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Salmon Recovery in the Columbia River Basin

Autumn view up the Columbia River Gorge. Photo by Pete Bisson.

Columbia River Gorge

To help restore wild salmon and steelhead runs,
two committees of independent scientists provide
scientific oversight to the nation’s largest freshwater
ecological restoration program.

Research Description:

Bonneville Power Administration Fish and Wildlife Program budget.

Figure 1

With an annual budget of $150-200 million annually and a history of almost three decades, the Fish & Wildlife Program of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NPCC) is one of the costliest long-term ecological restoration programs in the US. To help ensure that restoration dollars are spent wisely, NPCC and its partners NOAA Fisheries and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission support two committees of independent scientists that are nominated by the National Research Council: (1) the Independent Scientific Advisory Board, which examines programmatic issues of general importance, and (2) the Independent Scientific Review Panel, whose responsibility is to review individual projects and programs funded by the Fish & Wildlife Program. Funding for the program comes from Bonneville Power Administration ratepayer revenues, and the following graph depicts the FY2008 budget allocation among anadromous salmon and steelhead, resident fishes, wildlife, and administration.

Figure 1. Source: Bonneville Power Administration

Key Findings:

Independent Scientific Advisory Board

Over the past thirteen years the Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) has completed 70 reports. Although the majority of ISAB assignments have been on mainstem passage issues for anadromous salmonids, the ISAB’s body of work has addressed most key issues in the Columbia River Basin and informed the development of the Council’s program, NOAA Fisheries’ recovery efforts, and tribal restoration programs. When the ISAB completed its review of harvest management in 2005, it essentially had completed major reviews of the key scientific issues that basin programs have focused on (hydro, hatcheries, harvest, and habitat). In addition to the harvest review (ISAB 2005-4), the ISAB has completed comprehensive reviews of the potential effects of hatchery supplementation practices on salmon recovery (ISAB 2003-3), tributary habitat recovery strategies (ISAB 2003-2), flow augmentation (ISAB 2003-1), salmon recovery strategies/plans (ISAB 2001-7), and mathematical modeling and analytical tools (ISAB 2001-1).

In 2006, the ISAB shifted focus to issues that had received less attention in program planning – climate change, human development, and non-native species. The ISAB’s report on climate change impacts states that the warming of the global climate is unequivocal and will have a variety of impacts on aquatic and terrestrial habitats (ISAB 2007-2). The ISAB’s human population report finds that the impact of human settlement in the Columbia River Basin is rarely incorporated into fish and wildlife planning, and directly affects fish and wildlife restoration actions (ISAB 2007-3). Seeing non-native species as a threat needing serious attention, the ISAB evaluated the state of knowledge of the impact of both intentional and unintentional introductions of non-native aquatic species on native salmonids in the Columbia River Basin (ISAB 2008-4).

In 2009, the ISAB and Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) completed a comprehensive review of fish tagging technologies used in Columbia River Basin fish and wildlife programs (ISRP/ISAB 2009-1). The ISAB also began two “State of the Science” reviews which will continue into 2010. First, the ISAB is working on a Columbia River food-web review, which will examine the implications of food-web dynamics on fish and wildlife restoration efforts, including trophic interactions, species competition, and predator-prey relations. Second, the ISAB is researching concepts and tools for landscape-scale restoration. This review will explore the current scientific understanding of the relationships between landscape structure and ecosystem function.

Independent Scientific Review Panel

The ISRP provides the Council with independent scientific review of fish and wildlife recovery projects within the context of the Council’s program. The Council directs the ISRP to focus its review on those projects that, in the panel’s judgment, would benefit from scientific review. This includes especially research, evaluation, and management projects. The Council also may ask the ISRP to review subbasin and other plans to ensure that strategies are consistent with the Scientific Principles, guidelines and other established scientific information. Since its inception in 1997 the ISRP has completed more than 200 reports covering a wide variety of restoration efforts. The following photographs illustrate some of the habitat improvement actions in the Columbia River Basin and the monitoring programs that are tracking their success.

Hatchery raceway (rearing pen) at Bonneville fish hatchery contributes to artificial production of salmonids.

Artificial production (Bonneville fish hatchery)

The Chumstick Creek culvert that was replaced to improve fish passage.

Fish passage improvement (Chumstick Cr. culvert prior to replacement)

Screening on an irrigation diversion on the Chelan River, Washington, prevents fish from being drawn into the canal .

Irrigation water withdrawal screening (Fulton diversion, Chelan R.)

A log structure added as habitat improvement in a spawning channel of Spring Creek.

Habitat bioengineering (Spring Cr. spawning channel)

Large wood placed in the Little Naches River, Washington as a fish habitat enhancement.

Large wood placement (Little Naches R.)

Water flows over Hemlock Dam on Trout Creek, a tributary of the Wind River in Washington, before its removal in 2009.

Dam removal (Hemlock Dam, Wind R. system, prior to removal in 2009)

Rotary fish trap for counting downstream migrant salmonids on the San Poil River, Washington.

Rotary downstream migrant trap (San Poil River)

Chinook salmon redds (nests) show as piles of gravel in the bed of the Wenatchee River, central Washington.

Chinook salmon redds (Wenatchee R.)

Two biologists free adult coho salmon into the Chiwawa River in central Washington as part of a reintroduction project.

Coho salmon re-introduction (Chiwawa R.)