News Articles

Important articles published by national and regional news outlets related to wild salmon restoration in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

seatimes.special1Here is the first in a special multi-part series by Lynda Mapes of the Seattle Times that will explore the plight of the Southern Resident orcas.

A Seattle Times special report
Orcas thrive in waters to the north. Why are Puget Sound’s dying?

Southern resident killer whales are facing extinction, while orcas in British Columbia and southeast Alaska are growing in numbers. These whales in a better habitat expose why Puget Sound's orcas are suffering.

Follow the link to the Seattle Times website - the story is accompanied by moving photos and video of the Southern Residents and the Northern Residents.




And here's how you can help: Contact Governor Jay Inslee today.

Thank Governor Inslee for establishing the Orca Recovery Task Force earlier this year - then ask him to move quickly to support and/or enact its recommendations - including the two critical recommendations to (1) increase spill at the federal dams on the lower Snake and lower Columbia rivers in time for the 2019 juvenile out-migration, and (2) convene the Tribal/stakeholder to identify concerns and develop key elements of a dam removal transition plan for the lower Snake River.

Thank you.

By Kara Kostanich

November 6th, 2018

J PodPuyallup, Wash. - Members of Governor Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force worked late into the Tuesday evening to finalize a long list of recommendations designed to save the endangered whales.

“My hope is that this will be a package of recommendations to address all the threats and that we do take bold steps and implement change and address all the threats that are impacting the whales,” said Lynne Barre who is the recovery coordinator for Southern Resident Killer Whales at NOAA Fisheries.

On Monday, a pod of Southern Resident Killer Whales was spotted not far from the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal. The majestic orcas forge for salmon deep into Puget Sound during the fall and winter but their primary food source, Chinook salmon, is scarce.

“The southern residents have declined over the last decade. This is really a critical time to do all we can to address all the threats,” said Barre who is also part of the task force.

Governor Inslee called for the Orca Task Force earlier this year in response to the whales’ decline. Their plight impacted people all over the world after a female killer whale carried her dead baby for 17 days through the Salish Sea.

“It’s been really challenging, but I think it’s raised awareness about the issues that face these whales,” said Barre. “It’s brought more people to the table and that’s the kind of support we need to implement critical actions.”

The struggles that are threatening the population are what stakeholders from across the state of Washington gathered to solve.

The group has developed 36 recommendations that focus on three goals: increasing Chinook salmon, decreasing vessel disturbance and reducing expose to contaminates.

“If we don’t take bold steps, we aren’t going to get another chance,” said State Senator Kevin Ranker who is also part of the task force. “These whales are on their last leg.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, task force members voted to recommend that commercial and recreational whale watching for Southern Resident Killer Whales be suspended for the next three to five years.

Another controversial recommendation involves creating a stakeholder process to discuss potential breaching or removal of the lower Snake River Dams.

“I think we’ve made some real progress in recognizing we need to bring all the stakeholders to the table that would be impacted by that kind of recommendation,” said Les Purce who is the co-chair of the South Resident Killer Whale Task Force.

While some of the recommendations could be implemented immediately with executive action from the governor, others would need legislative action and money.

“I have hope that we can recover the whales,” said Barre.

The final report and recommendations will be delivered to the governor by November 16.

By Glen Spain

November 8, 2018

Glen.SpainOrcas and commercial salmon fishermen share a common crisis — both need more adult Chinook salmon to return to the Columbia River; orcas to avoid starvation, fishermen to sustain their livelihoods and families.

Northwest orcas are starving and their population is declining — only 74 remain, in large part because their primary prey, Chinook salmon, have been pushed by dams, dewatering and habitat destruction to near extinction almost everywhere.

Salmon fishermen know this because for years, they too have seen reduced catches, reduced fishing seasons and spreading closures. Salmon fishermen too are now effectively an endangered species, and for the same reasons as orcas — their Chinook salmon prey are rapidly disappearing.

So, when six of the world’s leading orca scientists banded together recently and wrote to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery Task Force to share their conclusion that restoring Snake River spring Chinook is critical to preventing orca extinction, salmon fishermen from Astoria, Ilwaco and other coastal communities took note. These scientists are talking about their futures as well.

Since the mid-1990s, salmon scientists have said the single biggest step we can take to restore healthy salmon runs in the Snake River is to remove four low-value, high-cost dams on the lower river above its confluence with the Columbia. This step has been vigorously opposed by those who benefit from status quo dam operations.

