, “Corps Report On Bradford Island Cleanup Says Contaminants Exceed ‘Risk Screening Levels”’  http://www.cbbulletin.com/404187.aspx


* States, NW Delegation Urged To Update Water Quality Standards, Pass Columbia Basin Toxins Legislation

Warnings this week issued by the states of Oregon and Washington about the consumption of fish pulled from above the Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam immediately drew calls from tribal leaders and others for state and federal responses to the contaminant issues.

The advisories say that fishers should avoid eating “resident” fish such as bass, walleye and sturgeon caught in the area from Bonneville Dam one mile upstream to Oregon’s Ruckel Creek. Fish sampled there have shown extremely high levels of, particularly, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). High mercury levels have also been found in fish tissue.

The PCP contamination is believed to stem from a waste disposal site in the river at Bonneville.

The two state health agencies that issued the advisory say that salmon and steelhead, which swim up and down the river past Bonneville but do not linger, can be safely eaten and indeed provided health benefits. Salmon and steelhead are core foodstuffs for the tribes. But resident fish, particularly sturgeon, are also important to tribal members, who have a high fish consumption rate.

Leaders from the Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce, and Warm Springs tribes are asking Washington and Idaho governors to update their water quality standards and fish consumption rates in response to the state advisories.

Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Chairman Joel Moffett sent letters to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter asking the states to prioritize the update of water quality standards that protect tribal members and make water quality a top priority for the region.

CRITFC is the technical support and coordinating agency for fishery management policies of four Columbia River basin treaty tribes: the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe. Each tribe appoints members to serve the commission, which guides CRITFC work.

The tribes will also call on the Northwest congressional delegation to pass toxins reduction legislation for the Columbia Basin, which they say is the largest water body in the United States without a federal toxins reduction program. 

The fish consumption advisories cover the entire length of the “Zone 6” fishing area of the Columbia River -- a stretch used for treaty fishing by all four member tribes.

Moffett said that the region needs to focus on long-term solutions to water quality issues rather than ignoring the situation and dealing with the consequences later.

“The tribes believe that the long-term solution to this problem isn’t keeping people from eating contaminated fish -- it’s keeping fish from being contaminated in the first place. Armed with higher fish consumption rates and water quality standards, we hope there will be a greater motivation to remove pollutants from the Columbia River and its tributaries.”

“The level of toxins found in our waterways should concern everyone,” said Paul Lumley, CRITFC executive director. “Treaties signed between the tribes and the United States Government in 1855 secured the tribal fishing right in all usual and accustomed fishing areas. Contaminated fish were not part of the bargain that the tribes made when they signed their treaties.

“Today’s advisory needs to move water quality issues to the forefront of our natural resource agendas and highlights the need to clean up our waterways,” Lumley said. We can no longer afford to have Washington and Idaho delay their responsibilities to ensure clean water in the Columbia River Basin, not only for its fish populations, but for the people who regularly consume them.”

In 2011, Oregon updated its fish consumption rates to 175 grams per day, giving Oregon the most protective water quality standards in the nation. Fish consumption rates are used to calculate water quality standards that protect human health.

Washington and Idaho are currently reevaluating their fish consumption rates. The tribes are urging Washington and Idaho to adopt at least the same rate that Oregon uses to establish water quality standards that are protective of all fish consumers in the region. The 175 grams per day fish consumption rate represents a fish consumption rate that protects most of Oregon’s population. 

The American Heart Association recommends that people consume 2 servings of fish per week. Both Idaho and Washington’s current standard protect individuals who consume 6.5 grams per day or approximately 2 servings per month, a rate substantially less than what tribal members consume.

For more information on the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission or the fish consumption advisories visit www.critfc.org.

Kat Brigham, a CRITFC member from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said tribes have known for more than a half century that the Columbia River was contaminated, but relied on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to uphold promises to clean up the mess.

“Up until the 1950s we were able to drink the water,” Brigham said. “In the 50s we started getting sick drinking at Celilo. We’ve known since then it was contaminated. Now another study shows it’s contaminated and needs to be cleaned up. The Corps was supposed to clean it up and they didn’t do it.”

Yakama Nation Chairman Harry Smiskin echoed Brigham’s comments.

“These fish advisories confirm what the Yakama Nation has known for decades,” he said. “State and federal governments can no longer ignore the inadequacy of their regulatory efforts and the failure to clean up the Columbia River.”

The new advisories, Smiskin said, pass the burden of responsibility from industry and government to tribes and people in the region.

“Rather than addressing the contamination, we are being told to reduce our reliance on the Columbia River’s fish,” Smiskin said. “This is unacceptable. The focus should not be ‘do not eat’ – it should be ‘clean up’ the Columbia River.”

David Farrer, Public Health Toxicologist with the Oregon Health Authority, said the advisories are based on data from two separate projects by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

OHA announced the advisories after an analysis of the data, which began in May.

“The contaminants at both Bonneville Dam and the Middle Columbia have been there for decades, so unfortunately, people have been exposed for much longer than the last four months,” Farrer said. “It is not the contamination that is new, but rather our information about the contamination.”

Farrer said health effects from eating these fish are not expected to be immediate or acute.

“The greatest risk is for people who have been eating large numbers of these resident fish over their lifetimes,” he said. “Our recommendations is that people who have been eating many of these resident fish over their lifetimes notify their primary care physicians of their potential exposures so that the physician can watch for signs of illnesses related to PCBs and mercury, and catch and treat illnesses early if they occur.”

The Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership’s Debrah Marriott called the advisories “a wakeup call.”
“The recent release of fish consumption advisories is a strong indicator that the Columbia River needs comprehensive toxics reduction, clean up and monitoring,” said Marriott, the organization’s executive director. “This further justifies the need for a Columbia River Restoration Act to directly address toxics in the Columbia and fund restoration efforts here on par with other large water bodies around the country. We have known about the toxics in the Columbia for a long time.”
Since 2008, the partnership has advocated for federal investment to address toxics in the Columbia River. In February 2010, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the Columbia River Restoration Act of 2010 (H. 4652 and S. 3550). Congress did not act on thebill before they adjourned that year.
The Estuary Partnership is currently working with partners to reintroduce the Columbia River Restoration Act. The act would authorize Congress to appropriate funds through a local grants program for toxics reduction, cleanup and monitoring to match federal support of other water bodies of similar significance to the nation.

“Data is clearer than ever:  toxic contamination in the Columbia River Basin poses a significant threat to the environment and human health.  The Columbia River Restoration Act is an important step towards improving water quality and reducing toxics in the river,” Marriott said.

The Estuary Partnership was established in 1995 by the governors of Washington and Oregon and the US EPA to provide regional collaboration, to advance science and to get on-the-ground results in the lower Columbia River and estuary. It is a collaborative program of the states of Oregon and Washington, federal agencies, tribal governments, non-profit organizations, businesses and economic interests and citizens.

