ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS DESCRIBE HABITAT AND ESTUARY COMPONENTS OF COLUMBIA-SNAKE SALMON RECOVERY STRATEGY
Administration officials this week discussed with tribal and state representatives two key elements of the federal strategy being developed to restore salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers: a targeted plan to rebuild salmon habitat on federal lands in critical watersheds, and a plan to restore the Lower Columbia River estuary.
George T. Frampton, Jr., Acting Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, said feedback from tribes and states will help in refining the habitat and estuary initiatives before the overall salmon strategy is proposed by federal agencies in late July. "We think it is important to share these ideas now so the tribes and states can help shape and tie them into their own habitat restoration initiatives," Frampton said.
Frampton and other Administration officials outlined the habitat and estuary plans, and provided an update on the broader salmon recovery effort, in a conference call yesterday with top officials from the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, and in a conference call today with representatives of Columbia Basin tribes.
"Pacific Northwest salmon will thrive again only if we all work together -- states, tribes, and the federal government," said Frampton. "Our comprehensive strategy will ensure that the federal government does its part to restore this precious regional resource. Our targeted plan to restore habitat on federal lands is one example. But Federal efforts alone will not be enough. This must be a true and lasting partnership among all those with a stake in the region's future."
Last month, Administration officials described the broad outlines of the long-term salmon recovery strategy they are developing. They said the comprehensive, science-based strategy would address the needs of all 12 threatened and endangered salmon stocks throughout the Columbia Basin, placing the highest priority on actions that can provide the greatest payoff for stocks at greatest risk.
The draft strategy will propose establishing scientifically grounded "performance measures" to gauge the status of stocks across the basin and the success of recovery efforts by Federal, state, and local authorities. These measures would help determine the need for more aggressive recovery efforts throughout the basin, including whether to seek Congressional approval for breaching the four Lower Snake River dams if recovery targets are not met. The draft strategy will include a broad array of immediate actions to address salmon concerns throughout the basin, including specific measures to: improve river flows; modify dam operations; protect and restore salmon habitat; reform hatchery operations; and continue limits on salmon harvest.
In the conference calls, Frampton and other Administration officials described two of those measures:
Federal Habitat Restoration Initiative - Under this five-year initiative, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service would begin immediate action to improve and restore highly productive salmon spawning and rearing habitat on federal lands in twelve critical watersheds in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
The initiative would accelerate efforts to improve water quality and meet some of the critical restoration needs identified in the Northwest Forest Plan and the draft Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Plan. Specific activities -- to be developed in close collaboration with states, tribes and private partners -- would include: bank stabilization; placement of logs and rocks in streams to create pools and eddies; planting of indigenous trees, shrubs and grasses along stream banks to provide shade for spawning habitat and keep sand and silt out of streams; and upland planting to prevent erosion.
The preliminary list of watersheds includes the McKenzie, Hood River, John Day (Main Fork), John Day (South Fork), and Lower Grand Ronde in Oregon; the Entiat, Wenatchee/Yakima, and Wind River in Washington; and the Clearwater, Yankee Fork, Upper Salmon, and Pahsimeroi in Idaho.
The Gateway to the Columbia Basin: Implementing a Program for Restoration of the Lower Columbia River Estuary - Federal agencies, led by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers and with the support of the National Marine Fisheries Service, would accelerate implementation of a major effort to rebuild the health and productivity of the Lower Columbia River estuary - a critical corridor for salmon populations throughout the basin. These efforts would be undertaken in close collaboration with the states of Oregon and Washington and the established estuary program of the two states and EPA.
The estuary includes tidally influenced waters in the river and its tributaries, and the initiative would focus primarily on the lower 46 miles of river and adjoining tributaries. The initiative would be based on the recommendations of the Lower Columbia River Estuary Program, undertaken as part of EPA's National Estuary Program, and on an ecosystem restoration study to be undertaken by the Army Corps (pending authorization).
Major activities would include restoration of 13,000 acres of tidal wetlands in the lower 46 river miles; removal of structures that prevent restoration of floodplain habitat; and construction of setback levees to protect farmland and structures while allowing floodplain restoration. The initiative also would establish a comprehensive habitat inventory, implement a long-term physical and biological monitoring plan, and undertake public education efforts.
The overall salmon recovery strategy will be outlined in two documents: the National Marine Fisheries Services' draft biological opinion on operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System; and a draft All-H Paper providing greater detail on proposed federal actions to restore all 12 endangered salmon stocks in the Columbia basin. Agency officials had hoped to release the draft strategy in late June but are now aiming for late July, with final approval due later this year. "The agencies are working together to build a comprehensive, unified strategy," said Frampton. "The basic framework is in place. Now we are nailing down the other key components."
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