Saturday, March 28, 2015

Columbia River Treaty Talk

     Do the rational voices of our citizens ever prevail? Sure they do. But only when directed in conversation with those who need to hear. That is what establishes priorities. Remember: leadership is generally disconnected & needs to be reminded -- lest they wander up the money trail looking for direction.

Sure, you never hear anything about the Columbia River Treaty on the news. And leadership seems more inclined toward endorsing gas pipelines to shipping ports, & those breaking beneath our rivers -- five breaks in the first month of this year alone, including the second to spew its deadly contents into the Yellowstone River.

State & national leaders need to know it is crucial we begin the process of creating authentic pipelines of real wealth for our citizens & that they need to stop working exclusively for Koch pipelines that, in the end, serve to impoverish the health of our nation.

This film is both sad & encouraging. Incredible voices for the Columbia: 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Columbia River Treaty 2014-2024 Review

The Regional Columbia River Treaty proposal is in.

U.S. Columbia River Treaty Site

The suggestion for renewed fish passage is in it. This pipeline is far more important and wealth-creating than the Keystone Pipeline. 

So where is the press? Where is Republican leadership on the truly conservative and job-creating pipeline project the treaty suggests?... 

The ones I’ve contacted are unanimously noncommittal on the subject of returning salmon and steelhead to the upper Columbia. This past election was "the most expensive election in history". So who is paying? and what do they expect to get? 

Could it be that returning salmon to the drainages above Grand Coulee provides a pay-off to citizens in general, rather than a single owner with a name, who might provide a fat campaign donation? If there is to be a fish passage built around Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee, then Congress will have to sign off on the funds. Hope everyone will write those who need to know, maybe explain to them what a truly wealth-creating project a passage would be. Think we'll have any luck getting them to take this up as a priority, like the way they've put the Keystone Pipline at the top of their list?

Stay tuned. 2015 is going to be an interesting year.       

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Upper Columbia Fish Passage Vital To Washington State

Columbia River above Lake Roosevelt

I wrote a couple posts recently about the importance of the upcoming renewal of the Columbia River Treaty with Canada. The original treaty, which went into effect in 1964, was about flood control & energy guarantees, & made no provision for fish. The U.S. Entity, comprised of the Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are considering proposals for a third mandate to serve the native fishery. Maria Cantwell gives an outline of the treaty in my earlier post ‘Salmon Returned to The Upper Columbia?’ And Suzanne Skinner outlines it here: 

A confederation of upper river tribes & tribal fishery agencies have drafted & submitted a plan to the Entity that suggests eventual fish passages around Chief Joseph & Grand Coulee Dams, as well as several Canadian dams, & re-establishing anadromous runs in the upper Columbia

I am surprised how little press this seems to be getting, as one would expect a groundswell of support from every citizen of the Pacific Northwest & beyond.  The reopening of another 2000 miles of drainage to salmon & steelhead? The economic & environmental boon to our state, & beyond? The jobs created? (Real jobs.) This is an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up. Please, take a few minutes & read the tribal proposal, then send an email to your state reps & the governor & let them know how vital this is to the future of our state.    

Thursday, January 30, 2014

New Sculpin Species Discovered in the Columbia Drainage

Just when we thought...

Oblique analogy, maybe, but kinda reflects our general knowledge of the upper drainage aqua-structure, insects & fish. Some might raise a finger in protest, & to them I say: "If our practice be the fruit of our knowledge, then I'll let the evidence speak for itself."

Well, one more reason to carry those Muddlers.;_ylt=A0SO8yAKIutSbUcARdFXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEzNG5vczBiBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDMgRjb2xvA2dxMQR2dGlkA1ZJUDI3MV8x?.tsrc=rawnews

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Upper Columbia Salmonid Synopsis

Upper Columbia Redband 

     Awhile back, reader Barry Craig asked about the genetic purity of upper Columbia trout, & if it was possible that native redband trout might still hold the ability to become anadromous should a passage to the sea ever open up for them again. Good questions. I took a long trek down the google lists reading up on the available information, seeing if there's anything new, in an effort to put together this compressed overview of the current status of salmonids inhabiting the drainage above Grand Coulee. There’s a lot of info to sift through, yet, at this time, most of it inconclusive as surveys continue. The summary presented here is my own, based on my own observations & what I have gleaned from the available information I've found that seems to jibe.