For more information, see CBB, Sept. 27, 2012, “ Fish Consumption Rate, Water Quality Standards: Should Idaho, Washington Follow Oregon’s Lead?” http://www.cbbulletin.com/423011.aspx


* Most Fall Chinook At Mouth Of Columbia Since 1940s; B Stock Steelhead, Early Coho Downgraded

Updates created his week based on actual dam counts and other information peg the 2013 forecast for the fall chinook return to the mouth of the Columbia River at 1.2 million fish, which would be a record dating back to at least the early 1940s, and likely beyond.

The updated 2013 forecast includes anticipated “adult” returns, but not so-called jacks, which are fish that return to the Columbia-Snake river system after only one year in the Pacific Ocean. A total of 1.2 million fall chinook salmon were estimated to return to the Columbia system in 1941, but that total included jacks.

An adult return total of 1.2 million, including lower Columbia (downstream of Bonneville Dam) and upriver stocks should already be nearly in hand, considering dam counts and harvests in hand.

Through Wednesday a total of 844,083 fall chinook had been counted passing up and over Bonneville, which is located at river mile 146. That total includes so-called upriver brights, Bonneville Pool hatchery tule fall chinook and Pool Upriver Brights. The large majority of the fall chinook passing Bonneville are URBs, most of which are destined for the Hanford Reach area of the mid-Columbia, Priest Rapids Hatchery, areas upstream of Priest Rapids Dam on the Columbia, and the Snake River. Smaller URB components are destined for the Deschutes and Yakima rivers.

Snake River wild fall chinook are a subcomponent of the URB stock. The wild Snake River fall chinook are protected from take under the Endangered Species -- i.e., harvests on URBs are controlled to assure limited impact on the Snake River wild fish.

Counts remain strong – including a total of 13,906 adult fall chinook at Bonneville Wednesday. Counts have exceeded 13,000 every day, with three slight exceptions, since Aug. 27. The peak count this year – 63,870 on Sept. 9 is an all-time high on a record dating back to 1938, the year the dam went into operation.

The total fall chinook passage this year at Bonneville through Wednesday is 844,083, already surpassing the previous record of 610,000 set in in 2003 for the entire season, according to data compiled by the Fish Passage Center.

Chinook are counted as fall stock through the end of the year, but typically 90 percent or more of the run has passed the dam by late September. Daily counts have, for the most part, been declining in recent days.

Last year’s count through Sept. 25 was 317,113; the recent 10-year average through that date is 349,370.

The jack counts throughout the Columbia-Snake hydro system have been strong, though not quite as high as last year. Jack counts help to predict the strength of later years’ runs when older fish from the same brood year return.

The number of returning 2-year-old jacks counted at Bonneville, the lowermost dam in the system, totaled 93,263 through Wednesday, including 2,174 that day. The jack count last year through Sept. 25 was 100,072. The 2012 year-end jack count was a record 124,166.

 “The abundance of this year’s fall Chinook run is the perfect example of what this region needs to focus on and how we all benefit from strong returns,” said Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. CRITFC is the technical “Partnerships and collaboration are rebuilding this run. Focusing on rebuilding abundance allows the region to move beyond unproductive allocation fights and puts fish back on to the spawning grounds.”

“This historic run is an encouraging sign that regional efforts to rebuild salmon populations are having a positive impact,” said Bill Bradbury, chair of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, whose Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program directs funding for many of those efforts. “By improving spawning and rearing habitat and carefully supplementing naturally spawning runs with hatchery-bred fish, we are not only boosting the runs but also providing fishing opportunities that contribute to our economy.”

According to a joint press release issued this week by CRITFC and the NPCC, state and tribal biologists attribute the historic run to various factors, including high spring river flows when the fish migrated to the ocean as juveniles two to five years ago, spill of juvenile fish over dams, good ocean conditions, ongoing projects to improve fish passage at dams and the habitat where fish spawn, and improved survival of fish produced in hatcheries. Included in the huge run is an anticipated record return of fall chinook to the Snake River, where the Nez Perce Tribe has been working to improve fish production and habitat.

CRITFC is the technical support and coordinating agency for fishery management policies of four Columbia River Basin treaty tribes: the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council is a compact of the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington that is directed by the Northwest Power Act of 1980 to prepare a power plan to assure the Pacific Northwest region an adequate, efficient, economical, and reliable power supply. The power plan includes a program to protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife of the Columbia River Basin affected by hydropower dams. The Council fish and wildlife program is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration as mitigation for impacts caused by the construction and operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System. BPA markets power generated at FCRPS hydro projects.

The U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee met Monday to review upriver summer steelhead, fall chinook and coho run progress. TAC, made up of federal, state and tribal fishery officials, analyzes fish presence, past and present, in order to produce forecasts that are used by fishery managers and others.
TAC further downgraded the B stock steelhead (fish primarily returning to tributaries in the Salmon and Clearwater rivers in Idaho) to 15,000 fish total, including 3,700 wild fish. That compares to a preseason forecast of 31,600 Group B fish. TAC stayed with last week’s Group A steelhead run size projection of 205,000 fish total, including 86,000 wild fish (compared to 291,000 Group A fish forecasted in preseason). Group A steelhead return to tributaries throughout the Columbia and Snake basins.
TAC stayed with last week’s projections for chinook salmon of 832,500 adult URBs (compared to 434,600 forecasted in preseason) and 69,000 BPHs (compared to 36,300 forecasted). Chinook and coho forecasts are for return numbers to the mouth of the Columbia. The upriver summer steelhead forecasts for Group A and Group B fish are for counts at Bonneville Dam.
TAC downgraded the projected number of early coho salmon at Bonneville to 29,000 fish, which compares to 96,000 fish expected.  The early coho run at Bonneville ends on September 30 and the late coho run will start on October 1.
TAC will meet again on Monday, Sept. 30 to further review the run sizes

PUBs represent the upriver component within what’s called the Mid-Columbia bright management stock. PUBs are a bright stock reared at Little White Salmon, Umatilla, and Klickitat hatcheries and released in areas between Bonneville and McNary dams. Natural production of fish derived from PUB stock is also believed to occur in the mainstem Columbia River below John Day Dam, and in the Wind, White Salmon, Klickitat, and Umatilla rivers.

The BPH stock is produced primarily at the Spring Creek Hatchery in the Bonneville Pool, although natural production of tules also occurs in the Wind, White Salmon, Hood, and Klickitat rivers.

The adult fall chinook count at McNary Dam is 313,783, with most of those fish following the Columbia north toward the Hanford Reach. The 60,000 fish escapement goal for McNary was met on Sept.7.


* Over A Million Fish Spurring Record Fall Chinook Catch Rates; Tribes See Best Zone 6 Harvest Back To 1938

A modern-day record fall chinook spawning run up the Columbia and Snake rivers is, obviously, providing huge bounty for fishermen -- sport, commercial, tribal.

