Culling Cormorants May Not Help Fish Survival

posted May 20, 2016



Shooting double-crested cormorants and suffocating their eggs with corn oil to reduce their predation on juvenile Snake River steelhead likely has no impact on the number of adult steelhead returning from the ocean to spawn, a US. Fish and Wildlife scientist has concluded.

Snake River steelhead are the species believed to be most affected by the fish-eating birds whose numbers have increased by remained stable since 2004. In fact, culling double-crested cormorants probably won’t improve the survival of other fish species, either, according to an analysis by Steven Haeseker, a fish biologist and biometrician with the agency’s Columbia River Fisheries office in Vancouver. He presented his resultstoday at a meeting of the Council’s Independent Scientific Advisory Board.

For the second year in a row, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is shooting cormorants and dousing their eggs on a tiny island built from dredged material near the mouth of the Columbia River. The intent is to reduce predation on salmon and steelhead smolts migrating through the estuary on their way to the ocean. Reducing predation by double-crested cormorants is among the actions in a 2014 federal plan to protect ESA-listed salmon and steelhead (recently rejected by a federal judge). The plan calls for reducing  the double-crested cormorant population in the estuary from about 13,000 nesting pairs to 5,300-5,900.

Cormorants crowd East Sand Island. Both photos: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

This year the killing began April 7, authorized by a “depredation permit” issued to the Corps by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on March 18. The birds hunt for fish in the area of East Sand Island, where they also build nests. The island is just south of the town of Chinook, Washington. The permit also allows the Corps to kill birds and oil nests on any other dredge-remain islands in the lower river. The limits in the permit are 3,114 double-crested cormorants and 5,000 nests in 2016. Last year more than 1,700 birds were killed and more than 5,000 nests were oiled.

But Haeseker’s analysis suggests it might not help.

He summarized his results, in part: “Cormorant consumption rates were not a significant factor for steelhead [smolt-adult-return rates] after accounting for the other freshwater and ocean factors.”

Using data from tagged Snake River steelhead, Haeseker showed that predation by double-crested cormorants was balanced by decreased mortality from other sources and that there was no impact on the number of adult fish returning from the ocean based on the number of outgoing smolts several years earlier. Thus, predation by cormorants had no effect on the number of returning adult fish. In comparison, however, the same data showed that mortality of juvenile Snake River steelhead by passage through the hydrosystem did reduce the number of returning adult fish, he said.

In April 2015, the Audubon Society of Portland and four other groups sought an injunction in federal court to prevent the killing, but a federal judge denied the request. The lawsuit continued this year but had not been decided by the time the killing began.


News article on the 2016 culling effort: Columbia Basin Bulletin, April 1, 2016

Corps of Engineers: Weekly report on cormorants

NOAA Fisheries: 2014 Supplemental Biop (see RPA Action No. 46, Page 410)






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Sea Lions Feast on Salmon and Steelhead at Bonneville Dam

posted May 19, 2016

Source: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Sea lions feasted on salmon and steelhead at Bonneville Dam during the first week of May, but the feeding frenzy declined the following week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported.

The daily number of observed catches peaked on May 3 at 329, the highest daily count of the year so far. Of those, 301 were spring Chinook salmon.

Through the end of that week, observed catches in 2016 totaled 3,804 Chinook and 96 steelhead. Based on that number, the Corps estimates that predation this year is higher than the 10-year average for the same time period. The Corps estimates that so far this year California sea lions have taken 5,667 Chinook salmon and Stellers have taken 2,434.

Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Observers also noted that the two types of sea lions in the river don’t always get along. Stellers have stolen fish out of the mouths of Californias 383 times this year, observers reported.

In the second week of May, the total number of observed catches of Chinook salmon began to decline, but the proportion of lamprey catches increased. So far, observers have seen 128 lamprey catches, 108 of those by California sea lions and 20 by Stellers. Most of the lamprey catches were on the Washington side of the river.

The number of observed white sturgeon catches has remained low this season, compared to past years – 29 so far, and most of them also on the Washington side.

Boat-based hazing of sea lions by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission began in March and takes place on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Dam-based hazing coordinated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture began on March 8 and takes place seven days a week. Information about hazing is posted on the sea lion management website of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Fish and wildlife agencies in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho have authorization to remove California sea lions that repeatedly have been observed preying on salmon and steelhead below Bonneville Dam. The authorization allows sea lions to be killed, but the first preference is to send them to zoos or aquariums. Since the week of April 4, a total of 54 have been trapped and killed. No sea lions were reported transferred to zoos or aquariums.