Following completion of the Grand Coulee Dam in 1939, a somewhat truncated & inaccurate survey & assessment of native trout in the segment above the dam was conducted, concluding that self-sustaining salmonids, including native redband rainbow populations, were no longer viable in the drainage. And, unfortunately, the skewed results of that initial survey formed the basis of fisheries policy driving the upper river fishery until very recently, & as a result, a lot of mistakes have been made.

UC Redband
The first, though, turns out, not the greatest mistake of fisheries managers, was the introduction of O. mykiss mykiss rainbow strains from the coast, meant as mitigation for the loss of anadromous runs. It was thought for many years that the non-resident strain had probably paled the genes of any remaining local strain redbands. Yet, encouraging news, recent satellite DNA tests indicate that has not been the case, & that upper river redbands are in fact the pure D article. There are identified spawning populations of native redband which utilize the Columbia mainstem & relate (migrate/spawn) to the San Poil, Spokane, Kettle, Onion Creek, Sheep Creek, Deep Creek, as well as the American/Canadian Reach mainstem & also several of the Canadian creeks entering the Columbia mainstem below Keenleyside Dam in B.C. The netpen fish of Lake Roosevelt are the Kettle River redband strain, easily identified by the clipped adipose fin. Though they are released into LR in great numbers, they are seldom in the catch upriver of the Little Dalles, a very high percentage of them becoming walleye food in the lake. So, would UC redband become steelhead again given the chance? Well, nobody knows for certain. We do know that the original natives were a ‘partial migration’ population, that is: part of the fish went to sea, while a portion remained resident. Biologists have not identified a gene that defines a difference between the resident & anadromous populations & it is not really known what triggers some to go to sea & some not to. Several of the researchers I’ve read have offered the opinion that upper river redband probably still retain the propensity to be anadromous; & that may be evidenced in the large number which fenestrate through the Grand Coulee into Rufus Wood. It is estimated that an average of 403,000 fish a year fenestrate through the dam, to be sure, not all of them redbands, yet a high percentage are. Of the native upper river salmonids, redband trout are the most adaptive, numerous & least stressed.    

I read regional biologist Bill Baker claiming he believes that upper river cutthroat are the result of Pend Oreille (Kings Lake) strain cutthroat stocked into Deep Lake, then finding access to the river via Deep Creek. And okay, I would not disallow that, yet the numbers & anecdotal history don’t seem to jibe with that entirely, nor does it jibe with what at least one Canadian biologist finds. I should add that I used to live on Deep Creek, half-way between the lake & the river, have fished it extensively, & can say that cutthroat are an extremely rare catch in Deep Creek, certainly not the numbers that might contribute to maintaining the population in the river, indeed, the numbers of cutthroat one is liable to encounter in Deep Creek is only a tiny fraction compared to the numbers of brook trout, & brook trout are a very rare occurrence in the river, far less abundant than cutthroat. And the Canadian survey info does jibe with the anecdotal, which indicates that west slope cutthroat have always been present. The Canadian survey claims that the cutthroat now inhabiting the Columbia mainstem are genetically the same as the Kootenay Lake strain of shoal-spawning cutthroat. And we now have evidence that these fish do indeed spawn over mainstem ‘shoals’, in both the American & Canadian reaches. Remember, before the dams, Kootenay Lake fish had easy open access to the Columbia, a short ways downstream. Also, the Pend Oreille holds a native population of cutthroat, & that population was connected to & part of the upper Columbia, before the dams, & doubtless there is still downstream fenestration from both the Pend Oreille River & Kootenay Lake. Actually, in view of the anecdotal evidence alone (unless I am missing something altogether) I am surprised that Baker would hold such a thin view concerning the origin of cutthroat in the UC system. But then, as policy so far illustrates, WDFW has never had an accurate view of the drainage & fishery above Grand Coulee, & long-held notions are falling as the results of recent & ongoing surveys come in. The population ratio of redband to cutthroat in the American Reach above LR is about ten to one, redband being the dominant species, followed by cutthroat in the #2 spot. That estimate anecdotal, based on my own catch journal, & the opinion of other guides & anglers on the river seems to bear that out.       