Through Sept. 22, an estimated 29,307 adult fall chinook had been caught and kept by anglers in the lower Columbia fishing zone from Astoria near the river mouth upstream to Bonneville Dam at river mile 146.

That kept catch, and fishing is ongoing, in 130,883 angler trips has surpassed the previous high of 28,169 fish in 2011. The catch record was made despite the fact that the effort this year ranks second (147,343 trips also in 2011) since at least 1969.

The Buoy 10 fishery between the river mouth and Astoria from Aug. 1 through Sept. 1 includes fall chinook catch projections (kept catch plus release mortalities) of 28,000, the highest since at least 1988.

And the mainstem sport fishery from Bonneville upstream to the Highway 395 bridge (in Pasco) just north of the Oregon-Washington border has an in-season catch expectation of 14,000 fall chinook.

The lower river, non-tribal commercial fishery has also been producing. The August commercial season, consisting of eight daily outings, netted 45,600 chinook. The “late” fall season from Sept. 15-23, produced a haul of 29,000 chinook, with an additional fishery planned this week.

And an estimated 222,277 adult fall chinook will have been caught by the end of this week by tribal commercial fishers in Columbia River reservoirs upstream of Bonneville. A fishery scheduled for next week is estimated to bring in nearly 24,000 more.

“This year’s harvest will be the highest commercial catch in Zone 6 ever,” Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission fishery biologist Stuart Ellis said of the above-Bonneville fall chinook catch. That record would date back to 1938, the year Bonneville went into operation.

Both non-Indian and tribal fisheries remain within catch limitations set to protect wild salmon and steelhead within the run that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The fish are there for the taking. The U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee met on Sept.16 to update forecasts of the upriver chinook run, which includes upriver brights, Bonneville Hatchery Pool tules, and a portion of the Mid-Columbia bright return. The URB run was upgraded to 832,500 adult fish to the mouth of the Columbia River, which would be a record.

The BPH run, mostly hatchery fish bound for Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery in the Bonneville pool, was pegged at 69,000 at the mouth. That’s nearly double the preseason forecast 36,000.

The latest Mid-Columbia Bright forecast is for a return of adult 154,300 fish to the Columbia. That’s up from a preseason forecast of 97,600, which would have been similar to the 10-year average.

The total upriver fall chinook run forecast (fish headed upstream of Bonneville) is a record run with 1,055,800 upriver fall chinook expected to enter the Columbia River. TAC expects over 950,000 upriver fall chinook to pass Bonneville Dam.

The big return is allowing state fishery managers to loosen catch restrictions almost across the board.

As an example, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, last week decided, beginning Sept. 21 that fishing for salmon with two poles will be permitted in the Hanford Reach area from the Hwy. 395 Bridge in Pasco to Priest Rapids Dam if the angler possesses a two-pole license endorsement.

The daily bag limit was also boosted from two to six salmon, up to three of which may be adult salmon. Once the daily limit of adult salmon is retained, anglers may not continue to fish for any species for the remainder of the day.

The WDFW also opened the closed water boundaries at the Priest Rapids Hatchery discharge channel, commonly referred to as Jackson/Moran Creek, to angling by boat only. Boat anglers are not allowed to fish in the hatchery discharge channel, but may fish in the Columbia River adjacent to the channel. The shoreline within the normal closed area boundary will remain closed to bank angling for safety and security of the hatchery.

The current in-season run update is for 114,300 adult natural-origin fall chinook to return to the Hanford Reach spawning grounds, which is far in excess of the target spawning escapement. In addition, record returns of hatchery chinook to Priest Rapids and Ringold Spring hatcheries are anticipated, the WDFW says.

Upstream of Priest Rapids the limit was also raised. In the reservoir between Wanapum Dam the limit is now six chinook. Two of those fish may be adult chinook . Minimum size 12 inches. That limit is good until Oct. 15. Anglers may retain any legal size chinook regardless of whether the adipose fin has been clipped or not.

Current estimates for the fall chinook run far exceed the forecast. There are currently close to 20,000 adult fall chinook returning to the Wanapum pool, which is four times the 10-year average.


* Cooler Weather Helps Record Breaking Fall Chinook Numbers Cross Lower Granite, Including Many Wild Fish

Southeast Washington and much of the inland Northwest has sweated through a hotter than normal summer season and has been, until very recently, perspiring about the fate of the Snake River fall chinook salmon run.

But those fears have in most regards been washed away. The weather has cooled and rains swept in.

And the counts of fall chinook at lower Snake’s Lower Granite Dam, many of them wild fish listed under the Endangered Species Act, have surged past the record for the fall season.

The total adult fall chinook count climbed to 42,276 Wednesday to surpass the previous record of 41,815 set in 2010. That record dates back to 1975, the year dam operations, and counts, began.

And another 1,854 adult fall chinook passed the counters Thursday to bring the total to 44,130.

The Nez Perce Tribe, responsible for much of the hatchery and habitat restoration work that has helped swell the return, now predicts that Lower Granite adult fall chinook will exceed 50,000.

Approximately 29 percent of the adult fall chinook observed passing Lower Granite so have been adipose fin clipped, meaning they are of hatchery origin.

Because roughly half of the hatchery fall chinook releases in the Snake River are clipped, the low observed clip rate suggests that there are good numbers of natural origin Snake River fall chinook in the return, according to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s Stuart Ellis.

Some of the returning fish are unmarked hatchery fish released as part of the tribe’s hatchery supplementation program. Returns of their progeny would ultimately be considered wild fish.

The actual number of “wild,” protected Snake River fall chinook in the return will be estimated at season’s end through the genetic analysis, spawning ground surveys and other work as federal, state and tribal biologists conduct the annual “run reconstruction.”

The cumulative adult fall chinook counts downstream at Little Goose and Lower Monumental dams are also record high counts to date since the construction of the four lower Snake River dams. Lower Granite is the eighth and final dam in the Columbia-Snake system that the fish pass on their way to hatcheries and spawning grounds in the lower Snake basin.
A big return was expected. The preseason forecast was for a return of 31,600 wild Snake River fish to the mouth of the Columbia, which would be 272 percent of the 2003-2012 average, and the highest return on record.

Last year’s wild return was 16,800. Those numbers get trimmed as the fish swim nearly 500 miles upstream through eight dams and a variety of tribal and non-tribal fisheries.

A big overall return was foretold. The Lower Granite count last year of jacks was 21,990, the second highest on record. Jacks are young male fish that return after only one year in the ocean. The jack return helps predict future years’ returns of their broodmates.

The majority of each year’s spawners, classified as adults, have spent two or more years growing and maturing in the ocean. The 2010 record return was preceded by the all-time high jack return of 41,249 in 2009.

This season’s jack count through Thursday is 14,735. Daily counts seemed to have passed the season peak but still strong with a tally of 602 Thursday.

