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Weekly Fish and Wildlife News
December 3, 2010
Issue No. 554

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Table of Contents

* New $51 Million Dalles Dam Spillway Wall Boosts Juvenile Salmon Survival Above BiOp Targets

* Lower Columbia Cormorant Colony’s 2010 Salmonid Consumption Shoots Up To 19 Million Smolts

* Lawsuit Filed Charging EPA With Failure To Protect Northwest Salmon From Pesticides

* Oregon Climate Assessment: Summer Precip Down 14 Percent By 2080, Snowpack Hard Hit

* Sturgeon Meetings: New Catch Guidelines Will Reflect Recent Population Declines

* Pikeminnow Anglers Take In $1.2 Million For 173,112 Fish In Sport Reward Fishery

* Montana Biologist, National Geo Photographer Bring Upper Columbia Bull Trout To The Screen -- And Online

* Washington State University To Study Impacts Of Extended Columbia/Snake Lock Closures

* Protecting Hatchery Fish From Birds: High Tension Cables, Nylon Nets

* Study Looks At Impacts To Coastal Wetlands Under Differing Sea-Level Rise Projections

* Snowmobile Restrictions In Selkirks Aimed At Protecting Few Remaining Woodland Caribou

* ODFW Posts Online Proposed Marine Reserve Sites For Public Review

* Chelan PUD Hatchery Water Changes Seem To Be Producing Stronger Salmon, Steelhead


* New $51 Million Dalles Dam Spillway Wall Boosts Juvenile Salmon Survival Above BiOp Targets

A newly completed $51 million wall constructed in the Columbia River below The Dalles Dam significantly boosted survival of juvenile salmon and steelhead migrating downstream past the dam this year, according to research presented Tuesday at a major gathering of fish scientists in Portland.

Studies showed that 96 percent of yearling chinook salmon passed the dam safely this year, up by 4 percent over similar tests in 2004 and 2005. The studies also found that 94 percent of sub-yearling chinook passed downstream safely, up by 7 percent. Also, 95 percent of steelhead survived past the dam, although past steelhead survival is not available for comparison.

The data was presented Tuesday at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Anadromous Fish Evaluation Program Annual Review conference in Portland.

Fish biologists with the Corps’ Portland District, which operates The Dalles Dam, credit the construction of the wall between spillway bays eight and nine for much of the increase in survival. The wall is 10 feet wide and 850 feet long and helps guide young fish passing through the dam’s spillways into the safest part of the river and away from predators.

“The Dalles Dam once had some of the lowest survival numbers on the river and the spillwall has transformed those into some of the highest,” said Mike Langeslay, Portland District’s Columbia River Fish Mitigation program manager. “When about 9 of every 10 fish were already making it past the dam safely, boosting those numbers by another 4 percent or 7 percent represents a major improvement.”

The salmon survival rates with the spillwall in place exceed targets established in the National Marine Fisheries Service’s 2008 biological opinion on the operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System. Those “performance standards” are 96 percent survival at each dam for both yearling chinook salmon and steelhead smolts, which head for the ocean mostly in springtime and 93 percent for sub-yearling fall chinook salmon, which migrate in late spring and summer.

ESA BiOps judge whether federal actions, such as the operation of the FCRPS dams, jeopardize the survival of listed stocks and can prescribe measures such as the construction of the spillwall to improve survival.

About 80 percent of the juvenile fish that reach the dam pass over The Dalles’ spillway. The new wall directs the flow of water from below the spillway to the deepest part of the river’s channel. That whisks the young fish away from low flow and shallow, backwater areas where they are at greater risk of predation from other fish and birds.

The project was funded through the Corps’ CRFM program, which is supported by annual congressional appropriations. The Bonneville Power Administration repays the U.S. Treasury over time for the cost of the CRFM. BPA, which markets power generated in the system, pays fish mitigation costs with ratepayer revenues.

“The Dalles spillway wall is the latest example of how the improvements we’re making in the hydro system are helping ensure that more young fish reach the ocean safely and meeting the terms of the 2008 biological opinion,” said Langeslay.

“Although we have not yet fully achieved our goals, we’ve achieved the largest increase in survival of any of the hydro system improvements outlined in the BiOp, and expect even better results in the future as we add additional predation deterrents,” he added. Planned this winter is the installation of a wire array below the dam that is intended to discourage avian predation.

The study was conducted by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Washington for Corps. The PNNL and UW project managers are Thomas J. Carlson and John R. Skalski, respectively. The Corps’ technical lead is Brad Eppard.

The release-recapture design used for the study to estimate dam passage survival at The Dalles Dam consisted of a combination of a “virtual” release of fish outfitted with acoustic tags at the face of the dam and a paired release below the dam. The virtual effort involved releasing tagged fish above the next project upstream -- John Day Dam “so they can get back to migrating naturally” after having been captured and handled, Eppard said. Radio telemetry was then used to identify fish that arrived alive at the face of The Dalles Dam, again in the tailrace immediately below the dam and again about two kilometers downstream.

Abstracts of the 2010 Lower Columbia River Survival Studies and other presentations at the 2010 Anadromous Fish Evaluation Program Annual Review are available on Portland District’s website at http://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/environment. For more information about the Corps’ Columbia River Fish Mitigation program, visit the Northwestern Division website at http://www.nwd.usace.army.mil/ps.

The Corps is a member of the Federal Caucus, a group of ten federal agencies that work together to protect and recover ESA-listed fish in the Columbia River Basin. Visit http://www.salmonrecovery.gov for more information.


* Lower Columbia Cormorant Colony’s 2010 Salmonid Consumption Shoots Up To 19 Million Smolts

The size of the double crested cormorant colony on the lower Columbia River’s East Sand Island grew little from 2009 to 2010, but the avian predators’ consumption of juvenile salmon and steelhead skyrocketed, according to preliminary estimates from researchers that monitor the birds.

