Salmon Status is One Measure of Recovery Plan Progress

Progress in implementing the recovery plan can be measured by how well the fish are doing.

Yakima River Populations of Mid-Columbia River Steelhead

Since listing in 1999, the major population group of steelhead have responded positively to the extensive investments made by partners in the Yakima River basin in fish passage and screening, tributary and floodplain habitat restoration, flow management, kelt reconditioning, and water quality. Until recently, abundance trends for all four Yakima steelhead populations were rising rapidly, with two of the four surpassing viability standards set in the Middle Columbia Recovery Plan. However, the past 4 years have seen reduced levels of abundance for all four populations, with the worst off (the upper Yakima River) rerunning at roughly one-fifth of the maintenance target of 500 adult fish. Last year and current year fish numbers are improving, and we are hoping to see a return to the more robust adult abundance numbers seen in 2010.

Three of the four Yakima River fish populations are meeting spatial structure criteria set in the Middle Columbia Steelhead Recovery Plan. Restoration of fish passage in Manastash Creek, Taneum Creek, Big Creek, and other areas has improved the upper Yakima River fish population. However, access needs to be restored to two more major spawning areas before spatial structure criteria can be met. Work is underway, with an emphasis on restoring passage to the upper Cle Elum River, the Wilson-Naneum-Cherry tributary complex around Ellensburg, and the Wenas Creek watershed.

Yakima River steelhead populations have shown strong growth in productivity during the past 15 years in response to improved juvenile rearing and migration conditions. However, in the past 4 years, fish productivity has dropped significantly due to a combination of low adult survival between Bonneville Dam and spawning areas in the Yakima River, and low smolt outmigration survival in the lower end of key tributaries, the Yakima and Naches Rivers, and the McNary and John Day Pools of the Columbia River. These issues have driven increased research and restoration work specifically targeted at identifying and addressing causes of high smolt mortality in some years. This focused work likely will be the key to returning Yakima River steelhead to a positive abundance trajectory.

Work needs to be done to better quantify diversity metrics for Yakima steelhead populations, but during the past 15 years, we have seen an encouraging range of spawning and migration timings, geographic distribution, and life histories (e.g. diversity of combinations of resident and migrant parents) that indicate that diverse life histories are being maintained and expanded in the Yakima basin.

Columbia River Gorge Populations of Middle Columbia River Steelhead

The Klickitat steelhead population in the major population group has been rated at moderate risk for both abundance/productivity and spatial structure/diversity metrics. Abundance estimates since 2005 suggest that the minimum threshold (1,000 spawners) is being met in most years, and preliminary productivity metrics appear moderate (in adult-to-adult productivity) to fairly robust (juvenile production). Spatial distribution and genetic diversity metrics show similar results: spawners and juveniles occupy most accessible habitat (and passage projects have increased this), and genetic evaluations have indicated a fairly diverse population with multiple subpopulations and a relatively low level of introgression with hatchery steelhead in the subbasin. Uncertainties exist in precise actual spawner abundance, out-of-subbasin spawner influence, and identifying/prioritizing all juvenile production areas. Ongoing habitat restoration actions have improved juvenile rearing conditions in key tributary watersheds and the main stem Klickitat River. Overall this population appears to at least be stable but likely not meeting full broad-sense recovery goals.

The Rock Creek steelhead population is at high risk for abundance and productivity metrics and moderate risk for spatial structure/diversity ratings. Abundance in most years has been below the 500 minimum threshold. Uncertainties, such as the role the out-of-subbasin fish play in the population, and how to design the most effective improvements in habitat and juvenile productivity in a water- and climate-challenged subbasin still exist but are being monitored and tested. Maintaining base flows and adequate temperatures are key to long-term recovery.

The White Salmon steelhead population is recolonizing and recovering since the removal of Condit Dam in 2011-12. It has been rated at high risk for abundance/productivity and spatial structure/diversity metrics; a lack of monitoring information has been improved upon somewhat since the last status update but still persists. Total spawner abundance estimates are not available; data suggest low to moderate numbers are now present in most accessible tributary stream reaches. Juvenile production also appears low to moderate. Preliminary genetic analysis suggest both native in-basin production as well as contributions from nearby populations. Additional passage restoration and habitat improvements in this cold water refuge river are ongoing.

Bull Trout in the Yakima River Core Area

The Yakima River basin is home to 11 extant bull trout populations, with efforts underway to reestablish bull trout in three more population areas where they have become functionally extinct. Some populations are in relatively good health (e.g. the South Fork Tieton), while others are at critically low and declining numbers (e.g. the Ahtanum and Gold Creek populations). Partners in the basin have increased greatly their focus on bull trout recovery during the past 10 years, with work coordinated through the Yakima Bull Trout Working Group and funded and implemented by diverse partners including the Bureau of Reclamation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Bull trout mitigation and restoration actions are a critical part of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. Extensive monitoring and protective fisheries and U.S. Forest Service land-use regulations are in place. Recent years have seen the establishment of the Yakama Nation’s new bull trout rescue and reintroduction program, including the first-ever hatchery rearing of juveniles recues from drying streams, and significant funding for development of large bull trout projects in Box Canyon, the Kachess River, Gold Creek and the North Fork Tieton. We anticipate that we will be able to report significant increases in abundance in response to this work in future years. Read more.

Background: Salmon recovery in Washington is driven by regional salmon recovery plans. The recovery plans provide the actions and rationale for where to invest and when. Each region reports on the actions implemented related to what is recommended in the regional recovery plan. The information about recovery plan implementation is grounded in the regional organizations’ extensive knowledge of recovery issues and recovery progress.