Newly adopted Recovery Plan guides restoration of lower Columbia River salmon & steelhead

Summer 2013

The Lower Columbia River Basin once supported thriving salmon and steelhead runs. Lower Columbia River Chinook, steelhead, coho, and Columbia River chum returned in droves to spawn in the lower river and its tributaries. Over the course of two centuries, however, land use practices have changed the landscape—degrading fish habitat in tributaries and the Columbia River estuary. Today, in-channel, off-channel, and nearshore habitats are reduced significantly because we’ve converted lands for agricultural, urban, and industrial uses. These effects, together with high harvest rates historically, harmful hatchery practices, and hydropower operations, led to the populations’ decline. All four species now are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

A concerted regional effort to plan for the recovery of the lower river’s salmon and steelhead runs culminated in this month’s adoption of the ESA Recovery Plan for Lower Columbia River Coho Salmon, Lower Columbia River Chinook Salmon, Columbia River Chum Salmon, and Lower Columbia River Steelhead by NOAA Fisheries. The plan is based on the analyses and strategies developed in three locally developed recovery plans—the Lower Columbia River Conservation and Recovery Plan for Oregon Populations of Salmon and Steelhead, ESA Salmon Recovery Plan for the White Salmon River Subbasin, and the Washington Lower Columbia Salmon Recovery and Fish & Wildlife Subbasin Plan. The federally adopted recovery plan draws on the collective expertise found in each of these local plans. It serves as a framework to recover the populations by providing an informed, strategic, and voluntary approach that is based on the best available science.

So what must we do to recover the lower river’s salmon and steelhead populations? The plan is based on the premise that we must improve ecological conditions and address human-induced threats to successfully recover the fish. As such, the plan calls for protecting and restoring high-quality tributary habitat and improving access to tidal wetlands and marshes in the estuary. It also calls for effective flow management at large storage reservoirs in the interior Columbia Basin and safe passage of fish that spawn above Bonneville Dam, as well as dams on the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers. The hatchery and harvest strategies focus on providing fish for commercial, recreational, and tribal fisheries, while ensuring management measures adequately protect and allow rebuilding of the wild populations. The plan identifies additional actions, including predation management, that will also contribute to recovery.

The lower Columbia is a thriving region with significant growth and development. This poses challenges to salmon recovery, but through thoughtful planning and careful action, recovery efforts can support both salmon and people. Our salmon runs make an important contribution to the region’s quality of life and economy. Over the next 25 years, private, local, state, tribal, and federal partners will work collectively to implement recovery actions so that salmon recovery and regional prosperity can go hand-in-hand. “This recovery plan, and the local plans which have contributed to it, provides a direction and framework for on-going prioritization efforts and recovery actions,” said Jim Brick, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Lower Columbia River Implementation Coordinator. Coordination and continued on-the-ground action are critical to this effort. According to Jeff Breckel, Executive Director of Washington’s Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board, “The recovery of our salmon and steelhead runs will require a sustained, long-term effort by federal and state agencies, tribes, local governments, and most importantly, the people of the region.” Salmon recovery is a shared responsibility. “Our challenge now, as a region, is to put the plan into action,” said Breckel.

The plan is the product of a multi-year, collaborative process that included tribes, government entities, industry, environmental groups, and the public. Washington’s Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board will lead implementation of actions in southwest Washington, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife implementation coordinator and stakeholder team will lead recovery plan implementation in Oregon. In the White Salmon, NOAA Fisheries, in coordination with the Washington Gorge Implementation Team, will oversee implementation efforts; while the Lower Columbia Recovery Planning Steering Committee will coordinate implementation throughout the entire region. The collective action among all partners will contribute to the successful recovery of these iconic fish runs.

Learn more...

NOAA's Lower Columbia River Recovery Plan for Salmon & Steelhead

Photos: 

Home page: Columbia River Gorge by Bala Sivakumar, courtesy, Creative Commons

This page: Coho, NOAA photo