The researchers’ “best estimate” is that the 13,600 breeding pairs that nested on the island, and their chicks, this year gobbled up about 19 million young salmon and steelhead, Oregon State University’s Dan Roby told participants in this week’s Anadromous Fish Evaluation Program annual review in Portland.

“It’s clearly more than we’ve ever seen,” Roby said of the cormorants’ consumption. The estimated consumption last year, 11.1 million salmonids, had been the high count on a record dating back to 2003. The colony totaled 12,100 breeding pairs in 2009.

The overall research project has been ongoing since 1997. It aims to assess avian predation impacts on the 13 Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The cormorants’ increased consumption this year was because salmonids made up 17 percent of the big birds’ diet as compared to 9 percent in 2009. Roby said he had heard reports the abundance of alternative prey, such as marine species like anchovies and sardines, was low this year, particularly early in the season.

Accurate estimates of the total number of salmon and steelhead that arrived in the estuary are hard to come by. But preliminary estimates compiled by the Fish Passage Center indicate that more than 141 million young fish were released from hatcheries across the basin. That data will be finalized sometime early next year. The number of wild fish that launched toward the Pacific this year is uncertain.

The study is a collaborative project between Oregon State University, Real Time Research, and the USGS-Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit conducting research, monitoring, and evaluation regarding the issue of avian predation on juvenile salmonids in the Columbia River estuary. Roby is co-principle investigator for the study along with Real Time’s Ken Collis.

The study is funded through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ AFEP program, which is run on annual congressional appropriations that are reimbursed to the U.S. Treasury by the Bonneville Power Administration. The Corps, along with the Bureau of Reclamation, operates the hydro projects that make up the Federal Columbia River Power System. Bonneville markets the power generated in the FCRPS.

Because the Corps and its cooperating federal and state partners are implementing a management plan to reduce predation on smolts by Caspian terns in the estuary, much of the Columbia River estuary avian predation research effort is directed at monitoring and evaluating the efficacy of bird management. According to a study abstract those same managers are now amidst a process to consider the efficacy of a management plan aimed at reducing cormorant predation in the lower river.

East Sand Island is home to the largest known double breasted cormorant colony. It represents about 41 percent of the estimated West Coast population of 30,000. The colony grew steadily from about 5,000 breeding pairs in 1997 to a peak of nearly 14,000 in 2007, then dropped off to only 11,000 in 2008 before resuming an upward trend the past two years.

“This past year, 2010, was definitely an anomaly,” Roby said. In 2006 and 2007 the cormorants’ consumption was about 9 million annually when a similar number of birds (just under 14,000 nesting pairs) settled on the island.

Beginning in 2003 the researchers made a concerted effort to collect the necessary data to generate estimates of annual smolt consumption by cormorants at this colony using bioenergetics modeling. The estimates indicate that total smolt consumption varies widely from year to year. The best estimate in 2005 was only about 2 million smolts.

The preliminary data summarized by Roby indicates that well over half of the double crested cormorants consumption, 12.4 million smolts, were subyearling fall chinook. That includes listed wild Snake River fish as well as unlisted wild fish from the mid-Columbia. The cormorants next favorite target was coho (3.2 million).

The researchers continued their evaluation of East Sand’s Caspian tern colony, which is also considered to be the largest in the world. A total of 8,300 pairs nested at the island this year, which is down slightly from the 2000-2010 average. The colony was relocated from Rice Island, which is farther upstream, to its current site back in 2000 with the goal of bringing the birds closer to alternative prey such as marine species.

The relocation achieved its goal of reducing the tern predation on salmon. At Rice Island the terns were estimated to eat as many as 12 million smolts annually. At East Sand they have an average (2000-2009) consumption of 5.3 million, including an estimated 5.3 million this year. The proportion of juvenile salmonids in tern diets during the 2010 nesting season was 33 percent, which was similar to recent years.

The East Sand colony’s population has been relatively constant through the years, averaging about 9,300.

The management plan being implemented involves reducing the area of suitable habitat at East Sand Island and encouraging the terns to relocate to alternative habitat created outside the Columbia Basin. But so far, with the East Sand area reduced by 38 percent, the population remains relatively constant because the original area was bigger than the colony needed. With the habitat shrinkage, the nesting density has greater.

In 2010, 8,300 breeding pairs used slightly less than the 3.1 acres of habitat that was prepared for them. In 2011, the area of tern nesting habitat will be reduced to 2 acres, probably causing more of the terns to nest elsewhere, Roby said. The ultimate goal is to reduce the area of habitat for Caspian terns down to 1 acre, but reaching that goal depends on providing at least 8 acres of suitable alternative nesting habitat for terns outside the basin.

So far the Corps has built eight new tern nesting islands with a total acreage of 7.3 acres, but due to the severe drought in the Upper Klamath Basin, only five islands were surrounded by water this year, Roby said. Caspian tern colony size and nesting success was very low at four of the five islands.


* Lawsuit Filed Charging EPA With Failure To Protect Northwest Salmon From Pesticides

Conservation and fishing groups on Monday filed a lawsuit asking the U.S. District Court in Seattle to rescind, at least temporarily, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to allow the use of pesticides that cause harm to imperiled West Coast salmon and steelhead.

The complaint says that EPA has failed to require changes in the way six pesticides are used as called for by NOAA Fisheries Service in two biological opinions about the chemicals’ impact on protected salmon and steelhead stocks in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

The BiOps for two sets of pesticides say the chemicals jeopardize the survival of fish listed under the Endangered Species Act. The documents outline “reasonable and prudent actions” and “reasonable and prudent measures” that NOAA Fisheries feels are necessary to avoid jeopardy.

