White Salmon River steelhead plants set to end

Commentary: Allen Thomas

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Two decades ago, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission told the Southwest Washington office to pick a stream to stop planting hatchery steelhead and test as wild-fish-only water.

The regional biologist picked the Wind River, a good test spot since most of the watershed’s habitat is protected in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

But he forget to tell the public really well and really often that the release of hatchery steelhead was ending.

The locals erupted. The too-little-too-late public meetings were vicious, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife and commission members got pummeled over the matter intermittently for years.

So John Weinheimer, a state biologist based in Carson, is not going to make the same mistake as his predecessor.

Thus, a public meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Underwood Community Center to discuss the future of sport fishing in the White Salmon River once Condit Dam is removed.

The 97-year-old dam, 3.3 miles up the river, is scheduled for removal in fall of 2011.

The draft federal recovery plan calls for the end of stocking hatchery steelhead in the White Salmon and restoring fish runs through “natural colonization.’’

The state stocks the White Salmon River with about 20,000 summer steelhead, and 20,000 winter steelhead annually.

It also stocks Northwestern Lake, the reservoir behind Condit, with 4,000 catchable-size rainbow trout and 20,000 fingerling rainbow trout annually.

“Recovery actions now being proposed would eliminate stocking summer and winter hatchery steelhead and rainbow trout in the river,” Weinheimer said. “We want anglers to be aware of those proposed changes, and share their ideas about what kind of fishing opportunities they would like to see in future years.”

During July, August and September, steelhead headed for other waters in Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon and Idaho dip in to the mouth of the White Salmon River to get a respite from the warmer water of the Columbia.

That “dip-in fishery’’ is popular, and Weinheimer said he expects it will continue.

But the fishery farther up the White Salmon on the planted steelhead obviously will go away, since there will not be hatchery fish released.

Other participants in the recovery planning process — such as the treaty Indian tribes, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — don’t manage sport fishing.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife does, and Weinheimer ends up on the pointy end of this spear.

Eliminating stocking in the Coweeman River in Cowlitz County drew heat recently.

“It comes down to balance, and sport fishing is still a factor,’’ he said. “I’ve always tried to be open and up front with the public.’’

Rich Turner, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, will attend the meeting with Weinheimer to discuss the goals and development of the draft Lower Columbia River Recovery Plan and what it will mean for sport fishing on the White Salmon River.

A draft of that plan will be available for public review next spring.

Odds and ends

• Researchers from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Geological Survey want to study if the forebays at Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day dams are the sites of big populations of smallmouth bass feeding on juvenile salmon headed downstream.

If so, then the researchers will study if it is feasible to remove predators from such localized areas

nThe Internet address for Washington’s daily Buoy 10 sport catch update has changed. It is now http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/creel/buoy10.

Allen Thomas covers hunting, fishing, hiking and other outdoor recreation topics for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4555 or by e-mail at al.thomas@columbian.com.