THE OSPREy · The Osprey welcomes submissions and letters to the editor. Submissions may be made...

Nick Ackerman has been a fish biolo- gist for Portland General Electric since 2007. Nick helped to coordinate fish passage and salvage activities at Marmot Dam throughout the dam removal process. Prior to working for PGE, Nick worked as a fisheries con- sultant and for state and federal fish- eries agencies. Nick makes his home in the Clackamas River basin with his wife and three children. Garth Wyatt also works for Portland General Electric as a fish biologist out of the West Side hydro office along the Clackamas River. Prior to joining PGE he was employed by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs working on the Hood River Production Program, and ODFW. Garth graduated from Oregon State University with a fisheries biolo- gy degree in 2004 and is an avid fisher- man. O n October 19th, 2007 the Sandy River — a tributary of the Columbia River with headwaters in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains near Mount Hood — flowed freely for the first time since 1913. As the river churned, frothed, and ate through the earthen cofferdam left behind from the removal of Marmot Dam, it quick- ly became apparent that the Sandy was “back.” The breaching also signaled the end of a lengthy decommissioning process and the beginning of intensive monitoring to chronicle the largest dam removal to date in the Pacific Northwest. The story of the Marmot Dam removal started when Portland General Electric (PGE) began the dam relicensing process in 1999. As per regulatory requirements, every 30-50 years utility companies must file for a new license to operate their hydropow- er projects. This “relicensing process” requires participation of government agencies, non-governmental organiza- tions, and the utility company. In the relicensing process, the utility compa- THE OSPREy a Newsletter Published by the Steelhead Committee Federation of Fly Fishers Dedicated to the Preservation of Wild Steelhead • Issue No. 63 • May 2009 SANDY RIVER REBORN — PAGE 1 — SOME GOOD NEWS, FOR ONCE — PAGE 3 — STEELHEAD LAGOONS — PAGE 8 — YAKIMA RIVER — PAGE 12 — COLUMBIA RIVER BIOP UPDATE — PAGE 15 — Continued on Page 4 Sandy River Reborn With Marmot Dam gone, Oregon’s Sandy flows free once again by Garth Wyatt and Nick Ackerman — Portland General Electric — IN THIS ISSUE: As the water churned and frothed, it quickly became apparent that the Sandy River was ‘back.’ The Osprey is now also available via electronic delivery. See page 14 for details. See also page 11 for information on the new Osprey blog

Transcript of THE OSPREy · The Osprey welcomes submissions and letters to the editor. Submissions may be made...

Page 1: THE OSPREy · The Osprey welcomes submissions and letters to the editor. Submissions may be made electronically or by mail. The Osprey P.O. Box 1228 Sisters, OR 97759-1228

Nick Ackerman has been a fish biolo-gist for Portland General Electric since2007. Nick helped to coordinate fishpassage and salvage activities atMarmot Dam throughout the damremoval process. Prior to working forPGE, Nick worked as a fisheries con-sultant and for state and federal fish-eries agencies. Nick makes his home inthe Clackamas River basin with hiswife and three children.Garth Wyatt also works for Portland

General Electric as a fish biologist outof the West Side hydro office along theClackamas River. Prior to joining PGEhe was employed by the ConfederatedTribes of Warm Springs working on theHood River Production Program, andODFW. Garth graduated from OregonState University with a fisheries biolo-gy degree in 2004 and is an avid fisher-man.

On October 19th, 2007 theSandy River — a tributaryof the Columbia River withheadwaters in Oregon’sCascade Mountains near

Mount Hood — flowed freely for thefirst time since 1913. As the riverchurned, frothed, and ate through theearthen cofferdam left behind fromthe removal of Marmot Dam, it quick-

ly became apparent that the Sandy was“back.” The breaching also signaledthe end of a lengthy decommissioningprocess and the beginning of intensivemonitoring to chronicle the largestdam removal to date in the PacificNorthwest.

The story of the Marmot Damremoval started when PortlandGeneral Electric (PGE) began the damrelicensing process in 1999. As perregulatory requirements, every 30-50years utility companies must file for anew license to operate their hydropow-er projects. This “relicensing process”requires participation of governmentagencies, non-governmental organiza-tions, and the utility company. In therelicensing process, the utility compa-

THE OSPREya Newsletter Published by the Steelhead Committee

Federation of Fly Fishers

Dedicated to the Preservation of Wild Steelhead • Issue No. 63 • May 2009


— PAGE 1 —


— PAGE 3 —


— PAGE 8 —


— PAGE 12 —


Continued on Page 4

Sandy River RebornWith Marmot Dam gone, Oregon’s Sandy flows free once again

by Garth Wyatt and Nick Ackerman

— Portland General Electric —



As the water churnedand frothed, it quickly

became apparent that the Sandy River

was ‘back.’The Osprey is now

also available via

electronic delivery.

See page 14 for details.

See also page 11 for

information on the new

Osprey blog

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After eight years of environmental policies created and implementedby what history may judge as the most anti-conservation administra-tion in the history of the U.S., we now have a new president, BarakObama, who offers, at least in the hopes of many conservationistsand wild fish advocates, an opportunity to forge new directions and

real progress on a host of environmental fronts, from energy to salmon policy.As Steelhead Committee Chairman Bill Redman notes in his column for this

issue, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, a marine ecologist from Oregon State University withstrong conservation credentials, was appointed as new director of the NationalOceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Her leadership of that key agency isexpected to produce positive things for wild salmon and steelhead. We shall see.Funding is always key to wild salmon and steelhead recovery. In a signal that

the Obama Adminstration thinks the salmon and steelhead issue in the PacificNorthwest is an important one, it has included $50 million in funds in its 2010budget for salmon recovery work in Washington, California, Oregon, Idaho,Nevada and Alaska. The funding was left off the original budget proposal as aseparate line item, and restored through the work of the Northwest members ofCongress who were able to convince Commerce Secretary, and formerWashington Governor, Gary Locke, to re-instate it. That’s a good sign, in additionto the fact that it is a $15 million increase from the salmon recovery funding pro-vided by the Bush Administration last year.In another interesting indication that the Obama Administration is taking the

salmon issue seriously, it sent two top environmental executives — Lubchencoof NOAA and Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council onEnvironmental Quality, on a salmon ‘listening tour’ in the Northwest during thelast week of May.

Representatives of sport anglers, commercial fishermen and environmentalgroups were conspicuously left out of the talks, although Lubchenco and Sutleydid meet with government officials, scientists and representatives of ColumbiaRiver treaty tribes, and a major focus of the discussions centered on theColumbia and Snake River hydro system and its impact on salmon. According toLubchenco, she and Sutley were here to gain enough information for the ObamaAdminstration to develop a position and policy on that long-running and con-tentious issue.It’s far too soon to tell for sure how the administration will approach this and

other salmon and steelhead conservation issues or what solutions it will propose.And how much of a priority Obama will give salmon and steelhead issues is alsoa question, since he has many other serious national issues to contend with,including the economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name just a few. Italso behooves wild fish advocates to recall that the decline of salmon, steelheadand other wild salmonids has been occurring for a long time, through many dif-ferent administrations. Just because Democrats are typically seen as more envi-ronmentally friendly than Republicans, a Democratic administration is no guar-antee that wild fish will automatically fare better under their rule. Constant vig-ilance on behalf of wild fish will continue to be the order of the day.


Contributing EditorsPete Soverel • Bill Redman Stan Young • Norm Ploss

William Atlas • Schuyler DunphyThomas Buehrens

ContributorsGarth Wyatt • Nick AckermanBill Redman • Morgan BondWill Atlas • Steve Mashuda

LayoutJim Yuskavitch

Letters To The EditorThe Osprey welcomes submissions

and letters to the editor. Submissions may be

made electronically or by mail.

The OspreyP.O. Box 1228

Sisters, OR [email protected](541) 549-8914

The Osprey is a publication of TheFederation of Fly Fishers and is pub-lished three times a year. All materialsare copy protected and require permis-sion prior to reprinting or other use.

