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Top Ten Trout 2016

Welcome to the end of 2016 and our 8th Annual Idaho Trout Unlimited’s ten trout tales, or stories affecting trout, salmon and steelhead and their watersheds in Idaho.   You can find the previous top ten stories for 2015201420132012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.

  1. Simon Says.  US District Court Judge Michael Simon ruled in May 2016 that the 2014 Biological Opinion on the Federal Columbia River dams violates the Endangered Species Act for failing to protect ESA-listed salmon and steelhead runs.  Later in the year the judge approved a timeline for the federal agencies to launch a new Environmental Impact Statement process that will take up to five years to complete.  Public open house events were held around the region in November and December.
  2. Bear River Narrows Dam is still dead.  In 2015 the staff for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recommended in an EIS that the license be denied for the Bear Rivers Narrows dam.  In June 2016 the FERC issued an official order (.pdf) denying the application for a federal hydropower license.
  3. Henry’s Fork Challenges.  As stated by the Henry’s Fork Foundation, “this was a year of unprecedented strain on fish populations and fishing opportunities. The Henry’s Fork watershed was not immune. The double whammy of early runoff and drier-than-normal conditions has robbed fish of sustained flows of cold water that they need. As we learn how to work with these challenges across western states, forging and sharing best practices watershed to watershed, your commitment to one of the world’s greatest fly-fishing streams is needed more than ever.”
  4. Arrowrock Intact, for now.  In May, the US Army Corps of Engineers stunned the Idaho Water Resource Board by walking away from a proposal to rebuild and raise Arrowrock Dam another 70 feet, adding to the already 348 foot tall structure and flooding more miles of free flowing, trout friendly waters in the South Fork Boise River and Middle Fork Boise River.  The additional backwater would convert the bull trout habitat to more seasonal slack water.  While the Corps determined the project has less than a 1:1 cost benefit ratio don’t count out attempts in the future to come up with a way to increase the reservoir.
  5. Water Sustainability Policy.  In November the Idaho Water Resource Board adopted a water sustainability policy (.pdf), an amendment to the state’s Comprehensive Water Resources Plan.  Thanks to efforts of many gourds and individuals including the Trout Unlimited Idaho Water Project Office the policy was strengthened and more balanced about multiple uses of water.  A prime example is the May 2016 draft policy makes no reference to fish whereas the adopted policy is does, and is better for it.
  6. Hunters and anglers support public lands.  A joint hearing at the Idaho Legislature in February was staged to hear from a couple of lawmakers from the state of Utah who visited Boise to pitch the Idaho Legislature on the Utah efforts to wrest control of public lands managed by federal government
    <em>Full house of opposition to state takeover of public lands.</em>
    Full house of opposition to state takeover of public lands.

    agencies with civil service professionals and turn the lands over to an uncertain future of state management until the next fiscal crisis occurs, where the lands would be vulnerable to sale and privatization.  The majority of people in the seats were there in opposition to this talk about transfer of public lands to the states.  Social media had churned through the weekend to get hunters, anglers, outdoors enthusiasts and conservation interests to show up for the hearing.  That there was no mingling among the crowd and legislators before the hearing indicated this was largely a Boise crowd who were there to show opposition to the land transfer ideas.

