NOAA TAKING COMMENTS FROM FISHERIES MANAGERS ON SALMON REBUILDING REPORT KEY TO ADMINISTRATION’S COLLABORATIVE RECOVERY EFFORTS

Date:
August 11, 2022
NOAA TAKING COMMENTS FROM FISHERIES MANAGERS ON SALMON REBUILDING REPORT KEY TO ADMINISTRATION’S COLLABORATIVE RECOVERY EFFORTS

Urgent and comprehensive large-scale actions in the Columbia River basin will be needed to meet mid-range salmon and steelhead abundance goals set by the Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force in 2020, according to a draft report by NOAA Fisheries released nearly a month ago by the White House. The agency is now taking comments until the end of the month on a report that could play a key role in the Biden Administration’s efforts to collaboratively move forward on Columbia/Snake river salmon recovery.Inaction will result in the catastrophic loss of the basin’s wild salmon and steelhead stocks, the report says.Actions needed are “expedited” breaching of the lower Snake River dams, controlling predators and reintroducing salmon and steelhead upstream of blocked areas, including upstream of Grand Coulee Dam on the mainstem Columbia River and Dworshak Dam on the North Fork Clearwater River.“The short-term outlook for most interior Columbia River stocks is grim” and all actions, the report says, “need to be implemented as soon as possible.” However, the most urgent actions are those that provide tangible benefits soon after implementation and those that provide “the most significant survival boost for a broad range of priority populations.”The draft report –"Rebuilding Interior Columbia River Basin Salmon and Steelhead" – was released in mid-July by the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The report was prepared by NOAA with input from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and fishery managers with the Nez Perce Tribe and the State of Oregon. The draft was transmitted to all state and tribal fish managers in the region for their review until the end of this month.A second report, which was an assessment of what power production portfolios would be needed to offset the potential loss of the lower Snake dams and their costs, was released at the same time.The CEQ is leading the federal efforts to recover Columbia and Snake river salmon and steelhead.The draft NOAA report says that breaching the dams would be transformative by changing reservoir habitats back into a more functional river.It goes on to say that “Only this comprehensive package is likely to provide the generational growth and expanded capacity necessary to achieve the abundance and survival goals.”The report answers at a high level eight questions posed by its authors about salmon and steelhead rebuilding efforts in the Columbia River basin. The purpose is to inform the region as to what it will take to achieve the abundance goals of the Columbia Basin Partnership by 2050, as well as the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s productivity goals by 2030, as measured by smolt-to-adult returnsThe Partnership report, "A Visions for Salmon and Steelhead: Goals to Restore Thriving Salmon and Steelhead to the Columbia River Basin," finalizes qualitative and quantitative goals for all salmon and steelhead, both ESA-listed and non-listed, and provides recommendations for continuing collaboration going forward to further define and implement strategies to achieve the Partnership goals.The highest priority salmon and steelhead stocks are: Snake River spring/summer Chinook, Snake steelhead, upper Columbia fall and spring Chinook and upper Columbia steelhead.Snake River sockeye salmon fall into NOAA’s second category, labeled “higher,” as does upper Columbia spring Chinook, mid-Columbia steelhead, upper Columbia sockeye, Snake River fall Chinook and upper Columbia fall Chinook.A third category is labeled “high.” It includes mid-Columbia summer/fall Chinook, mid-Columbia coho salmon, mid-Columbia sockeye, upper Columbia coho and Snake River coho.Some 16 stocks historically spawned upstream of Bonneville Dam, but four are now extinct, seven are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, and of the remaining five stocks, just one approaches its historical numbers (upper Columbia fall Chinook), the report says.The urgency is compounded by climate change that can only be buffered by maintaining colder stream flows and water temperatures in the mainstem rivers and tributaries, including cold water refuges, maintaining flow augmentation, improving habitat, and maintaining and restoring high elevation spawning and rearing areas.Currently, on average, stock abundance is at 33 percent of the CBP mid-range goals and generational growth (the rate at which abundance must grow to reach CBP targets) varies among upper Columbia/Snake river salmon and steelhead stocks.For example, Snake River spring/summer Chinook and upper Columbia River spring Chinook will both need a 40 percent generational growth rate to meet the CBP mid-range abundance goal by 2050. Upper Columbia River fall Chinook have met the goal, but that’s unusual among the 16 stocks listed in the NOAA report. Upper Columbia River steelhead will need nearly a 70 percent generational growth to meet CBP goals and Snake River sockeye will need 75 percent growth.So how certain is NOAA that the suite of proposed actions will actually restore salmon runs? The agency is confident