Bull Trout
When I first came to the river in 1972, there was still a fair population of bull trout, & some big ones, yet since that time bull trout have become extremely rare. It is known that bull trout are highly migratory within the systems they inhabit, & their decline in the LR/Columbia mainstem began with the construction of Hugh Keenleyside Dam, at Castlegar B.C., in 1968, the structure halting bull trout migration to traditional spawning areas above what is now Arrow Lake. The large bull trout present in the system back in the early ‘70’s were likely remnants, born before the dam was built, then trapped below the new dam. It is believed that any remaining bull trout in the American segment are likely to be genetically impure, having crossed with brook trout – & I have seen some that might indicate that to be true. In any case, sorry to say, bull trout seem to be a lost cause at this point in time.

Though kokanee are native to the Reach, & there are still spawning populations, though sporadic & precarious, it is generally held that it is unlikely the native strain still exists in its original form, as several strains have been introduced since the construction of Grand Coulee. Net-pen kokanee from LR have clipped adipose fins, & though we do catch the occasional wild fish with adipose still intact, which indicates there is some wild-spawned fish, the research seems to agree that they are likely not original strain kokanee. Unfortunately, kokanee have not proven as resilient & adaptable as redband trout, even though they too are adapted as a resident species. Probable major factors contributing to the loss off native kokanee: severly degraded spawning habitat; poaching; walleye predation; the unstable, infertile environment of LR does not produce sufficient amounts of the planktonic nutrients kokanee feed on. 

Mountain Whitefish
Not a salmonid, but a sporty close cousin, once very abundant in the American Reach above LR. Before the dams, pioneer families along the upper river used to catch & pickle whitefish by the barrel. In the early ‘70’s, whitefish provided great fishing through the winter months. Though I hear of fair catches from the Canadian Reach, whitefish are now extremely rare in the American Reach. I witnessed the decline of mountain whitefish as the illegally introduced walleye population rose, & it is my own opinion that walleye predation is the major cause of their decline. It is true that WDFW introduced Lake Superior strain whitefish into the system (another mistake) back in the ‘50’s, thinking they might be good mitigation for lost native stocks. The LS strain proved unsuitable, & some biologists now suspect that cross-breeding with the native strain may have produced a strain also unsuitable to the system’s environment, hence the ensuing loss of native whitefish in the segment.  

For those interested, here’s a couple of links which provide an interesting overview of the Columbia fishery, East of the Cascades:        

Friday, January 17, 2014

WDFW Seeking Manufacturer/Retailers

WDFW is seeking fishing gear manufacturers & retailers to serve on a new advisory group.

Chris Donley, inland fish program manager for WDFW says “The goal is to refine our management of inland fisheries to not only attract new people to the sport but also to help ensure we continue to provide sustainable opportunities.”

Well, okay. I almost passed this one over. But then I wondered: Will it be Walmart & other giant fishing gear importers sitting at the table contributing their considered knowledge & driving policy regarding our local fisheries? or will there be authentically indigenous retailer/manufacturers, regional rod builders, fly tyers & outfitters representing?

Still, unless I'm missing something in this, I’m left wishing WDFW would just suck it up, get out of the fishing bizniz, & set their nose to the grindstone fulfilling their stated mission of stewarding & protecting our natural resources, even if that means diminished sales of doo-dads, gollywobblers, treble hooks & stinkbait.

Fish local. Activate for sustainable local fisheries wherever possible. Support authentic local manufacturers whenever possible.    

Saturday, December 7, 2013

WDFW Taking Public Comment on Gene Bank

Just as salient, I think, was the UCNFA proposal to designate the American Reach of the Columbia, its tributaries, & the Lake Roosevelt tributaries, as a gene bank for equally (if not more so) endangered stock still existing above the dams, a point we’ve continually stressed in articles posted here, & in our letters to biologists & officials. Do UC redband still possess the genetics causing the propensity to go to sea & return? I have heard of no reason why not; & if so, that makes them invaluable should we ever decide to do the right (exceptional) thing & create passage around the Chief Joseph & Grand Coulee Dams.

One step builds on another…

WDFW is taking public comments on lower river wild steelhead, here: 

Peace On Earth