Adaptively Managing the WA Lower Columbia River Recovery Plan: Linking Salmon and Landscape-Scale Th

Year: 2020
Presenter/s: Amelia Johnson
Symposium Session: 2020 - 09 A watershed in transition: Salmon recovery in the East Fork Lewis River
Topics covered: beavers, community involvement, fish-cutthroat, fish-salmon, fish-steelhead, floodplain, lessons learned, monitoring, and risk


Salmon and steelhead recovery in the Lower Columbia River region relies on threat reductions and viability improvements to support Endangered Species Act (ESA) delisting and the long-term goal of establishing healthy and harvestable populations. To support these efforts, the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board (LCFRB) led the development of the Washington Lower Columbia Salmon Recovery and Fish & Wildlife Subbasin Plan (Washington Recovery Plan), which identifies ESA delisting viability targets for each population as well as 364 recovery actions across seven “all-H” threat categories to salmon and steelhead: stream habitat, estuarine habitat, ocean and climate conditions, hatcheries, harvest, hydropower, and ecological interactions. A 25-year planning horizon beginning with initial ESA listings (1998 – 1999) was identified in the Washington Recovery Plan for action implementation, although it is expected that threat reduction and fish responses will take much longer. Implementation of actions is voluntary, and may not occur or change over time as funding, new information, or other challenges and successes occur. Recovery partners are associated with individual actions, emphasizing the highly collaborative and grassroots level implementation necessary to achieve recovery.
Twenty years since the initial ESA listings, the LCFRB is reaching out to recovery partners to better understand action implementation and to assess viability progress at population and species-scales. This information is essential for determining 1.) if recovery actions are being implemented within the 25-year planning horizon identified in the Washington Recovery Plan, 2.) if action implementation is leading to expected threat reductions, and 3.) if salmon and steelhead are responding as expected.

Preliminarily, LCFRB and its partners are finding that action implementation is occurring, although many efforts are still ongoing without sufficient monitoring to determine success. For instance, the majority of hatchery and harvest recovery actions have been or are actively being implemented. However, monitoring of these actions, and any necessary management adjustments, are still in progress. With regard to salmon viability, estimates of natural original returns for Chinook and coho populations are too limited to assess long-term trends relative to delisting targets. In contrast, steelhead are doing well from an abundance perspective when 12-year median return estimates are compared to delisting targets. With the exception of three populations, chum salmon are struggling with very low returns for the majority of populations.

Although these efforts span the full region, a story is also emerging specific to the East Fork Lewis River watershed, which supports five high priority salmon and steelhead populations for recovery. Today, the LCFRB will share 1.) how region-wide Washington Recovery Plan reporting efforts are being linked to more local watershed planning and monitoring efforts in the East Fork Lewis River watershed and 2.) how local watershed efforts can in turn inform regional recovery implementation. This type of collaborative assessment is essential to adaptively managing the Washington Recovery Plan by providing support for more efficient and effective threat reduction efforts and, ultimately, salmon and steelhead recovery.