The filing asks the federal court to “Enjoin, vacate, and set aside EPA’s authorization of any use of diazinon, malathion, chlorpyrifos, carbaryl, carbofuran, and methomyl that does not comply with the RPAs and RPMs until such time as EPA has put in place adequate permanent measures that ensure against jeopardy to listed salmon and steelhead or adverse modification of their critical habitat and has complied with the terms and conditions of the incidental take statements.”

The lawsuit seeks to force EPA to implement measures such as no-spray buffer zones to reduce the levels of pesticides in salmon-bearing streams.

NOAA Fisheries issued BiOps on Nov. 18, 2008, and April 20, 2009, that allowed the use of the pesticides under certain conditions that would reduce the impact on salmon and steelhead to levels that would not jeopardize the species. The conditions include buffers for both ground and aerial application of the pesticides on crops and other uses. The BiOps permit the incidental killing or “take” of some listed fish.

EPA in September 2009 announced anticipated changes to product labels for the three pesticides addressed in the 2008 BiOp that included the addition of pesticide buffer zones; application limitations based on wind speed, soil moisture and weather conditions and fish mortality incident reporting requirements. The changes were not as restrictive as those proposed by NOAA Fisheries. EPA asked pesticide producers to voluntarily adopt the changes, but none did.

"This is the fourth time we have had to turn to the courts because EPA has failed to protect endangered salmon from pesticides,” said Amanda Goodin, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the groups. “It's been eight years since the courts have ordered EPA to comply with the law, but we still don’t have a single safeguard in place to protect salmon from these chemicals.”

Throughout the legal and ESA process agricultural interests have argued that the impact of the pesticides on salmon has been overstated and that the science used by NOAA Fisheries is unsound. They say the proposed use restrictions would negatively impact farmers and agricultural productivity.

In a lawsuit filed in 2001 by the Washington Toxics Coalition, the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour of Seattle ruled in 2002 that the EPA had violated the ESA when it failed to consult with NOAA Fisheries when approving guidelines for the physical application of the pesticides. He required the EPA to complete its consultation by Dec. 1, 2004.

On Jan. 22, 2004, Coughenour approved an injunction request that set buffer zones for 34 of the pesticides until EPA completes its review and establishes its own restrictions on the pesticides. That injunction prohibited aerial spraying of the chemicals within 300 feet of salmon bearing streams and it prohibited ground spraying within 60 feet of those streams.

Croplife America and other agricultural organizations appealed the injunction but Coughenour's order was upheld.

The review process lagged, however, so the fishing and environmental groups late in 2008 filed another complaint, claiming unreasonable delay. They ultimately agreed to a settlement that established a timetable for producing BiOps for all of the pesticides.

EPA is now consulting with NOAA Fisheries to determine whether EPA’s pesticide registrations potentially jeopardize the continued existence of endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead. Some of these consultations are now complete, but EPA has failed to implement the protections required by NMFS to avoid jeopardy to salmon, the conservation groups say.

“EPA continues to ignore the science provided by expert fishery biologists,” said Jason Rylander, an attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. “Instead of implementing necessary safeguards to restore these endangered species, EPA has capitulated to the demands of the pesticide industry. We should not be poisoning our most precious fish and wildlife for the benefit of corporate profits.”

Pesticides can harm salmon in a number of ways, including killing them directly, affecting their food supply and habitat, impairing their ability to swim, and interfering with their ability to navigate back to their home streams to spawn, according to the NOAA Fisheries BiOps.

"Pesticides are deadly by design,” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a West Coast commercial fishing industry trade association which is also a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Unfortunately, pesticides also can kill salmon after these poisons wash off fields, orchards, and lawns into salmon streams. EPA's job is to regulate their use so they don't violate the Endangered Species Act, but so far the EPA is failing miserably. This case seeks to give salmon what they need to survive, as well as help the coastal and inland communities that depend on those fish for their livelihoods.”

“EPA’s refusal to put these needed salmon protections in place hurts everyone from farmers to fishermen,” said Aimee Code of the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. “The best science and the law both require these protections – it’s time to put an end to the uncertainty and move on.”

The groups represented by Earthjustice, which include the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Institute for Fisheries Resources, and Defenders of Wildlife, are asking that the court order EPA to put permanent protective measures in place for salmon and steelhead.


* Oregon Climate Assessment: Summer Precip Down 14 Percent By 2080, Snowpack Hard Hit

In the not-too-distant future, Oregon will face summer water shortages, an increase in wildfire risk and more extreme weather events, according to the first Oregon Climate Assessment Report released this week.

Such developments will bring new environmental responses to climate change and many economic challenges – and opportunities, says the report.

Written by some 70 authors from universities, state and federal agencies and other groups, the report was produced by the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, an Oregon University System entity housed at Oregon State University.

The legislatively mandated report is available at www.occri.net/ocar

“Oregon faces some significant challenges because of a changing climate and this report synthesizes some of the best available science to gain a glimpse of our future,” said Philip W. Mote, a professor of oceanic and atmospheric sciences at Oregon State who directs OCCRI.

“Having said that, there are some clear gaps in our research knowledge that must be addressed – especially the economic impacts of climate change – if we are to help communities, businesses and organizations better prepare for the future.”

Kathie Dello, a research associate with the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, coordinated production of the report with the help of nine lead authors and peer-review panels.

The report examines the potential social, physical and biological responses to an Oregon climate that may increase in average temperature from 0.2 to 1.0 degrees Fahrenheit per decade through the 21st century, the authors note. A key variable to these and other changes are global greenhouse gas emissions that will influence Oregon’s future climate.

“The key ‘drivers’ of emissions are population, consumption and the emission intensity of the economy,” Dello said.