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Solar Power Grows in the Pacific Northwest

posted May 12, 2016

Boise City solar farm located in Kuna, Ada County, Idaho

The cost of solar has decreased dramatically, helping to spur its growth in the Northwest. Improving technologies have made installations more efficient, productive, and durable, while incentives from state legislation and the federal Clean Power Plan have also encouraged development. Further proof of this is in the Council’s recently adopted Seventh Power Plan, where for the first time, solar photovoltaic was assessed to be cost-competitive with wind and natural gas resources.

While there has been substantial solar development nationwide over the past five years – and in particular in good solar resource states like Arizona and California – the Pacific Northwest has seen limited development to-date. That's about to change with the introduction of several utility-scale solar PV projects in Southern Idaho and Southeastern Oregon. Idaho Power projects that over 300 megawatts of solar PV capacity will come online in their service territory by the end of the year. Considering that the largest project currently operating in the Pacific Northwest is the 5-megawatt Outback Solar in Christmas Valley, Oregon, these new installations, which will add several hundred megawatts to the regional power system, promise to be a valuable learning opportunity.

Council staff recently toured the new Boise City solar plant, a 40-megawatt single-axis tracking PV project expected to come online later this month. With about 175,000 poly-silicon panels covering over 560 acres of desert in Kuna, Ada County, this will be the first major solar project to light up the Northwest. As Idaho Power navigates integrating this variable generation into its system, it may find itself in situations where it must curtail some of its generation in times of high wind, good sun, or low load.

Utility-scale projects tend to be flashier in nature and snag the majority of the headlines. However, small rooftop residential and commercial solar installations have been steadily increasing their presence in the market as customers seek energy independence, or, for social economic reasons, “green” energy. For electricity consumers unable to install their own panels – due to location, renting a property, or the high cost of installing small systems - community solar projects are emerging as an appealing alternative. Either owned and maintained by a utility or a third party (who then sells the power to a utility), customers are able to buy a panel or share in a larger installation, making solar an affordable option and enabling them to access the social and financial benefits of the project.

What’s next for solar? Will it continue to grow and mature in the industry and form a presence in the Pacific Northwest? All signs seemingly point to yes. In late 2015, Congress approved an extension to the federal Investment Tax Credit, extending lucrative financial incentives to developers through 2022. And new data is emerging that shows operating solar projects are meeting their pre-development performance goals – a good sign that suggests with continued innovations in technology, solar performance and reliability will only improve.

Over the past decade, the region has witnessed the arrival of wind power as over 8,500 megawatts of capacity was developed and installed. The timing of the wind surge in the region was just right – Washington, Oregon, and Montana had just approved renewable portfolio standards and wind was the resource of choice for many of the complying utilities and load serving entities. In addition, Idaho's Energy Plan encouraged the development of cost-effective local renewable resources, contributing to the development of wind resources in Idaho. The region will likely not see a solar boom to that degree, however the timing is once again aligning for the next round of renewable development. While many regional utilities comply with state RPS targets through the early 2020s, they may look to take advantage of the extended tax incentives and develop or secure renewable energy credits from projects earlier rather than later. In addition, Oregon’s recently approved 50 percent RPS by 2040 indicates that Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp will be looking to develop or procure additional renewable investments.

Solar isn’t the only renewable on the rise, however. Renewed interest in conventional geothermal and ongoing innovations in enhanced geothermal systems could provide a baseload alternative to variable wind and solar generation. Small-scale biomass plants continue to pop up around the region as well, and energy storage technologies are becoming increasingly commercially viable.

Still, it seems like the time is right for solar to make its presence known in the region. Only time will tell how successful it will be.

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Cold-Water Hangouts in a Hot River

posted May 11, 2016


Where will salmon go if summer river temperatures rise to spa levels again, as they did in 2015?

Last year’s warm water in the Columbia was a disaster for summer-migrating salmon, notably sockeye. A quarter million of them died trying to migrate through the Columbia River Gorge on their way to spawn in the mountains of central Washington and Idaho, and southern British Columbia.

Since then, the United States Geological Survey has been on the hunt for cool places in the mainstem Columbia and Snake rivers and tributaries that could be enhanced, connected, or otherwise opened up to migrating fish when they need a break from lethally warm rivers, should a temperature emergency happen again.

