Upper Columbia plan sees fish recovery in ten to 30 years

A recovery plan for three fish species in the upper Columbia River predicts recovery could be accomplished in ten to 30 years at an estimated cost of at least $296 million for the first decade.

NOAA Fisheries released the recovery plan Oct. 9 for two populations of fish protected under the Endangered Species Act — upper Columbia River spring-run chinook salmon and upper Columbia River steelhead. The plan also covers bull trout and supplements a draft bull trout recovery plan published in 2002.

NOAA Fisheries said the recovery plan is the culmination of eight years of work by the Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board. The board was created in 1999 to draft a local recovery plan to submit to NOAA Fisheries for adoption. The plan is the third federally approved salmon recovery plan for ESA-listed salmon in the Pacific Northwest. The other recovery plans involve Puget Sound chinook and Hood Canal summer chum.

The fisheries agency said recovery plans are designed to provide a �road map� for improving the status of a protected species, so they can be removed from the federal protection list. The agency added that while recovery plans are comprehensive, they build on efforts already under way in many areas, including work being done by tribal, state, and local governments, and private conservation groups.

The plan identified 306 recovery actions to be implemented: 87 involving harvest, 50 for hatcheries, 16 for hydropower projects, and 153 for habitat. It also found 188 monitoring and research actions: 55 for harvest, 76 for hatcheries, eight for hydro projects, and 49 for habitat.

Species affected by four Corps, three to five PUD dams

The plan noted the fish species migrate through four Corps of Engineers hydroelectric projects and three to five hydro projects operated by Douglas, Chelan, and Grant County Public Utility districts. It recognizes ongoing strategies and actions by the projects on behalf of fish recovery.

The plan said it strengthens the likelihood that hydro project actions and mitigation are consistent with recovery of the species in question. The goal is to achieve combined adult and juvenile survival of 91 percent per project. The remaining 9 percent is to be compensated through activities at hatcheries, 7 percent, and on tributaries, 2 percent.

The recovery plan predicts results, despite acknowledging many certainties in predicting recovery and its costs.

�The Upper Columbia Plan states that if its recommended actions are implemented, recovery of the spring chinook salmon ESU (evolutionarily significant unit) and the steelhead DPS (distinct population segment) is likely to occur within ten to 30 years,� the plan said. �The cost estimates cover work projected to occur within the first ten-year period. Before the end of this first implementation period, specific actions and costs will be estimated for subsequent years… The estimated cost of restoring habitat for spring chinook, steelhead, and bull trout in the Upper Columbia Basin is at least $296 million over the first ten-year period.�

ESA recovery plans differ from biological opinions, in that provisions are not necessarily mandatory while biological opinions can include mandates. NOAA Fisheries is in the process of preparing draft biological opinions for operating and maintaining federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers for ESA-listed fish. (HNN 8/3/07) Those documents include a court-ordered rewrite of a 2004 biological opinion for operating the federal Columbia River power system for recovery of salmon and steelhead, due to a federal judge Oct. 31.

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