Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Western Fisheries Science News, September 2017 | Issue 5.9

October 25, 2017

Conducting Risk Assessments for the Reintroduction of Salmon in the Upper Columbia River

Chief Joseph Dam tailrace
Photograph showing Chief Joseph Dam tailrace, with Tribal fishing scaffold and fish ladder in immediate background, and Chief Joseph Dam in far background. Photograph by Casey Baldwin, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, August 15, 2015. Used with permission.

The Columbia River, the largest river in the Pacific Northwest, comes from free-flowing headwaters in the Canadian Rockies where snowmelt and spring water fill Columbia Lake in British Columbia.  From there, the river flows 1,243 miles to the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia River Basin comprises about 260,000 miles and includes parts of seven states, 13 federally recognized Indian reservations, and one Canadian province. The river and its tributaries have been central to the region’s culture and economy for thousands of years and home to many fish species, including the iconic salmon. However, the construction of Grand Coulee Dam—the largest capacity hydropower project in the United States—and Chief Joseph Dam in northeastern Washington blocked the upstream migration of salmon to the upper Columbia River.  These hydroelectric projects cut off access to more than 1,779 km of spawning habitat, and altered the natural flow regime of the river. These changes resulted in the loss of millions of salmon to indigenous people of the Columbia Basin each year.

Restoring Ecosystem Function and Culture  

The Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT; Spokane, Colville, Kootenai, Coeur d’Alene, and Kalispel Tribes) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are interested in reintroducing    anadromous salmon to their historical range to restore ecosystem function and lost cultural and spiritual relationships in the upper Columbia River in northeastern Washington. The prospect of reintroduction comes with a number of challenges and potential risks to fish populations above the dams. The UCUT contacted and partnered with the USGS Western Fisheries Research Center (WFRC) to assess risks to the existing fish populations in the reintroduction area upstream of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams and to monitor the reintroduction of salmon.

Framework for the Reintroduction of Salmon

In a new USGS report, scientists from WFRC developed a risk assessment framework for reintroduction of anadromous salmonids upstream of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams. They applied strategies identified in previous risk assessment frameworks for reintroductions. An initial list of potential donor sources for reintroduction species was developed from previous published sources. During two workshops, scientists identified and ranked potential donor sources of anadromous Redband Trout (steelhead), Chinook Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, and Coho Salmon. They also identified resident fish populations of interest and their primary habitat, location, status, and pathogen concerns to determine the potential risks of reintroduction. The scientists assessed the pathogen risk of each potential donor for introducing new pathogens and the increased impact of existing pathogens to resident species upstream of the dams. They considered genetic risks to resident and downstream conspecifics and ecological impacts, including competition for food and space, predator-prey interactions, and ecosystem benefits/impacts. The information was synthesized by species for all potential donors, in which an overall score and ranking system was established for decision support in donor selection for reintroduction into the upper Columbia River. 

Future Research Needed

This risk assessment is an initial first step to better understand reintroduction risks and donor selection. There are still many unknowns to examine such as reservoir survival, fish passage, density-dependent competition, and habitat suitability. The decision framework provided in this study, and the collaboration with partners will help support future decisions in the upper Columbia River with regards to fish reintroductions.

Newsletter Author: Rachel Reagan



USGS at Northwest Climate Conference: On October 10, 2017, Steve Waste and Jill Hardiman of the WFRC led a session at the 8th Annual Climate Conference in Tacoma, WA. The session titled “Developing climate-smart strategies to conserve species and habitats through vulnerability assessments” provided an overview of the Columbia Basin Partner Forum and Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative initiative to develop decision frameworks for climate adaptation for several species and habitats. The NW Climate Conference brings together more than 300 researchers and practitioners from around the region to discuss scientific results, challenges, and solutions related to the impacts of climate on people, natural resources, and infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest. 

USGS Scientists Participate in Fish Health Meeting: Four scientists from the WFRC—Diane Elliott, Gael Kurath, Maureen Purcell and Paul Hershberger—participated in discussions of important fish diseases at the autumn meeting of the Pacific Northwest Fish Health Protection Committee, held in Manchester, WA, on September 19-20, 2017. The meeting is attended by fish pathologists and administrative personnel from state, federal, tribal, and private entities concerned with the health of cultured or wild fish stocks in the Pacific Northwest. One session of the meeting focused on bacterial kidney disease (BKD) of salmonid fishes; emeritus scientist Diane Elliott gave a presentation on BKD diagnostics in this session. In another session, Gael Kurath presented an update on typing and research on infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV) of salmonids.

USGS Presents at Washington State Academy of Sciences Meeting: On September 14th, 2017, WFRC emeritus scientist Jim Winton presented an invited talk at the annual meeting of the Washington State Academy of Sciences. Attended by more than 150 of the leading scientists in the state, the talk titled “The Impact of Climate Change on Diseases of Fish” was part of a symposium on Climate Change in Washington State.

In the News

On September 6, 2017, USGS scientists were quoted in Courthouse News Service about an article published this week in Ecology and Evolution on landscape ecology of infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus in salmonids. The research included scientists from the Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies, Cornell University, University of Alabama, University of Washington, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and WFRC.

On September 1, 2017, WFRC scientists Nancy Elder and Steve Rubin were featured on Seattle television station KING-5 as they conducted dive surveys to monitor the Elwha River Delta following dam removal. The piece included underwater video and interviews of both Elder and Rubin. USGS has been monitoring the Elwha River Delta for 10 years, giving them an opportunity to see changes since the dams were removed on the Elwha River.


Hardiman, J.M., Breyta, R.B., Haskell, C.A., Ostberg, C.O., Hatten, J.R., and Connolly, P.J., 2017, Risk assessment for the reintroduction of anadromous salmonids upstream of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams, northeastern Washington: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2017 -1113, 87 p.

Borin, J.M., M.L. Moser, A.G. Hansen, D.A. Beauchamp, S.C. Corbett, B.R. Dumbauld, C. Pruitt, J.L. Ruesink, and C. Donoghue. 2017. Energetic requirements of green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris) feeding on burrowing shrimp (Neotrypaea californiensis) in estuaries: importance of temperature, reproductive investment, and residence time. Environ. Biol. Fish. (2017): 1-13.

Get Our News

These items are in the RSS feed format (Really Simple Syndication) based on categories such as topics, locations, and more. You can install and RSS reader browser extension, software, or use a third-party service to receive immediate news updates depending on the feed that you have added. If you click the feed links below, they may look strange because they are simply XML code. An RSS reader can easily read this code and push out a notification to you when something new is posted to our site.