Comments sought on White Salmon River fish plan

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

Comments will be accepted until July 16 on a proposed federal recovery plan that calls initially for natural colonization to re-establish salmon and steelhead runs in the White Salmon River.

The 45-mile stream begins on the south flank of Mount Adams and flows south to join the Columbia River at Underwood.

Condit Dam, 3.3 miles up the White Salmon, was built in the early 1900s.

High streamflows twice destroyed Condit's fish ladder and the dam was a complete block to sea-run fish after 1919.

In October, PacifiCorp, Condit's operator, breached the aging hydroelectric dam and is removing it.

The National Marine Fisheries Service released the White Salmon plan in mid-May as part of a much larger Lower Columbia Endangered Species Act Recovery Plan.

John Weinheimer, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist based in Carson, urged anglers and others interested in the White Salmon River to download the plan and comment.

"It's obvious there's a lot of passion about these fish,'' he said. "They matter to everyone.''

Historically, steelhead likely ranged up the White Salmon to 29-foot-tall Big Brother Falls at river mile 16.2 and into Buck, Spring, Indian and Rattlesnake creeks.

Fall chinook likely used the watershed up to Husum Falls at river mile 7.6.

It is assumed spring chinook and coho salmon also used the watershed, although there is no documentation spring chinook ever were present. It is unknown if chum salmon ever used the river.

The proposed recovery plan released by NMFS is based on the work of the White Salmon Working Group, which includes federal, state and tribal fishery agencies and PacifiCorp.

To oversimply, the federal recovery plan calls for monitoring the White Salmon River for the next four to five years to see what shows up.

Here is a bit more detail, by species:

Spring chinook — Monitoring of the upper White Salmon would look for adult spawners and production of smolts, which are young fish heading downstream toward the ocean.

Monitoring would determine the proportion of Carson-stock hatchery spring chinook on the spawning grounds.

The Carson stock returns to Carson National Fish Hatchery on the upper Wind River and Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery on the Little White Salmon River, both downstream of the White Salmon.

If it is determined after monitoring to introduce spring chinook, those fish likely would come from the Klickitat Hatchery, considered the best source of broodstock.

Fall chinook — Naturally spawning wild fall chinook were salvaged from the lower White Salmon River downstream of Condit Dam before the breaching and were released upstream.Coho -- Spawning and juvenile production will be monitored for four to five years to see what strays into the White Salmon River, then evaluated.

Later options include:

• Releasing young coho from Washougal and/or Bonneville-Cascade hatcheries into the river.

• Collecting wild coho from the Klickitat for spawning, rearing and release into the White Salmon.

• Collecting wild adult coho from the White Salmon for spawning and rearing in a hatchery for release into the river.

Steelhead — Allow natural recolonization, with no reintroduction from outside sources.

There are indications that the rainbow trout in the White Salmon River still have sea-run behavior despite 93 years of blockage by Condit Dam.

Monitoring has found juvenile trout that look and act like young steelhead.

Juveniles tagged with transponders in the upper White Salmon have been detected passing Bonneville Dam and one was recovered at the tern colony near Ilwaco.

A juvenile White Salmon trout inserted with a transponder in September 2004 was detected in July 2006 as an adult steelhead crossing Bonneville Dam.

The annual planting by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife of about 20,000 summer and 20,000 winter steelhead in the lower White Salmon has ended.

Chum — Allow natural recolonization, with no reintroduction from outside sources.

Spawning ground surveys will be expanded, but there is much uncertainty about the status of chum upstream of Bonneville Dam.