Washington Fish and Wildlife Office
Pacific Region

Environmental Contaminants Program


emale coho salmon with eggs (Photo: NOAA-Fisheries)  
Congressional oil spill briefing (Photo: L. Miranda, USFWS)
Cleanup site (Photo: USFWS)
Photo: NOAA-Fisheries   Photo: L. Miranda, USFWS   Photo: USFWS



The Washington Fish and Wildlife Office staff works cooperatively with other government agencies and the public to carry out the mission of the National Environmental Contaminants Program, which is to:

Conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife and their habitats by identifying, preventing, and restoring the effects of contaminants through collaboration with other Federal, Tribal, State, and local agencies as well as our partners in the academia, industry and the public.

As with other human activities, the use and disposal of toxic substances can have unintended consequences such as:

  • Inadvertently harming non-target species with use of repeated exposures to pesticides, while potentially increasing pesticide resistance in the target organisms;
  • Compromising the health of fish, wildlife, and their habitats, contributing to their overall population decline;
  • Contributing to the listing of new threatened or endangered species, or inhibiting the recovery of already listed species;
  • Discovering long term profound consequences to natural resources from new chemicals already released into the environment;  
  • Indirectly impacting fish, birds, and other wildlife by harming or diminishing the food supplies on which they depend;
  • Causing direct mortalities to fish and wildlife or reducing their reproduction capabilities through the uptake of toxic chemicals through the food web;
  • Compromising the immune systems of fish and wildlife species or compromising them in other ways that make them weak and more susceptible to disease, starvation, and/or predation.

Fish and wildlife serve as indicators of our environment’s health and ultimately, our own health.

Additionally, factors associated with climate change could cause contaminant problems to increase. More intense storms could increase run-off of pollutants and spills from ships or pipelines, and increasing sea levels may enhance erosion of landfills/dumps.


Our Environmental Contaminants (EC) staff focuses first on the prevention of contamination to the environment. We review environmental documents, legislation, regulations, and permits and licenses for point and non-point source pollution issues to ensure that harmful effects on fish, wildlife, and plants are avoided or minimized.

Then we identify and remove threats of pre-existing and ongoing environmental contamination. We work to determine sources of pollution, investigate fish and wildlife die-offs, examine pollution effects on fish and wildlife and their habitat, and evaluate contaminant threats to national wildlife refuges and other Service lands.

We work to ensure that fish and wildlife and their habitat are adequately protected during, and upon completion of, cleanup actions, and help design and implement actions to cleanup oil and hazardous material on Service lands.  We also pursue compensation to restore natural resources lost or degraded by hazardous waste releases or spills.

For a more detailed look at what we do, please refer to the R1 Regional Strategic Plan (pdf) (3.65M)

Prevention Activities

The focus of prevention activities is to identify potential environmental contaminant effects to Service trust resources and work with partners to prevent or minimize those effects.

Identification and Assessment

The EC Program is involved at many levels designing and implementing scientific investigations, collection and interpretation of scientific data, and providing recommendations and implementing management actions to minimize effects to trust resources. Investigations and assessments determine sources of pollution; identify pollution effects on fish and wildlife and their habitat; and evaluate contaminant threats to national wildlife refuges, national fish hatcheries, and other Service trust resources.

Technical Support

We also help analyze, interpret, and manage environmental contaminant data and information relevant to other programs and divisions.

National Pesticide Consultation - We participate on a national level with NOAA and US EPA in a technical advisory role.

Regional Invasive Plant Control EIS/Consultation - We are participating with NOAA and the Pacific Northwest Region of the Forest Service on toxicological issues pertaining to the EIS and pending consultation.

Endangered Species Protection/Surface Water Monitoring - We are participating with the State of Washington and other partners on the impacts of pesticides on threatened and endangered species and aquatic ecosystems.

WSDOT Assessing Roadside Vegetation Management Alternatives - Participating on a workgroup to seek alternatives to herbicides for controlling roadside vegetation.

Puget Sound Partnership - Involved in many phases and functions of this effort to maintain and restore the health of Puget Sound by 2020.

Stormwater Work Group - Participating in this newly formed work group which is creating a strategy that specifically addresses coordination of monitoring and assessment for stormwater. The work group will address stormwater in a manner that is inclusive of water quality, habitat and human health and address the full range of developed and developing land uses and local jurisdictions from rural to urban.

Columbia River Basin Toxics Reduction Working Group - Participating in this workgroup, which has been meeting since 2005 to share information, coordinate activities, and develop strategies to identify and then reduce toxics. The working group recognized that considerable efforts to characterize the toxics problem and initiate clean up efforts are already underway (e.g., Hanford, Portland Harbor, Lake Roosevelt, and the Estuary Partnership) and that it was important for the group to not duplicate past or ongoing efforts. The meetings have provided a forum for scientists from different organizations to share their work, coordinate efforts and increase collaboration.


