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Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

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Revised salmon recovery plan has big price tag

Stream restoration, hatchery upgrades to cost $740M over 50 years

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? What: A 30-day comment period, closing April 9, and a series of public workshops to share proposed updates to a salmon recovery plan adopted by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2006.

? Who: The Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board.

? Why: The changes are the result of additional information on local salmon and steelhead stocks listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, part of a planning effort between Washington and Oregon to bring runs back to healthy, harvestable levels.

? Workshops: Each workshop starts at 7 p.m:

Kelso: March 16 at the Cowlitz Historical Museum, 405 Allen St.

Stevenson: March 18 at the Skamania County Annex Conference Room, 170 N.W. Vancouver Ave.

Cathlamet: March 22 at the River Street Room, 25 River St.

Vancouver: March 24 at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2108 Grand Blvd.

To review the plan, go to http://www.lcfrb.gen.wa.us/ and click on “2010 Proposed Updates to the Salmon Recovery Plan.”

A newly revised salmon recovery plan for Southwest Washington sets the ambitious goal of recovering five runs of wild salmon, steelhead and bull trout in the lower Columbia River.

? What: A 30-day comment period, closing April 9, and a series of public workshops to share proposed updates to a salmon recovery plan adopted by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2006.

? Who: The Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board.

? Why: The changes are the result of additional information on local salmon and steelhead stocks listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, part of a planning effort between Washington and Oregon to bring runs back to healthy, harvestable levels.

? Workshops: Each workshop starts at 7 p.m:

Kelso: March 16 at the Cowlitz Historical Museum, 405 Allen St.

Stevenson: March 18 at the Skamania County Annex Conference Room, 170 N.W. Vancouver Ave.

Cathlamet: March 22 at the River Street Room, 25 River St.

Vancouver: March 24 at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2108 Grand Blvd.

Achieving it will be expensive.

The Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board figures stream restoration projects, fishing adjustments and improvements to hatcheries will cost roughly $740 million over the next 50 years — mainly through federal funding. That’s just on the lower Columbia tributaries draining from the Washington side of the river.

Add another $528 million that the federal government expects to spend directly on the estuary between the states, and $1.2 billion worth of stream restoration in Oregon’s Willamette basin.

Take it all together, and you’ve got almost enough money to build a new Columbia River Crossing.

“It’s a big number,” said Jeff Breckel, the board’s executive director, “but it’s also over a number of years.”

The board, a five-county agency established by the state Legislature more than a decade ago to tackle federal Endangered Species Act requirements related to salmon, has refined its plan to recover imperiled wild salmon over the next 50 years. The plan, originally formulated in 2004, essentially boils down to a package of guiding principles and prioritized stream restoration projects.

For the first time, it also comes with a price tag.

The board not only wants to pull salmon back from the brink of extinction, it eventually wants so many wild fish returning to spawn that there would be enough for fishermen to catch and take home. Right now, fishermen are generally allowed to target only hatchery-raised fish distinguished by clipped adipose fins.

“We want to bring these fish back up so they’re not only de-listed, but also support an active harvest,” Breckel said.

However, despite billions of dollars already spent improving habitat, state and federal fishery managers have yet to fundamentally alter harvest practices, said Ed Wickersham, governmental relations chairman for the Coastal Conservation Association in Washington. He cited as an example the board’s latest plan de-emphasizing protection of a small remnant run of native tule fall chinook in the Grays River.

“Like President Jimmy Carter said about the oil problem 30 years ago, the time to conserve is when you have something left to conserve,” said Wickersham, who lives in Ridgefield.

The recovery plan folds in several restoration plans for lower Columbia tributaries such as the East Fork of the Lewis River, the lower Cowlitz and the Grays near the coast. Under the recovery board’s direction, each restoration plan prioritizes site-specific restoration projects with the greatest chance to recover wild fish.

For larger tributaries such as the East Fork, the board calculates it will cost $1 million per mile to restore habitat.

An example could include placing massive root wads in the stream, which provide cover against predators and promote the growth of bugs eaten by juvenile salmon. It could also include constructing off-channel refuges, planting trees to shade the stream or, in some cases, redirecting stream flow.

To review the plan, go to http://www.lcfrb.gen.wa.us/ and click on "2010 Proposed Updates to the Salmon Recovery Plan."

Chinook salmon, chum salmon, coho salmon, steelhead, and bull trout in the lower Columbia are among the 13 species of salmon in the entire Columbia basin now protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The law requires developing a recovery plan.

Breckel said the cost estimates are rough, and the work is likely to change over the years as salmon-recovery organizations learn and improve on their methods.

“This is a road map,” he said. “That road map is based on some working hypotheses of what we need to do.”

The latest estimates for salmon recovery come on top of $11.9 billion already dedicated to fish and wildlife across the entire Columbia River basin from 1978 to 2008, according to the latest tabulation by the four-state Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

Hypothetical revenue lost to the federal hydropower system accounts for almost half of that figure.

When dams spill water away from turbines, it improves the survival of ocean-bound juvenile salmon — but it comes at a cost to the generating system. Federal power managers closely calculate the value of hydropower sacrificed for salmon, even as conservation groups press to spill more water as a way of restoring a small semblance of the natural river environment.

Erik Robinson: 360-735-4551, or erik.robinson@columbian.com.

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