Oregon’s supply of fresh water may be one of the most critical components of climate change. A compilation of different climate models suggests that the state’s average summer precipitation will decline by about 14 percent by the year 2080, but the impacts will vary over time and space, said Heejun Chang, a Portland State University geographer and hydrologist who led the section on freshwater resources.

“In terms of water supply, some lower Willamette River sub-basins – including the Tualatin, Clackamas and Molalla rivers, where population is growing – are more vulnerable to climate change,” Chang pointed out. “And with reduced summer precipitation, summer flow is projected to decline in the western Cascade regions, which in turn will increase stream temperatures and further stress cold-water fish species.

“The warming by itself makes both floods and droughts likely to occur more frequently in the future,” Chang added. “If you couple hydroclimate and transportation models, it shows that winter floods might occur more frequently, which may damage regional transportation systems in urban areas and landslide-prone areas.”

The Oregon Climate Assessment Report is partly modeled on similar reports produced in Washington and California, but covers new ground, including greater emphasis on the marine environment, on fish and wildlife, and on human dimensions, Mote said.

Increases in ocean temperatures and acidification likely will further disrupt marine ecosystems and could lead to more near-shore hypoxia and so-called “dead zones,” harmful algal blooms, invasive species, and challenges for shellfish and other sea creatures, the report concluded. Oregon’s coastal region also will be subjected to more intense storms and higher waves, creating a greater risk of flooding.

“One unique aspect of this report is the contribution by OSU oceanographers who have led near-shore studies for more than 40 years that have resulted in a remarkably well-sampled coastal region,” Mote said. “There are few places in the world that have such a rich database on coastal oceans.”

Other conclusions in the report:

-- The global mean sea level is expected to rise an estimated one meter by the year 2100, but the rate of sea level rise will surpass the vertical land movement taking place through geological processes along the Oregon coast by the mid-21st century;
-- Also by the mid-21st century, Cascade snowpacks are projected to be less than half of what they were in the 20th century, with lower-elevation snowpacks most vulnerable;
-- Irrigation demands will increase as the climate warms, the authors say. However, warmer weather may create extended growing seasons and greater yields for some crops and opportunities for new crops or varietals;
-- Drawing on research from the University of Washington, the authors say that wildfire is projected to increase in all forest types in the coming decades because of warmer, drier summers and an increase in fuel. “Large fires could become more common in western Oregon forests,” the report concludes.
-- The authors say the largest data gap facing Oregon decision-makers is economic research. Some preliminary studies, based on individual sectors such as Oregon’s ski industry, have been started, Mote said, but large-scale “macro-economics” research is lacking.

“We know that Oregon’s low-elevation ski resorts will be affected first by changes in precipitation,” Mote said, “and economists could quantify how much they will lose with each week of a shorter ski season. What is missing is detailed analysis of the pros and cons of climate change for the whole of Oregon. If we manufacture fewer parkas, do we make more swimsuits? As we lose some crops, do we grow others?

“Oregon also needs a more detailed look at its infrastructure needs,” he added. “If we have more coastal flooding, for example, how many communities have adequate water and sewage treatment facilities? Adequate road systems? Those are the kinds of questions that need to be asked next.”

The report includes lead and contributing authors from OSU, PSU, University of Oregon, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of Agriculture and others.


* Sturgeon Meetings: New Catch Guidelines Will Reflect Recent Population Declines

Oregon and Washington fishery managers will seek public comments on issues affecting Columbia River white sturgeon management and fisheries at three meetings scheduled next week.

The meetings, sponsored by the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments, are designed to share information on developments that will shape sturgeon management starting next year.

Agency officials say new catch guidelines for sturgeon will likely reflect recent declines in the lower Columbia River sturgeon population that forced sharp cuts in the allowable catch of sturgeon this year in the Columbia from Bonneville Dam 146 miles down to the river mouth. Harvest guidelines approved by the states limited this year’s catch below the dam to 24,000 fish, a 40 percent reduction from levels approved in 2009. Of that total, 19,200 were available for harvest by the sport fishery and 4,800 by the commercial fishery.

The meetings are scheduled at the following times and locations:

-- Longview: Dec. 6, 6 - 8:30 p.m. Cowlitz County Public Utility District, 961 12th Ave.
-- Clackamas: Dec. 7, 6 - 8:30 p.m. ODFW Northwest Region Headquarters, 17330 S.E. Evelyn St.
-- Astoria: Dec. 9, 6 - 8:30 p.m. Holiday Inn Express, 204 West Marine Drive.

Additionally, ODFW will host a fourth meeting to present the latest information on population status and fishery options for the Willamette River in 2011. The location and meeting time for the Willamette sturgeon meeting is:

-- Clackamas: Dec. 8, 7-8:30 p.m. ODFW Northwest Region Headquarters, 17330 SE Evelyn St.

Fishery managers scheduled the public meetings as part of joint efforts by Oregon and Washington to develop plans for future white sturgeon management and fisheries. Final decisions -- including catch guidelines for sport and commercial fisheries -- are expected early next year.

Joint monitoring by both states indicates a decline in the abundance of Columbia River white sturgeon in recent years, said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The joint staff monitoring data has indicatesthat the abundance of the “legal size” segment of the population, and recruitment to the spawning population, grew considerably during 1991 through 1995 and remained relatively stable from 1998 through 2007. But the estimates for 2008 and 2009 represent a decline.

The sublegal size segment of the population had been steadily increasing in the early 2000s, and peaked in abundance in 2004. Since that time, the catch per unit effort data in the sport fishery indicates the sublegal size segment has also declined.

"Given the current trend, we may have to consider more conservative fishing seasons," LeFleur said. "But we want to make sure the public has a chance to comment on the issues involved before we develop harvest guidelines for the next two years."