But just as our understanding of the connection between orcas and Chinook salmon from the Columbia has evolved, so too has our understanding of the role these four dams play in damaging our regional salmon economy. We now know the region could bypass these four obsolete dams and still thrive.

A recent analysis by Energy Strategies, a Utah-based consulting firm that primarily works for utilities, concluded that the power these four dams combined produce could readily be replaced with clean energy and conservation, with little or no increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and at a low cost to consumers — about $1.25 per month on the average bill. The economic costs of these lower Snake River dams, in terms of thousands of lost salmon-based jobs (in Astoria and elsewhere), costs the region staggeringly more.

Once, the hydropower produced by the four lower Snake River dams was useful and valuable. But over the past 17 years, the average annual 943 megawatts these dams produced was actually “surplus power,” amounting to less than 4 percent of the total power generated from the Federal Power System, which today generates a 17 percent energy surplus. The Northwest is so awash with surplus power that it can often be sold only at a net loss. In other words, instead of making money on it, the Bonneville Power Administration often has to pay California and other states to take it! In short, as power producers, the four lower Snake River dams are now economically obsolete.

The dams’ agriculture transportation functions are also replaceable. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data show barge shipping on the lower Snake has been in steady decline since at least 2000, so much so that, under Corps’ criteria, the lower Snake would today be classified as a “low use” waterway.

Today, the only thing shipped by barge on the lower Snake waterway is grain, chiefly wheat. But increasingly, wheat is being transported by rail. In fact, because of increased rail efficiency, more wheat is going to market by train every year. It is only massive subsidies that keep barge shipments economically viable at all.

Removing the lower Snake River dams would require some reinvestment in rail capacity, but doing so would improve efficiency even more. It could even cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the distance grain has to be moved by truck, which is both costly and highly polluting. And grain could still be moved by barge on the Columbia from the Tri-Cities to Portland, an economic opportunity for the Tri-Cities, an area that was a booming grain shipment port before the Snake River dams were built in the 1960s — and could be again.

Those opposing restoring the lower Snake River often cite irrigation and flood control in defending the dams. But irrigation from the lower Snake only serves 13 farms, all around Ice Harbor dam, irrigation that could be easily maintained by modifying the current system to include stronger pumps and longer pipes, a simple plumbing problem. And, because the lower Snake River dams have no water storage capacity, they play no significant role in flood control.

So where does this leave us? As a region, do we continue failed policies that push the orcas, and salmon fishermen and their communities, further toward extinction? Or do we want to do something to save them both?

The message couldn’t be clearer: it is past time for bold action to bring back the Chinook salmon that sustain mother orcas and their pods as well as salmon-dependent human communities. And the biggest champions should be salmon fishermen, sport and commercial alike, who depend on bringing back the same Chinook the orcas so desperately need.

Many fishermen are already at the forefront of salmon restoration efforts, through organizations like Salmon for All and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. But we’re at a tipping point. If we don’t take steps like removing the lower Snake River dams soon, we risk losing our orcas as well as our own salmon heritage and the lives, communities, cultures and jobs salmon support.

It’s time we all raised our voices to insist that we can restore the Snake River, find ways to meet the legitimate needs of those who also depend on it, whether for power or irrigation, and bring back our salmon. Please be part of that effort.

Glen Spain is the northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a trade association for commercial fishing families on the West Coast.

By Eric Barker

Nov 9, 2018 

salmonFederal fisheries officials are reviewing a Fisheries Monitoring and Evaluation Plan submitted by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game that has the potential to affect the state’s ongoing and future steelhead fisheries.

The 32-page document spells out how the agency will conduct and monitor its steelhead fishery so impacts to protected wild steelhead, spring and summer chinook, sockeye and bull trout are minimized. If and when the plan is approved by the federal agency, the state will receive permission under the Endangered Species Act to incidentally harm a small percentage of the protected fish during fisheries for hatchery steelhead.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Division is taking public comment on the plan and simultaneously working on related biological opinions and documentation required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The process is likely to last months and could be completed this winter or early next spring.

Idaho first submitted the plan in 2010, but it has collected dust in the intervening eight years. In the meantime, the agency continued to hold steelhead fisheries based on an expired plan while annually reporting steelhead harvest data and other information to the federal government, including impacts on wild steelhead and other species under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

The lack of an updated plan became a hot topic last month when a coalition of environmental groups announced its intention to file a lawsuit against Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, his Fish and Game commissioners and Virgil Moore, the director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, for holding the steelhead fishery despite not having an updated and federally approved monitoring and evaluation plan.