High water temperatures in the dam’s fish ladders in late August and early September appeared to be stalling passage of fall chinook headed upstream to spawn. Early September fish ladder counts dipped at a time when typically the run would be surging toward a peak.

A similar happening for the rebuilding sockeye salmon run in late July forced a variety of operational changes at Lower Granite in an attempt to improve fish ladder conditions.

Operational changes were implemented earlier this month by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intended to improve water temperature conditions, and a timely change in the weather helped. Cooling air temperatures and rains boosted daily counts to record levels last week.

Improved conditions also allowed the startup Monday of the adult fish trap in the fishway, which is used to collect broodstock for both the Lyons Ferry Hatchery and the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery and to handle fish for a variety of research purposes such as collecting scale samples for genetic analysis and inserting and reading PIT and radio tags.

“This is the latest we’ve been shut down, and the longest we’ve been shut down,” said Darren Ogden, the NOAA Fisheries research fish biologist in charge of running trap operations. The trap had been out of commission since July 10.

“Typically we start in March and we don’t stop unless we have temperature problems or mechanical problems,” Ogden said.

“It’s nerve wracking,” Becky Johnson, head of the NPT’s Production Division, said of the trap closure, and the need to collect about 5,000 fish as broodstock to produce the next generation of fish at the hatchery.

The restarted operation of the fish trap would seem to be in the nick of time. Ogden said that just over 1,000 fall chinook were collected Monday and Tuesday.

The fish ladder temperature issues seem to emerge only occasionally, in extreme years.

“That’s something that needs to be fixed,” Johnson said of the Corps’ ability to draw cooler water from the depths of Lower Granite’s reservoir to feed the fish ladder.

NOAA Fisheries’ 2008 biological opinion for the Federal Columbia River Power System calls for an investigation of the situation at Lower Granite Dam and, if necessary, the provision of “additional auxiliary water supply for the new adult trap at lower Granite” so that it can operate at full capacity when the forebay is operated at minimum operating without affecting the fishway. NOAA Fisheries BiOps suggest actions necessary to avoid jeopardizing the survival of ESA listed stocks, such as the Snake River sockeye and fall chinook.

For more on the “thermal barrier” see CBB, August 2, 2013, “Endangered Adult Sockeye Passing Little Goose Dam Then Hitting Lower Granite’s ‘Thermal Barrier’’ http://www.cbbulletin.com/427728.aspx


* U.S. Releases Draft Recommendations For ‘Modernizing’ Columbia River Treaty; Includes Ecosystem-Based Function

The “U.S. Entity” on Sept. 20 released for public review and comment its draft Regional Recommendation for public review and comment on how the Northwest’s system of dams in the United States and Canada might be operated from 2024 and beyond for power generation, flood control as well as for fish benefit and other uses.

The Columbia River Treaty now under review in Canada and the United States was created primarily to provide reduced flood risk and support hydropower generation in a river system that springs from British Columbia and flows down through Washington and Oregon to the Pacific Ocean. Major tributaries supply water from Montana and Idaho.

The Columbia River Treaty, signed in 1964, calls for two "entities" -- a U.S. Entity and a Canadian Entity -- to implement, and amend, the treaty. The U.S. Entity, created by the president, consists of the administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration (chair) and the Northwestern Division Engineer (member) of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Canadian Entity, appointed by the Canadian Federal Cabinet, is the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority (B.C. Hydro).

Four storage reservoirs on the Columbia River system remain the most obvious product of the treaty. Together, the three dams built in Canada (Duncan, Mica and Keenleyside — also known as Arrow in the U.S.) doubled the amount of water that could be stored, adding 15.5 million acre-feet of capacity. And the construction of Libby Dam on the Kootenai River in northwestern Montana created another large storage reservoir, Lake Koocanusa.

The treaty called for the United States to pre-pay Canada, a total of $64 million, as each Canadian treaty dam was put into operation. This payment covered implementation of annual flood control plans for the first 60 years of the Treaty, through September 2024.

The treaty specified that power generation benefits were to be shared equally by the two countries, but since the energy was not immediately needed to serve its demand, Canada sold the first 30 years of the Canadian Entitlement to a U.S. consortium of utilities for $254 million in 1964. The value of the Canadian Entitlement, combined with pre-payment for flood risk management, helped finance Duncan, Keenleyside and Mica dams.

Now that the 30-year contracts have expired, the United States delivers the Canadian Entitlement energy to BC Hydro over Bonneville Power Administration transmission lines. BPA estimates that this energy entitlement is worth between $250 million and $350 million a year, according to a U.S. Entity fact sheet.

The U.S. Entity is seeking broad regional support from sovereigns, regional stakeholders, and the general public before the recommendation is finalized and presented to the U.S. Department of State in December 2013. The end result would be a U.S. recommendation on whether or not the terms of the treaty should be continued and/or changed.

The U.S. Entity is seeking comments and feedback on the document during the public comment period, which is scheduled through Friday, Oct. 25. Comments on the Draft Regional Recommendation can be made at:

A cover letter announcing release of the draft says that:

“While the region acknowledges substantial benefits have flowed from the Treaty, there is also a strong desire to incorporate ecosystem-based functions into the Treaty and to recognize evolving interests in other water management issues in the Columbia River basin.

“There is growing interest in a Treaty that is more adaptive, flexible, and resilient in order to successfully meet the challenges presented by increased demand for water and the uncertainty of climate change impacts on Columbia River flow volume, timing, and variability in the next several decades.

“There is widespread concern that the method included in the Treaty for calculating Canada’s share of its power benefits is outdated and no longer equitable, resulting in excessive costs to regional ratepayers. Finally, there is broad interest in reaching agreement with Canada on how we will conduct coordinated flood risk management operations post-2024 under the terms of the Treaty.

“The Draft Regional Recommendation attempts to recognize and balance all of these viewpoints and interests. The modernized Treaty that is envisioned in this Draft Regional Recommendation will simultaneously:

-- better address the region’s need for a reliable and economically sustainable hydropower system;
-- continue to provide a similar level of flood risk management to protect public safety and the region’s economy;
-- include ecosystem-based function as a third primary purpose of the Treaty, to ensure a more comprehensive approach throughout the Columbia Basin watershed; and
-- create the flexibility within the Treaty that is necessary to respond to climate change, changing water supply needs, and other future potential changes in system operations while continuing to meet authorized purposes such as navigation.

“Ecosystem considerations such as those for enhanced fish and wildlife protection are the subject of significant conversation today even as federal responsibilities have expanded to include the increased use of basin water to aid fish migration up and down the rivers,” the fact sheet says.

“Many dams and reservoirs in the Columbia River Basin operate together under the Columbia River Treaty to manage flood risks and generate hydropower to benefit the Pacific Northwest. These river operations also support fish and wildlife, recreation, water supply and navigation.”