The Osprey © 2009



The Federation of Fly Fishers is aunique non-profit organization con-

cerned with sport fishing and fisheriesThe Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) supports con-

servation of all fish in all waters.FFF has a long standing commit-ment to solving fisheries problems atthe grass roots. By charter and inclina-tion, FFF is organized from the bottomup; each of its 360+ clubs, all overNorth America and the world, is aunique and self-directed group. Thegrass roots focus reflects the realitythat most fisheries solutions must comeat that local level.

ChairmanBill Redman

EditorJim Yuskavitch


2 May 2009 THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63

Obama and Salmonby Jim Yuskavitch

Sorry about that...We neglected to mention Bruce Harang, a reader of and donor to The

Osprey, who should have been listed in the 2008 Honor Roll section of theJanuary 2009 issue under the $50 to $99 category. Thanks to Bruce and to all our other donors who make publication of The

Osprey possible.

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It occurs to me that over thecourse of nine years writing thiscolumn, most of my words haveraged against the atrocitiescommitted against wild steel-

head and salmon by the acts of Man, inboth private and governmental capaci-ties.Recently, however, there has been a

spate of good news for the fish, possi-bly not enough to raise expectations,but enough to raise hopes. Some exam-ples follow.

Federal Appointments and Policies

1. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, a career marineecologist most recently with OregonState University, has been appointedand confirmed to lead the NationalOceanic and AtmosphericAdministration (NOAA). Described ina New York Times Editorial of April

11th as “tough, smart, respectful ofscience and deeply committed to thesurvival and growth of American’sFisheries,” she is now the high levelfederal appointee most responsible forthe protection and recovery of steel-head and Pacific salmon in the westernUnited States. Amazing — a scientistto lead an organization that does sci-ence! It raises hopes that the man-agers of NOAA Fisheries in theNorthwest can end their torturedexplanations of the line between sci-ence and policy, and simply let the pol-icy follow the science.

2. On April 28th, the administrationannounced that federal agencies willagain be required to carry out inde-pendent scientific review on projectsthat might impact ESA listed species.This reverses directly an eleventhhour policy change of the previousadministration.


The process of removing fish block-

ing dams in the Northwest has begun,and the outlook is that the pace willquicken. Let’s itemize:

1. Forty-five foot high Marmot Dam onOregon’s Sandy River was removed inthe Fall of 2007. The behavior of thereleased river went largely as the mod-els had predicted, except that theprocess of flushing out the sedimentsthat had accumulated behind the damwent much more quickly than expect-ed, without negative impacts on fishhabitat and without flooding down-stream. The river regained its natural

characteristics very quickly, withbraiding, bars, and riffles. Someencouraging lessons were learned forfuture deconstruction.

2. More progress has been made onRogue River dam removal than almostany other steelhead and salmon river,as reported by Bob Hunter in his arti-cle in the September 2008 issue. Toupdate, by the end of this year threedams will have been replaced by a freeflowing river, two on the mainstem andone on a tributary. And work is under-way on a fourth removal project.

At Savage Rapids Dam, the down-stream most of the four, a north sidecoffer dam is in place, dam removalwill begin in June, and by October, theRiver should be flowing unimpededthrough the section now occupied bythe north six bays. Upstream 14 miles

from Savage Rapids, Gold HillDiversion Dam was removed in July2008. Upstream another five miles isGold Ray Dam, where environmentalreview and dam removal await pro-curement of grant money and federalstimulus money. Depending on pro-curement of these funds and success-ful environmental review, damremoval could happen from 2010 toseveral years later. Elk Creek Dam onone of the most important spawningtributaries to the upper Rogue wasnotched in September 2008. When allis done 50 free flowing miles will havebeen added to the mainstem, all theway to Lost Creek Dam at river mile157, and an important tributary mademore accessible.

3. Removal of Hemlock Dam on TroutCreek, the primary steelhead spawn-ing tributary of southwestWashington’s Wind River, is scheduledto begin this summer. Deconstructionof this small dam built in 1935 increas-es hopes that the Wind will regain itsformer status as a premier steelheadsport fishery.

4. Removal of Condit Dam on the lowerWhite Salmon River just east of theWind has been delayed from this yearto next due to concerns at theWashington Department of Ecologyabout sediment loads and mercurycontent in the sediments. Our sense isthat this is a temporary delay withissues that can be resolved, and thatremoval will move forward.

5. Olympic National Park will receive$54 million in federal stimulus funds toaccelerate the completion of projectsprerequisite to removal of the Elwhaand Glines Canyon dams on the lowerElwha River. The schedule to startdeconstruction of the dams has beenmoved forward from 2012 to 2011.With dam removal approved by

THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63 May 2009 3

Some Good News, for a Changeby Bill Redman

— Steelhead Committee —

There has beenenough good news

about fish recently toraise hopes, if not



Continued on Page18

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ny must demonstrate that the benefitsof the energy produced by the projectoutweighs environmental impactsfrom the project. Early in the relicensing process, dur-

ing talks around the Bull Run HydroProject (of which Marmot Dam was acomponent), it became apparent thatsignificant upgrades to facilities andchanges in operating conditions need-ed to be made. A central issue in thenegotiations was reducing projectimpacts on salmon and steelhead listedunder the Endangered Species Act(coho, Chinook, and winter steelhead).This meant adding passage facilities atthe Little Sandy dam, and upgradingthe existing facilities at Marmot Dam.It also meant bypassing more waterinto the lower Little Sandy River toprovide habitat for salmon at theexpense of generation. In the end,costs of lost generation and facilityimprovements were so high that in2002 PGE filed an application to theFederal Energy RegulatoryCommission (FERC) to surrender anddecommission the Bull Run project.The decommissioning plan called for

the removal of Marmot Dam, the LittleSandy dam, the water conveyance sys-tem and Roslyn Lake. Four removaloptions were seriously considered.The first was to remove the dams andas much of the impounded sediment aspossible in one construction season.The second option entailed removingthe dam, but leaving all of theimpounded sediment to wash down-stream. The third option would spantwo construction seasons to removethe dam and sediment in a tieredapproach. The first season the upperportion of the dam would have beenremoved, and the upper layer of storedsediments would have been allowed towash downstream. In the second sea-son, the lower portion of the damwould have been removed, and all ofthe remaining sediment stored behindthe dam would be removed. Thisoption allowed for some replenishmentof sediment downstream of the damwithout risking inundation of the lowerriver. The final option was similar tothe first, except that instead of remov-ing all of the impounded sediment,only half of the sediment would have

been removed. Otherwise all workwould have been conducted in one sea-son and any remaining sediment wouldbe allowed to flush downstream. PGE,the regulatory agencies, and the non-governmental originations came to theconsensus that option number two wasto be utilized.

The decommissioning plan also

called for an intensive pre- and postremoval monitoring program. Theprogram included geomorphologicalmonitoring to evaluate sediment dis-persal, water quality monitoring, aone-year fall Chinook conservationprogram, and monitoring to ensuresafe passage for migrating salmon.

4 May 2009 THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63

Sandy RiverContinued from page 1

Continued on next page

The top photo shows Marmot Dam in its original condition. The above photo showswater flowing through the breach in the cofferdam. Photos by Portland GeneralElectric.

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The plan was designed to ensure theprotection of salmon until such timethat the river reached a dynamic equi-librium that more or less resembledthe natural state of the river.

The Breach

On October 18th, 2007 significantrains fell on several inches of snow inthe northern Oregon Cascades. Thisevent triggered a sudden increase inflow the evening of the 18th and on the19th. The upper cofferdam put in placeto control flows while the concreteMarmot Dam was being removed wasengineered to withstand flows of 2,000-2,500 cfs. By the morning of the 19th itwas clear the river would enter thatflow range. In response, PGE mobilizedits contractors and commenced activi-ties necessary to breach the coffer-dam. Between 5:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.the cofferdam was finally breached onits south shore, and over the next halfhour the flow over the cofferdammoved from a trickle to a torrent. Bythe morning of the 20th, the river hadscoured out the entire cofferdam andhad made significant progress in mobi-lizing sediment trapped behind the cof-fer dam. In the process, old log jamswere unearthed, and gravel bars wereformed and eroded as the river put ona morphological display at “hyper-speed.”

