Remaining Problems and Gaps
While acknowledging the many positive achievements made in recent decades, we also need to identify the actions recommended in the 1995 Spirit of the Salmon Plan that have yet to be fully implemented by the tribes, CRITFC and the region.
The gaps and problems remaining from the 1995 Plan are summarized here and in the individual institutional and technical updates. Other problems and opportunities have emerged since 1995; they are summarized in New Challenges and Opportunities.
More than ever before, the institutions that manage anadromous fish in the Columbia Basin are using their authorities and structures to work constructively with tribes on the tasks of fish restoration. The three 2008 agreements, U.S. v. Oregon Management Agreement, Pacific Salmon Treaty and Columbia Basin Fish Accords, represent the increasing acceptance and institutionalization of treaty rights and tribal sovereignty. As history indicates, however, recent successes cannot allow us to rest. All three agreements expire in 2017-18.
Significant institutional and technical changes are still necessary to achieve sustainable restoration of salmon, lamprey and sturgeon. The 1.5 million salmon now returning to the Columbia River is short of the Spirit of the Salmon Plan’s annual return goal of 4 million salmon and far short of the historical estimate of 16 million annually prior to non-Indian settlement. One of the many causes is certainly the persistent human degradation of the habitat where fish live.
The tribes pointed out habitat problems in 1995 that remain problems today: State standards and enforcement are not protecting riparian habitats. Consumptive water uses continue to expand, while instream flows remain inadequate. Damage to wetlands, upland and riparian soils, and riparian vegetation endures.
Water quality as well as water quantity problems persist. While water quality regulations were strengthened in Oregon and are likely to be in Washington and Idaho, little progress has been made to reduce the actual input of pollutants into the Columbia River watershed. Known sources of toxic pollutants are not yet prohibited.
Many habitat restoration actions have been opportunistic rather than systemically integrated actions that reconnect fragmented habitat and reestablish watershed-wide stream system integrity.
After three decades of focusing on fish habitat rehabilitation, baseline surveys of watershed and in-channel conditions must be coordinated and completed. These essential data will allow the effectiveness of habitat restoration activities to be gaged.
In addition to baseline surveys, the 1995 Spirit of the Salmon Plan called for monitoring and research information gathered by individual projects at the reach and watershed levels to also be aggregated to measure progress at larger spatial and temporal scales.
Fish management entities need to develop consistent data collection and monitoring across projects and agencies, which would allow them to move to more objective, quantitative measures when determining the effectiveness of restoration strategies and actions.
The 2008 U.S. v. Oregon Management Agreement and the Columbia Basin Fish Accords have proven to be useful vehicles for implementing the more auspicious, but sometimes contentious, fish restoration projects. Supplementation and reintroduction programs have helped bring back salmon production to upriver areas where water development and the taking of broodstock for lower river hatcheries caused huge salmon losses during the 20th century.
However, numerous other declining and extirpated populations identified in 1995 have yet to benefit from supplementation and reintroduction. Some of the areas where the tribes are currently proposing salmon supplementation facilities include the Klickitat, South Fork Walla Walla, Yakima and Wenatchee rivers. Among those at the top of the list for reintroductions are coho and sockeye in the Grande Ronde River basin and sockeye and summer/fall chinook in the Deschutes.
Reprogramming existing John Day mitigation production to upstream areas is moving forward, but, as of 2013, fish have yet to be released. This hatchery production will be partial compensation for The Dalles and John Day dams.
The original 1995 Spirit of the Salmon recommendations for Pacific lamprey stressed research and actions on dam passage. For the first time, the 2008 Accords secured a plan and funded actions at mainstem federal dams to improve lamprey migration. More improvements are still in the works, including research on artificial propagation strategies and lamprey migratory and dam passage behavior and survival.
To revive Pacific white sturgeon populations, the 1995 Plan called for artificial propagation actions, including research. Now that the studies on white sturgeon are largely complete, the tribes and CRITFC need to accelerate their efforts if sturgeon production is to shift from planning to implementation.
While improvement has occurred since 1995, both harvest and hatchery provisions of the 2008-2017 U.S. v. Oregon Management Agreement fall short of meeting tribal needs for subsistence spring chinook. The fall fishery, tribal members’ most significant commercial fishery, continues to be constrained by steelhead stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The Pacific Salmon Treaty management process needs to find alternatives to the current aggregate abundance-based approach, which is not responsive enough to protect some weak stocks. The 1995 Plan called for stock-specific concerns to be addressed in harvest management consistently with both treaty rights and escapement objectives.
The tribes continue to work toward the 1980 Northwest Power Act’s promise: management of fish and power on an equitable basis. The Spirit of the Salmon Plan called for a cooperative approach between tribes, fish agencies and federal dam operators to move hydrosystem management in that direction. Cooperation is much more in play now than it was in 1995, and numerous measures described in the 1995 Plan, such as spill, transportation, turbine efficiency and passage modifications, have improved juvenile fish migration and adult fish migration survival.
The Spirit of the Salmon flow targets for federal dams were not achieved, however, and none of the Columbia or Snake River dams—John Day, Wanapum, Rocky Reach, Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor—were drawn down.
The cooperative approaches thought to be in place with non-federal dam owners in 1995, have led to few tangible improvements in fish survival. Unfortunately, the public utility districts that own mid-Columbia River dams have reduced spill volumes over the past decade. Decreases in smolt-to-adult returns (SARs) have been observed for this region’s salmon populations, as noted in recent Comparative Survival Studies (2012). This is in contrast to increased SARs and spill volumes in the Snake River. Reach survivals have also suffered at these non-federal projects, especially when compared to reach survivals in the Snake River. The National Marine Fisheries Service has not required mid-Columbia dam owners to meet the same level of project survival that are required at the federal hydroelectric projects set under the ESA.
Fish passage was not achieved at the three Hells Canyon dams on the upper Snake River as called for in 1995.
To fully realize the benefits of the 1995 Spirit of the Salmon Plan recommendations, the Update identifies various funding needs for tribal hatcheries, fisheries monitoring, harvest and production data integration and toxics reduction to name a few. Many of the projects are necessary for ESA compliance, such as supplementation of Snake River fall chinook and habitat measures affecting B-run steelhead. The federal entities implementing fish mitigation activities in partnership with the tribes will be most effective when they provide durable funding.