The groups are concerned with the low number of wild steelhead that have returned to the Snake River and its tributaries over the past two years. Idaho has reduced bag limits from three hatchery steelhead per day to just one because of the low numbers of returning fish. But the groups would like the state to take additional steps to protect wild steelhead up to and including shutting down the fishery. Even though anglers are required to release wild steelhead, the groups said the fish sometimes die following release.

“I think we have to make the most of the fish that do make it back to Idaho. We believe there is more the state can do to minimize or, as closely as possible, eliminate the effects of sport angling,” said David Moskowits of the Portland-based watchdog group Conservation Angler.

Officials from the department met Thursday with representatives of the Conservation Angler, Idaho Rivers United, Friends of the Clearwater, Snake River Waterkeeper and Wild Fish Conservancy to discuss the issue. Idaho Fish and Game commissioners are scheduled to discuss the issue at their meeting Wednesday in Coeur d’Alene.

Allyson Purcell, branch chief for anadromus fisheries and inland fisheries for NOAA, said the agency placed the plan on the back burner because of its heavy workload related to processing plans designed to reduce the impact of the operation of salmon and steelhead hatcheries on protected wild fish.

“We have authorized this fishery through four permits in the past, starting when sockeye were listed,” Purcell said. “We evaluated and approved (past plans), and this is really just a lapse.”

She said based on the state’s submitted plan and previous versions of it, that steelhead fishing does not appear to be a threat to wild fish. “Based on the information we have, the impacts of this fishery are very low,” she said.

Lance Hebdon, salmon and steelhead manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise, said fisheries officials have more than 25 years of experience in managing steelhead fisheries and monitoring the effects on wild fish. The plan now under consideration is built on past plans and experiences, Hebdon said.

“This is pretty consistent with the way we have been operating since the fish were listed. We have large areas closed to fishing specific to protecting wild steelhead,” he said. “We have large areas we don’t release hatchery fish in consideration of protecting those wild steelhead — areas like the Lochsa, Selway, South Fork of the Salmon and Middle Fork of the Salmon rivers — and we haven’t allowed harvest of wild steelhead since the 1980s.”

The state also has studied things like hooking- and handling-related injuries and mortality to steelhead that are caught and released. For example, he said the Fish and Game biologists conducted a study in conjunction with its efforts to develop a localized brood stock of steelhead in the South Fork of the Clearwater River. In that program, anglers are asked to voluntarily place both wild and hatchery steelhead they catch in special holding tubes that are then placed in the river. Fish and Game officials then collect those fish and take them to a hatchery for spawning.

The study, which is being peer reviewed, showed there was no impact on the survival of the eggs or offspring of those heavily handled fish.

“The bottom line is, as these issues come up and the public brings them up, we try to address them through a systematic and scientifically defensible study so we can answer the question ‘is this a concern we need to address?’ We have not found any thing that would point us in that direction yet,” Hebdon said.

The plan the state first submitted in 2010, which now is being processed by NOAA Fisheries has been updated several times, he said.

November 2, 2018

The Columbia Basin Bulletin

seattletimessockeyeFor eight years running, the Independent Scientific Advisory Board has reviewed the Fish Passage Center’s draft Comparative Survival Study for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia/Snake river basin.

It completed its ninth review of the latest draft CSS October 18, saying the FPC’s annual report is “mature,” inferring that at this point the study typically includes only updates using the latest year’s data.

One thing the CSS report has consistently reported the last few years is that many anadromous fish species fail to meet the 2 to 4 percent smolt to adult survival goal called for in the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program. Species that aren’t meeting the goal are Snake River wild spring/summer chinook, Snake wild steelhead populations, as well as the hatchery fish of these species, and Snake River sockeye salmon. Most wild and hatchery steelhead, chinook and sockeye in the middle and upper Columbia River and tributaries also are not meeting the Council’s goal.

However, according to the CSS report, steelhead in the John Day, Umatilla, and Deschutes rivers have consistently higher SARs than other species and meet the Council’s goal more often, if not every year.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program calls for such an annual independent science review of the FPC’s analytical products, including the FPC’s draft CSS report, the ISAB review says.

