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NOAA Fisheries Releases Proposed Recovery Plan for
Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook, Steelhead

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 27, 2016

Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon and steelhead, two threatened species that once
represented close to half of all salmon and steelhead returning to the Columbia River system.

Estimated Survival Probability for Snake River Chinook and Steelhead. NOAA Fisheries is inviting public feedback on a new proposed recovery plan for Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon and steelhead, two threatened species that once represented close to half of all salmon and steelhead returning to the Columbia River system.

The proposed recovery plan, says NOAA Fisheries, provides a blueprint for rebuilding the Snake River species through improvements ranging from safer passage at hydroelectric dams to restored spawning habitat in rivers and streams. The recovery plan is not regulatory, depending instead on voluntary actions by states, tribes, federal agencies and local citizens.

Snake River spring and summer chinook were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992 and Snake River steelhead were listed as threatened in 1997. Today both species are considered at risk of becoming endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of their range.

The recovery plan identifies the factors limiting salmon and steelhead recovery in the Snake River Basin and throughout their life cycle, including impaired passage, low stream flows and high water temperatures. The limiting factors also include degraded habitat and impaired floodplain functions, predation, impaired water quality, the effects of hatchery production and a changing climate.

The plan also outlines recovery strategies and actions for each population of the threatened fish, tailoring recovery actions to local conditions. Strategies and actions include managing Columbia and Snake River flows to promote fish migration and managing fish hatcheries to reduce impacts on naturally spawned fish while also rebuilding depressed natural populations.

Adaptive management provisions in the recovery plan call for monitoring results and updating actions and strategies as biologists learn more about what works.

NOAA Fisheries estimates it will take 50 to 100 years to recover Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon and steelhead to the self-sustaining levels necessary to remove their federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.

NOAA officials Thursday discussed the plan at an hour-long media conference.

"This is the first recovery plan for these species," Michael Milstein, public affairs officer for NOAA Fisheries said. "We have been working on it for close to six years and we have finally reached the point that it's ready for release."

He said the Administration previously released recovery plans for Snake River sockeye and Snake River fall chinook and the steelhead and spring/summer chinook plan completes the series for the four listed Snake River species.

Rosemary Furfey led the development of the recovery plan for NOAA. She said she estimated over the next 10 years $139 million would be spent on site-specific recovery actions. Full recovery of all of the different steelhead and chinook population groups could take between 50 and 100 years, she said.

"The plan lays out a strategic vision so they no longer need Endangered Species protection," Furfey said.

She said the large recovery plan covers a vast geography where they spawn and rear – from the tributaries to the Salmon and Clearwater rivers in Idaho to how they use the estuary and plume at the mouth of the Columbia and the latest information on ocean science.

"The plume has its own physical and chemical characteristics as it discharges into the Pacific," Furfey said.

The plan takes note of improvements at hydroelectric facilities, Ritchie Graves, chief of the NOAA Fisheries' West Coast Region Columbia River Hydropower Branch, said.

"In the last 10 years we've seen an advent in installation of surface passage routes," Graves said. "The low survivals we used to see for juveniles we don't see now."

He said survival rate for smolts migrating to the ocean is between 40 and 65 percent, including impacts from avian predation.

"The Army Corps of Engineers has done a wonderful job this last year putting more instrumentation into fish way systems," Graves said.

He said a device called a "shower curtain" pulls cold water from behind Lower Granite Dam and sprays it in front of the fish as they exit the ladder.

Graves said, "There is a marked difference in reducing temperature and it makes really good passage at Lower Granite Dam."

He said another system is being installed at Little Goose Dam and should be up and running by the next out migration.

"We will continue to research and evaluate other factors to improve survival in the future," Graves said. Graves said habitat restoration, especially where flood plains are restricted, will take the cooperation of landowners in the basin.

"The decline of the species took a long time and it's going to take similar amount of time to recover them," Graves said.