Members of the public attending the meetings will get their first look at a new sturgeon conservation plan and be asked to weigh in on management of sturgeon in the lower Columbia and lower Willamette rivers.
Agency officials will give the public a preview of the draft Lower Columbia River White Sturgeon Conservation Plan. ODFW staff has been working for more than a year with fishery co-managers and biologists to craft a plan that will provide for the long-term health of the white sturgeon population below Bonneville dam. The plan is scheduled for review and possible adoption by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission next April.

“White sturgeon are a unique species and a tremendous resource for the region. We want to ensure that the population remains viable and productive into the future,” said Steve Williams, deputy administrator of ODFW’s Fish Division. “Before we take this plan to our commission next spring, we want to hear from the public what kinds of conservation actions they want to see for white sturgeon.”

The proposed conservation plan describes current and desired status of the white sturgeon, proposes conservation thresholds, and lays out strategies for protecting and rebuilding the white sturgeon population. The plan addresses how sport and commercial fishing, predation, habitat changes, and operation of the Columbia River hydro system affect white sturgeon populations.

In addition to unveiling Oregon’s proposed sturgeon conservation plan, fishery managers from both states will present the latest information about sturgeon population trends, fishery performance, and other factors they will consider when setting sport and commercial fishing seasons and harvest guidelines for the Columbia River in 2011-2013.

Increased predation by sea lions is one significant factor affecting all segments of the sturgeon population, agency officials say.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers researchers say that in the spring of 2010 the expanded consumption estimate for white sturgeon by sea lions just in the area immediately below Bonneville Dam was 1,879. That’s by far the highest number of white sturgeon taken there since the Corps began monitoring the situation in 2006, when 315 were taken. The expanded estimate was 467 in 2007, 792 in 2008 and 1,241 in 2009.

The number of Steller sea lions camped out below the dam each spring has also steadily grown. The minimum estimated total number of Stellers identified at the dam has risen from zero in 2002 to 75. The Steller sea lions were the predators in the vast majority of the sturgeon takings.

The Stellers were known to be catching and consuming sturgeon in the vicinity of Bonneville Dam as early as October 2009, so observed and expanded catches represent minimum catch and do not include the predation outside the normal observation period,” according to the Corps annual report on sea lion predation below the dam.

When possible, observers estimated the total lengths of sturgeon caught by pinnipeds. The estimated total lengths of sturgeon caught between 2006 and 2010 ranged from less than 2 feet long to more than 7 feet long, but 79.9 percent of sturgeon observed take were 4 feet long or shorter. Female sturgeon must grow to a length of about 6 feet before they sexually mature.


* Pikeminnow Anglers Take In $1.2 Million For 173,112 Fish In Sport Reward Fishery

Anglers hooked large payoffs during this year’s Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery Program, raking in over $1.2 million by catching 173,112 of the voracious salmon eaters.

The program provides cash for catching pikeminnow, a large member of the minnow family, in the Columbia and Snake rivers. These predators chow down on millions of young salmon and steelhead every year. Research shows that reducing the number of pikeminnow helps salmon and steelhead survival.

One angler earned $81,366 during the six-month season, breaking the individual record for catching specially tagged fish that are worth up to $500. He hooked 13 tagged fish and earned $6,500 in the process.

“This program provides an opportunity to earn income, which is especially important during these tough economic times, and it’s good for salmon,” said Russell Porter, senior program manager for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. “We appreciate the effort of all those anglers who participated, and we look forward to another successful year in 2011.”

Anglers get paid $4 to $8 for northern pikeminnow nine inches and larger caught in the lower Columbia (mouth to Priest Rapids Dam) and Snake (mouth to Hells Canyon Dam) rivers. The more pikeminnow an angler catches, the more the fish are worth. The first 100 are worth $4 each; the next 300 are worth $5 each; and, after 400 fish are caught and turned in, they are worth $8 each. As an added incentive, specially tagged fish are worth $500.

The annual program started May 1 and was originally scheduled to close Sept. 30. Program managers extended the season by 10 days this year, allowing rewards through Oct. 10. The official fish numbers became available last week.

Since 1991, more than three million pikeminnow have been removed from the Snake and Columbia rivers through the sport reward program. Last year, anglers caught approximately 142,000 pikeminnow. As a result of these efforts, pikeminnow predation on juvenile salmon is estimated to have been cut by 40 percent.

The program is administered by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration. Watch a video with fishing tips and program details. Get more information at www.pikeminnow.org


* Montana Biologist, National Geo Photographer Bring Upper Columbia Bull Trout To The Screen -- And Online

Getting bull trout to cooperate for a photo shoot in a remote spawning stream is no easy thing, but a Flathead Valley fisheries biologist and a National Geographic photographer pulled it off, and the results are now online.

“Some of these things look like paintings,” said Wade Fredenberg, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is now displaying about 40 bull trout images taken by acclaimed photographer Joel Sartore on its National Digital Media Library.
Again, making it happen wasn’t easy.

“About two years ago I got a phone call from a guy who said he worked for National Geographic,” Fredenberg said.

The caller turned out to be Sartore, a photographer from Kansas who is known for shooting wildlife around the world. His most recent book is “Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species.”

“He and I went back and forth (on the phone) for about six months,” Fredenberg said. “I told him, we can’t just go out and take bull trout pictures. You have to go to the right place at the right time.”

The right place was a tributary to British Columbia’s Wigwam River, a spawning stream that is used by bull trout from Montana’s Lake Koocanusa. The right time was during the bull trout spawning run in September 2009.

“He and I went up there for two days. It turned out our timing was impeccable,” Fredenberg said. “There was a couple hundred fish in a half mile of stream. They were laying right there under the bridge, some of them.”