  7. Suction Dredge Mining.  The long-running, sometimes contentious topic of suction dredge mining of Idaho waters for “recreational” or commercial purposes continued it chronic presence in the state.  But some clearing of the issue appears to be happening, not unlike the shutting off of dredge discharge into a stream leads to a clearing of the waters.  First, the Idaho Legislature heard testimony on House Bill 510 in February and after three hours hearing from supporters and opponents of the bill (Trout Unlimited was well represented among the opponents), voted to hold the bill in committee where it died for the session.  Later in the year the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest issued a decision to allow for recreational dredge mining in the South Fork Clearwater River and a couple other streams under limited and strict conditions.  This decision at least provides an outlet for people at an appropriate time and place.  Finally late in the year the Environmental Protection Agency announced a settlement and fine of an individual for violation of the Clean Water Act for conducting dredge mining activities without the proper permits.  We hope this issue can continue to be dealt with the rational approach demonstrated in 2016.
  8. Technology enhances aquatic assessments.  The development of technologies to capture environmental DNA (eDNA) in the water column is a significant development in being able to identify presence or absence of fish species across large areas.  Late in the year aquatic scientists announced plans to complete an aquatic atlas showing the presence of fish species across the western United States.
  9. Pole Creek reconnection.  Near the headwaters of the might Salmon River, at the south end of the Sawtooth Valley lies Pole Creek.  This year work was completed to reconnect Pole Creek with stable stream flows to the Salmon river thanks to a cooperative project of the local ranch family, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (US Forest Service), and the Western Rivers Conservancy.
  10. Handling your catch.  In early 2016 the new fishing regulations were published by Idaho Fish and Game and they included information to anglers about proper methods for playing and releasing wild salmon and steelhead.  “Although this is isn’t a regulation to enforce keeping wild steelhead and salmon in the river I believe it is a very good step to educating anglers on proper handling of steelhead and salmon,” said Trout Unlimited member Troy Pearce who led the campaign to get the topic considered in the IDFG regulations.  “Another important outcome of our work is that Idaho Fish and Game is planning to investigate the issue further by doing an observation study of salmon and steelhead anglers and time-out-of-water which will help them determine if additional regulations are needed.”Pearce echoed that many anglers appreciate and respect the cooperative and collaborative efforts to put this information and study together with local fishing organizations and the folks at Fish and Game.Meanwhile, the Keep ’em Wet campaign continued to get notice as more organizations sign on to the principles of proper catch and release.  The Hemingway Chapter of Trout Unlimited makes available plastic zip lock bags for cell phones with the proper catch and release tips on the bag.

Dispatch from Lewiston

Last week, I attended the Columbia/Snake River Scoping Open House in Lewiston, Idaho. While there was a ton of information presented via pre-made posters (all of which you can find here http://www.crso.info/eis.html) it was not apparent, at least in layman’s terms, what exactly this is all about. While a veritable army of agency representatives are on hand to answer questions about their display boards, it seemed to me that answers were a bit inconsistent or incomplete. And while salmon and steelhead recovery IS what this is all about, these iconic Idaho fish are given attention no better than other topics such as the virtues of flat water recreation, cheap electric power and flood control.

<em>The public scoping meeting in Lewiston attracted a lot of people.</em>
The public scoping meeting in Lewiston attracted a lot of people.

This current round of scoping stems from a decision handed down in federal court earlier this year. In May, federal Judge Michael Simon rejected the latest in a long series of deficient federal plans to address the impacts on wild steelhead and salmon of the complex of federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. The latest plan, a “biological opinion” produced in 2014, was the fifth such plan rejected by a federal court since 2000.

In a strongly worded opinion, Judge Simon found the 2014 plan flawed on multiple grounds.

An added twist in this round of litigation is Judge Simon’s decision that orderes the federal hydropower system operating agencies to also prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  The last EIS was completed in 2002, and this enormous but critically important undertaking will take five years to complete. In particular, Judge Simon told the agencies to analyze removal of the four lower Snake River dams as a recovery option for Snake River fish — the first time in 15 years this option will be considered.  Previous biological opinions that have been ruled illegal have only considered minor tweaks to the existing hydropower system rather than looking at what is needed to conserve and recover the species and designing a plan that can effectively contribute to recovery of these magnificent fish species.

The first phase of the EIS process is scoping of the analysis, and the public has an opportunity to weigh in. Fifteen scoping hearings are being held across the region (One is coming up in Boise on November 29th starting at 4pm at the Grove Hotel) and written comments can also be submitted (due January 17th, 2017). The scoping period offers a chance for all interested parties to let the dam management agencies know what they should consider when reviewing the Columbia and Snake river dams in relation to wild steelhead and salmon recovery.

This is a rare opportunity for angler-advocates to call for actions that will dramatically improve the prospects for wild steelhead and salmon in the Columbia and Snake River basins. I cannot make the Boise meeting, but I hope that you can.   Don’t be afraid to ask questions and let them know that wild steelhead and salmon are important to you.

You can find more details on the Nov. 29 Boise meeting and talking points here .pdf.

If you can’t make the meeting or would rather comment from your own computer we have a handy form with pre-filled comments available here http://www.tu.org/wsu-action?vvsrc=%2fcampaigns%2f48621%2frespond to get you started.

Thanks for your help!

Michael Gibson is Idaho Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsman Conservation Project. He is helping organize TU members and other angler-advocates in Idaho and Montana around the scoping effort. He lives in Boise. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact him at mgibson@tu.org