that interior Columbia River stocks will retain their resilience once the actions are implemented. And, it is confident that breaching lower Snake River dams, together with all other actions will achieve CBP targets for Snake River Chinook and steelhead.NOAA is less certain of the responsiveness to the actions by the imperiled and “on life support through hatchery intervention” Snake River sockeye salmon. In addition, the agency is less certain about the responsiveness of reintroduced populations into blocked areas.However, the report says, “Inaction will result in catastrophic loss of the majority of Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead stocks. Some uncertainty surrounding the exact magnitude of beneficial response of acting does not warrant inaction.”When it released both reports July 11, the CEQ was careful not to say that the Biden Administration has endorsed the Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force’s goals nor has it endorsed the particular actions identified in the NOAA draft report. However, “it is carefully considering this information and ongoing regional efforts as it assesses long-term pathways for the Columbia River basin,” the CEQ said.“We are at a crucial moment for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin when we’re seeing the impacts of climate change on top of other stressors, and this draft report delivers our scientific assessment of what we must do to make progress towards rebuilding the “healthy and harvestable” fish populations the Columbia Basin Partnership urgently called for,” said Janet Coit, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “The Partnership set ambitious goals that would serve the tribes, states, and communities of the Columbia Basin, and urged us to pursue those necessarily ambitious steps to restore these vital species while we still can. Now we need feedback from our fishery co-managers in the region on what that will take.”NOAA says it will incorporate comments from regional fisheries managers and scientists and complete the report by Sept. 30.This report and the second one estimating the costs and types of replacement power if Snake River dams are breached are important parts of the commitments made by “moving” parties – the United States, National Wildlife Federation et al., the State of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the Spokane Tribe – as they requested a one-year stay in litigation last week.U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon on Aug. 4 agreed to a request by the Biden Administration and plaintiffs to extend for another year the stay in the litigation challenging the federal government’s environmental impact statement and biological opinion for Columbia/Snake river salmon and steelhead. The parties said they want more time to identify “comprehensive” solutions to basin salmon recovery.In last week’s stay request the White House committed NOAA and the USFWS to review comments on the draft salmon rebuilding report it receives from tribal and state fishery managers and scientists, and “to finalize the report on or before September 30, 2022, or within 30 days of the close of the comment period if reasonable requests for an extension of the comment period from Tribal or State fishery managers and scientists are received and granted. The Administration recognizes time is of the essence to have a final science-based report for policymakers and agrees to proceed accordingly.”Questions posed by the report with excerpted answers:Question 1: What is the relative priority of stocks for protection and rebuilding given the scope and criteria above (in the introduction)?The highest priority salmon and steelhead stocks are: Snake River spring/summer Chinook, Snake steelhead, upper Columbia fall and spring Chinook and upper Columbia steelhead. Snake River sockeye salmon fall into NOAA’s second category, labeled “higher,” as does upper Columbia spring Chinook, mid-Columbia steelhead, upper Columbia sockeye, Snake River fall Chinook and upper Columbia fall Chinook. A third category is labeled “high.” It includes mid-Columbia summer/fall Chinook, mid-Columbia coho salmon, mid-Columbia sockeye, upper Columbia coho and Snake River coho.Some 16 stocks historically spawned upstream of Bonneville Dam, but four are now extinct, 7 are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, and of the remaining five stocks, just one approaches its historical numbers (upper Columbia fall Chinook), the report says.Question 2: What is the status and outlook for each stock?The extinction risk from demographic collapse for all ESA-listed stocks, the report says, is moderate to high, as “is the risk of evolutionary simplification due to reduced adaptive capacity, all resulting from small population size.”However, there is some reason for optimism. Most stocks “continue to demonstrate inherent resiliency. We see this in their ability to respond positively (i.e. their survival numbers increase) when environmental conditions align favorably. At the same time, stream and estuary rehabilitation programs are becoming more effective at restoring physical and biological processes necessary for salmon and steelhead life cycles …”Question 3: What is the importance and context of climate change (e.g. ocean conditions, snow pack, drought, flow, mainstem/tributary water temperature, etc.) on the life-cycle