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Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments

Pacific Northwest National Fish Hatcheries

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to leading the way in addressing and adapting to the impacts of climate change. One of the ways that the Service is addressing the challenges presented by climate change is through evaluations of climate change vulnerability at National Fish Hatcheries (NFHs). In 2011, NFHs across the nation began conducting qualitative assessments to identify the most significant adaptation risks at each facility and plan proactive response strategies to address these risks.

Identifying Vulnerability

The quantitative climate change vulnerability assessment for Winthrop NFH projected the climate change impacts for all of the fish species reared at the hatchery. Steelhead, like those pictured, are raised at Winthrop NFH for the first 14 months of their lives until they are released into the Methow River in April and May of each year. (Credit: USFWS)

Vulnerability to climate change is a function of several factors: sensitivity, exposure, impact, and adaptive capacity.

  • Sensitivity is the degree to which a system is likely to be affected by climate change. For example, a NFH that is already rearing fish at maximum fish densities will be very sensitive to negative impacts of climate change.

  • Exposure is the quantified prediction of change (e.g., water temperature) that may occur at a particular NFH as a result of climate change.

  • Impact is defined as the combination of sensitivity and exposure. A sensitive NFH may be impacted by even a small change in climate. Conversely, if exposure is great enough, it may also affect less sensitive NFHs.

  • Adaptation is defined as how well a system may be able to adapt to change. Some NFHs will be able to adapt to climate change impacts better than others.

The combined effect of future climate change impact and adaptive capacity leads to an understanding of the vulnerability of a hatchery to climate change. Ultimately, impacts for which there is little or no adaptive capacity are vulnerabilities for the hatchery.

The Quantitative Assessment Process

Vulnerability Model

This plot depicts the projected change in snowmelt runoff for the Methow River basin upstream of Winthrop NFH between the historical and 2040s time periods. As shown, snowmelt runoff is predicted to occur significantly earlier by the 2040s under the A1B greenhouse gas emissions scenario. (Credit: Victoria O'Byrne, USFWS)

While the nationally-implemented qualitative model provides useful insight into NFHs' vulnerability to climate change, the Pacific Region is interested in conducting more rigorous quantitative analyses. To achieve a quantitative understanding of potential climate change impacts to NFH programs, Service scientists within the Pacific Region developed a model that describes how fish growth may change in the future due to climate change. The process involves three primary steps:

  1. Scientists use global climate data to develop scaled-down models of individual river basins.

  2. Climate data is then scaled down to the local watershed of a hatchery and combined with facility operations information to produce a facility-specific summary of possible climate change impacts.

  3. Hatchery Evaluation Teams, partners, and other technical experts discuss the impacts identified in steps 1 and 2 to determine which might significantly affect the facility and identify possible adaptive measures.

Management Applications

Vulnerability Model

Climate change vulnerability assessments facilitate responsible and proactive allocation of resources at local and regional levels by identifying risks and opportunities due to climate change. The assessments help to:

  • • Determine the specific NFH programs and species that are most vulnerable to climate change.

  • •Determine the aspects of NFH's facilities that will be most affected by climate change.
  • •Allow response strategies to be incorporated into facilities' planning.

  • •Inform region wide policies for fish propagation and hatchery reform.

Entiat NFH Vulnerability Assessment

Aerial View of Entiat NFH

Assessment Partner:

  • • Bureau of Reclamation

Read the full report:

Entiat National Fish Hatchery propagates a segregated harvest program of summer Chinook salmon as continued mitigation for the impacts of Grand Coulee Dam on Columbia river salmon and steelhead trout populations. Entiat NFH and its summer Chinook salmon program appear to have a comparatively low vulnerability to the future impacts of climate change. This low vulnerability is due primarily to the hatchery's ability to rely on 100% groundwater during the first year of the salmonid rearing cycle.

Potential impacts to groundwater supplies from reduced flows of the Entiat River during the summer are unknown. The greatest vulnerability of Entiat NFH to the projected impacts of climate change, other than the groundwater itself, is the infrastructure for delivering that water to the hatchery.

Entiat NFH is vulnerable to debris loads, siltation, and floating ice during high flows of the Entiat River, with 100-year peak-flows projected to increase from about 8,000 cfs historically to nearly 14,000 cfs by the 2040s. Potential impacts from high debris and siltation loads of the Entiat River could be mitigated if groundwater supplies were sufficient to close off the surface water intake to the hatchery and rely exclusively on groundwater during peak flows of the Entiat River.