Perhaps the most critical variabledetermining decommissioning successwas the fate of the 750,000 cubicmeters of material stored behindMarmot Dam. Would the materialevacuate the former reservoir or beleft high on terraces created by thereceding flows? Following the breach,the United States Geological Survey(USGS) calculated that approximately15% of the stored material was evacu-ated in the first 48 hours resulting in abed load transportation rate of up to100 kilograms per second. Put anotherway, that’s 14,800 dump truck loads ofmaterial evacuated in the first 48hours, or 5 dump truck loads everyminute for 48 hours! In the ensuingfive to six weeks, the river’s thalweg[Editor’s Note: a line connecting thelowest points of successive cross-sec-tions along the course of a valley orriver.] meandered back and forthacross the active channel as the river

struggled to find its identity again.The Sandy near Marmot Dam had tem-porarily transformed from a highenergy mountain stream to a dynamicalluvial stream resembling its cousinson the Olympic Peninsula. Bouldergarden rapids below the former damsite were replaced with long rifflesapproaching 500 meters in length dom-inated by 4-8 inch cobbles. At firstglance the simplified morphology ofthe newly created channel raised con-cern that passage problems may havebeen present due to lack of complexity.Upon closer inspection small pocketsof holding water were available so noreal fish passage problems ever exist-ed. Fish were observed passing the site

within three days of the breaching. During the first four months subse-

quent to breaching, the river profilechanged substantially in response torelatively small flow events, turningevery monitoring trip into an exerciseof show and tell. In the first year afterbreaching, roughly 365,000 squaremeters , or 49% of the total sedimentstored, was evacuated from the formerreservoir. The USGS estimated that~82% of that total had been moved bylate February 2008 (Figure 2). Perhapsthe most impressive geometrical arti-fact from the breach was the increasein river bed elevation downstreamfrom the former dam site. Surveys ofthe river bed profile showed that insome locations the river bed hadaggraded up to 15 feet in the first milebelow the former dam site (Figure 1)! After the initial four month disper-

sion period following the breach,changes in river morphology becamemuch more subtle until a large rain-on-snow event occurred on January 1st,2009. As flows reached 19,000 cfs, the

largest post-breach event, majorchanges were realized near the damsite for first time in 10 months. Asflows receded, dramatic changes in theriverscape began to emerge.Inundated boulders, once the dominantfeature in the vicinity of the formerdam site, began to peek through theaggraded material as the substratewas transported downstream. Thelarge mid-channel bar (roughly 25meters by 100 meters) that had formedjust downstream of the footbridge had1 to 1.5 meters of material eroded offthe top, redistributing that materialnearly a mile downstream. The wellknown “Slaughter Hole” that had beenfilled with cobbles to the point it hadbecome an unrecognizable riffle wasonce again cleared. This proved to bethe first event when the net change ofmaterial immediately downstream ofthe dam appeared to be negative, pos-sibly signaling the end of sedimentwave in the vicinity of the former damsite. While changes in the river near the

dam have been dramatic and obvious,changes farther downriver have beenmuch slower and more subtle.Monitoring has shown that fine sedi-ments moved into the lower Sandy rel-atively quickly and most passedthrough. Gravel only began to reachthe lower Sandy in the winter of 2009,and few cobbles have moved into thelower river. Concerns over the poten-tial blockage of salmon and steelheadpassage in the lower Sandy from therelease of sediment behind the damhave never been realized, and it looksas though conditions will only improveas the river continues to digest theonce stored sediment.

The Little Sandy

In the spring of 2008 the Little Sandydam was removed and anadromouspassage was restored for the first timein over 100 years. While the LittleSandy dam removal project receivedless press coverage than its biggerbrother, Marmot Dam, the benefits toanadromous fish could be significant.The Little Sandy dam was 16’ high andlacked fish passage facilities, effec-tively extirpating anadromoussalmonids from 6.5 miles of habitatupstream of the dam. In addition, there

THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63 May 2009 5

During the first fourmonths subsequent tobreaching, the river

profile changed substantially in

response to relativelysmall flow events.

Continued from previous page

Continued on next page

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was no minimum flow requirement, sothat the only flow available for 1.7miles below the dam in the summerwas from accretion and seepagethrough the dam. Since anadromousextirpation 100 years ago, there wassome question as to how the LittleSandy would be recolonized. Wouldremoving the dam allow resident rain-bow trout to express their anadromous

life history form, or would adult wintersteelhead expand into there new foundhabitat on there own? Flash forwardnine months and adult winter steel-head are already present in the LittleSandy above the former dam site. TwoUSGS personnel observed the fishholding in the deep pool below thestream gauge. This was great news toall those involved!

Fish Management

Despite the adverse effects the BullRun hydro-project had on salmonids,Marmot Dam played a critical role indetermining the basin’s fish manage-ment plan. By providing a point ofinterception for hatchery fish, MarmotDam allowed the Sandy River to bemanaged as a consumptive fisherybelow the dam and a wild fish sanctu-ary above the dam, as well as provid-ing reliable run data for ESA listedfish. The Oregon Department of Fishand Wildlife (ODFW) removed hatch-ery fish at the dam, thereby minimiz-ing the genetic and ecological interac-tions associated with hatchery pro-grams. Early on it became clear that without

Marmot Dam in place, the fish man-agement plan had to be re-evaluatedand new strategies developed to mini-mize effects of the existing hatcheryprogram on wild fish. The followingmanagement changes were applied tothe hatchery program:

1. Spring Chinook: Change of stockfrom Willamette to localized SandyRiver broodstock and total numbersplanted decreased from ~460,000 to~300,000. All spring Chinook acclimat-ed at Sandy Hatchery. A mix of (25%)wild to (75%) first generation hatcheryfish (F1s) will be followed.

2. Winter Steelhead: Change of stock toa localized wild broodstock program,160,000 smolts acclimated at SandyHatchery. Brood fish are collectedthroughout the run with a spawningratio of (25%) wild and (75%) F1s.

3. Summer Steelhead: All smolts arenow acclimated and released at thehatchery

4. Coho: Less than a 2% stray rate tothe upper Sandy, no change.

5. Fall Chinook: 1 year broodstock col-lection program in 2007 and subse-quent hatchery release of 60,000 sub-yearlings in 2008 to provide a buffershould a year class be lost due to silta-tion of redds.

6. Fishing regulation changes included

Continued from previous page

6 May 2009 THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63

Continued on next page

Figure 1. Pre and post-breach transects across the Sandy River in the vicinity ofMarmot Dam (Stillwater Sciences, 2008).

Figure 2. Marmot dam reservoir cumulative erosion rate (meters) (John Major,2009).

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opening up the Sandy River to themouth of the Salmon River year-roundfor adipose fin-clipped steelhead andfrom February 1 through October 31for adipose fin-clipped Chinooksalmon.

So what effect did the changes inhatchery management have? SpringChinook spawning surveys conductedin 2008 produced the highest reddcount on record at 1,314 redds (1996-1999 and 2002-2007). The down side ofthis was that many of these fish werehatchery origin. Carcass surveys con-ducted in 2008 by ODFW estimatedthat ~45 percent of the spawningspring Chinook above the formerMarmot Dam site were of hatchery ori-gin. Pre-spawn mortality above theformer dam site was considerablylower in 2008 than in previous yearswhen Marmot was in place, < 1% com-pared to 9 % average (2003-2007).Though the removal of Marmot mayhave had an effect in reducingthe pre-spawn mortality rate,excellent water conditionsmay have also played a part aspre-spawn mortality rates inthe nearby lower ClackamasRiver also hit a record low in2008.

Another post-removal chal-lenge managers overcame wasobtaining spring Chinook andwinter steelhead broodstock.Whereas previously brood-stock could be collected fromthe fish trap in the MarmotDam fish ladder, now brood-stock needed to be collectedfrom free-flowing river. Thislaborious task was taken on byTodd Alsbury (ODFW DistrictBiologist) and his crew in theupper Sandy near the conflu-ence of the Sandy and Salmonrivers. Beach seines wereemployed as the primarymethod of capture and 136adult spring Chinook werecaught. Approximately 32% ofthe captured 136 were wild fishto be used in the hatchery pro-gram. Winter steelhead brood-stock collection efforts havebeen much less intrusive uti-lizing angler caught wildsteelhead in combination withhatchery origin adults return-

ing to Sandy River Hatchery.Only time will tell if the Bull Run

decommissioning process will be thekey element in restoring salmon andsteelhead runs to historic levels in theSandy River. Native runs of fish in theSandy face a myriad of obstacles torecovery, only one of which was thehydro project. However, the Sandy hasproven that, given the chance, riversdo indeed have the ability to heal them-selves. After nearly 100 years ofimpoundment, the river is moving evercloser to its natural state less than twoyears after dam breaching. Salmonand steelhead began swimming to theupper Sandy Basin just days after dambreaching and steelhead are recoloniz-ing the upper Little Sandy. Let’s hopethat all other future dam removal pro-jects fare as well.

