December 08, 2023
A Biden administration document leaked by Republican members of Congress indicates that the federal government is likely on board with a several-years-long project for removal of the four lower Snake River dams that have prevented salmon and steelhead migration to their historical habitat for dozens of years.
According to the leaked confidential mediation document titled, “U.S. Government Commitments in Support of the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative and in Partnership with the Six Sovereigns”: “While this United States Government (USG) response does not constitute a decision by the USG to support legislation to authorize dam breaching, the USG continues to be committed to exploring restoration of the Lower Snake River, including dam breach...”
“The Biden Administration recognizes the indisputable value and importance of salmon–and other native fish–to Columbia River Basin Tribes, as well as to the economy and overall ecological health of the region, throughout the Basin and from the Oregon coast to the Gulf of Alaska. In the face of climate change, urgent action is needed to restore their populations to healthy and abundant levels.”
The government’s position is based largely upon a 2022 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report that states that dams are a “primary limiting factor in the recovery of ten of the sixteen salmon and steelhead stocks in the interior Columbia River Basin. For three others, the limiting factor is blocked historic habitat due to large dams that lack fish passage…” It also cites recommendations compiled by U.S. Senator Patty Murray and Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Columbia River salmon recovery from 2022.
A coalition of environmental and tribal groups sued the federal government over treaty rights that have been in place for over 150 years and to prevent the extinction of these salmon and steelhead. Both the plaintiffs and defendant have stated that they could be close to an agreement that would settle the suit, to which the court has given a December 15th deadline. If not resolved by then, the lawsuit will proceed.
But before any agreement, a plan to replace the energy lost by the lack of hydropower generation must be in place, which the leaked document addresses.
“The Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide targeted technical assistance, planning, and funding to the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and the Nez Perce Tribe (together, the "LRTT's"), to develop and deploy clean, renewable, socially-just energy resources (to include distributed energy resources (including efficiency and demand response, other generation, storage, and transmission resources)) in the region,” states the document. “This new, clean Tribally-sponsored energy will be planned as ‘replacement’ power for the lower Snake River dams if Congress authorizes the breach of those dams.”
The document does not explicitly say that anything is imminent and indeed was not intended for the public at this time. Authorization from Congress would still be required under any agreement.
“As part of the court-approved confidential mediation with Tribes, States, and other parties to develop a long-term, durable path forward, the U.S. Government is developing a package of actions and commitments that we are discussing with all parties involved in the mediation,” Alyssa Roberts, spokesperson for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a statement.
The full leaked document can be read here.
Stay tuned to flyfisherman.com for continuing coverage as it develops.
UPDATE: As of Thursday, December 15, the documents were officially released.
Manually Providing Cold-Water Refuges for Atlantic Salmon
A team from Dalhousie University recently led a study on the effects of manually introducing cold water into an Atlantic salmon river to determine if doing so could improve conditions for cold-water fish in a warming climate.
“We need to think about how we can adapt to that warming world and still preserve the Atlantic salmon [and other] coldwater biodiversity in our rivers,” PhD candidate Kathryn Smith said in a Time.com article.
The team used two methods: Manually pumping water into the stream from a nearby well; and rechanneling a portion of river water back into the underground aquifer, where it would essentially become a cold spring when it reenters the river downstream. Both methods saw success by way of fish schooling in the manmade refuges (including brown trout and other cold-water species), though the pump method saw more success.
Atlantic salmon populations, along with many other cold-water fish species, are down drastically over the past several decades. Innovations like this could be necessary to the survival of many beloved sportfish.
“It was exhilarating,” Smith said in the article. “[There was] lots of hooting and hollering from excitement.”
Grayling Fishing Reopens in Michigan
After decades of extinction in Michigan, Arctic grayling have been restored to the point where they are now legally fair game for anglers. As of October, the state’s Natural Resources Commission approved lifting of the ban on “attempting to take” Arctic grayling for catch-and-release fishing statewide, thanks to years of restoration efforts and the recent stocking of Upper Peninsula lakes.