Reactions to the draft’s release show that a split in public opinion exists.

“The modernization of the Columbia River Treaty is in the best interest of our region, the United States, and the Columbia Basin citizens who rely on this river,” according to a statement released by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “The draft recommendation released today by the U.S Entity adds the ecosystem as a primary driver, co-equal to hydropower and flood control, a feature that will make the treaty a model of international water management.

“The sovereigns, stakeholders, and other interested parties must work together as a region to reach a consensus that we can all support and be proud of. Leaving the Columbia River Treaty unchanged forces us all to lose, and lose significantly,” according to CRITFC. “Upper basin residents could be forced to unfairly bear a greater burden through greater demands on their reservoirs. Diminished water quality and quantity issues will frustrate the Columbia Basin’s on-going salmon restoration efforts, and the region will be unprepared to address climate change. We cannot allow any of these to happen.
The U.S. Entity, in collaboration with numerous parties, has been reviewing the Columbia River Treaty to advise the U.S. Department of State on the treaty’s future after 2024.

“The Columbia Basin Tribes remain dedicated to the inclusion of ecosystem-based function in a modernized treaty and are committed to working with the other sovereigns, stakeholders, and interested parties to develop a path forward that we can all support. For the past 50 years, the region has tried to optimize hydropower and flood control without consideration of the ecosystem. That has failed. The time to redefine the future of the Columbia River is now,” according to Paul Lumley, CRITFC executive director. Lumley is a citizen of the Yakama Nation and a member of the Columbia River Treaty - Sovereign Review Team.

Portland-based CRITFC is the technical support and coordinating agency for fishery management policies of  four Columbia River Basin's treaty tribes: the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Washington, greeted the draft recommendation with a statement of concern regarding potential modifications to the Columbia River Treaty.

Hastings met with representatives of the U.S. Entity Sept. 20 to discuss the latest draft recommendation and to express his concerns directly.

“The U.S. Entity’s latest draft recommendation continues to raise contentious ecosystem concerns that only serve to distract from the essential task of working with Canada on the core issues under the Treaty – the need to rebalance power benefits and to address long-term flood control needs. As this process unfolds, I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that the final U.S. position on this matter is focused appropriately,” said Hastings.

(See, CBB, Aug. 9, 2013, “Utilities Group Expresses Concern With Columbia River Treaty Draft Recommendations, Process, Scope” http://www.cbbulletin.com/427854.aspx and CBB, Aug. 16, 2013, “Environmentalists Say Columbia River Treaty Needs To Expand To Include ‘Ecosystem-Based Functions”’ http://www.cbbulletin.com/427918.aspx)

Public roundtable discussions regarding the draft regional recommendation are scheduled to:

-- Understand this draft’s evolution and changes since the earlier working draft;
-- Discuss what change could mean to the region, and
-- Learn about the next steps in the Treaty Review process.

The Corps and Bonneville will discuss these topics and answer questions during the informal roundtable meetings. The sessions will feature open discussions, with no scheduled presentations.
For more information and background on Treaty Review, please visit www.crt2014-2024review.gov/OtherStudies.aspx for Columbia River Treaty Review background and overview fact sheets.

The U.S. Entity welcomes comments and suggestions on the Draft Regional Recommendation by Oct. 25. These comments and suggestions will be considered for incorporation into the final recommendation.

For information on the Columbia River Treaty 2014/2024 Review, visit www.crt2014-2024review.gov

Meetings are scheduled in:

Spokane, on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 1-3 p.m.,
Spokane Public Library, Room 1A,
906 W. Main Ave.,

Boise, Thursday, Oct. 3, 1-3 p.m.,
Boise Public Library, Marion Bigham Room,
715 S Capitol Blvd.,

Missoula, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 9,
Helena College the University of Montana
1115 N. Roberts St.,

Olympia, 1-3 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 15
The Olympia Center,
222 Columbia St. NW,
See front desk for free parking pass

Portland, 2:30-5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16,
BPA Rates Hearing Room,
1201 N.E. Lloyd Blvd., 2nd floor,
or participate by Webinar
(watch the website for details)
Columbia River Treaty 2014/2024 Review


* Columbia River Sub-Basin Study Suggests Dams Buffer Region From Climate Change Impacts

Dams have been vilified for detrimental effects to water quality and fish passage, but a new study suggests that these structures provide “ecological and engineering resilience” to climate change in the Columbia River basin.

The study, which was published in the Canadian journal Atmosphere-Ocean, looked at the effects of climate warming on stream flow in the headwaters and downstream reaches of seven subbasins of the Columbia River from 1950 to 2010. The researchers found that the peak of the annual snowmelt runoff has shifted to a few days earlier, but the downstream impacts were negligible because reservoir management counteracts these effects.

“The dams are doing what they are supposed to do, which is to use engineering – and management – to buffer us from climate variability and climate warming,” said Julia Jones, an Oregon State University hydrologist and co-author on the study. “The climate change signals that people have expected in stream flow haven’t been evident in the Columbia River basin because of the dams and reservoir management. That may not be the case elsewhere, however.”

The study is one of several published in a special edition of the journal, which examines the iconic river as the United States and Canada begin a formal 10-year review of the Columbia River water management treaty in 2014. The treaty expires in 2024.

Jones said the net effect of reservoir management is to reduce amplitude of water flow variance by containing water upstream during peak flows for flood control, or augmenting low flows in late summer. While authorized primarily for flood control, reservoir management also considers water release strategies for fish migration, hydropower, ship navigation and recreation.

These social forces, as well as climate change impacts, have the potential to create more variability in river flow, but the decades-long hydrograph chart of the Columbia River is stable because of the dams, said Jones, who is on the faculty of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU.

“The climate change signal on stream flow that we would expect to see is apparent in the headwaters,” she said, “but not downstream. Historically, flow management in the Columbia River basin has focused on the timing of water flows and so far, despite debates about reservoir management, water scarcity has not been as prominent an issue in the Columbia basin as it has elsewhere, such as the Klamath basin.”

The study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation’s support to the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, looked at seven subbasins of the Columbia River, as well as the main stem of the Columbia. These river systems included the Bruneau, Entiat, Snake, Pend Oreille, Priest, Salmon and Willamette rivers.

“One of the advantages of having a long-term research programs like H.J. Andrews is that you have detailed measurements over long periods of time that can tell you a lot about how climate is changing,” Jones pointed out. “In the case of the Columbia River – especially downstream – the impacts haven’t been as daunting as some people initially feared because of the engineering component.

“Will that be the case in the future?” she added. “It’s possible, but hard to predict. Whether we see a strong climate change signal producing water shortages in the Columbia River will depend on the interplay of social forces and climate change over the next several decades.”


