At last, the most wonderful time of the year is upon us - the season of wild steelhead.
After a scorching summer, we are seeing rain and cooler nights and a renewed sense of urgency among anglers. It's time to start patching waders, sorting tackle, fixing reels - time to keep one eye to the sky and one on the dam counts.
It's the time we relish, but also the time to put our hard work to the test. From Alaska to California, we are using the same determination we bring to our steelhead fishing to our wild steelhead conservation work; improving habitat, restoring runs of wild fish, improving fisheries management, and educating the angling public on the most up-to-date science. We continue to make progress on a variety of issues and places-dam removal in California, wild steelhead gene banks in Washington, and legislation that would designate a wild steelhead sanctuary on the upper Rogue River in Oregon being just a few examples.
Take a moment to read about our recent work and results- and how you can help.
Four things you can do right now to help wild steelhead
Advocate for southeast Alaska's wild steelhead.
The Tongass National Forest is taking comments on the Tongass Land Management Plan, which will determine management priorities and resource protections for the forest in the future. Tell the Forest Service to protect 77 key watersheds identified by scientists, fishing interests and others as the most important unprotected steelhead and salmon habitat in Southeast Alaska. http://www.americansalmonforest.org/take-action.html
Protect the Oregon/California Smith River from mining.
In the headwaters of the Smith River on the Oregon/California border a proposed large-scale nickel mine threatens key steelhead spawning tributaries. The BLM has temporarily withdrawn the mining proposal pending review of the area for special designation, as proposed in recent legislation by members of Congress from Oregon and California. Take a moment to tell them to make this withdrawal permanent.
Find your niche in Wild Steelheaders United
Nearly 3,000 have signed the Wild Steelheaders United credo so far. That's good, but we can do better. Commit yourself to helping our cause by getting at least one of your fishing buddies to sign the WSU Credo. Of course, you can also make a donation, and there are other ways to contribute. But boosting our sheer numbers is very important. Go to a local Trout Unlimited meeting and ask how you can help with your local river. You can find it here. Forward this newsletter to friends and encourage them to sign the Credo. Donate $40 or more and get a Wild Steelheaders United hat. Donate here.
Help protect 14,000 miles of streams in Oregon
The Oregon Board of Forestry is considering increasing buffers around riparian zones. Currently, those buffers are only 20 feet, which is inadequate for providing the shade needed to keep water cool. Studies have shown that a 120 buffer is adequate. We are asking the board to consider 110 feet. To learn more, check out our blog and contact the Board to tell them you support protecting Oregon's streams and rivers.
The steelhead portfolio: Conserving diversity with diversity
By John McMillan: Science director for Trout Unlimited's Wild Steelhead Initiative
This summer, both drought and fire have underscored one important fact: The old way of doing things will not restore healthy, fishable wild steelhead populations. We have to be proactive, rather than reactive, if we want fishable populations of wild steelhead in the future.
This is not a criticism of any manager, group or individual. We have all walked the path together. What happened in the past is not important except for what it teaches us moving forward. One such lesson is that conservation of a species like steelhead that thrives because of its diversity will require a multitude of approaches, ranging from better fisheries management to improved stream flows and temperatures.
Our goal with the Wild Steelhead Initiative is to diversify and prioritize conservation actions in the same way financial portfolios are managed. That is, to have a collection of several assets rather than one or a few because not all assets will perform equally well as time passes. A hedged bet if you will. The portfolio concept is applicable to all salmon, but particularly to steelhead. Each life history is analogous to a different asset.
A life history is the catalogue of what a fish does to reach maturity (for example, the age at which a fish enters the ocean, or how long they spend at sea before returning to spawn). These details can differ greatly from one fish to the next. Any given steelhead population may support upwards of 30-36 life histories, the most of any salmon, trout, or char. In short, diversity is their calling card.
Just like some products in the financial market, some life histories survive better than others. For example, researcher Jonathan Moore and others found that while three different life histories were the most prevalent in a given year for steelhead in the Nass River, B.C., no life history ever represented more than 45% of the population. The diversity dampened variation in abundance and improved stability by more than 20%.