Our staff work cooperatively with partners towards restoration of natural resources and recovery of sensitive species. Environmental contaminant biologists negotiate for restoration-related settlements and facilitate cooperative restoration implementation with our Service partners, co-trustees, and the public. Restoration activities occur through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) process and recovery of threatened and endangered species.

Contaminant sources, pathways, and effects on fish and wildlife are identified and assessed through site or contaminant-specific studies conducted both on and off Service lands. Recommendations and study results are often used to assist management actions under the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. NRDAR determines the effects of oil spills and hazardous substances releases on fish and wildlife resources and ensures protection and restoration of those natural resources.

Many large-scale projects require a great deal of time and resources. Current on-going projects in each of these areas are discussed below.

Elliott Bay/Duwamish Restoration Program (pdf) (2.8M)

Upper Columbia River

Elevated levels of cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, zinc, dioxins, and furans have been documented over the years in the Upper Columbia River from Grand Coulee Dam to the U.S.-Canada border. Many of these contaminants are from Canadian sources and U.S. sources along the Columbia River and its tributaries. In August 1999, the Colville Confederated Tribes petitioned the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct an assessment at the Upper Columbia River.

Many contributing factors are of concern for the lack of recruitment (addition of individuals via natural reproduction) into the wild Kootenai River white sturgeon population. The evaluation of effects of potential chemical exposures to white sturgeon in the Kootenai River is necessary to support ongoing recovery efforts, and is identified as a research need in the Recovery Plan for the Kootenai River Population of White Sturgeon. In 2007, laboratory studies were conducted to evaluate potential effects to the white sturgeon from chlorine and copper in the Kootenai and Columbia Rivers, as well as three herbicides proposed for control of Eurasian watermilfoil in the Kootenai River.

Mid-Columbia/Snake River

Potential Human Health Concerns Associated with Consumption of Fish at the Columbia and Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuges within the Mid-Columbia River Refuges Complex.

The Columbia Basin Irrigation Project (CBP), managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BR), was started in the early 1930’s in an effort to provide irrigation water to the fertile but arid lands of the Columbia River basin in Central Washington). Two waterbodies that are part of the Mid-Columbia River Refuges Complex are at the terminal end of the CBP drainage system as it empties into the Columbia River. To determine if concentrations of organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, metals, and radionuclides are at levels that may pose a health threat to humans the Eastern Washington Field Office (EWFO) and Mid-Columbia River NWR Complex have identified the need to analyze fish from these NWR waterbodies. The study will: 1) Identify the population of fishers who catch and eat fish from waterbodies currently open to the public; 2) obtain information regarding fishing activities at the waterbody for the target population, and should the need exist; and 3) determine the fish consumption practices for the target population. Direct management actions resulting from this investigation may include a fish consumption warning for humans.

Hanford Reach

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is directing one of the largest environmental cleanup actions in history at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation (Hanford Site). Concurrent with cleanup activities, the Natural Resource Trustees have initiated the first phases of a Natural Resource Damage Assessment. The EAD will provide technical assistance to the Service, DOE, and other Federal Agencies on environmental cleanup activities at the Hanford Site including, but not limited to: Ecological risk assessment; on- and off-site mitigation; research proposals; research interpretation; and proposed activities.

Hanford Fact Sheet


Click here for a list of Environmental Contaminants Division publications.


Washington Fish and Wildlife Office - Lacey
Name Title Project/Focus
Tom McDowell Division Manager Program Management
Michael Carlson Fish & Wildlife Biologist Port Gardner, Port Gamble, Port Angeles NRDA sites
Steve Damm Biological Science Technician Contaminant Studies, Stormwater
Jay Davis Resource Contaminants Specialist Special Studies, Stormwater
Email Jay Davis
Jeff Krausmann NRDA Specialist Elliot Bay and Commencement Bay NRDA
Email Jeff Krausmann
Judy Lantor Fish & Wildlife Biologist Estuary Restoration
Cindy Schexnider Resource Contaminants Specialist Oil Spill NRDA, Trumpeter Swan Lead Poisioning
Email Cindy Schexnider

Eastern Washington Field Office - Spokane
Name Title Project/Focus
Russ MacRae Field Supervisor, EC Specialist Program Management
Joe Bartoszek Resource Contaminants Specialist Hanford Reach NRDA
Julie Campbell Resource Contaminants Specialist Eastern Washington NRDA, Special Studies, Spill Response
Tammy Ash Resource Contaminants Specialist Hanford Reach NRDA and general EC
Amy Thompson Pathways Student Special Studies support, Eastern Washington
Vice Kiser Fish Biologist Special Studies, Eastern Washington



Last updated: September 12, 2013
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