Fisheries Guru Don Chapman Comments
by Rocky Barker
I asked McCall fisheries biologist Don Chapman what he thought about the biological opinion released last month by the NOAA Fisheries, which said operations of dams on the Snake and the Columbia Rivers won't jeopardize the survival of 13 stocks of threatened and endangered salmon. He considers the document flawed and he goes into detail telling why.
You might remember that Chapman, a longtime consultant for the hydropower industry , suddenly in 2005 announced that four dams in Washington needed to be breached to save Snake River salmon. For decades, Chapman, had staunchly defended technological fixes for the imperiled fish, recommending hauling salmon past the dams from their spawning grounds to the Pacific Ocean.
But he changed his mind after he saw new data showing that the Columbia River is warming due to climate change. Warmer water will reduce the habitat available for spawning, he said, and even cause the North Pacific, where the fish mature, to lose much of its productivity.
HERE'S SOME OF WHAT HE WROTE ME AS COMMENTS ON THE FEDERAL OPINION:
"Only on pages 7-9 and 7-10 is climate warming mentioned. There is a brief note on 7-9 that it is not possible to predict overall effects of climate change. As George Tenet famously said, it is a "slam dunk." How can warming do any good for a cold-water group like spring/summer chinook and steelhead in the Snake River ESU (Evolutionary significant unit)? The downstream usable habitat limit, thermally set, will move upstream. The upper limit will not move up, and more likely will move downstream, because it is set by gradient and passage limit for adults. The latter will move downstream as summer flows decrease with regional warming.
Clearly, warming will reduce numbers of fish that a tributary can produce as habitat shrinks. I also expect survival to decrease as a result of such factors as reduced insulation by snow bridging (a result of warmer winters), and increased pre-spawning mortality rates as onset is delayed later in llate summer of cool temperature that initiates spawning (around 13.5 C).
Page 7-10 mentions warming only in regard to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, noting that it may be affected.(Note: this is in reference to the cyclical changes in Pacific temperatures that dramatically affect salmon productivity)
The Biop draft writers are willing to predict percentage gains in survival from predator control in the estuary, habitat measures, etc., but unwilling to predict even a range of effects of regional warming. No mention of mainstem warming effects on adult Snake River steelhead or fall chinook as they migrate."
HE ALSO QUESTIONS THE BASELINE.
"I have a major problem with the Biop "base period," defined as the 1980-1999 brood years, or approximately 1980-2004. Of course that puts the dams in the same grouping as reduced streamflow from irrigation, or grazing effects. The base period for me is pre-dam. Conveniently for the federal writers of the Biop, one can use the 80-04 period and show improvements, thus ignoring the redd counts of the late 1950s and early 1960s."
NOW SOME OF THIS GETS REALLY TECHNICAL BUT FOR CHAPMAN IT IS KEY TO UNDERSTANDING WHAT'S HAPPENING FOR sNAKE RIVER SALMON AND STEELHEAD.
"2006 was as good as it gets for streamflow. So the survival of Snake River spring migrants was as good as it gets with 8 dams.
"I will say that there is no suite of actions on habitat or dam-tweaking that will come close to the mortality reductions possible if the four lower Snake dams are removed. In the early 1960s, when only Ice Harbor Dam was present, the fed-fisheries guys reported mortality of 11% for spring chinook between the Whitebird trap (on the Salmon River) and Ice Harbor Dam, a 240 mile reach.
"Recent mortality in the late 1990s and early 2000s has been 20-25% in the 125 miles between Lewiston trap and Ice Harbor. Thus, I would in the absence of the four dams that smolt mortality would decline by over 50% in that 125-mile reach. No group of other measures can come close to that gain."
In 2005, an analysis Chapman did of the drawbacks to spilling water over the dams to help the fish was presented to U.S. District Judge James Redden, by the utility industry to help it make its case that the spills ordered by the judge would cost more than they were worth. So Redden will know of Chapman's work.
Last week Chapman was working for a different group, Save our Wild Salmon, briefing congressional staffers and the press in Washington D.C.
But he didn't just stick to fisheries biology. Chapman advocates the construction of nuclear power plants to offset the loss of the dams. That doesn't necessarily fit the message of many of his allies in the breaching campaign, who believe we can make up the loss with renewable energy and conservation.
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