Finding the fish was not a surprise to Fredenberg, since the Wigwam probably has a busier bull trout spawning run than any river in North America. In 2006, Canadian wildlife officials conducted an aerial survey, counting 2,300 bull trout redds, or spawning beds, in the Wigwam drainage.

“Ten thousand bull trout probably went up the Wigwam that year,” Fredenberg said.

Adult bull trout start their journey from Lake Koocanusa, a transboundary reservoir created by Libby Dam, working their way roughly 50 miles up the Elk River in British Columbia to the Wigwam and its spawning tributaries.

Fredenberg attributes the abundant spawning run to a couple of thing: First, Lake Koocanusa’s kokanee salmon has provided a huge forage base for bull trout and second, the quality of Wigwam’s spawning habitat.

“It’s basically got lots of very clean, very cold water because the groundwater supply that comes into that drainage,” he said.

Getting images became the next task for Fredenberg and Sartore.

“Some of it was experimental on his part,” Fredenberg said. “Initially, he did a fair amount of creeping around in a dry suit with a camera in his hand.”

Bull trout that were hovering in areas with woody debris and other cover were somewhat approachable.

“Bull trout are very cover oriented,” Fredenberg said. “As long as they feel they have cover, it’s kind of like they don’t think you can see them.”

But the approach method wasn’t good enough for Sartore. Prior to going in the field, Fredenberg had gotten permission from Canadian officials to handle some bull trout.

He used a dip net to catch a couple that were placed in a flat-paneled aquarium that Sartore used to photograph the fish without any backdrop.

“They are either on just a black or white background,” Fredenberg said, explaining that the photography goal is to focus a viewer on the features of the fish.

After that, Sartore focused on a stretch of stream that was loaded with bull trout.
“There were about 30 to 40 fish that were just holding in this pool,” Fredenberg said.

Sartore entered the pool and positioned and weighted a camera on the streambed that was connected to a monitor and remote shutter trigger.

“He told me that when I saw something I liked, to push the red button,” Fredenberg said. “So I shot about 500 shots in about two hours.”

Sartore frequently adjusted the position of the camera on the streambed to get different perspectives, also experimenting with flash, shutter speeds and apertures.

“The fish didn’t even react to the flash,” Fredenberg said. “The flashes are so quick they don’t even notice it.”

The remote, underwater photography yielded impressive, revealing images, which Fredenberg has studied extensively.

“There are some fascinating behavioral things that you see in those photos,” he said, citing a series of images that show bull trout in close groups. “I think basically they are just using each other for cover. They just seem to line up ... They’re kind of stacking on each other.”

Some images show red bellied male bull trout gaping their mouths in what Fredenberg describes as “agonistic display behavior.” Basically, they are showing off during the mating season.

“I believe we took in the neighborhood of 2,000 images,” Fredenberg said.

Originally, the intent was to include the images as part of a story on great wildlife migrations.
But the article, featured in the current issue of National Geographic magazine, ended up not including fish.

But Fredenberg and others U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials were impressed enough with the photos to purchase some for public use on the Digital Image Library.

“One of the reasons I agreed to do this and I was so excited about it is that a lot of people, even anglers, don’t get to see this kind of thing,” said Fredenberg, who several years ago put together a comprehensive photo display about bull trout and their history in the Flathead Basin.

“This was one of the highlights of my whole career,” he said of his experience with Sartore. “This is going to allow us to put the message out about how special these fish are to a lot of folks.”

The images can be seen online by searching for “bull trout” on the Digital Image Library at: http://www.fws.gov/digitalmedia


* Washington State University To Study Impacts Of Extended Columbia/Snake Lock Closures

Beginning this month, and lasting for several months, navigation locks at dams along the Columbia and Snake Rivers will be closed for maintenance and repairs. While there have been closures of the navigation system in the past, the impact of an extended closure hasn’t been fully realized before.
Ken Casavant, a professor of economics at Washington State University, is leading a multi-part study to look at all aspects of the closure, from how shippers will be affected, to how the closure could help transportation issues in other parts of the country.
“It should establish, not only for this disruption, but it should establish for other disruptions how shippers can prepare for, and react to these kinds of impacts,” said Casavant, who represented Washington State on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in 1994-1998.

Casavant said the information gathered from the study could also be used for other major shipping routes, like the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers.
The closure of the locks is not only affecting shippers, but the barge companies and individual workers. That trickle-down effect through the job sector is making for some creative collaboration between all the parties involved.
“The shippers and carriers, and ports are working together very well trying to provide information, get everybody ready for the shutdown, mutually exploring alternatives to move the products, move the traffic during that time,” Casavant said.
Casavant said the closure would also show how the Northwest utilizes truck and railroads for shipping and what impact a long term return to non-river shipping methods would have on roads and the environment. He said it really depends on the commodity in regards to what form of alternative transportation will be used.
Casavant said the locks are expected to reopen by the middle of March 2011.


* Protecting Hatchery Fish From Birds: High Tension Cables, Nylon Nets

For years at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Clackamas Fish Hatchery, birds have been feasting on defenseless juvenile chinook salmon, coho and steelhead while they were being reared in the three asphalt ponds and “raceways” until the fish were large enough to be released into the nearby Clackamas River to begin their long journey to the Pacific Ocean.

Hatchery managers estimate that birds were picking off 10 to 15 percent of the spring chinook salmon and to a lesser extent the steelhead stock each year.

“It has become increasingly clear the past couple of years that birds preying on hatchery smolts have had a noticeable impact on the number of adult fish that are returning to the Clackamas and Sandy rivers,” said Todd Alsbury, district fish biologist for ODFW’s North Willamette Watershed.