Hatchery rearing of the sought-after species since 2019 has been so successful there that the fish are outgrowing the facilities, according to a Bridge Michigan article. As a result they will be stocked into certain Upper Peninsula stillwaters, including Lake Penegor and Lake Perrault, and possibly others.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources hopes to have self-sustaining populations of Arctic grayling in certain rivers by 2025.
Salmon Repopulating California’s Cedar Creek
Staff from CalTrout recently observed juvenile coho salmon in a tributary to the South Fork of the Eel River for the first time in decades, above the site of a former dam. Cedar Creek is a vital spawning tributary that had been blocked since the 1940s.
In 2022, CalTrout and others had the defunct dam removed, and in August of 2023, snorkeling staff observed 34 juvenile coho salmon above the dam site.
“This watershed is fundamentally important because it has this really, really high summer base flow that results from the unique geology in the watershed,” Darren Mierau, CalTrout’s North Coast Director, said in a CalTrout video. “So it has this abundant cold water that comes down into the South Fork… it’s really important refugia for salmon and steelhead.”
As evidence mounts that these fish can and will recover after dams are removed, more and more pressure is building on elected officials and private dam operators to act to save endangered fish.
Click here to support CalTrout in its continuing efforts to protect and save wild fish.
Costa Releases its Second “Protect Report”
Sunglasses manufacturer Costa Del Mar has released the second edition of its “Protect Report” to showcase the company’s commitment to conservation, sustainability, and community. The report highlights programs like:
“We recognize the important role businesses can play in protecting and preserving our natural resources for future generations, and we take that responsibility to heart,” said Jed Larkin, Costa Brand Director. “We pride ourselves on working just as hard to protect our watery world as we do to discover new ways to experience it, and much like the first edition, this report takes that work and puts it into writing.”
You can view the entire report here.
Former Supreme Court Justice and Avid Fly Angler Sandra Day O’Connor Passes Away
The first woman to ever be appointed to the United States Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor, passed away on December 1 of complications related to advanced dementia. O’Connor was an avid fly angler and passionate defender of fish conservation.
According to an article on the Wild Salmon Center’s (WSC) website, Justice O’Connor also served on the organization’s advisory board and helped sponsor a reception in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness and support to fight against the proposed Pebble Mine. She was a supporter of WSC’s “stronghold strategy,” which seeks to protect the richest and strongest salmon rivers “because it’s easier to protect rivers while they are still healthy and thriving. History tells us it’s incredibly difficult and expensive to fix a river once it’s dammed, mined, diverted, or otherwise broken.”
In 2008, WSC CEO Guido Rahr took O’Connor steelheading on the Deschutes River where he guided her into her first ocean-run rainbow trout. You can read an account of the experience at the aforementioned article.
“Justice O’Connor loved fishing the trout streams of the West, and she loved swapping fishing stories,” Rahr said in the article. “I am honored to have been her friend.”
Lahontan Cutts Bring Joy and Fishing Opportunity Back to a Small Nevada Stream
A charming story posted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website details the discovery of Lahontan cutthroat trout in North Fork of the Humboldt River in northeastern Nevada, where the species had been believed extirpated. Chad Mellison, a fish and wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Nevada, decided to fish a little after completing some field work in 2021, when he made the discovery.
“On my first cast into the pool the fish took my fly!” said Mellison in the article. “It was totally meant to happen. It was perfect.”
Lahontan cutts are protected under the Endangered Species Act but can be fished for. Nevada’s state fish, they are struggling mightily to gain a foothold in this part of the state. A gold mine that operated decades ago left open-pit mines in the upper Humboldt drainage that eventually drained into a neighboring aquifer “essentially acting as a straw between the two.” The groundwater level subsequently dropped and the North Fork of the Humboldt lost its source water. That hole was eventually filled and water returned, but significant damage had been done to this population of Lahontans.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife began restocking the native cutts back into the fishery in 2015, which allowed Mellison his emotional catch.
“These things that we do out there don’t always happen overnight,” said Mellison. “It takes patience, and a good team to navigate the roadblocks. You’ve got to have tenacity in this job because you’re going to run into brick walls, and you’ve got to figure out how to get around them.”
It’s more proof that all is not lost if we take action now. See below for a video on catching these valuable fish: