Regional overview

Fisherman on the middle Columbia River

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Middle Columbia River: Key takeaways

1Salmon and steelhead runs are recovering.

2Fish are using many streams that had been blocked for more than a century, and water managers are working hard to balance the needs of fish and irrigated agriculture.

3While real progress has been made, additional work is needed to remove remaining fish passage barriers, restore key tributaries and floodplains, and continue to improve water management.

Visit the Regional Recovery Organization’s Web site:

Yakima Basin Fish and Wildlife Recovery Board logo

2018 progress and challenges


  • Large floodplain projects are restoring river habitat while reducing hazards for nearby communities
  • Nearly 3,000 acres of salmon habitat have been protected
  • 245 barriers to fish migration have been removed, opening nearly 200 miles of habitat to salmon
  • Nearly 135 miles of streams have been restored or protected
  • Coho, sockeye, and summer Chinook have been reintroduced in the Yakima River basin


  • Many priority streams have low summer flows and warm water temperatures
  • Fish still are unable to access many cold headwaters above dams
  • Ongoing improvements are needed to balance river management and fish survival
  • Climate change is warming the water and changing flows
  • Many bull trout populations are struggling

About our region

Stretching from the high Cascade Mountains to the deserts of central Washington, this region encompasses pine forests, open rangelands, farms, and the towns of Ellensburg, the Tri-Cities, Goldendale, and Yakima. By the late 1980s, the once plentiful runs of salmon in the region’s major rivers had nearly disappeared. Of the 30 demographically independent populations of salmon, steelhead, and bull trout, 20 are listed as threatened with extinction under the federal Endangered Species Act.

When the fish were first listed, there was much fear that the listings would pit fish against farmers and that new regulations would stifle development. Instead, the people in the region are working together to bring back the fish and support local economies. Steelhead and salmon in the Yakima River basin have made a dramatic turnaround since the 1980s, with total runs of 20,000 to 30,000 fish now a regular occurrence.

Salmon recovery stories

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Middle Columbia salmon recovery region of Washington state