Rather than shoot or harass the birds, ODFW staff decided to close the fish buffet by placing nets over the three large ponds – no small task considering each pond is 300 feet long and 100 feet wide. One of the challenges of covering such large spans was keeping the nets from sagging into the water, which would have exposed the fish to the birds all over again. In addition, the nets had to be easy to remove so hatchery staff could regularly clean the ponds.

The solution was to string high tension cables across the ponds to suspend dozens of nylon mesh nets a foot or two above the water. The nets were attached to the cables using mountaineering carabiners, which allowed the nets to be easily moved along the cables to facilitate pond cleanings.

“This setup is pretty slick,” said Dan Straw, manager of the Clackamas hatchery. “It’s easy to manage and seems to be effective at keeping the birds out.” Straw estimated the cost of the system was approximately $20,000. The cost was reduced substantially, he added, by an in-kind donation from Portland General Electric, which sent in a crew to install the ground anchors to which the high tension cables were attached.

“We’ll recover the cost pretty quickly through reduced fish mortality,” he said.


* Study Looks At Impacts To Coastal Wetlands Under Differing Sea-Level Rise Projections

Many coastal wetlands worldwide may be more sensitive than previously thought to climate change and sea-level rise projections for the 21st century.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists made this conclusion from an international research modeling effort published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. Scientists identified conditions under which coastal wetlands could survive rising sea level.

Using a rapid sea-level rise scenario, most coastal wetlands worldwide will disappear near the end of the 21st century, says the study “Limits on the Adaptability of Coastal Marshes to Rising Sea-Level.”

In contrast, under the slow sea-level rise projection, wetlands with low sediment availability and low tidal ranges are vulnerable and may drown. However, in the slow sea-level rise projection, wetlands with higher sediment availability would be more likely to survive.

Several coastal marshes along the east coast of the United States, for example, have limited sediment supplies and are likely to disappear this century. Vulnerable east coast marshes include the Plum Island Estuary (the largest estuary in New England) and coastal wetlands in North Carolina’s Albemarle-Pamlico Sound (the second-largest estuary in the United States).

“Accurate information about the adaptability of coastal wetlands to accelerations in sea-level rise, such as that reported in this study, helps narrow the uncertainties associated with their disappearance,” said USGS scientist Glenn Guntenspergen, an author of this report. “This research is essential for allowing decision makers to best manage local tradeoffs between economic and conservation concerns.”

“Previous assessments of coastal wetland responses to sea-level rise have been constrained because they did not consider the ability of wetlands to naturally modify their physical environment for adaptation,” said USGS scientist Matt Kirwan, an author of this report. “Failure to incorporate the interactions of inundation, vegetation and sedimentation in wetlands limits the usefulness of past assessments.”

USGS scientists specifically identified the sediment levels and tidal ranges (difference between high and low tide) necessary for marshes to survive sea-level rise. As water floods a wetland and flows through its vegetation, sediment is carried from upstream and deposited on the wetland’s surface, allowing it to gain elevation. High tidal ranges allow for better sediment delivery, and the higher sediment concentrations in the water allow wetlands to build more elevation.

Coastal wetlands provide critical services such as absorbing energy from coastal storms, preserving shorelines, protecting human populations and infrastructure, supporting commercial seafood harvests, absorbing pollutants and serving as critical habitat for migratory bird populations. These resources and services will be threatened as sea-level rise inundates wetlands.

The rapid sea-level rise scenario used as the basis for this study is accredited to Stefan Rahmstorf at Potsdam University, one of the contributing authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. The slow sea-level rise projection is from the A1B scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report.


* Snowmobile Restrictions In Selkirks Aimed At Protecting Few Remaining Woodland Caribou

The Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou is one of the nation’s most endangered species, with 50 or fewer individuals remaining in eastern Washington, northern Idaho and southeastern British Columbia.

Like many species of wildlife, caribou are susceptible to stress during the winter months, and contact with snowmobiles can place additional stress on these animals. That’s why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is teaming up with wildlife law enforcement officers from Idaho and Washington and the U.S. Forest Service to ensure that snowmobilers avoid closed areas in caribou habitat within the Colville and Idaho Panhandle National Forests.

During the 2010-11 snowmobiling season, the Service and others will be enforcing closures in the woodland caribou recovery area, where current regulations require all snowmobilers to ride only in approved areas. These efforts will augment the ongoing woodland caribou recovery plan, which involves partners in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the USDA Forest Service.

“These critically endangered caribou are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and their habitat is protected by state and federal laws,” said Paul Chang, special agent in charge of law enforcement for the Service’s Pacific Region. “Ensuring compliance with current closures is an essential element of caribou recovery.”

The Selkirk Mountains caribou population, federally listed as endangered since 1984, is found above 4,000 feet elevation in Englemann spruce/subalpine fir and western red cedar/western hemlock forest types.

During the winter, the caribou primarily feed on lichens hanging from trees above snowline.

Restrictions for snowmobile access within the recovery area have been in place since 2007 with good compliance and support from the vast majority of winter recreationists. Several snowmobile clubs throughout northern Idaho and northeastern Washington assist the Forest Service and State of Idaho with monitoring of the recovery area and ensuring that proper signage is maintained along trails, trail heads and near the borders of the recovery area. However, in some cases signs have been destroyed and a small percentage of snowmobile riders have violated closure orders.

“Throughout the ongoing woodland caribou recovery efforts we have worked to keep the community informed and involved, “ said Ranotta Mcnair, Idaho Panhandle National Forest supervisor. “Without the support we have received from snowmobile groups and community members our ability to protect woodland caribou habitat would be severely limited.”

The woodland caribou population decline is largely due to historic habitat loss and fragmentation (due to fires and logging), predation, collisions with vehicles, and overharvest. Protecting the habitat of the woodland caribou has reduced the impact for most of these threats, but predation from mountain lions and other large predators remains the greatest threat to the woodland caribou’s population.

Since the 1960s, the woodland caribou population in the United States has been restricted to the Selkirk Mountains of northeastern Washington and northern Idaho. They also range into southeastern British Columbia. By the early 1980s, the population dwindled to 25 to 30 individuals around Stagleap Provincial Park in British Columbia. Between 1987 and 1997, a total of 103 additional caribou were introduced into Idaho, Washington and British Columbia. However, due to predation from mountain lions and bears many of these animals did not survive. Today, fewer than 50 woodland caribou exist in Canada and the United States. A recovery plan for the population, developed in 1994, calls for management of about 443,000 acres of habitat to support a self-sustaining population. Managing access to habitat, hunter and public education, and law enforcement are all components of the recovery strategy.

Woodland caribou are a medium-sized member of the deer family. Caribou have large hooves, broad muzzles, and distinct antlers both sexes develop annually. The average lifespan for caribou is eight to 10 years. Caribou feed on sedges, grasses, fungi, lichens, mosses, and the leaves and twigs of woody plants, except in winter, when they live on lichen hanging from trees. Female caribou do not breed until they are 3.5 years old and produce only calf per year. Only about three out of 10 calves survive.

Protecting the habitat of the Woodland caribou has reduced the threats to their survival and recovery, but predation remains the greatest threat to the woodland caribou population. In the Selkirk Mountains, cougars are the primary threat to woodland caribou, but bears and wolves are also known predators of woodland caribou.


* ODFW Posts Online Proposed Marine Reserve Sites For Public Review
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has posted for public review the maps and descriptions of proposed marine reserves and protected areas on its marine reserves website at www.oregonocean.info/marinereserves

ODFW received the final marine reserve recommendations from three local community teams that considered proposed reserves at Cape Perpetua near Florence, Cascade Head near Lincoln City and Cape Falcon near Manzanita.

According to Cristen Don, ODFW marine scientist, the recommendations for the Cape Perpetua and Cascade Head reserves were made with the strong support of the local community teams. Each is a compromise proposal that includes a marine reserve and less restrictive protected areas.

The community team considering the Cape Falcon site was unable to agree upon a compromise and narrowly adopted the original marine reserve proposal forwarded for further evaluation to the team by the Ocean Policy Advisory Council, Don added.

“All members of the team were able to support some form of a marine reserve at Cape Falcon,” Don said. “But in the end members of the team couldn’t reach full agreement on the exact size, shape and conditions for the reserve.”

“It was not an easy task reaching compromise recommendations,” Don added. “We need to commend the members of all three of the local community teams for their perseverance and willingness to work together to reach compromises.”

ODFW will consult with scientists on the Science and Technical Advisory Committee before taking their recommendations to OPAC in December for additional review. The agency will make its final recommendations to the Governor and Oregon Legislature in time for the next Legislative session.

According to Don, the Governor and Legislature are expected to consider funding and additional policy direction before any sites are designated.


* Chelan PUD Hatchery Water Changes Seem To Be Producing Stronger Salmon, Steelhead

Fish and Wildlife staff told Chelan County PUD commissioners last week that an effort to save water at PUD hatcheries also seems to be producing juvenile salmon and steelhead that appear stronger and travel faster to the ocean once they are ready.

Instead of building long, rectangular or oval tanks out of concrete, hatchery managers have turned to circular tanks of fiberglass, with a constant recirculating water flow. The circular current helps dispose of waste more efficiently at a central drain, and the system requires only about one-eighth the water of a standard hatchery raceway.

With fish swimming against the circular current, the system seems to be producing fish that are stronger and make it downstream to McNary Dam on the Columbia in 16 days instead of the usual 22 days.

Shorter travel time to the ocean means less chance that small fish will run into predators along the way – and therefore have better survival all the way to the ocean.

While cautioning that results only cover one year of testing so far, staff said the preliminary findings are creating a lot of interest in fishery management circles.

The PUD is required to produce hatchery fish as part of its “no-net-impact” requirement in Habitat Conservation Plans for Rocky Reach and Rock Island dams. The PUD is trying to develop new facilities so it can move away from using the antiquated Eastbank Hatchery facilities on Turtle Rock Island just north of Rocky Reach Dam in the Columbia River.

The new circular water reuse system is in place for steelhead rearing at the PUD’s Chiwawa hatchery, and it is also being used for summer Chinook at Eastbank.

“We can raise a high-quality fish,” said Joe Miller, PUD hatchery program manager. He said further studies would continue tracking the system to see if the early successes continue.

For more information about the CBB contact:
-- BILL CRAMPTON, Editor/Writer, bcrampton@cbbulletin.com, phone:
541-312-8860 or
-- BARRY ESPENSON, Senior Writer, bespenson@msn.com, phone: 360-696-4005; fax: 360-694-1530

The stories in this e-mail newsletter are posted on the Columbia Basin Bulletin website at www.cbbulletin.com. If you would like access to the CBB archives, please consider becoming a Member of the CBB website for as little as $5 a month. Your membership will help support maintenance of the 10-year (1998-2008) news database and the production of trustworthy, timely news and information about Columbia Basin fish and wildlife issues.


Feedback comments should be sent by e-mail to the Editor at bcrampton@cbbulletin.com. Please put "feedback"in the subject line. We encourage comments about particular stories, complaints about inaccuracies or omissions; additional information; general views about the topic covered; or opinions that counterbalance statements reported.

The Columbia Basin Bulletin e-mail newsletter is produced by Intermountain Communications of Bend, Oregon and supported with Bonneville Power Administration fish and wildlife funds through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.


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