productivity, resilience, extinction risk, and recovery potential of priority stocks?The urgency is compounded by climate change that can only be buffered by maintaining colder stream flows and water temperatures in the mainstem rivers and tributaries, including cold water refuges, maintaining flow augmentation, improving habitat, and maintaining and restoring high elevation spawning and rearing areas.The growing frequency and size of climate change caused environmental downturns will “increasingly imperil many ESA-listed stocks in the Columbia River basin and amplify their extinction risk,” the report says. So, management actions that increase resilience and adaptation to the changes should be a priority and be expedited, according to the report.Although climate change will increasingly cause conditions in the ocean and in freshwater to deteriorate, does not mean that “taking meaningful actions in areas society has more direct influence” is not necessary. “In fact, the importance and necessity of taking meaningful actions is heightened, not diminished…”Question 4: What are the primary ecological threats or limiting factors, by life stage, to achieving abundance and productivity goals?The report concludes that hydrosystem limiting factors have the largest impact on Columbia River salmon and steelhead. Other threats are habitat and predators (pinnipeds, bird, other fish), as well as hatcheries and harvest if not properly managed. All will require a comprehensive suite of actions, coupled with robust monitoring, the report says.Question 5: Which actions have the highest likelihood of helping (e.g. of avoiding additional generational downturns and providing reasonable certainty of achieving the goals by addressing primary life-cycle threats and bottlenecks to survival, distribution, etc.) in the face of climate change?No single action is enough, NOAA concludes. All actions are needed. For Snake River stocks, it is “essential” that the lower Snake River dams are breached. For upper Columbia River stocks, it is “essential” to provide passage into blocked areas. For mid-Columbia stocks, in addition to improved passage through lower Columbia dams, improved water quality and quantity are needed, as well as better passage in tributaries.Actions with the best potential to buffer climate change are maintaining suitable water temperatures and flows, maximizing survival and production from freshwater habitats and maintaining and restoring access to cool water habitats.Question 6: Given the status in Question 2, what is the urgency for implementation of actions?All actions need to be implemented, but the most urgent actions are those that provide tangible benefits soon after implementation and those that provide “the most significant survival boost for a broad range of priority populations.”Only the comprehensive package of actions, according to the report, “is likely to provide the generational growth and expanded capacity necessary to achieve the abundance and survival goals.Currently, on average, stock abundance is at 33 percent of the CBP mid-range goals and generational growth (the rate at which abundance must grow to reach CBP targets) varies among upper Columbia/Snake river salmon and steelhead stocks.For example, Snake River spring/summer Chinook and upper Columbia River spring Chinook will both need a 40 percent generational growth rate to the CBP mid-range abundance goal by 2050, while upper Columbia River fall Chinook have met the goal, but that’s unusual among the 16 stocks listed in the NOAA report. Upper Columbia River steelhead will need nearly a 70 percent generational growth to meet CBP goals and Snake River sockeye will need 75 percent growth.Question 7: Given the status in Question 2, what confidence do we have that salmon and steelhead will respond favorably if the actions identified in Question 5 are implemented comprehensively?So how certain is NOAA that the suite of actions will actually restore salmon runs? The agency’s draft report says it is confident that interior Columbia River stocks will retain their resilience once the actions are implemented. And, it is confident that breaching lower Snake River dams, together with all other actions will achieve CBP targets for Snake River Chinook and steelhead.NOAA is less certain of the responsiveness to the actions by the imperiled and “on life support through hatchery intervention” Snake River sockeye salmon. In addition, the agency is less certain about the responsiveness of reintroduced populations into blocked areas.However, the report says, “Inaction will result in catastrophic loss of the majority of Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead stocks. Some uncertainty surrounding the exact magnitude of beneficial response of acting does not warrant inaction.”Question 8: If the actions identified in Question 5 are implemented comprehensively for salmon and steelhead, how would they benefit or degrade conditions for other species?Aquatic native species should all benefit from an improved ecosystem, the report says. However, some exceptions could occur with attempts to reduce predators that feed on salmon and steelhead, such as pinnipeds, northern pikeminnow, gulls, terns and cormorants.The report, however, says that breaching the dams would be transformative by changing reservoir habitats back into a more functional river.

Share this post