The draft CSS – titled “Comparative Survival Study of PIT-tagged Spring/Summer/Fall Chinook, Summer Steelhead, and Sockeye” – was released for public review by the FPC and the Comparative Survival Study Oversight Committee at the FPC website on Sept. 4. Comments were due October 17 and some of the most comprehensive and technical comments each year are those from the ISAB.

The ISAB reviews of the CSS reports began with the draft 2010 annual report and most recently the draft 2017 report. The draft 2018 CSS report covers the period Dec. 1, 2017 through Nov. 30, 2018.

“Many of the methods have been reviewed in previous ISAB reports and so now receive only a cursory examination,” the ISAB review says. “As more data are acquired, new patterns and questions arise on the interpretation of the results—this is now the primary focus of our reviews.”

Among the ISAB’s observations of the draft 2018 CSS report are:

-- The ISAB said it’s concerned that the overall pattern of low smolt to adult returns of upper Columbia and Snake river spring/summer chinook salmon and steelhead in 2015-16 (Chapter 4 of the CSS report, “Patterns in Overall SARs”) is likely to continue, “particularly in light of the apparently poor early ocean survival of juvenile salmon in 2017 and unprecedented ocean conditions in 2018 in the Northern California Current and Gulf of Alaska.”

-- Rather than trying to do a single study to estimate the effects of alternative tag-types (PIT and coded wire tags), “it may be opportune to do a meta-analysis of the many existing studies to try and figure out why there are different results; for example, is it species specific or just random noise?” the ISAB says.

-- The ISAB says that Chapter 7 in the CSS report (“CSS adult salmon and steelhead upstream migration”) is a revision to last year’s Chapter 7. It looks at the relationship between survival of adults upstream of Bonneville and travel time, temperature and arrival date. “A Bayesian imputation method is used to account for the fact that travel time is, by definition, not available for fish that are not detected at the last upstream dam,” the ISAB review says. “The analysis seems to be well formulated and executed. However, information about the distribution of the latent travel times is very indirect, and so the primary concern that the ISAB has is with the sensitivity of the results to a different choice of latent distributions for travel times.”

-- Chapter 8 (“PIT tag and coded-wire tag effects on smolt to adult return rates for Carson National Fish Hatchery spring chinook salmon”) reports on an experiment to investigate effects of different types of tags on various estimates of the population processes. “Unfortunately, lower than expected returns implies that the power to detect effects has been reduced compared to original plans. Given the reduced sample sizes, it was not surprising there was no evidence of an effect of tag-type on apparent survival or SARs,” the ISAB review says. “There was evidence for a decrease in PIT-tag retention over time once the adult fish entered the holding tanks. The ISAB is concerned about the effects of heterogeneity in overall survival when age 3, 4, and 5-year-old adult fish are pooled in the analysis, and some potential impacts of over-dispersion on the results.”

-- The new methodology described in Chapter 9 (“Preliminary Development of an Approach to Estimate Daily Detection Probability and Total Passage of Spring-Migrant Yearling Chinook Salmon at Bonneville Dam”) to estimate the detection probability (and abundance) of smolts passing the dam could be applied at each dam in the hydrosystem, and thus some progress could be made toward understanding density dependence effects on survival, especially if multiple stocks are involved.

The latest CSS report incorporates many of the ISAB’s suggestions from past reviews, including: life-cycle models have been extended to more populations and the effect of tag-type (i.e., PIT vs CWT) on SARs and estimates of survival are now being investigated.

The board of scientists also made additional suggestions for next year’s CSS report. Among those suggestions are:

-- Chapter 2 (“Lifecycle evaluation of upper Columbia spring chinook”) should be extended to investigate potential benefits on survival of management actions on the hydrosystem, such as spill modifications, as has been done in previous CSS reports. “The CSS indicates in their report that it is under active investigation. We look forward to the results,” the ISAB says.

-- The ISAB recommends expansion of ocean survival estimates to additional salmon and steelhead populations with sufficient data, and collaboration between CSS and NOAA to address relevant questions about salmon ocean survival in an adaptive management framework.

-- PIT-tagging is important throughout the Columbia River basin and a more in-depth treatment is warranted in Chapter 8, the ISAB says.

-- Chapter 9 is important because estimates of abundance are needed when investigating compensatory and interactive effects among stocks, according to the ISAB review. “The authors estimated the probability of detection at Bonneville Dam which forms the basis of the estimator for abundance. A similar approach may be applicable for each dam in the hydrosystem. The feasibility of extending the analysis to the other dams should be explored.”

The draft 2018 CSS report was prepared by the Comparative Survival Study Oversight Committee and the Fish Passage Center.

The committee includes Jerry McCann, Brandon Chockley, Erin Cooper and Bobby Hsu, Fish Passage Center; Steve Haeseker, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Robert Lessard, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission; Charlie Petrosky and Tim Copeland, Idaho Department of Fish and Game; Eric Tinus and Adam Storch, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; and Dan Rawding, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The ISAB serves the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, NOAA Fisheries and the Columbia River Indian Tribes by providing independent scientific advice regarding scientific issues that relate to the respective agencies' fish and wildlife programs.

By Annette Cary

October 20th, 2018

dam.iceharbordamKENNEWICK, WA - President Trump on Friday ordered the removal of what he called “unnecessary” regulatory burdens on Columbia and Snake River hydropower dams.

He signed a presidential memorandum requiring that a new environmental study on management of the eight dams operated by the Army Corps of Engineers be completed a year sooner than previously planned.

“Moving up the deadline ... is a procedural win that will give more certainty to the communities whose livelihoods depend on effective operations of our dams,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., on Friday.

But Joseph Bogaard of Save Our Wild Salmon of Seattle said the memorandum looked “like politics a few weeks ahead of an election rather than real meaningful policy.”

In 2016, a federal judge in Portland overturned a 2014 management plan for the dams, finding it did too little to protect salmon runs, and ordered a new management plan that could include tearing down the four lower Snake River dams.

This presidential memorandum moves the completion of the new management plan, called a biological opinion or BiOp, from 2021 to 2020. It would ensure the plan is completed during Trump’s current term.

A schedule for reaching that goal must be submitted within 60 days, the memorandum said.

It ordered the secretaries of Interior, Commerce and Energy, along with the assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works under the direction of the Secretary of the Army, to develop the schedule.

The secretaries of the Interior and Commerce must work together to minimize regulatory burdens and increase the efficiency of decision-making so that water projects in the West are better able to meet the demands of their intended purposes, the memorandum said.

The 2014 BiOp was the result of collaboration between the Obama administration, states and Northwest tribes to protect salmon while operating dams.

But in 2016 U.S. Judge Michael Simon in Portland found that the BiOp did not do enough to protect salmon and ordered a new environmental study that would include the option of tearing down the Snake River dams from Ice Harbor Dam near Burbank upriver to Lower Granite Dam near Pomeroy.

He also ordered more water to be spilled over the Snake and Columbia dams in the spring starting in 2018, with the goal of helping young salmon on their way to the ocean.

Water that is spilled cannot be used to produce inexpensive electricity, which increases utility bills for Northwest ratepayers. Some opponents of the spill say it could harm, rather than help salmon.

A joint press release from the offices of Newhouse and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said the judge is “dictating new river operations from behind the bench” and throwing the river system’s operations into disarray.

The judge’s actions have forced uncertainty upon the Bonneville Power Administration’s ability to manage the power transmission system, it said.

“Dams and fish coexist, and after more than two decades in the courtroom, we should let scientists, not judges, manage our river systems and get to work to further improve fish recovery efforts,” McMorris Rodgers said.

Trump’s action Friday meets those goals, she said.

But Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said the presidential memorandum will only create more confusion, errors and litigation.

“It’s a mistake to take one of the most complex systems in the country and put it on a short timeline for analysis,” he said.

The largest problem is not over regulation of the Columbia and Snake River system, he said, but not enough water, especially given climate change, for all the demands on the system.

The Northwest will not benefit from the Trump administration jumping into the issue and playing politics with Northwest salmon and rivers, Bogaard said.

“We need a thorough, objective analysis of salmon recovery options in the Columbia and Snake rivers,” he said.

It will take people working together to find solutions, he added.

The order on the Columbia and Snake dams was part of a presidential memorandum addressing reliable water access in the West.

“We have to make sure American farmers and their families, wherever they may be, wherever they may go, have the infrastructure projects that they need to compete and grow,” Trump said in a statement released by the White House Office of the Press Secretary.

The memorandum said the federal government has invested enormous resources in water infrastructure in the West to reduce flood risks to communities; provide reliable water supplies for farms, families, businesses, and fish and wildlife; and to generate hydropower.

“Decades of uncoordinated, piecemeal regulatory actions have diminished the ability of our federal infrastructure, however, to deliver water and power in an efficient, cost-effective way,” the memorandum said.

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