Steelhead listed as “threatened” in new proposal - Most ESA listings for regional fish, including spring Chinook, left alone

By Ann McCreary
Methow Valley News

June 3, 2004

Methow Valley, WA - Upper Columbia River steelhead, which spawn in tributaries in the Methow Valley, should be considered "threatened" rather than "endangered," according to recommendations by national fisheries officials.

A review of the status of 26 threatened or endangered fish species in the West resulted in only four changes in the way fish species are classified for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The review was conducted during the past two-and-a-half years by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

NOAA Fisheries announced the results of its biological status review of West Coast fish stocks last Friday (May 28), along with a new hatchery policy that determines how fisheries officials will account for hatchery fish in determining ESA listings.

Upper Columbia River steelhead, which includes resident rainbow trout, is one of 26 fish stocks currently listed as endangered. Endangered species are considered to be at risk of becoming extinct in the foreseeable future throughout or in part of their habitat.

NOAA has recommended moving the Upper Columbia River steelhead to the threatened list, which includes fish that are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future unless restoration actions are taken.

Fisheries officials reported that in the case of the Columbia River steelhead, hatchery programs "collectively mitigate the immediacy of extinction risk in total in the short term, but the contribution in the foreseeable future is uncertain."

NOAA Fisheries spokesman Brian Gorman said it’s unclear at this point what the impact of changing the steelhead listing will be on irrigation and other resource uses.

"There is a great deal more flexibility when an animal is listed as threatened rather than endangered," Gorman said. "The government has more flexibility in dealing with direct or indirect harm to threatened rather than endangered species. Frankly, I don’t know what, in terms of irrigation use, the practical effect would be. You still can’t kill or harm either threatened or endangered species."

Other listing changes proposed by NOAA include moving Sacramento Winter-run Chinook from endangered to threatened, and moving Central California Coast coho, now listed as threatened, to the more restrictive endangered list. NOAA also recommended that a new group–the Lower Columbia coho–should be added to the list of threatened fish and be provided protection under the ESA.

In the Columbia basin, two fish stocks–the Snake River sockeye salmon and the Upper Columbia spring-run Chinook–would remain classified as endangered.

The proposed classification of fish for protection, and the draft hatchery policy, will be open for public comment for 90 days. NOAA officials said public meetings will be held to allow input from interested citizens. The proposed listings would become final a year from now, and the hatchery policy will become a "final rule" shortly after the comment period ends.

According to a news release from NOAA, the proposed new hatchery policy’s focus is unchanged from prior policy–"the conservation of naturally spawning salmon and the ecosystems upon which they depend." The policy would consider hatchery fish that are closely related to naturally spawning salmon in all of the current ESA-listed salmon groups.

NOAA would also take into account the fact that some well-managed hatcheries are contributing to the recovery of species, while other hatcheries are having little effect and some are potentially hindering recovery, the agency said.

"This hatchery policy will reinforce NOAA’s commitment to protect naturally spawning salmon and their ecosystems," said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., under-secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

Bob Lohn, NOAA Fisheries Northwest regional administrator, said many of the fish stocks protected by the ESA are in better condition than when they were listed. "Favorable ocean conditions have helped, but local recovery efforts are making vital contributions," Lohn said.

He said local recovery efforts (such as the Northwest Power Planning Council’s sub-basin planning initiative in Washington, Idaho and Oregon) are encouraging.

NOAA’s proposed hatchery policy and the biological status review was prompted by a 2001 federal district court decision that faulted the agency for not properly considering hatchery fish in its decisions to list Oregon coast coho salmon for protection under the ESA. Rather than appeal the decision, NOAA chose to review its methods for evaluating hatchery fish and naturally spawned fish in determining whether a fish population needs protection.


Sub-basin plans released for comment

By Ann McCreary
Methow Valley News


Draft sub-basin plans for the Methow and Okanogan river sub-basins were submitted last Friday (May 28) to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

The NPCC will solicit public comment through early August.

The plans will also undergo review by scientific panels in June. Presentations of the Methow and Okanogan plans to scientific reviewers are scheduled for June 16 in Wenatchee, and are open to the public.

For more information contact Tony Grover, sub-basin planning coordinator for Washington state, at (360) 513-6801 or

Sub-basin plans have been developed for 58 sub-basins in the Northwest. The plans will help Bonneville Power Administration decide how to spend about $186 million annually during the next four years on fish and wildlife recovery projects throughout the Columbia River Basin. The recovery projects are intended to mitigate the effects of the Columbia River hydropower system.

The sub-basin plans will also serve as a foundation for state salmon recovery planning efforts in Okanogan County, which are scheduled to start this month. Information about local sub-basin planning efforts and upcoming salmon recovery planning is available at Okanogan County Water Resources, (509) 422-7113.

Following the summer review period, NPCC will adopt the sub-basin plans as a draft amendment to its 2000 Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. A second pubic comment period is expected this fall, with adoption of a final amendment by the end of this year.

Information about the sub-basin planning process, and electronic copies of the Methow Sub-basin Plan, are available at To receive information via email, contact Carol Winkel at



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