Direct flood risks to the infrastructure of Entiat NFH in the 2040s appear to be low, although the area of the hatchery grounds where the wells are located may be vulnerable to 100-year peak flows. Summer Chinook Salmon at Entiat NFH may be vulnerable to projected increases in water temperatures of the Columbia River during the traditional upstream-migration period. However, modeling those impacts was beyond the scope of the assessment.

Warm Springs NFH Vulnerability Assessment

Aerial View of Warm Springs NFH

Assessment Partners:

  • • The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon

Read the full report:

Warm Springs NFH propagates a native population of Spring Chinook Salmon derived originally from adults trapped in the Warm Springs River. Adult salmon returning to Warm Springs NFH must migrate upstream from the Pacific Ocean approximately 300 miles and must pass over two Columbia River hydropower dams, Bonneville Dam and The Dalles Dam. Warm Springs NFH is especially sensitive to higher water temperatures and disease risks to hatchery fish during the late spring and summer, sustained low temperatures below freezing during winter, and low flows during summer. The hatchery's physical facilities and infrastructure are also sensitive to wildfire risks.

The projected effects of climate change will most likely preclude future rearing of Spring Chinook Salmon at Warm Springs NFH unless adaptive measures are implemented. Major new construction at Warm Springs NFH will likely be necessary to maintain juvenile Spring Chinook Salmon on station from late spring through early fall in the 2040s. Warm Springs NFH may be able to continue its current role as an adult collection and smolt-release facility in the 2040s if juveniles are reared elsewhere. The hatchery appears to be highly vulnerable to future flood risks because of a major shift in hydrology from a primarily snowmelt-driven watershed to a mixed rain and snowmelt-driven watershed. Wildfire risks from late spring through early fall are also expected to increase through the 2040s and beyond.

Makah NFH Vulnerability Assessment

Aerial View of Winthrop NFH

Assessment Partners:

  • • The Makah Tribe

Read the full report:

Makah NFH propagates and releases fall-run Chinook salmon, coho salmon, and winter-run steelhead to support tribal fisheries, and commercial and recreational harvest. Climate change is projected to increase surface water temperatures in all months. In addition, mean monthly flows of the Tsoo-Yess River are projected to increase between October-March but decrease between June-September. Projected changes in precipitation and hydrology suggest an increased probability of severe summer droughts and more intense winter storms, which in turn increases the likelihood of water shortages in summer and flooding in winter.

Changing environmental conditions at Makah NFH will most likely not preclude the continued propagation of Chinook salmon, but thermal stresses and disease risks are expected to reduce the likelihood of maintaining coho salmon and steelhead at the hatchery during the summer months. The coho salmon and steelhead programs are highly vulnerable to the projected effects of climate change, and significant adaptive measures will need to be implemented if those species are to be propagated at the hatchery through the 2040s.

Quilcene NFH Vulnerability Assessment

Aerial View of Winthrop NFH

Assessment Partners:

  • • Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe
  • • Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe
  • • Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe
  • • Skokomish Indian Tribe
  • • Suquamish Tribe
  • • Northwest Indian Fish Commission
  • • Point No Point Treaty Council
  • • NOAA Fisheries
  • • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Quilcene NFH propagates and releases coho salmon to support tribal and other fisheries in Hood Canal and elsewhere. Climate change is projected to increase stream temperatures year-round, decrease water availability during the summer, and increase the probability of floods on the Big Quilcene River during the late fall and winter.

Changing environmental conditions at Quilcene NFH will not preclude the culture of coho salmon in the 2040s, but disease risks are expected to increase, both at the hatchery for freshwater pathogens and in adjacent marine areas due to harmful algal blooms.

Read the full report:

Pilot Assessment at Winthrop NFH

Aerial View of Winthrop NFH

Assessment Partners:

  • • Climate Impacts Group at University of Washington
  • • Pacific Region Climate Change Board
  • • Yakama Nation


The programs at Winthrop NFH were chosen by the Pacific Region Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program to serve as a pilot evaluation of the quantitative model within the Pacific Region. The full report uses information provided by the hatchery and climate change projections to determine the NFH's vulnerability to climate change by the year 2040 and summarize possible adaptive strategies.

Read the full report:


General Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Questions:
Don Campton
Science Advisor

Modeling Questions:
Doug Peterson
Quantitative Ecology & Technology, Senior Scientist
360-425-6072, x302

National Fish Hatchery Questions:
Chris Pasley
Hatchery Manager


Last Updated: January 14, 2022
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