* Study: Charred Forests In Columbia Basin Headwaters Leads To Changed Snow Runoff Patterns

When a major wildfire destroys a large forested area in the seasonal snow zone, snow tends to accumulate at a greater level in the burned area than in adjacent forests. But a new study found that the snowpack melts much quicker in these charred areas, potentially changing the seasonal runoff pattern of rivers and streams.

The study by Oregon State University researchers, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, documented a 40 percent reduction of albedo – or reflectivity – of snow in the burned forest during snowmelt, and a 60 percent increase in solar radiation reaching the snow surface.

The reason, the researchers say, is that fires burn away the forest canopy and later, the charred tree snags shed burned particles onto the snow, lowering its reflectivity and causing it to absorb more solar radiation.

Results of the study were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“As the snow accumulates in the winter, you don’t see much of a difference in albedo between a healthy, unburned forest and a charred forest,” said Kelly Gleason, an OSU doctoral student in geography and lead author on the study. “But when the snow begins to melt in the spring, large amounts of charred debris are left behind, darkening the snow to a surprising extent.”

In the study site, at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet in the Oregon High Cascades near the headwaters of the McKenzie River, the researchers founded that the snowpack in the charred forest disappeared 23 days earlier and had twice the “ablation” or melting rate than an adjacent unburned forest in the same watershed.

Anne Nolin, who is Gleason’s major professor and a co-author on the study, said the researchers have not yet examined the hydrological effect of this earlier melting, but “logic suggests that it would contribute to what already is a problem under climate change – earlier seasonal runoff of winter snow.”

“The impact of these charred particles is significant,” said Nolin, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “They are really dark – much darker than the needles, lichens and other naturally occurring materials that fall in a healthy, unburned forest.

“We know that the shedding of the charred particles lasts at least two years – and it might extend as long as eight to 10 years before the trees fall,” she added.  “It has a major impact on snowmelt that hasn’t fully been appreciated.”

The problem may be compounded in the future as climate change is expected to significantly increase the occurrence of wildfires in the western United States – and perhaps beyond.

“Most of the precipitation in the mountains of the western U.S. falls as snow and the accumulated snowpack acts as kind of a winter reservoir, holding back water until summer when the highest demand for it occurs,” Gleason pointed out. “Our findings could help resource managers better anticipate the availability of water in areas that have been affected by severe forest fires.”

Such areas are increasingly plentiful, according to Nolin. The OSU researchers conducted a spatial analysis of major forest fires from 2000 to 2012 and found that more than 80 percent of those fires in the western U.S. were in the seasonal snow zone, and were on average 4.4 times larger than fires outside the seasonal snow zone. Nearly half of those major fires were within the Columbia River basin, especially in Idaho and the northern Rocky Mountains.

Other areas are affected as well, including the southern Oregon/northern California mountain regions, and the high country of Arizona and New Mexico. The amount of burned area since 2000 that the OSU researchers examined in their spatial analysis of where forest fires occurred in the seasonal snow zone was roughly the size of Ohio.

“It’s a bit of a paradox,” Nolin said. “Other studies have shown that when you remove the dark forest canopy and expose the snow, the area gets brighter and acts as a negative forcing on atmospheric temperatures, slowing climate change. But hydrologically, the effect is the opposite – the increased solar radiation and decreased snow albedo causes much earlier snowmelt, potentially amplifying the effects of climate change.

“What does it mean for your water supply when headwater catchments burn, the snow melts faster and the spring runoff begins even earlier?” she added. “It is a provocative question for resource managers.”


* Council Receives Hundreds Of Recommendations For Amending Columbia Basin Fish/Wildlife Program

About 480 recommendations are in hand and due for consideration by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council as it works toward the amendment of its fish and wildlife program for the Columbia-Snake river basin.

Meanwhile, the Council has invited review and comment on the recommendations. Comments must be submitted by Nov. 20.

Copies of the comments can be found at:

The Council program, for which funding is expected to be about $250 million per year by the Bonneville Power Administration, aims to mitigate for impacts to fish and wildlife caused by the operation of the basin’s hydro power system. BPA markets power generated in the Federal Columbia River Power System.

Recommendations regarding the Council program’s operating principles have been received from federal, state and tribal fish and wildlife managers as well as the federal agencies responsible for managing, operating, or regulating the Columbia hydroelectric facilities, the Bonneville utility customers and the region’s other electric utilities. The recommendations also included input from and the public other agencies, conservation groups and literally hundreds of individuals.

The comments will be considered as Council and staff prepares draft amendments to the program. The draft will also be offered for review and discussion.

The Council adopted the current version of the program in 2009. It consists of the program framework; basinwide objectives and strategies; provisions relevant to the mainstem, estuary, ocean, and subbasins; and implementation guidelines. Also part of the program are the subbasin plans for nearly 60 tributaries and mainstem reaches adopted in 2004-05 and 2010-11.

The 1982 Northwest Power Act process must be completed within one year. After consideration of comments and recommendations, the Council is expected to produce draft amendments early next year, and approve final amendments in July.

The Power Act created the NPCC and bid it to develop a program to protect and rebuild fish and wildlife populations affected by hydropower development in the Columbia River basin and requires that that the program strategic plan be updated about every five years to take into account the latest science and goals of the fish and wildlife managers. The Act requires the Council to update the program at least every five years, prior to the Council’s review of its regional electric power and conservation plan.

After consideration of comments and recommendations, the Council is expected to produce draft amendments early next year, and approve final amendments in July.


* Ninth Circuit Affirms Council’s Northwest Power Plan; Orders Two Provisions Be Fixed

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in an opinion issued Sept. 20 “affirmed” the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Sixth Power Plan, while also ordering that two provisions of the strategy need to be fixed.

The Northwest Power Act of 1980 created the Council with a dual mission to create “a regional conservation and electric power plan” and “a program to protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife.”

The Council is required to update the Power Plan every five years. That process is proceeded by the amending of the fish and wildlife program’s strategies. Both processes take more than a year to complete and include the involvement of fish and wildlife and power entities and other interested parties.

A petition filed with the appellate court in September 2012 challenged the Sixth Power Plan, which was completed by the Council and staff in May 2010, by an environmental group, the Northwest Resource Information Center.

“NRIC’s key complaint is that the Council failed to give due consideration to the accommodation of fish and wildlife interests when it adopted the Plan,” the court opinion says.

The Council said that its recently amended fish and wildlife program, which was included in the power plan, constituted due consideration.

The NRIC said the Council should have provided independent due consideration – a separate assessment -- regarding protection, mitigation and enhancement measures needed for anadromous (salmon and steelhead, primarily) fish in the Sixth Power Plan.

The three-judge panel last week “held that it would not second-guess the due consideration that the Council gave to fish and wildlife interests in the adoption of the Plan where plaintiffs did not point to any part of the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act that required the Council to reconsider fish and wildlife measures in light of its evaluation of the regional power system from the subsequent power planning process.