Sources Cited

Ackerman, Nick. Sandy RiverMitigation Implementation Teamupdates. 2007-2009

Alsbury, Todd. Personal communica-tion with Garth Wyatt. 2008Major, John. U.S. Geological Survey,American Fisheries Society presenta-tion. 2008

Schroeder, Kirk. Personal communica-tion with Nick Ackerman and GarthWyatt. 2009

Still Water Sciences, 2008 update.

Continued from previous page

THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63 May 2009 7

The Sandy River at the former site of the coffer dam, now running free and creating new con-figurations and habitat. Photo by Portland General Electric.

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Research focused on steelhead andlagoon processes has been carried outin Central California by the NationalMarine Fisheries Service SouthwestFisheries Science Center in SantaCruz, California. This work, headed bySean Hayes and Bruce MacFarlane, isongoing and funded by both NMFS andthe California Dept. of Fish and Game.Morgan Bond worked on the projectfrom 2002 to 2008, completing hisMaster’s degree on the effects of lagoonrearing and steelhead survival in 2006at UC Santa Cruz. Morgan is currentlya PhD student at the University ofWashington, School of Aquatic andFishery Sciences, working withsalmonids in a much larger and sur-prisingly similar lagoon inSouthwestern Alaska.

Amidsummer trip up ordown California’s coastalHighway 1 is often hot, dry,and when the fog has lift-ed, breathtakingly beauti-

ful. The road snakes along the coast-line allowing for a spectacular view ofthe Pacific Ocean. Steelhead fisher-men, however, may be glancing inland,trying to glimpse some water in one ofthe many small creeks and rivers thatdrain the steep coastal range. I havemade this drive several times andalways wonder how many of the smallcreeks and rivers are occupied bysteelhead. As it turns out, steelhead domanage a living in many watersheds asfar south as San Diego. In spite of theiramazing tolerance for seeminglyinhospitable conditions, steelhead inmany coastal California drainageshave experienced serious declines inrecent years and most are currentlylisted under the Federal EndangeredSpecies Act.

California is almost universallyviewed as an annually drought strick-en and arid place. However, coastalCalifornia from the Monterey Bay

northward often receives a surprisingamount of rain, though nearly all of itfalls from December to March. Thelack of snowpack in the coastal rangemeans that streams are often parchedby late summer, supported only bysmall headwater springs. Now protect-ed due to inexplicable declines andsmall population sizes, steelhead canoften be found in the most unlikely ofhabitats. I have often found small pop-ulations of steelhead in tiny coastalstreams covered with dense brushright down to the water, where a smalltrickle from a spring keeps a minisculeamount of cool water moving through-out the summer. The drive up the coast is interesting

for another reason, though. In the sum-mer, many watersheds no longer flowenough water to remove sand that iscontinually being transported alongthe shore by Pacific Ocean currents.

By midsummer, many streams willsuccumb to the ocean and become fullyclosed lagoons with no surface connec-tivity to the open water. At first glancethis appears to be a death knell forsteelhead. Smolts can no longer moveto the ocean and adults can no longerreturn to spawn. The lagoons oftenappear stagnant and warm. Is this badfor steelhead? Should we open thelagoon to help steelhead? These man-agement issues have been debated forsome time. Breaching of lagoons hasprobably been practiced for as long asthere have been people living nearthem, whether as a management tool to“help” fish or prevent property flood-ing, or even as a fun beach activitywith a couple of shovels (Wow! Look atit go!). Despite the managementdebate, recent research has illuminat-ed the benefits lagoon habitat can pro-

8 May 2009 THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63

Continued on next page

Steelhead LagoonsCoastal lagoons prove surprisingly valuable to steelhead

By Morgan Bond— University of Washington —

The lagoon on Scott Creek is located on the California coast about 70 miles south ofSan Francisco. Photo by Morgan Bond

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vide to steelhead. In the spring of 2002, I was lucky

enough to help initiate a new study ofsteelhead life histories in Scott Creek,a small central California watershedabout 70 miles south of San Francisco.Scott Creek was chosen because of itsmanageable watershed area, where asmall research crew could conductstudies throughout the entire anadro-mous drainage, and because the vastmajority of the watershed can beaccessed with the permission of onlytwo amenable landowners. In addition,because of the lack of developmentwithin the watershed (likely the resultof responsible land practices from thesame two landowners), it is consideredto have some of the most intact habitaton the central coast. A moderate butstable population of 300-500 steelheadadults returns to spawn each year. Inaddition to steelhead, Scott Creek alsohas the southernmost regular run ofcoho. Each summer, as flows in ScottCreek drop below 20 cubic feet persecond, the ocean dutifully piles upsand, deepening and broadening thelagoon habitat until the lagoonbecomes fully formed directly underthe Highway 1 bridge. Our earliest research in Scott Creek

revolved around determining whichhabitats are being used by steelhead,and what type of growth fish experi-enced in each habitat. To do this, webegan tagging fish with passive inte-grated transponder (PIT) tags, identi-cal to the radio-frequency identifica-tion chips now commonly placed inpets. PIT tags allowed us to perma-nently identify individual fish to tracktheir growth, movement, and ultimate-ly survival. Although it was not ouroriginal intent to focus on the lagoonhabitat, several sampling events thereindicated that a substantial number ofyoung steelhead were using the habi-tat, and those fish were growing at aphenomenal rate. Steelhead smolts in Scott Creek begin

migrating to sea in the late winter, andthe run peaks in late March. The meansize of those fish is about 110 mm(roughly 4.5 inches) fork length,unusually small for a steelhead tomigrate. Interestingly, all of the largerindividuals (the few greater than 150mm) go directly to sea early in thespring, while a subset of the smallest

smolts remains in the lower water-shed, moving into the lagoon as it clos-es and becomes deeper and larger.Fish that inhabit the lagoon begin togrow at four to 10 times the rate ofsimilarly sized steelhead that remainin the upper watershed. In fact, overthe course of the summer and fallmonths, many lagoon residents doublein length, becoming an order of magni-tude heavier. When they head to sea,their larger size gives them a huge sur-vival advantage by allowing them toavoid predation and catch prey of theirown. Using two independent analyses,scale growth patterns and PIT tagrecoveries, we have determined that

nearly 85% of returning adult steel-head over the last six years over-sum-mered in the lagoon as juveniles. Thishigh return rate of lagoon reared fishis extraordinary considering that onaverage only 20% of the downstreammigrating fish can be found there dur-ing the summer, the rest having goneto sea in the spring or suffered at thebeak of an avian predator. As critical as the current lagoon habi-

tat appears to be for Scott Creek steel-head, these results should be viewed inlight of the substantial alteration thelagoon has undergone in the last centu-ry. Like many central Californialagoons, the largest alterationsoccurred during the construction ofHighway 1. In the mid-1930’s the ScottCreek lagoon was fairly large, encom-passing several large meanders andlikely maintaining some deep waterhabitat even in its open state. With theconstruction of the Highway 1 bridge,the lagoon was straightened, channel-ized, and no longer maintains deepwater habitat during the winter and

spring months. It also does not containany woody structure, as the straightchannel ensures that all woody debrisis quickly carried to the ocean. Thisreduction in habitat has likely had twoserious consequences. First, we nowobserve a strong density dependentgrowth, meaning that as the number ofsummer residents increases, theirgrowth rates drop. In fact, at the cur-rent lagoon size, as the number ofsmolts exceeds 3,000, the growth bene-fits of the lagoon may be lost. Second,the lack of meander to the streammeans that it does not maintain anydeep bends or structure, and ourrecent studies indicate that lagoon res-idents may be extremely susceptible topredation by various birds (e.g. west-ern gulls, cormorants, mergansers).Lagoons and estuaries have often

