Author Archives: scottveirs

Klamath River dam removal proposed

Things are really looking up for the salmon-eating killer whales of the west coast.  For the third time this fall, progress in removing dams on west coast salmon rivers has been made.  First there was press regarding the beginning of the removal of the Elwha dams.  Then news came of preparations for dam removals on the White Salmon (including this Yakima Herald story about trucking fall chinook above the dams).

Now coverage is emerging about the draft EIS/EIR regarding removal of 4 hydroelectric dams on the Kalamath River in California.  The document was made available on September 21 and is open for public comment for 60 days (until November 21).  Copco No. 1 (pictured in the AP photo below) is one of the dams that may be demolished.

Recent press, including a 9/27 piece in India Country Today Media Network and a 9/22 story in SFGate, contain potentially good news for endangered southern resident killer whales which spend some of their winter months hunting in along the west coast in the migratory path of adult Kalamath salmon.  If things don’t get bogged down at the Federal level, the proposed plan may be approved by the Secretary of the Interior as soon as March, 2012.

The India Country states:

Over the past century, the number of salmon in the run has dwindled from millions of fish to less than 100,000 in most years.

And when the dams are gone, fisheries are expected to double in size.

Notable quotes from SF Gate:

Dismantling the four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River would open up 420 miles of habitat for migrating salmon…

The long-awaited environmental report on what would be the biggest dam-removal project in California history predicted an 81.4 percent increase in the number of chinook salmon and similar increases for steelhead trout and coho salmon.

The dams – Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2 and J.C. Boyle – have blocked salmon migration along the California-Oregon border since the first one was built in 1909 and have been blamed for much of the historic decline of chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout in the Klamath.

The ultimate goal is to restore what has historically been the third-largest source of salmon in the lower 48 states, behind the Columbia and Sacramento rivers.




Explosive Condit dam removal: more Columbia salmon on winter menu?

Kim Pokorny of the Oregonian reports progress on cleaning up the White Salmon River, a tributary on the lower Columbia, in preparation for an October 26 explosive removal.  This is good news for future foraging by southern resident killer whales who are known to target main stem Columbia fish when foraging on the Washington and Oregon coasts.

On Oct. 26, after years of wrangling among Washington’s Klickitat and Skamania counties and the environmental and tribal groups that teamed with dam operator PacifiCorp, a hole will be blown through the bottom of the dam and about 2.2 million cubic yards of sediment will pour through and rush three miles downriver to the confluence of the White Salmon and Columbia rivers.

It will be interesting to compare the sediment and fish dynamics between this dredging and explosive technique with the more progressive removal of the Elwha dams.  This is the fall of falling dams!  Hurrah!

Elwha dam removal begins this weekend

Here’s a great letter sent out today by Save Our Wild Salmon:

This Saturday, September 17th, marks a truly historic event for wild salmon and river communities: the largest river restoration project to date with the removal of the two Elwha River dams on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. Here are 3 great items to check out:

The Elwha Dam1) Today’s blog post from our executive director, Pat Ford, The Elwha Project: Lessons for the Lower Snake River.  Here’s an excerpt:

The Elwha project will offer lessons for the lower Snake River in many areas, but I’ll note three of importance — salmon response, economic impact, and collaboration:

  • Wild salmon have responded quickly and positively to every major dam removal done so far on a salmon river; quick adaptability is in their DNA.  The Elwha will provide the best lessons yet in how fast various species respond.  This is important for the lower Snake, where five species of salmon and steelhead will be affected.
  • Local economic benefit to Tribal and non-Tribal communities was not a primary motivator behind the Elwha campaign, but it has become a critical and closely watched feature of the project.  While the rural areas around the lower Snake have different dynamics from the communities near the Elwha, the importance of jobs is just as critical.
  • After much conflict over two decades, the Elwha project finally came together due to collaborations in which all parties got something important to their future.  No doubt a collaborative process for the lower Snake will look very different, but the same principles can be applied for the farmers, fishermen, energy users, communities, and businesses involved.

Elwha Video - Andy Maser2) VIDEO: Year of the River: Episode 1

An exciting new video was released this week about the Elwha project by Andy Maser courtesy of American Rivers and American Whitewater. Check it out here.

3) Watch the Dam Removal Ceremony LIVE.

The Elwha River Restoration and Dam Removal Ceremony Simulcast will begin on Saturday, September 17th at 11am pacific, 2pm eastern.

Find it here:

Stay tuned for more information as events unfold on the Elwha and elsewhere.  And thank you for your continued support.


Joseph Bogaard
Save Our Wild Salmon
206.286.4455 x103
SOS Blog | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

Public and scientific influence in recovery of Columbia salmon for orcas

Great news last week from Save our Wild Salmon et al.: Judge Redden has again ruled that the Biological Opinion for managing Columbia Basin salmon is illegal and scientifically inadequate. This KPLU story on the timeline for revising or renewing the BiOp suggests that the Locke/Lubchenko team will probably not have time to react before the 2012 elections.  The Judge has allowed the current BiOp to guide management decisions through 2013.