“The panel remanded the Plan to the Council for the limited purposes of allowing public notice and comment on the proposed methodology for determining quantifiable environmental costs and benefits, and reconsidering the inclusion in the Plan of a market price based estimate of the cost of accommodating fish and wildlife interests,” the opinion says

The panel hearing the case included Arthur L. Alarcón, Ronald Lee Gilman, and Sandra S. Ikuta, circuit judges. The opinion was written by Gilman.

Ikuta concurred with the other two judges on two of the three issues addressed in the opinion. But she dissented on another, saying that the Power Act requires each power plan to include a variety of elements. The Act does not, however, require including, or leaving out, BPA’s cost estimates, she wrote.

“An organization founded in response to threats to the Northwest region’s salmon population may rightly be concerned that BPA’s cost estimate will have a ‘chilling effect’ on efforts to expand the Council’s fish and wildlife program beyond its current scope,” Ikuta wrote.

“But the Council’s decision to report BPA’s cost estimate is well within the scope of editorial choices an agency may make when writing a congressionally mandated plan, and any inferences this language raises are irrelevant to judicial review under the Administrative Procedures Act. Our review extends only to “agency action, findings, and conclusions.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2). The Council’s report of the BPA’s cost estimate is none of these.”

Intervenors in the legal proceeding include the BPA, the Public Power Council and Northwest RiverPartners. The latter two groups represent Bonneville power customers.

An NPCC interpretation of the ruling, and link to the decision, can be found at:

Also see CBB, June 21, 2013, “Ninth Circuit Hears Arguments On Whether NPCC Power Plan Gave ‘Due Consideration’ To Fish/Wildlife” http://www.cbbulletin.com/427137.aspx


* Corps Plans Test Drawdown At South Santiam’s Foster Dam For Improving Chinook, Steelhead Survival

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to draw down the reservoir feeding west central Oregon’s South Santiam River earlier than the normal pace as a test to see how they might better operate Foster Dam to improve the survival of spring chinook, winter steelhead and other fish.

The South Santiam River, a tributary of the Santiam River, is about 66 miles long. The Santiam, drains an area of the Cascade Mountains and flows into the Willamette River near Corvallis. The Willamette flows north to join the Columbia River at Portland.

The Corps this week issued an alert to boaters, fishers and others on the South Santiam River near Sweet Home, Ore., that Foster Reservoir water levels will drop more rapidly than usual in October as the Corps draws the reservoir down to its winter flood control elevation.
The Corps normally draws Foster Reservoir down from its summer elevation of 637 feet above sea level to its winter elevation of 613 feet between Oct. 1 and Nov. 15. This year, the Corps intends to draw down the reservoir to 616 feet by about Oct. 15.
For many years the Corps has held the reservoir’s water level between 613 and 616 feet in April and May, allowing the surface water where juvenile steelhead usually swim to gently spill through a notched wall segment called a weir installed in one of the dam’s spillway bays.
However, recent Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife research in the South Santiam River shows that many juvenile fish -- particularly steelhead -- are migrating downriver at other times of the year, particularly in October and November.
“We hope this study will give us a better sense of how we can best operate the dam to ensure these fish survive passing the dam as they journey to the sea, and return to the river as adults in a few years,” said Corps fishery biologist Fenton Khan, who is leading the study. “We appreciate the understanding and support of river and reservoir users as we work to achieve that goal.”

The research is part of an ongoing effort to restore Upper Willamette River spring chinook salmon and winter steelhead that are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Foster Dam and Reservoir is one of 13 dam and reservoir projects operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Willamette River drainage system. Each dam contributes to a water resource plan designed to provide flood damage reduction, power generation, irrigation, water quality improvement, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation and navigation on the Willamette River and many of its tributaries.

For more information, visit http://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/Locations/WillametteValley.aspx


* Montana Nearing End Of 10-Year Project To Remove Non-Native Trout In South Fork Flathead Drainage

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is now more than three-quarters finished with a 10-year project aimed at treating alpine lakes above the South Fork Flathead River drainage to purge the presence of non-native trout.

A crew of 10 people, with support from the Backcountry Horsemen group, recently completed a toxin treatment of Lena Lake in the Big Salmon drainage. The week-long effort involved using Rotenone in the lake as well as two downstream tributaries to kill off hybrid fish. As with previous lakes involved in the project, Lena Lake will be promptly re-stocked with genetically pure westslope cutthroat trout in three age classes, ranging up to 12 inches in length.

“It went well,” said Matt Boyer, a fisheries biologist and project coordinator. “To me, the exciting part is the fisheries we’ve restored that are there for anglers to catch.”

Since the project was implemented in 2007, funded by the Bonneville Power Administration, 18 of 21 lakes have been treated, 12 of them with Rotenone and the remaining six with genetic swamping. Swamping involves overwhelming any hybrid populations with heavy stocks of westslope cutthroat. Three more lakes will be treated and the project is on schedule to conclude in 2016.

Boyer said he is impressed with how well all of the restored fisheries have bounced back. Within just a couple years after Blackfoot Lake was treated in the Jewel Basin, Boyer was catching 17-inch westslope cutthroats.

“The growth rates are phenomenal” because the newly planted fish have pristine environments with no competition, Boyer said. “They’ve got all the room in the world to grow and they do.”
Catch rates reported by anglers have been high, too.

“People have gone up there and had 20 to 30-fish days,” he said.

The stocked fish have been coming from the relatively new Sekokini Springs conservation hatchery near Blankenship Bridge, which has been raising fish derived from wild fish collected most recently from Danaher and Youngs creeks in the South Fork basin.

 “Sekokini is playing a huge role in this project right now,” Boyer said.

The work at Lena Lake, which is in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, involved the use of 10 pack horses that had to make multiple trips to get gear in place. Chemicals were flown in by helicopter for safety reasons, Boyer said.

Treating the lake required the use of rafts and drip stations, positioned at carefully calculated intervals, were used to treat about six miles of downstream tributaries. A neutralizing chemical was used above a downstream barrier falls to ensure that Rotenone would not continue to travel downstream.

Because of the tributary work, it was the biggest effort undertaken so far in the overall project, Boyer said.

Next year, Koessler Lake is scheduled for treatment, followed by Handkerchief Lake in 2015 and finally, Sunburst Lake in 2016.

The South Fork drainage is considered a stronghold for westslope cutthroat trout, and the purpose of the project has been to prevent an eventual proliferation of trout with hybrid rainbow or Yellowstone cuttroat genetics. The largest concentrations of hybrids were detected in the alpine lakes that would “leak” fish into outlet tributaries that feed the South Fork Flathead River and eventually Hungry Horse Reservoir.


* Grizzly Bear Shooting In Idaho, Orphaned Cubs, Prompts Management, Legal Decisions

On Sept. 12, an adult female grizzly bear was shot by a resident of Island Park, Idaho.

Because the incident is under investigation by the enforcement branch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, these are the only details that have been released at this time.