been considered “one way valves” infish migration. The dogma is that fishrear in the lagoon while it is closed andmove to the ocean when it opens, not tobe seen again until they return asadults. Our tagging work indicates thatyoung steelhead have a more compli-cated behavior than we expected. Inthe late fall, the lagoon often becomesdevoid of young steelhead, but becausethe sandbar holding the lagoon in placeis not removed until the first substan-tial storm, they cannot have completedtheir seaward migration. In 2007 and2008, with the help of PIT tags andinstream tag detectors, we confirmedthat at least half of the lagoon resi-dents moved upstream in the fall.Further, these fish remained in theupper watershed until the early springwhen they were some of the first fish tomigrate out of the system. They com-prised nearly all of the large down-stream migrating smolts and moveddirectly to the ocean (remember those150+ mm fish?). Although the reasonsbehind the upstream migration remaina mystery, we can come up with a fewplausible explanations. First, the firstbig storm that opens the lagoon oftencomes in late December or earlyJanuary. The thick of winter is univer-sally accepted as a lean time in theocean, as prey is not nearly as abun-dant as in the spring and summermonths. In addition, the first stormmay be associated with poor waterquality in the lagoon as anoxic sedi-ments are mobilized. It is also plausi-

THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63 May 2009 9

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Fish that inhabit thelagoon begin to growat four to ten timesthe rate of similarlysized steelhead that remain in the upper


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ble that some fish grow enough in thelagoon to become precocious andattempt a spawning bout before goingto sea.

Some of our newest research indi-cates that the extreme productivity ofthe lagoon is driven in some years bymarine nutrients. This is counterintu-itive because we traditionally view thelagoon in its closed summer state, as afreshwater body, completely discon-nected from the ocean. However, wenow know that in some years there is alarge contribution of marine derivedcarbon and nitrogen in juvenile lagoonsteelhead. This is likely the result ofkelp detritus brought into the lagoonduring large swell and tide events. Inmany years this input appears to drivea robust population of gammaridamphipods [Editor’s Note: smallshrimp-like crustaceans anglers oftenrefer to as scuds], which comprise thevast majority of lagoon steelheaddiets. More work is needed however tofully understand the tenuous balancebetween a productive, healthy lagoonand one where anoxic conditions andfish kills occur.

Despite their declines in recentyears, steelhead populations do appearto be fairly resilient. In low densitiessteelhead probably receive a smallboost as they are relieved from manyof the competitive processes thatwould occur when spawner numbersare high. In addition, genetic analysisindicates that steelhead in centralCalifornia are unique, despite substan-tial stocking of northern California fishinto central coast streams in yearspast. The fact that these fish did not“take” is an indication that southernsteelhead may be locally adapted, andhighlights the need to protect theseunique fish.

So what does all of this mean forcoastal California steelhead? First,more research on the value of lagoonsfor steelhead in watersheds outside ofScott Creek is needed, particularly innorthern and southern California,where the potential benefits of lagoonhabitat may differ. I would wager thatmany lagoons provide similar benefitsfor young steelhead, but we have sim-ply not invested in evaluating them.Second, lagoons in watersheds withsteelhead should be protected fromfurther perturbations. Because we do

not fully understand how fragile thesesystems are, we should work to pre-vent lagoon alteration. One particular-ly egregious practice is the mid-sum-mer breaching of lagoons when thehabitat is most useful to steelhead.Finally, we should take advantage ofopportunities to restore lagoons. Likemany watersheds, the Scott Creeklagoon only comprises about 5% of thewatershed accessible to steelhead, yethelps to produce nearly all of thereturning adults in recent years. Inbudget conscious times lagoon restora-tion could produce a lot of bang for thebuck. Although lagoon restoration isunlikely to singlehandedly bring steel-head back, it is one of the most promis-ing and feasible restoration techniqueswe have encountered. Healthy lagoonswill add to the resiliency of smallstreams where environmental condi-tions are wildly dynamic. In someyears the lagoon habitat may not besuitable, but in other years it may helpto increase the overall productivity ofthe system and boost adult returns.

Currently the CaliforniaTransportation Department is evaluat-ing plans to replace several aging

Highway 1 bridges in centralCalifornia, including the one over ScottCreek, which was built in 1939. This isan excellent opportunity to return thelagoon to a state more resembling thehabitat that dominated the lowerwatershed before highway construc-tion. Because the lagoon acts as a nurs-ery for steelhead, there is some reluc-tance to alter the habitat for fear ofunintentionally degrading it further.However, with almost nine years ofcontinuous steelhead monitoring, ScottCreek provides an excellent opportuni-ty to experimentally test lagoonrestoration as a steelhead recoverytool.

The benefits of the lagoon in ScottCreek are now well established. It ismy hope however, that our researchwill encourage others to look moreclosely at lagoons. We, as scientistsand conservationists, need to resolvehow lagoons can benefit steelheadthroughout their range and take actionto prevent further degradation ofthese unique habitats.

10 May 2009 THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63

Continued from previous page

Steelhead inhabiting the Scott Creek lagoon grew up to 10 times faster than those thatremained in the upper watershed. Photo by Jim Yuskavitch

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THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63 May 2009 11

The Osprey BlogLog on to Osprey Steelhead News, the official blog of The Osprey, where readers can get the latest information on issues

affecting wild fish, and the opportunity to post comments and initiate discussions about wild salmon and steelhead and thestories covered in The Osprey. Some of the postings you will currently find on Osprey Steelhead News include: climatechange; Columbia River salmon and steelhead restoration; beavers and their benefits to fish habitat; construction of a newColumbia River fish hatchery; and an Oregon State Forest alert.

Check out Osprey Steelhead News and have your say. You’ll find it at:

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Will Atlas is a graduate of theUniversity of Washington in fisheries.He will start his graduate studies inthe Simon Fraser UniversityDepartment of Biology next year. He isan avid steelhead angler and spey cast-er as well as a member of theSteelhead Committee and TheOsprey’s editorial board.

The Yakima River drains ahuge swath of the easternCascade Mountains. With awatershed area in excess of6,000 square miles stretch-

ing from central Cascades aroundInterstate 90 south to the ColumbiaRiver, it is by far the largest ColumbiaRiver tributary originating inWashington state. By the time it reach-es the Columbia near Pasco, theYakima has flowed 214 miles from itssource at Keechelus Lake. Passingthrough high gradient subalpine ter-rain, to fertile semiarid valleys, it pro-vides water for some of the most pro-ductive orchard lands in the world as itrolls towards the Columbia. With thequantity and diversity of stream andriver habitats available in the water-shed, it should be one of the most pro-ductive salmon and steelhead rivers inthe state of Washington. In spite of itsinherent potential to produce anadro-mous fish, the total combined run ofwild and hatchery coho, Chinook andsteelhead has averaged fewer than20,000 individuals over the last decade.At present only fall Chinook spawningin the lower river are consideredhealthy, with upper Yakima, Naches,and American rivers spring Chinookall considered depressed by theWashington Department of Fish andWildlife (WDFW). Summer steelheadare also depressed. Both stocks arelisted as threatened under the FederalEndangered Species Act.With the current state of salmon and

steelhead runs on the Yakima, it is

hard to imagine that it was once amongthe most productive rivers in the state.Historic reconstructions of the pro-ductivity of anadromous fish in theYakima estimate it once supportedbetween 50,000 and 280,000 springChinook, 38,000 to 100,000 fall Chinook,20,800 to 100,000 summer steelhead,44,000 to 150,000 coho, and while thereare no official estimates of historicsockeye abundance, many believe theywere the most numerous of all the

salmonid species. All told, in a produc-tive year the Yakima probably saw areturn of close to one million adultsalmon and steelhead. A century later,dam building, irrigation projects andhabitat loss have reduced runs toroughly one fiftieth of their formersize. While the Yakima was once a huge

producer of anadromous fish, anglersand managers currently consider it aprimarily resident fish system. Theupper Yakima is managed for catchand release trout fishing and is one ofthe most popular and successful fish-eries in the state. The highly produc-tive nature of the upper Yakima, andthe healthy population of wild troutthat inhabit the river provide hope thatsomeday soon the upper river couldagain support robust runs of anadro-mous fish.

