Methow River Subbasin Plan

The Methow is comprised mostly of large tracts of relatively pristine habitat. Topography varies from mountainous alpine terrain at elevations over 8,500 feet to gently sloping wide valleys down to an elevation of 800 feet. This diverse habitat supports well over 300 species of fish and wildlife – many of which are listed as Endangered, Threatened or as Species of Concern.

Focal fish and wildlife species and focal habitats have been chosen to evaluate the health of the subbasin ecosystem and the effectiveness of management actions. This plan discusses habitat requirements of the focal species and the factors that limit their numbers. These guide the development of the management objectives and strategies for this plan. The review of limiting factors for the focal species of wildlife shows that the presence, distribution, and abundance of wildlife species in the Methow subbasin have been affected by habitat losses. Losses are primarily the result of certain agricultural activities, timber extraction, land use activities, mining, and commercial and residential development. These activities have resulted in habitat fragmentation, conversion of land to different ecotypes, vegetation removal, and invasion by non-native grasses and weeds.

To address factors limiting the focal wildlife species, the plan calls for protection of the full size and condition of core areas, physical connections between areas, and buffer zones to ameliorate impacts from incompatible land uses. Attendant with these steps will be the monitoring of improvements in long-term trends and population status. Monitoring of habitat attributes and focal species will provide a means of tracking progress toward recovery.
Qualitative Habitat Analysis (QHA) has been a useful tool to organize and summarize a large amount of information into a useable format. The QHA process was modified from its original design to meet the specific needs of the Methow subbasin planning process regarding bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout. The QHA relies on the expert knowledge of natural resource professionals, with experience in a local area, to describe bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout use in the target stream. From this assessment, planners are able to develop hypotheses about the population and environmental relationships of the bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout. The ultimate result is an indication of the relative importance for restoration and/or protection management strategies at the sub- watershed scale addressing specific habitat attributes.

An accommodating and powerful tool called EDT (Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment) was used to review the limiting factors for the following focal species of fish: spring Chinook salmon, summer/fall Chinook, and summer steelhead. Coho were not addressed with either the QHA or EDT model. The major results of EDT are captured under the plan sections entitled Major Findings and Assessment Unit Summaries. In brief, they show that in the Methow Basin habitat losses have chiefly resulted from artificial and natural fish passage barriers, alteration and reduction of riparian habitat, loss of habitat connectivity, instream and floodplain habitat degradation, low flows, and dewatering. Added to these limiting factors within the Methow are out-of-basin problems including fish passage over mainstem dams and harvest.

Thus, the ecosystem diagnosis method used was intended primarily to address the question: Is there potential to improve anadromous salmonid population status through improvements to habitat conditions in tributary environments?

Said in a form of a central subbasin hypothesis (for fish and adaptable for wildlife): Improvements in habitat conditions will have a positive effect on habitat productivity and thus, improve fish population status through increased abundance, diversity, and spatial structure.

To date, much of the effort and resources allocated to addressing the limiting factors of fish has centered on supplementation with hatchery-reared fish. This has resulted in tangible benefits for certain species in certain areas but there are concerns that, at least in some instances, hatchery fish have displaced rather than supplemented wild fish. The Plan states that while the protection of existing wild stocks and the building of self-recruiting wild populations must be paramount, there is a need to continue with hatchery supplementation in a careful, well-planned, and documented fashion. Uncertainty about population structure, poor adult returns, and a desire to spread the risk of hatchery intervention will require long-term monitoring of population trends and changes in gene pools.

Fisheries Management

The goals for fish vary depending on the life history requirements of the species.

The goal for both spring and summer/fall Chinook salmon is to achieve run sizes that provide for stock recovery, mitigation of hydrosystem losses and harvestable surpluses. Specific objectives address the need to provide for an annual tribal and sport fishery, while conserving natural stocks to a minimum of 2000 spawners (3,500 past Wells Dam) by 2013. Determining natural smolt production and overall limitations by 2013, and improving smolt to adult survival is a key management priority. Updating Methow Chinook status reports is recommended every five years.

For Steelhead the goal is a run size that provides for the recovery of steelhead in the Methow subbasin. Specific objectives include the need to provide for an annual tribal and sport fishery while conserving natural stocks to a minimum of 2,500 spawners by 2013. Artificial production should be maintained using locally adapted broodstock to meet recovery, conservation and harvest needs, while minimizing the impacts on recovering naturally reproducing stocks. Updating the Methow steelhead status reports is recommended every five years.

The goal for bull trout is delist them; a goal that applies broadly across many focal and affected species. Specific objectives aim to ensure persistence of self-sustaining groups of bull trout across their native range within the Methow subbasin by providing the habitat and access conditions bull trout require at various stages in their life history. In addition, there is a need to improve the knowledge of bull trout in the Methow subbasin.

The goals and objectives for westslope cutthroat are similar to those for bull trout.

The goal for coho salmon includes re-establishment of run sizes that provide for species recovery, mitigation of hydro-system losses, and harvestable surpluses.

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