“We want to identify and understand the sites that offer protections for fish," said Greg Fuhrer, USGS acting regional deputy director, at a Council meeting this week in Boise. “We want to be sure fish can get to those places.”

The summer of 2015 was a beast for cold-water fish, a calamity of converging insults including drought, heat, low snowpack, low runoff, and low flows.


River and stream flows last summer: Blue is good, yellow and orange are not. USGS map.


"Last year we were getting questions from states about where there would be streamflow problems, and we didn’t have specific answers," said Chris Konrad, a USGS research hydrologist.

The agency was able to use its extensive system of river gauges to assess the vulnerability of streams to the drought, he said. In addition, the agency is investigating streamflow response to the summer drought and heat in six western states to document the extent and severity of the drought and identify streams that resist drought. Drought-resistant streams have constant flows across years and can provide cold-water refugia for fish. These are the streams that should be prioritized for habitat protection and connection to each other.

Last summer the agency recorded flow information at 434 gauges across the Columbia River Basin in all of the major subbasins and watersheds. In addition to gauged sites, USGS measured low flows at 340 other sites in the Columbia River Basin. The Willamette River Basin, the Lower Columbia area, the Spokane River Basin, and the Upper Snake region had many rivers and streams with below-normal low flows. Low-elevation rivers and streams west of the Cascade Mountains had the most extreme low flows, the USGS reported.

The message from 2015 is that if the vulnerability of streams to low flows can be linked to specific factors, water managers will be able to do a better job forecasting where water availability is likely to be an issue in a particular year. The next steps for this research are to refine the assessment of potential cold-water refugia and, possibly in the future, expand the stream-vulnerability assessment, produce a map of drought-vulnerable streams, and assess groundwater recharge from snowmelt in rivers.

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Stay the Course on Scientific Research, Idaho’s Top Fish and Wildlife Official Says

posted May 10, 2016



The nature of scientific research, Idaho’s top fish and wildlife official told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council this week in Boise, is that answers are never black and white, but even in the face of uncertainty research must continue because over time we learn, adapt, and ultimately find support for changing procedures, policies, theories.

Virgil Moore, director of the Idaho Department of Fish & Game, pointed to the Idaho Supplementation Studies as an example – an experiment that has been ongoing for nearly 30 years in the Clearwater and Salmon rivers, and which has shown the strengths and weaknesses of using hatcheries to rebuild naturally spawning runs.

“This project shows it is important to have continuity and fidelity for what we do, Moore said. “We learned a lot as we moved forward.”

Moore, IDFG’s director for the last five years, pointed specifically to two areas of recent progress as examples of the long-term commitment and determination needed to protect, preserve, perpetuate, and mange fish and wildlife – the department’s mission. One is the Southern Idaho Wildlife Mitigation Agreement and the other is the continuing work to maintain fish screens that help juvenile fish stay in rivers and out of irrigation pumps and canals.

The Southern Idaho agreement provides Bonneville Power Administration money to fund a trust that will pay for projects that mitigate the impacts of hydropower dams on wildlife in that part of the state. Moore said he anticipates beginning work soon on a similar agreement to mitigate the wildlife impacts of Albeni Falls Dam in northern Idaho. Meanwhile, Moore said paying for the ongoing maintenance and operation of thousands of fish-diversion screens is critical to the future of salmon and steelhead mitigation efforts.

“The value of those facilities is unquestionable,” he said, adding that he was pleased that Idaho, the Council, and Bonneville have been working together to assure ongoing funding to keep the screens up to date and operating correctly.

In the longer term, Moore said issues like the renewal of the Columbia River Treaty with Canada, the future of the Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion, and the future of the Columbia Basin Fish Accords all are issues that will involve the region’s fish and wildlife agencies and tribes in collaborative discussions.

“These all are important to the future proper management of fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin,” He said.

Moore also took a moment at the end of his remarks to congratulate Bill Maslen, who retires this month as Bonneville’s fish and wildlife division director, thanking him for his long tenure at Bonneville and for the collaborative working relationship he helped create and maintain between IDFG and Bonneville.


Bill Maslen, left, and Virgil Moore.



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Touring Baker Dam

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Forest Fires and Fish Habitat

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Lunch and Learn With the Council

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Scenario Analysis Is Coming!

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Why We Have a Regional Power Plan

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Seventh Power Plan 101

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BPA Energy Efficiency Funding

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The Seventh Power Plan

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Designing for Efficiency

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The Flexibility Challenge

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