History of Decline

With the growth of agriculture in theYakima valley beginning in the 1850s,irrigation demand quickly changed thenatural hydrology of the Yakima.Water diversions removed instreamflow, causing many smaller tributariesand off channel areas to dry up com-pletely, and water diversion dams wereconstructed with no consideration forthe upstream passage of salmon andsteelhead. Additionally, irrigationdiversions were almost entirelyunscreened, trapping fish in irrigationditches and resulting in extremelyhigh mortality in smolts. As irrigationdemand continued to grow through theearly 1900s, several water storagereservoirs were constructed to pro-vide irrigation throughout the drysummer months. Without exception,these dams failed to consider fish pas-sage, resulting in the loss of hundredsof miles of prime spawning habitat.Dams on the upper Yakima, KachessRiver, Cle Elum River, Bumping Riverand Tieton River all blocked fishaccess. These dams also dramaticallyaltered the natural hydrology of theYakima system. Storing water duringspring runoff reduced the annual peakflow that normally transports sedimentand wood, and creates the diversity ofhabitat juvenile salmon and trout relyon. Summer irrigation releases nowkeep the river running bank full fromJune to early September, creating poorrearing conditions for emergent steel-head and rainbow trout fry. The construction of Roza Dam in the

lower canyon was perhaps the mostdevastating. Built in 1940, engineersrecognized the need to provide fishpassage. A poorly constructed fish lad-der, however, meant that it was typi-cally above the waterline and dewa-tered once irrigation flows werereduced in fall. Not until spring runoff

12 May 2009 THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63

The Yakima RiverCan it’s once-robust anadromous fish runs be restored?

By Will Atlas— Steelhead Committee —

The highly productivenature of the upper

Yakima provides hopethat someday soon itcan again support

robust runs of anadromous fish.

Continued on next page

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would the ladder again provide pas-sage for migratory fish into the upperriver. The original ladder remained inplace until 1989, with devastatingeffects on populations of both steel-head and coho. Today, with the new lad-der, steelhead have begun to return tothe upper river. Recent returns howev-er have numbered between 100 and 200fish, remnants of the former run.

Hope for Recovery

While many of the subpopulationswithin the Yakima watershed have suf-fered in the last 100 years, there aresome bright spots. Coho, eliminatedfrom the Yakimaby intense over-harvest duringthe 1970s, havereestablished aviable populationfollowing a plant-ing of 700,000smolts inAhtanum Creekin 1992. Todaybetween 5,000and 6,000 wildcoho return tothe watershedevery year. FallChinook alsoremain strongerthan most stocksin the Yakima,with returns fluc-tuating between1,000 and 7,000Chinook over thelast 10 years.Numbers remainrelatively stable.Luckily the fishmigrating to andfrom the Yakima only have to pass fourof the mainstem Columbia dams, farfewer than their Snake River andupper Columbia counterparts. Steelhead populations are depressed

in the Naches and upper Yakima; how-ever, improved survival in freshwaterand in the ocean has led to a modestrecovery with average abundancemore than doubled from the 1990s.Since 2001, summer steelhead returnsto the Yakima have fluctuated between2,000 and 4,500 fish; almost all are wild.This productivity is primarily driven

by two exceptional creeks Both aretributaries of the lower Yakima whichhave largely avoided the humanimpacts that plague the Yakima. Satusand Toppenish creeks provide spawn-ing and rearing habitat for more than60% of the steelhead returning everyyear.

The fish also have allies in theirrecovery. The Yakima KlickitatFisheries Project (YKFP) is a collabo-rative effort including the YakamaNation, WDFW, the Bonneville PowerAdministration (BPA), and theNorthwest Power and ConservationCouncil. Dave Fast, a senior researchscientist with the YKFP, explainedsome of their efforts. Habitat and

instream flows are a major focus oftheir recovery plans. They are buyingquality habitats, restoring connectivi-ty with the flood plain by opening sidechannels, and purchasing water rightsto maintain adequate instream flows.Through these efforts they hope toincrease freshwater productivity. Fastcites the current flow management as amajor hindrance to recovery in theYakima. “A really big thing is the flip-flop,” he says. “There is not a lot ofrearing habitat once they ramp theflows up.” Consequently the YKFP is

pressuring the Bureau of Reclamationto manage with, “a better balance offlows,” taking into account the needs offish as well as irrigators. They are alsoworking to reintroduce fish into manyof the unoccupied habitats, andimprove smolt passage at the numer-ous irrigation diversions in the water-shed.

Fish passage was recently addedover Cle Elum dam, giving fish accessto the upper Cle Elum and its numer-ous tributaries for the first time indecades. In 2007, 13,000 coho smoltswere outplanted in the upper Cle Elumin hopes of both testing the new fishpassage infrastructure and potentiallyfacilitating the establishment of coho.

Sockeye, whichrear for one totwo years inlakes, havebeen longextinct in theYakima. Withaccess to thequality rearingand spawningareas in theupper CleElum Riverand Cle ElumLake, YakamaNation biolo-gists hope tor e i n t r o d u c esockeye. Theyhope to useeggs from theO k a n o g a nRiver stock,identifying itas a goodfounder popu-lation becauseof the hightemperatures

Okanogan River sockeye face duringtheir migration. While reintroducinghatchery-reared fish to portions of thewatershed is a central part of theYKFPs salmon recovery efforts, theyhave taken a dramatically differentapproach to steelhead recovery. Fast explains their philosophy for

steelhead recovery, “I am adamantabout not using hatcheries for theirrecovery. You are immediately severe-ly impacting their natural life historytrajectories,” he says. Rather than

With proper management, the Yakima River system could one day again have strong runsof steelhead and salmon. Photo by Will Atlas

THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63 May 2009 13

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14 May 2009 THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63

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relying on hatcheries to recover wildsteelhead populations in the Nachesand Upper Yakima, they have chosento focus on increasing kelt survival.Kelts, or spawned out adult steelhead,may have contributed a substantialamount of productivity to our rivershistorically. Today though, kelts mostlydie on their way downstream throughthe Columbia hydrosystem. Ratherthan riding out on the snowmelt andreaching the ocean relatively quickly,kelts today have to swim out throughfour huge reservoirs, and downstreamfish passage technology at dams ispoorly suited to passing kelts.Biologists capture kelts at ProsserDam, at Prosser, Washington, recondi-tion them and then either truck thempast the hydrosystem or release themdirectly into the river to spawn the fol-lowing spring. These efforts have sofar been a success, and during the firstfive years of the project, repeat spawn-ers represented almost 7% of the adultsteelhead escapement to the Yakima.Fast and his colleagues hope the suc-cess of the project will gain recogni-tion, creating a valuable tool for recov-ery efforts across steelhead range. The last century and a half has been

devastating for the salmon and steel-head of the Yakima River. Like somany other systems, human populationgrowth and land use changes havealtered the river profoundly.Miraculously however, three of thefour species originally found in thewatershed are holding on, and somesub-populations are thriving.Improved fish passage measures,changes in flow management to betteraccommodate rearing juveniles andmigrating adults, and access to por-tions of the upper watershed that havebeen cut off for almost 100 years allmean that recovery is a real possibility.With vocal advocates and a dedicatedgroup of scientists, managers and citi-zens, the next century promises to bebrighter than the last for the salmonand steelhead of the Yakima River.

Continued from previous page

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Steve Mashuda is a staff attorney withthe Seattle office of Earthjustice. He,and other Earthjustice attorneys, rep-resent numerous wild fish advocacygroups, including the Federation of FlyFishers, in litigation to protect wildstocks of salmon, steelhead and otherspecies.