Modifying or terminating transport at one or more collector projects is recommended in the plan as is installing a passive integrated transponder tag detector in the removable spillway weir at Lower Granite Dam to enhance understanding of the relationship between smolt-to-adult returns and environmental and operational factors.

The plan suggests identifying and prioritizing locations where additional PIT-tag detectors could improve understanding of adult behavior and survival during seasonal high temperatures. A variety of other measures are suggested to cool water temperatures throughout the system to aid passage.

Furfey said the federal action agencies will do an environmental analysis of the sub-basin under the National Environmental Policy Act.

"Through the NEPA process we are supposed to be looking at additional measures that could improve survival – what they are we don't know. Last week the action agencies started scoping and listening sessions scheduled all across the Northwest," Furfey said.

One of the flexibilities of the plan is that not all populations on all streams and sub-basins must reach the same level of viability before all Snake River basin steelhead and spring/summer chinook populations can be removed from federal protection, but all must reach their individual targets before these species are considered recovered.

"Our plan has that detail for each population," Furfey said.

She said the plan considers combinations of populations to achieve viability abundance targets. Where the runs were extirpated on Lookingglass Creek and Big Sheep Creek in northeastern Oregon the plan calls for reintroduction.

Furfey said the Administration was interested in researching all habitats used by steelhead and chinook including the plume – where the freshwater of the Columbia meets the salt water of the ocean, and the health of the estuary in between.

"It's becoming more important to understand of how they survive in the plume," Furfey said.

Historically, the Snake River is believed to have been the Columbia River basin's most productive watershed for salmon and steelhead, supporting more than 40 percent of all Columbia River spring and summer chinook salmon and 55 percent of summer steelhead.

The recovery plan is divided into three management unit plans - Northeast Oregon, Southeast Washington, and Idaho and has four recovery planning objectives – the Columbia River hydropower system, the Columbia River estuary, harvest and the ocean environment.

In northeastern Oregon the proposed major population recovery scenario calls for viable status for the Imnaha, Lostine/Wallowa, Minam and Wenaha Rivers and Catherine Creek populations, with at least one highly viable population at very low risk and to achieve at least a maintained status for Upper Grande Ronde River population. The recovery plan said the Joseph Creek steelhead population is at very low risk of extinction and considered highly viable.

The population is rated at moderate risk of extinction, but must attain high viability status to achieve viable status and support delisting of the Snake River steelhead distinct population segment.

In Washington the Asotin Creek population is functionally extirpated leaving the Tucannon River the only extant population.

Idaho targets are to achieve highly viable status for the Secesh River population, at least viable status for the South Fork Salmon population, maintained status for East Fork South Fork Salmon and Little Salmon River.

The total estimated cost of recovery actions for ESA-listed Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon and steelhead over the next 25 years is projected to be approximately $347 million.

Furfey said the plan will be evaluated every five years to check in on status of the species toward recovery.

"We formed a biological review with a long term goal. We have a lot to do over vast geography," Furfey said.

NOAA Fisheries will accept comments on the proposed recovery plan through December 25, 2016. The proposed recovery plan is available at

Related Pages:
Sockeye Draft Recovery Plan Shows Just How Far Away Success Is by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 7/21/14
Feedback: Snake River Sockeye Salmon Recovery Plan by Greg Stahl, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 6/19/15
NOAA's Snake River Sockeye Salmon Recovery Plan:25 Years of Actions at $101 Million by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 6/12/15
Salmon Plan Seeks to Create Self-sustaining Populations by Lisa Carton, Idaho Mountain Express, 6/10/15
Snake River Sockeye Salmon Recovery Plan Released by Associated Press, Spokesman-Review, 6/9/15
Snake River Sockeye Recovery to Take 50-100 Years Under Final Plan by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 6/8/15
Responding To De-Listing Petition, NOAA Upholds Threatened Designation For Snake River Fall Chinook by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 6/2/16

NOAA Fisheries Releases Proposed Recovery Plan for Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook, Steelhead
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 27, 2016

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