Given that one steelhead can be very different from the next, the health of the environment around them becomes extremely important. Life histories are affected by several factors, including the diversity of available habitat, population genetics, and fishery management. That is why Wild Steelheaders United is pursuing a variety of conservation approaches,(some of our recent work is discussed below).
Rebuilding wild steelhead diversity will require a strategic, coordinated set of actions designed for individual populations and watersheds, and that is precisely what our Wild Steelhead Initiative is all about. Steelhead depend on a diversified portfolio of life histories for their health and resilience. . And our opportunity to fish for them depends on our success in maintaining that portfolio.
I'll boil it down this way: More life histories = more population resilience = more consistent annual run size = more fishing opportunity.
The State of our Progress
For years, Trout Unlimited has been working with agencies and industry to improve timber harvesting practices in Oregon. In July, Dean Finnerty, Southwest Oregon Coordinator for TU, testified in support of increasing private land timber buffers along rivers and streams from 20 feet to the scientifically supported distance of 110 feet. If the proposal passes, thousands of miles of steelhead streams will benefit from the cold water created by bigger, healthier riparian zones. Take Action
Further south, we are asking people to support mineral withdrawal on the Upper Smith River, which is threatened by proposed nickel mining. The comment period closes Sept. 28, so submit yours today!
TU's Blueback Chapter conducted a highly popular volunteer snorkel survey in August, continuing the great tradition of citizen science on the Siletz River.The survey will help the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife determine the range of rare coastal summer steelhead and their interaction with hatchery fish.
Finally, support continues to grow in the Deschutes Basin for Opal Springs fish passage on the Crooked River. To learn more about this project by TU's Deschutes Chapter go to their site.
On the Carmel River, the final phase of the San Clemente Dam Removal Project was implemented, restoring steelhead passage to some 25 miles of historic spawning and rearing habitat. TU's Central Coast Steelhead Project is working to remove seven smaller concrete blockages that remain in the upper watershed, as well as fish passage barriers in other steelhead rivers, including the Big Sur.
WSU has been leading the charge to get the Washington Department of
Fish and Wildlife to designate the Skagit, Elwha, and Puyallup/White rivers as "wild steelhead gene banks," which means that they would not receive any hatchery steelhead. We appreciate the efforts of the many steelheaders who spoke up in favor of these designations. Here is the link to the Seattle Times editorial submitted by TU leaders, Derek Young and Chris Taylor, on the topic. WDFW is scheduled to make a decision on the future of gene banks in the Puget Sound region shortly, so stay tuned.
On the east side, the Upper Columbia Basin has become an epicenter for salmon and steelhead recovery success stories as ranchers and farmers make voluntary changes that keep more water in steelhead rivers and allow fish passage. This summer, TU began work on irrigation efficiency projects in the Methow, Entiat and Wenatchee Basins of North Central Washington, which will increase flows in crucial tributaries for summer steelhead.
In August, TU met with Bill Bennett, British Columbia's Minister of Mining and Environment, to discuss concerns about impacts proposed mines might have on Southeast Alaska steelhead and salmon rivers. We are working to ensure that, if they are built, measures are in place to protect steelhead and salmon.
In the Tongass National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service is modifying the forest plan, which will guide future management. The Tongass is the largest national forest in the country (roughly the size of West Virginia)) and a mecca for wild steelhead. Currently, development is still allowed in highly important steelhead watersheds. Take a moment to support protection of these 77 key watersheds.
On the West Fork of the Yankee Fork in the upper Salmon River basin, TU has been busy working to restore spawning habitat in an area that was heavily dredge-mined a century ago.
The project includes a new river channel full of large wood structures, excavated pools, constructed riffles, glides and point bars. Next July, the entire mainstem Yankee Fork River will be diverted into the new channel. The existing channel will be ideal for rearing and spawning steelhead.