Chris Dunagan’s synopsis (including a link to a PDF of the Judge’s opinion) references an OregonLive piece that quoted NOAA Regional Director Will Stelle implying that habitat restoration (not dam removal or more spill) will likely satisfy Redden’s concerns:

Will Stelle, NOAA’s Northwest regional director, said he thinks adding more detail to future habitat projects will satisfy the judge. Redden endorsed the plan through 2013, Stelle noted, and his conclusions about habitat were “totally understandable.”  “He ordered us to tighten up on the habitat program after 2013, and that’s fine,” Stelle said. “We were intending to do it anyway.”

So, it seems that local NOAA leadership is focused on saving salmon and orcas by restoring habitat in the Columbia basin while considering the needs of killer whales in the management of recreational and commercial fisheries.  Back in February, Stelle/NOAA proposed a series of workshops to assess the effect of salmon fisheries on (southern resident) killer whales.  The second workshop is due to occur about now: “Workshop 2 (~ 2 days) would occur in late summer or autumn of 2011.”  Does anyone have any news about the first workshop or a particular date for the second?

At the Federal level, NOAA leadership on salmon management has been profoundly disappointing.  I would love to understand how Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke (past WA Governor) and NOAA Director Jane Lubchenko (an established marine ecologist from OSU) managed to squander such a rare opportunity to derive a progressive plan and begin implementing it during their 4 years with Obama.  If the Democrats lose in 2012, Gary and Jane should be remembered most for failing the salmon, killer whales, and conservationists of the Pacific Northwest.

How did Gary and Jane fail the King of Fish?  Does anyone have any insights into the politics behind their actions?  Were the WA Senators influencing the process to retain votes in Eastern Washington?  If so, how did they motivate the appointed leaders within the Department of Commerce?

Another question is whether it is worth organizing now (as killer whale and salmon conservationists) to motivate Lubchenko to create a new BiOp that is fully based in science and politically progressive.  Perhaps it would be strategic to motivate them to create a plan in the next year so that it is in place before the 2012 elections and the potential changes in leadership that will occur as 2013 starts?  If the Democrats win and Gary/Jane are retained by Barak, then how GREAT would it be if they had a new and innovative BiOp ready for implementation on the first day of 2014 — halfway through their second term — or even sooner?

In any case, we should lobby for much greater transparency in the derivation of a new BiOp, or the revision of the old BiOps.  In preparation, we need to understand how the previous processes were NOT transparent.  Some history, insightful questions, and observations arose during the KUOW Weekday discussion about Salmon and Snake River Dams July 5, 2011:

Steven Hawley (journalist) — Has the process by which the Federal agencies (including the BPA) have made public policy been transparent (enough)?

  1. 2005 — Judge remanded Bush-era plan back to Federal agencies (he had rejected Clinton plan in 2000)
  2. 2005 — BPA Utilities and Senator Craig tried to cut funding for Fish Passage Center (that had published data showing more water is good for fish)
  3. 2006 — Concern about fish passage model led to scientists being pulled from a panel
  4. 2007 — BPA violated court-ordered spill program…

How can the public influence the plan and vision for the Columbia River Basin and its management (as opposed to scientists and the Federal government)?

Were scientists consulting (for a 2009 science meeting related to the Biop) required to sign confidentiality agreements (within their contracts)?

How has the National Academy of Scientists been in involved?  What overlap — if any — was there between NAS members and consulting scientists?

William Rogers is happy about the returns.  What are the recent trends?  GRAPH?

Hawley: Should we be measuring success in some way other than standard of 93-96% survival PER DAM of migrating juveniles and adults?  The cumulative (downstream?) impact of the hydropower system is to reduce runs by ~50%.

Lorri Bodi (BPA): “In 2011 our spring chinook run (wild and hatchery) was the fifth highest since 1938.  In 2011 the summer chinook run (wild and hatchery) is expected to be the biggest in 30 years.”

Big fall chinook run expected on Columbia

Today’s Weekender Report from WDFW suggests SRKWs could have some good eating off the mouth of the Columbia this fall.  Does anyone have a read on how the Fraser chinook runs are faring this summer?  Why don’t killer whale conservationists have an easy way of monitoring the abundance of northwest salmon?

Anglers are reeling in chinook salmon off the coast, pulling up pots full of crab in Puget Sound, and casting for trout in alpine lakes on both sides of the Cascades.  Summer fisheries are in full swing, and anglers can look forward to even more great fishing opportunities in the days ahead.

A prime example is the Buoy 10 salmon fishery, which runs Aug. 1-28 at the mouth of the Columbia River. A big run of 776,300 fall chinook is expected to return to the big river this year, and fishery managers predict that anglers will catch approximately 11,000 of them between Buoy 10 and Rocky Point, 16 miles upriver.

“Buoy 10 is a very popular fishery, drawing tens of thousands of anglers every year,” said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).  “Fishing tends to start out slow, then accelerates quickly through the month of August.”

Fraser pollution and sockeye decline

In this Globe and Mail article, yet another suggestion that exposure to in-river contaminants may be a factor in the survival of Fraser River salmon:

Among the endocrine disrupting ingredients identified in the Fraser were industrial chemicals, pesticides, compounds with a carbon-metal bond, pharmaceuticals and “several estrogen-like compounds,” the report says.