Because the grizzly bear still is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, decisions regarding the handling of grizzly bears fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As the result of the shooting, two young grizzly bears were orphaned.

There has been some concern from the public because it was thought the orphaned bears were cubs of the year, born last winter. When measurement of the young bears' front paw pad prints at the scene where the sow was shot were compared to hundreds of previous measurements from other cubs of the year, it is clear these bears are yearlings.

Idaho Fish and Game large carnivore biologist Bryan Aber, who is part of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team said, "7 centimeters is the standard for cubs of the year in the Yellowstone Ecosystem; measurements I made of the cub's front pad prints were 8.5 and 9 centimeters. This measurement clearly makes these bears yearlings."

The distinction between cubs of the year and yearling is of major importance.

"Orphaned cubs of the year generally stand little chance of survival if left on their own heading into winter," Aber said. "Yearlings that are in good condition stand a very good chance of surviving."

The policy of the state and federal agencies managing grizzly bears is to not capture orphaned yearlings because they have good a chance of surviving in the wild.

There has been a call by some members of the public to capture the grizzlies and place them in a rehab facility, as if they could be held in captivity, fed and released later somewhere.

"Rehab with grizzlies is really not an option. Grizzly bears cannot be captured and held in a facility and released later. If these bears were captured they would have to put in permanent captivity in a zoo or euthanized," said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The bears appear to be in good shape, and by reports they are at least 100 pounds. They have been observed feeding in the forest on elk gut piles, so as long as they stay away from humans they should be able to go into hibernation later successfully," Aber said.

Servheen said: "If these bears get into conflicts they may be captured and relocated to another area, but this will only be done as a last resort. Their best opportunity to survive is to be left within the habitats where they grew up, and for residents to make sure all attractants like birdfeeders, pet food, livestock feed and garbage are secured and unavailable to bears."

Residents and hunters of Island Park know that both black and grizzly bears are present throughout the area. The killing of a grizzly is rarely the end of the story. Often there are management and legal outcomes that require difficult decisions. Working to prevent human caused grizzly bear deaths is the best way to keep things simple.

To learn more about grizzly bear recovery, management and safety visit: www.igbconline.org


* Corps Lowering Lake Pend Oreille For Flood Control; Kokanee Spawning Ecology Being Re-examined

Lake Pend Oreille minimum winter lake level for 2013-2014 will be at 2,051 feet above mean sea level, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, Water Management Section.

The lake was at 2,061.1 feet as of midnight Sept. 22, and the Corps is continuing to draft with goals of 2,060 feet by the end of the month, 2,057 feet by Oct. 15 and 2,054 feet by Oct. 31. The lake is expected to reach the 2,051 foot level during the first week of November.

The Corps operates Albeni Falls Dam, which regulates the level of Lake Pend Oreille. The minimum winter lake level was determined after an annual interagency lake level meeting held Sept. 19.

Inflows are typically at their lowest levels in September and early October, but later fall rains and other considerations may require some outflow adjustments to reach the 2,051 foot lake level. 

Once reached, the Corps expects to hold the lake between 2,051.0 – 2,051.5 feet through the end of kokanee spawning or Dec. 31, whichever comes first. 

Lake Pend Oreille’s winter level is managed by the Corps after coordination with various federal, state, local and tribal officials. Since 1996 winter pool levels were set to benefit reproduction of kokanee salmon, a food source for threatened bull trout.

This year’s decision is not directed toward kokanee, however, as the species’ spawning ecology is being re-examined by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

The decision is in keeping with flood risk management needs and supports Flexible Winter Power Operations. 

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


* Removal Of Unused Dam In Northern Idaho Reopens Prime Spawning Habitat For Listed Snake River Steelhead

Dutch Flat Dam, a 10-foot barrier built nearly a century ago to provide drinking water to Troy, Idaho, was once as forgotten as the steelhead run that it blocked.

The dam spanned the West Fork of Little Bear Creek, which ran so dry in summer nobody thought steelhead survived there. So no one thought much about the dam that had silted in long ago.

But about a decade ago biologists realized that protected steelhead in fact do survive and even thrive in such streams, hiding out in pools cooled by underground flows. One biologist even videotaped adult steelhead trying valiantly to jump Dutch Flat Dam to reach five miles of prime spawning reaches upstream.

Now fish will find the going easier, as local leaders and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game worked with federal agencies to take out the dam this summer so steelhead can again swim freely up the West Fork of Little Bear Creek. Crews finished removing the dam’s concrete in early September and are now widening a new course for the creek.

“We’re making quite a bit of progress every day,” said John Johnson, an independent engineer overseeing the project for the Latah Soil and Water Conservation District. NOAA Fisheries and the Bonneville Power Administration funded the project. Crews from the city of Troy are completing the work.

It’s far from the largest dam removal in the West: Elwha and Condit top the charts in that regard. But it’s every bit as important to the steelhead that migrate 500 miles up the Columbia, Snake, and Clearwater rivers to the West Fork of Little Bear Creek. The dam has gone unused since it filled with silt in 1926. But it has continued to block the migration of wild steelhead that have proven more numerous than biologists and locals once thought.

An inventory by Idaho Fish and Game about 10 years ago surprised many locals by finding steelhead throughout the Potlatch River drainage in small streams such as Little Bear Creek that mostly dried up in summer. It turned out that the fish survive the summer in remnant pools cooled by subterranean water. As word of the steelhead spread, so did enthusiasm for removing the dam and reopening the West Fork of Little Bear Creek, said biologist Bob Ries of NOAA Fisheries. Enthusiasm grew even more when a local resident found steelhead spawning in the creek.

Biologists salvaged almost 180 fish from pools below the dam before the removal began and about three quarters were steelhead, Johnson said. It was the most steelhead they had ever captured in that reach, he said, suggesting that many fish stand to benefit from removal of the dam.

Snake River steelhead were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1997.

Removing migration barriers and restoring access to high quality spawning and rearing habitat is considered critical for their recovery.

Together NOAA Fisheries and the Bonneville Power Administration provided $500,000 for the project. NOAA’s funding came from the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, a competitive grant program dedicated to restoring Pacific salmon and their habitat. BPA funding supports habitat improvement projects as mitigation for the impacts of federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

NOAA Fisheries also used a process called “programmatic consultation” to review the dam removal and associated restoration work. The approach streamlines the review and encourages the use of practices already proven effective, Ries said. He said plans call for leaving the newly freed stream to find its own new path through the channel.

“It will be interesting to watch how it reestablishes itself,” he said.

A plaque will be placed on a remaining abutment of the dam to note its original purpose and role. The full biological and ecological benefits for fish in Little Bear Creek will unfold over the coming months and years. By next summer, as steelhead make their way through the Columbia, Snake, and Clearwater rivers and into Little Bear Creek, they will once again swim into pristine habitat in the creek’s upper reaches.


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 14-year (1998-2012) 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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