The decline of Columbia andSnake River salmon andsteelhead can be blamed onmany factors, but none areas large as the construction

and operation of the massive federaldams that have turned these free-flow-ing rivers into a series of slack-waterlakes. The battle to save theseNorthwest fish began even before theywere protected by the EndangeredSpecies Act (“ESA”) in the 1990s, buthas intensified in the past decade. Forthe past ten years, the fight hasfocused on the need to partiallyremove the four dams on the lowerSnake River — Lower Granite, LittleGoose, Lower Monumental, Ice Harbor— a measure supported by a broad anddeep consensus among fisheries biolo-gists as the single most effective wayto restore Snake River salmon andsteelhead. The four dams on the lower Snake

River create a deadly bottleneck formigrating salmon as they try to swimto the Pacific Ocean from the riversand streams across millions of acres ofpristine habitat in central Idaho andnorthwest Oregon. Despite their dead-ly migration corridor, Snake Riversalmon and steelhead are blessed withaccess to the largest area of unspoiled,cool, high-elevation wilderness spawn-ing habitat of any Columbia Riverbasin salmon. This wild salmon refugewill become even more critical as theeffects of global warming impact theWest. Because of these dams, howev-er, wild Snake River coho swam quiet-

ly into extinction in the 1980s andtoday every remaining population ofSnake River salmon and steelhead islisted for protection under theEndangered Species Act. In addition,

many Columbia River salmon alsohave been listed, largely because ofthe harmful effects of federalhydropower dams. Bringing thesewild fish back depends on changing the

way the Columbia River dams areoperated and bypassing the four obso-lete, fish-killing dams on the lowerSnake River.The most recent round of litigation in

the federal courts under the ESAbegan in 2001 when a coalition of fish-ing and conservation groups filed acase challenging the federal govern-ment’s biological opinion (BiOp) — theplan meant to protect fish from theharmful effects of the dams — issuedin December 2000. The 2000 BiOpignored the consensus among fisheriesbiologists and rejected Snake Riverdam removal in favor of an uncertainand unsupported belief that actionslike habitat restoration, hatchery andharvest reforms, and minor adjust-ments in dam operations would ensurethe survival and recovery of the fish.While significant mitigation measuresare necessary for salmon recovery,

THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63 May 2009 15

Partial removal of thefour lower Snake Riverdams is supported by

a deep and broad consensus among

fisheries biologists.

Columbia and Snake Rivers Lawsuit Update

By Steve Mashuda— Earthjustice —

Continued on next page

Fisheries biologists are in virtually complete agreement that the four dams on thelower Snake River must come down if salmon and steelhead runs are to be saved.Pictured is Lower Granite Dam. Photo by Jim Yuskavitch

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without dam removal, peer-reviewedscientific studies show these othermeasures are insufficient to secure afuture in which these fish return to theinterior Northwest.

The U.S. District Court for theDistrict of Oregon rejected the 2000BiOp and sent it back to the NationalMarine Fisheries Service (known asNMFS) for an overhaul. And overhaulthe plan is just what NMFS did. In con-trast to every previous biological opin-ion, NMFS in 2004 declared that thedams did not jeopardize the continuedexistence of salmon and steelheadbecause the dams were considered animmutable part of the environment.The same coalition, joined by the stateof Oregon and several Columbia Rivertreaty tribes, quickly challenged thisplan in federal court. Both the DistrictCourt and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Courtof Appeals rejected this plan in strong-ly-worded opinions. The Ninth Circuitcalled the agency’s approach a “slightof hand” that “manipulated the vari-ables to achieve a no jeopardy find-ing.”After the courts sent the plan back to

the federal agencies for another do-over, they granted the coalition’srequest for injunctive relief to protectsalmon by requiring the agencies tospill water over the dams to help juve-nile fish migrate to the sea. Many sci-entists outside the government —including those at the independentFish Passage Center — credit theincreased spills (along with adequateriver flows and good ocean conditions)with the abundant sockeye run on theColumbia River in 2008, as well as sev-eral years of improved spring, sum-mer, and fall Chinook salmon and steel-head returns to the Columbia andSnake rivers. After almost three years of meetings

with the affected states and tribes, thegovernment released its new biologi-cal opinion on May 5, 2008. Just beforethe BiOp was issued, the BonnevillePower Administration, the U.S. ArmyCorps of Engineers, and the Bureau ofReclamation announced that they hadsigned Memoranda of Agreement withseveral Northwest Tribes – includingthree of the Treaty tribes previouslyaligned with the plaintiffs (WarmSprings, Umatilla and Yakama) – andthe States of Idaho and Montana (now

joined by Washington). These MOAspromised to deliver funding to tribaland state habitat and hatchery pro-jects. In return, the parties signing theMOAs promised to support the 2008BiOp for its ten-year term. In the 2008 BiOp, NMFS once again

concluded that removal of the fourlower Snake River dams is unneces-sary by once again modifying the legalstandards and analysis applied, tweak-ing dam operations, and relying on aplan similar to that included in the2000 BiOp to restore habitat andreform hatchery operations. On June17, 2008, Earthjustice – representingthe same coalition of fishing and con-servation groups – challenged the newplan. The state of Oregon joined thefray as a plaintiff on the side of thecoalition on July 22, 2008, and the NezPerce tribe (the fourth Columbia Rivertreaty tribe) continued its support ofthe plaintiffs as an amicus curiae. Thecase, like its predecessors, is pendingbefore U.S. District Court JudgeJames Redden in Portland, Oregon.The case against the 2008 biological

opinion focuses on the legal and scien-

16 May 2009 THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63

Continued from previous page

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The federal hydro system has turned the Columbia and Snake rivers into a series of slow-moving reservoirs, a far cry from theirhistorical condition as vibrant, free-flowing streams. Photo by Jim Yuskavitch

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tific failings of the new plan. On thelegal side, the case primarily chal-lenges NMFS’s finding that salmonpopulations are not harmed by thedams so long as these populations areon a “trend toward recovery.” NMFSfinds this standard is satisfied so longas the population grows at somedetectable rate, no matter how slight,and regardless of whether dam opera-tions will allow that population to actu-ally reach a recovered level in 100,500, or 1,000 years. At the same time,NMFS has relied on yet another suiteof unspecified and uncertain mitiga-tion measures to compensate for theharms caused by the dams. Many ofthese actions — especially those thatNMFS expects to produce survivalbenefits after 2009 — are not evenidentified in the 2008 BiOp, let aloneanalyzed to determine if the predictedbenefits will materialize. The scientific flaws in the opinion are

too numerous to list, but includeNMFS’s failure to wrestle with theadditional challenges posed by climatechange, its reliance on implausiblenumerical survival improvementsfrom habitat actions in the tributariesand the estuary, and its decision to cutback on even past improvements todam operations by curtailing springspill and terminating summer spillearly.

After oral argument on March 6,2009, the fishing and conservationplaintiffs, the state of Oregon, and theNez Perce tribe reached an agreementwith the federal government to contin-ue court-ordered spring spill opera-tions for 2009. The parties are cur-rently discussing whether a similaragreement can be reached for the 2009summer migration season. More sig-

nificantly, on May 1st, the Obamaadministration announced that it isconducting a 60-day review of the 2008BiOp – providing the parties some timeto explore a way to resolve this long-running controversy. To help the par-ties explore a resolution, Judge

Redden sent a letter on May 18th to allof the attorneys in the case outlininghis preliminary conclusion that the2008 BiOp is illegal. The courtapplauded the new administration’srequest for time to become fullyengaged on the BiOp and reiterated his

“serious reservations” about NMFS’snew “trending toward recovery” jeop-ardy standard. The Court also statedthat even if that standard were per-missible, NMFS’s conclusion thatsalmon and steelhead in the Snake andColumbia rivers are actually meetingeven the low bar it sets is “arbitraryand capricious.” The court urged thefederal government to consider all ofthe options — including lower SnakeRiver dam removal — to restore thesefish. Specifically, the federal govern-ment should “study . . . what it will taketo breach the lower Snake River damsif all other measures fail (i.e., indepen-dent scientific evaluation, permitting,funding, and congressional approval).”The letter further encourages the gov-ernment to continue implementingcourt-ordered spring and summer spillprograms for the ten-year life of theBiOp, to commit to additional flow aug-mentation in the Snake and ColumbiaRivers, and to independent scientificoversight. Over a dozen years ago, another fed-

eral judge — Judge Malcolm Marsh —rejected a BiOp much like the 2008BiOp as “significantly flawed becauseit is too heavily geared towards a sta-tus quo that has allowed all forms ofriver activity to proceed in a deficit

situation . . . when the situation literal-ly cries out for a major overhaul.” Inhis May letter, Judge Redden remind-ed the parties and the nation thatsalmon and steelhead and the peopleand the communities that depend onthem have already waited far too longfor the federal government to heedthat call:

“Federal Defendants have spent thebetter part of the last decade treadingwater, and avoiding their obligationsunder the Endangered Species Act. . . .We simply cannot afford to wasteanother decade. All of us know thataggressive action is necessary to savethis vital resource, and now is the timeto make that happen.”

With the court’s preliminary findingthat the 2008 BiOp is illegal and theObama administration’s on-goingreview the 2008 BiOp, we now have thebest opportunity we have seen in along time for a change in the directionof river and dam management. Thereare likely many forks in the roadahead, but recent developments canprovide a strong foundation for realsolutions and salmon recovery in theSnake and Columbia rivers.

THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63 May 2009 17

Increasing spill over the dams has been one of many contentions issues involvingrestoring and protecting salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake Riverbasins. Photo by Jim Yuskavitch

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Congress in 1993, a free flowing Elwhahas been a long time coming. Seventymiles of pristine national park habitatagain will be accessible to steelheadand salmon, and some of us who havebeen around for a while may actuallyget to see it.

6. In November 2008, the federal gov-ernment, the states of California andOregon, and PacificCorp (the owner offour Klamath River dams) finalized an“Agreement in Principle” to resolveKlamath basin resource issues, whichincludes a plan to remove the fourdams. If completed, it will be thelargest dam removal project in history,and will open over 300 miles of riverhabitat to steelhead and salmon. But itwill be a long process, including whatcritics of the agreement describe asmany “off ramps.” The first step is afeasibility study, in which the federalgovernment will scientifically weighthe costs and benefits, and then deter-mine by 2012 whether the benefits ofdam removal justify the costs.

If they do, then final authority fordam removal will be granted by theSecretary of the Interior followingassessment by the federal and twostate governments that dam removal isin the public interest. Congressionalauthority will also be required. Theagreement is then designed to balancethe timing of each dam’s removal withoperating conditions and the cost toPacificCorp customers of replacementpower. With a target date for removalof 2020, it will indeed be long, winding,complex, and loaded with potentialdelays and off ramps. But at least adirection has been set, and from 2009to 2020 on the Klamath is less timethan from congressional approval ofthe Elwha project until targetedremoval date. It will take great insis-tence and persistence.

7. Recovery plans for the ESA listedsteelhead and salmon of the ColumbiaRiver system have been sources ofcontention and litigation between fish-ing and conservation organizations andfederal agencies for more than 15years. At the heart of the conflict hasbeen the failure of the recovery plansto seriously address mainstem passage

of migrating fish through the dams andreservoirs of the Federal ColumbiaRiver Power System. The clashbecomes most heated on the future ofthe four lower Snake River dams andwhether breaching them should be onthe table as a possibility. The 2008Biological Opinion (recovery plan) isthe sixth since the early 1990s, all havebeen challenged in court by the non-profits (including the Federation of FlyFishers), and the non-governmentalorganizations have consistently won.The current suit has been briefed andargued before U. S. District CourtJudge James Redden, and he could

decide the case this year. On May 1st,the federal agency defendants wrote tothe court explaining that the newadministration wants 30 to 60 days togain an understanding of the 2008Biological Opinion, the lawsuit, and theissues involved. The plaintiffs agreed,and the court granted the extension.So we wait.


1. The long trumpeted process ofhatchery reform might actually startto bring some results. In March 2008,the Hatchery Scientific Review Group(HSRG) completed its three yearinvestigation of the 178 steelhead andsalmon hatch-ery programsin the Columbiabasin. The find-ings went wellbeyond areview of gen-eral problemsand conclu-sions. TheHSRG recom-mended pro-gram by pro-gram reforms,provided scien-tific methodolo-gies used, andd i s c u s s e deffects on andrelationshipswith the wildstocks, habitatconditions, har-vest practices,and the hydrosystem. If thestate and feder-

al agencies and tribes that manage thehatcheries follow these recommenda-tions, it is likely that there will be, atlast, disciplined approaches to deter-mining if and how: (1) conservationhatcheries can help in the recovery ofwild populations; and (2) harvesthatcheries can be operated in waysthat drive their impacts on wild stocksto an irreducible minimum.

2. Also in March, a three judge panel ofthe Ninth Circuit Court of Appealsaffirmed that NOAA Fisheries can“distinguish between natural andhatchery spawned salmon and steel-head when determining the level ofprotection the fish should be affordedunder the Endangered Species Act.”This decision sustained 16 ESA listingsof salmon and steelhead, that had beenunder ten years of attack beginningwith the Alsea Valley Alliance, whichsued to have wild and hatchery cohostocks lumped together for ESA listingpurposes.

From the other side it was disap-pointing that the appeals court alsorestored the NOAA FisheriesHatchery Policy and rejected a districtcourt ruling that had supported arequest by conservation groups toreject the Hatchery Policy as not

18 May 2009 THE OSPREy • ISSUE NO. 63

Chair’s CornerContinued from page 3

With the completion of the Hatchery Scientific Review Group’sstudy of salmon and steelhead hatcheries, some real hatcheryreform may be on the way. Photo by Jim Yuskavitch

Continued on next page

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clearly delineating between hatcheryand wild stocks in all cases, therebyleaving open the possibility of harmfulmischief in future ESA listings. Onbalance, though, the appeals courtgave an immediate positive decisionfor current ESA protections.

3. The Native Fish Society and thestate of Oregon have worked togetherto place weirs across the three mainwild steelhead spawning tributaries ofthe Deschutes River: Trout Creek,Bakeoven Creek, and Buck HollowCreek. The weirs are operated toremove all hatchery steelhead, manyof them strays from other watersheds,and eliminate them from spawninginferior offspring. Wild steelhead aresent on their way upstream to spawn.

4. The many-lived Grandy Creekhatchery proposal on the middle SkagitRiver lies comatose as the evidence ofearly construction work now sits inmid-river, serving only as a navigationhazard, as a result of the Skagit doingwhat rivers do, meander and changecourse. An environmental disasterfrom the beginning, we can not yetassume it is completely dead.Powerful political interests have res-urrected it in the past, so vigilance isin order.


1. By-catch of non-target wild steel-head and salmon by commercial andtribal net fisheries has had hugeimpacts on the health of wild stocks inmany rivers of North America, mostnotably the Skeena system, the Dean,and the Columbia system. So when anexperimental fishery that showsresults with net fisheries that allowmuch more selective harvest, every-one with a stake in these fish needs topay attention.The Colville Tribe ran a test fishery

on upper Columbia summer Chinookduring the summer of 2008 at the con-fluence of the Okanogan andSimilkameen, in the Okanogan, and atthe confluence of the Okanogan andthe Columbia. Beach seines, purseseines, and small mesh tangle netswere used. The results were dramaticand informative. The beach seines andpurse seines, which encircle the fish

with very fine mesh nets, netted 211wild Chinook, with only one directmortality. The tangle nets (small meshgill nets) netted 86 wild Chinook withmortality of 25. The tribe observedthat in the seines the fish remainedcalm, possibly a partial cause of lowmortality. Conversely, even the smallmesh gill nets would seem to havecaused different behavior and somegill damage in order to cause mortalitythis high. Combined with 100% finclipping of hatchery fish and tightlyenforced handling procedures of net-ted fish, the seines appear to offeropportunities for the dual advantagesof low wild fish mortality and maxi-mum harvest and removal of hatcheryfish.

2. Conservation minded sport anglersin Washington are gearing up foranother request to the Fish andWildlife Commission to prohibit theharvest of any wild hatchery steelheadstatewide.Combined, these actions offer hope

for improved runs of wild steelheadand salmon. However, any one of thefour H’s (habitat, hydro, hatcheries,and harvest) can extirpate a stock ofwild steelhead or salmon, singly or incombination with other Hs, plus thelooming threat of a warming planet.The response: sustained watchfulnessand effort on all fronts.






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