It states that data are insufficient to evaluate the impact of endocrine-disrupting compounds, but notes reports from First Nation fishermen that salmon are smaller on average, increasingly have blotchy skin and of one male sockeye that had ovaries, are cause for concern.

Virus implicated in Fraser sockeye (and chinook?) mortality

The idea that a virus may play a part in the unpredictable Fraser river sockeye returns is (month) old news, but this article in Scientific American is the first to mention chinook that I’ve seen.  Perhaps the fate of the southern resident killer whales (who specialize on Fraser chinook in the summertime) is more connected than we thought to whatever marine factors govern the population dynamics of Fraser River sockeye?

“One of the most important findings of this study was the fact that salmon were already compromised before entering the river” on their journey home to spawn, she wrote. The scientists are currently studying juvenile salmon to see if the genomic signature is already present before they go out to the open ocean. Miller-Saunders also reports “there is some indication that the signature may be in Chinook and coho” salmon, too.

Glimpses into the Columbia spring chinook fishery

In our on-going efforts to monitor Pacific salmon dynamics and interpret them from the perspective of southern resident killer whales, today brings news of a 6-hour commercial net fishery opening on the lower Columbia River.  It’s amazing that it’s even worth going out in a boat when the catch is limited to the first six hatchery-origin chinook!  I guess one can infer there about 200 boats in the fleet, based on the limit and the predicted total catch of about 1200 chinook (70% from upper Columbia and Snake Rivers).

From the southern residents’ perspective, interesting questions are how many fish are expected and when are they arriving (especially compared to past years).  The article ends with this:

The forecast is for an upper Columbia run of 198,000. Through Sunday, a total of 262 spring chinook have been counted at Bonneville Dam.

The source of these data was revealed by a recreational fisher’s guide to catching spring chinook on the lower Columbia as the Fish Passage Center (FPC) which is in the business of counting fish in the ladders of the many Columbia River dams.  The guide also gave a big-picture description of the overall spring run timing as “about 6 weeks in late March through April” and provides a nice summary of how the fishery follows the fish up the various tributaries of the Columbia, starting with the Willamette (because OR releases hatchery fish there a couple weeks before WA).

It would be interesting to juxtapose the timing and locations of all available winter/spring orca sightings outside of Puget Sound from past years with the time series of spring Columbia (and Fraser?) fish passage.  For starters, here is a link to Columbia adult fish passage data, some of which are summarized in the following graph that shows the spring chinook run is just beginning on the Columbia.  And here I was thinking that commercial and recreational openings would not occur until some substantial portion of the run had made it to the spawning grounds!

Now is the time of year when the NWFSC crew would typically be preparing for their spring cruise to search for southern residents on the outer coast of WA, including off the Columbia where they have observed SRKWs feeding on chinook from the upper Columbia and Snake .  Unfortunately, NOAA funding and/or ship logistics have ruled out such a cruise this year.

Fraser and Bristol Bay sockeye runs compared

This article regarding a proposed open-pit mine in AK has a few insights into the Fraser River watershed, including this assertion that could suggest foci for conservation actions:

Mining, pulp mills, agriculture, forestry, roads and other development in the Fraser River watershed all cause water pollution and regular violations of water quality standards for copper, zinc, lead, cadmium, chromium and many other pollutants toxic to salmon.

Infrared detection of marine mammals

Live blog of a talk by Joseph Graber on “Land-based Infrared Imagery for Marine Mammal Detection” at UW/APL on March 10, 2011.

Admiralty Inlet tidal currents can exceed 3 m/s and is therefore a valuable prospect for tidal power generation.  The Inlet is also a migration corridor for marine mammals, most importantly southern resident killer whales.

Infrared radiation has a range of bands from about 1-10 micrometers. In July 2010 at Lime Kiln State Park, we tested a FLIR A40 IR camera, as well as Canon VB-C50FSi and Flea B/W digital cameras.  On July 7 we imaged 84 surfacing whales.

Here’s an example of the footage from the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC):

The key to detecting marine mammals is to detect the change in the temperature (T) contrast between the sea and the dorsal fin when a killer whale surfaces.  The mean temperature difference was about 2 oC.

How does it work? “Increased sky reflectivity at high incident angles lowers the apparent sea surface T and enhances detection.”

At 182m the camera only yielded one pixel to represent an orca which makes detection difficult beyond ~75m.   At greater ranges, detection can be assisted by blows which are sometimes discernible at ranges >100m when dorsal fins are hard to resolve. 

For clear conditions, T sky < T sea (about 4.3-7.3 oC vs 10.1 oC for the sea from a nearby buoy).

Ambient light, fog, and sea state can affect detection distance and reliability for visual and IR cameras.

Automated detection for IR could be accomplished by monitoring thermal gradients. Joe used thresholds (area, orientation, perimeter, and eccentricity) and frame-to-frame comparisons (to remove sporadic detections). This simple algorithm produced hits for 85% of a subset of the killer whales imaged in the Lime Kiln tests.