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Recovering West Coast Salmon and Steelhead
By Scott Rumsey
Photo Credit: NOAA
Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) and steelhead (O. mykiss), treasured icons of the West Coast, are important to our ecosystems, economy, and culture. But many populations are seriously declining in numbers and range. Since 1991, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has listed 28 distinctive groups of salmon and steelhead as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA); 6 are listed as endangered and 22 are threatened. The spawning ranges of these protected species include the states of California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, spanning approximately 176,000 square miles (about 456,000 square kilometers) of habitat.
Numerous factors are responsible for the decline of Pacific salmon and steelhead. Habitat changes resulting from hydropower development, land development, resource extraction, logging, and other land use practices have damaged or eliminated some populations. Certain fish hatchery practices, natural variations in ocean-climate conditions, and other factors such as predation and the introduction of non-native species have also contributed to the decline. However, these threats and limiting factors affect each listed species differently. No single factor is solely responsible for the declines, and it is difficult to quantify precisely the relative contribution of any one threat or factor to the decline of a given species. Adding to the complexity of threats facing salmon and steelhead are such new dangers as human-induced climate change.
Partnership with Pacific Coast Tribes to Conserve Native Steelhead in Washington
Photo Credit: NOAA
The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, in collaboration with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, NMFS, and National Park Service, is developing a hatchery program to preserve the native winter-run steelhead population in the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula of northwestern Washington. Two hydroelectric dams constructed in the early 1900s have blocked fish passage and confined salmon and steelhead to the lower 5 miles (8 km) of the river. This year, work will begin on removing the dams to reestablish fish access to pristine upper-river habitat in Olympic National Park. To ensure the survival of the critically depleted native winter-run steelhead population in the Elwha River while its habitat is being restored, eggs from spawning fish are being collected and reared to maturity in the tribal hatchery. Captive stock will be maintained at the hatchery until habitat in the river has stabilized after the dams are removed. Progeny from the hatchery program may then be introduced into restored habitat to recover wild, native steelhead in the Elwha River Basin.
Recovering imperiled Pacific salmon and steelhead is complicated by the patchwork of federal, tribal, state, county, city, and private land ownership and regulatory authorities across the salmon and steelhead landscape. Although the challenges are broad and complex, NMFS and its partners are working diligently to restore these iconic species for future generations, and we are making significant progress.
Photo Credit: NOAA
Recovery planning is progressing for every listed Pacific salmon and steelhead population. We believe that salmon and steelhead recovery will succeed only through conservation partnerships involving federal, state, regional, tribal, local, and private efforts. To that end, NMFS has established a recovery planning process that encourages the participation of these diverse interests.
Through the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund (PCSRF), which was established by Congress in 2000, NMFS is making significant contributions to actions that conserve and restore Pacific salmon and steelhead runs and their habitats. Since its inception, the PCSRF has allocated more than $724 million for habitat protection and restoration, watershed and sub-basin planning and assessments, public outreach and education, and research and monitoring. Many PCSRF projects are beginning to show direct benefits, such as salmon using newly accessible or improved habitat. Approximately 4,299 miles (6,919 kilometers) of stream habitat have been opened, and nearly 650,000 acres (263,050 hectares) of habitat have been restored or protected. (For more information, visit http://www.nwr.noaa. gov/Salmon-Recovery-Planning/PCSRF/).
Salmon Habitat Restoration in California
Prior to its restoration, Campbell Creek, located in northwestern California, ran through a ditch along a highway, became Gannon Slough, then ran through diked former tidelands turned into pasturelands, and finally crossed back under the highway before emptying into Humboldt Bay. Physical barriers and the lack of instream habitat prevented passage for steelhead, Chinook and coho salmon, and cutthroat trout.
Photo Credit: NOAA
Using Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Funds (PCSRF) provided by NOAA and administered through the California Department of Fish and Game’s Fisheries Restoration Grants Program, the City of Arcata transformed Campbell Creek/ Gannon Slough. The project freed the creek from the ditch and realigned it, creating 910 feet (277 meters) of meandering stream and space for 10 log structures that provide habitat and protection for resident fish. A new tide gate facilitates the passage of salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat trout through the slough under the highway and preserves freshwater habitat. An upstream culvert providing passage under the highway was enhanced by installing a series of rock gradecontrol structures that created pools for the fish. Fencing was installed to keep cattle from the new 8 acres (3.2 hectares) of riparian habitat. Approximately 3,000 newly planted trees will provide shade, stream bank structure, future instream habitat, and organic material to jumpstart the aquatic food chain. The project was completed with help from almost 100 volunteers who planted trees during a series of community work parties.
NMFS and its partners are making great strides toward steelhead and Pacific salmon recovery. Today, 17 out of the 20 species for which there are enough data to assess status are showing stable or increasing population trends. After a century of habitat degradation and population decline, there is still much work to be done to restore these fish to sustainable and harvestable levels. However, we are making progress toward our goal of preserving our natural legacy for future generations.
Dr. Scott Rumsey, NMFS Northwest Regional Office, can be reached at 503- 872-2791 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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