Review of Proposed Habitat Suitability Assessment for Anadromous Salmonid Reintroduction in the Blocked Areas of the U.S. portion of the Upper Columbia Basin

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In response to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s December 16, 2015 request, the ISRP reviewed the Spokane Tribe of Indians’ proposal to assess the potential availability and suitability of habitat for anadromous salmon and steelhead survival in the U.S. portion of the Columbia River and its tributaries above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, from river mile 545.1 to river mile 745. The Spokane Tribe of Indians developed this proposal and proposes to implement it in collaboration with its other regional co-managers: the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The U.S. Geological Survey Columbia River Research Laboratory and NOAA Fisheries are also part of the collaborative group and would provide technical support.

This collaborative proposal was the only proposal submitted in response to the Council’s request for proposals (RFP) to address part of Phase 1 of a multifaceted approach to investigate reintroduction of anadromous fish in the blocked waters of the upper Columbia River as called for in the Anadromous Fish Mitigation in Blocked Areas Strategy in the Council’s 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program.

Before submitting the proposal for ISRP review, the Council staff confirmed that the proposal met the threshold requirements outlined in the RFP. The proposal is part of a more comprehensive sequence of objectives and activities listed in the proposal’s Appendix A. The ISRP’s review, however, focuses on the scientific soundness of the proposed methodologies to assess the habitat potential and address the tasks specified in the RFP.

Recommendation: Meets Scientific Review Criteria (Qualified)

The key components for an effective assessment seem to be in place: cooperation and cost-sharing, workshops to compile expert opinion, remote sensing and GIS, modeling of intrinsic potential, analysis of migration barriers and EDT. With strong leadership, cooperation, and skilled analysts, this approach could provide a robust assessment to guide future decisions.

The ISRP concludes that the proposal meets scientific criteria with two Qualifications (listed below). These Qualifications and other specific ISRP comments can be addressed in the Council’s proposal review and recommendation process and in BPA’s contracting process. If implemented, the ISRP looks forward to reviewing a draft report when the assessment is completed.

Qualifications

1. Consideration of future suitability: Given the long-term nature of this reintroduction project, serious consideration must be given to expectations of future suitability, beyond current conditions, of habitat in blocked areas. The methodology should allow incorporation of information about expected patterns of land development and climate change. This proposal states “where possible, we will incorporate physical data that have been shown to be important when considering the potential impacts of climate on salmonid IP [Intrinsic Potential]” but gives no further details. The proposal should incorporate information that is currently available from climate change models, especially information relating to stream temperatures under various scenarios. For example, the NorWeST project provides high-resolution predictions of summer stream temperatures based on a comprehensive stream temperature database that was culled from more than 80 resource organizations. The NorWeST webpage hosts stream temperature data and geospatial map outputs from a regional temperature model for Northwest USA. The webpage also states “a major goal of this project is to provide climate vulnerability and native trout refuge information to land managers and policymakers.

2. Evaluation of Intrinsic Potential (IP): IP modeling will be used to assess the suitability of tributary habitats to support Chinook and steelhead within the blocked areas. However, the proposal does not adequately justify the use of IP modeling or consider the limitations of using habitat surveys for resident species to evaluate habitat potential for Chinook and steelhead. A more detailed description of the proposed IP modeling approach (including its assumptions, limitations, and the specific metrics to be obtained from existing GIS data or from other sources) would likely ameliorate these concerns. The proponents provide a few references on IP modeling, but the proposal would have benefited from a more detailed discussion. For example, how well has the IP approach characterized habitat potential of Chinook and steelhead in the eastern side of the Cascade Range where habitat issues such as extreme water temperatures may be encountered? How well can the IP approach distinguish the suitability of habitat to support Chinook versus steelhead? 

The Council invites written public comment on this review through February 12, 2016. Email comments to Kendra Coles at kcoles@nwcouncil.org.

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Contact Eric Schrepel with any questions or requests, thank you.