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Juvenile salmonid monitoring to assess natural recolonization following removal of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River, Washington, 2016–21

February 22, 2023

Condit Dam was removed from river kilometer (rkm) 5.3 of the White Salmon River, Washington, in 2011 and 2012 after blocking upstream passage of anadromous fish for nearly 100 years. The dam removal opened habitat upstream and improved habitat downstream with addition of cobble and gravel to a reach depauperate of spawning and rearing habitat. We assessed juvenile anadromous salmonid abundance and distribution in the subbasin from 2016 through 2021 to evaluate the efficacy of natural recolonization. We sampled for outmigrant smolts and other life-history stages at a rotary screw trap at rkm 2.3 and for juvenile abundance at sites in Buck and Rattlesnake Creeks, two primary tributaries upstream from the former dam location.

We estimated smolt abundance of steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and coho salmon (O. kisutch) at the screw-trap site during most years of the study. High flow and missed trapping days in 2017 precluded estimates, and the trap was not fished during 2020 because of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Steelhead smolt-abundance estimates ranged from 3,581 to 5,851 fish; coho salmon smolt-abundance estimates ranged from 1,093 to 1,773 fish, although in 2021, only 2 coho salmon smolt were captured and no estimate was made.

Other species and life stages also were captured in the screw trap. Steelhead and coho salmon fry and parr, and Chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha) fry were captured, indicating the presence and likely use of improved habitat downstream from the former dam site by multiple life stages and spawning success upstream from the screw-trap site. Chinook salmon fry were captured, indicating spawning success upstream from the screw-trap site. Fry numbers varied greatly by day and year. Yearly variation in Chinook and coho salmon fry numbers may have been influenced by high flows following spawning causing redd scour and egg-to-fry mortality. Three bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) were caught in the screw trap, one in June 2018, one in June 2019, and one in June 2021. All three bull trout showed smolt characteristics and were tagged with passive integrated transponders (PITs). The bull trout captured in June 2018 was detected at Bonneville Dam Corner Collector several days later, indicating likely anadromy. We also captured lamprey in the screw trap: 44 during 2018, 31 during 2019, and 11 during 2021; we believe most were adult brook lamprey (Lampetra richardsoni), although some could have been Pacific lamprey (Entosphenus tridentatus) macropthalmia.

We confirmed the presence of juvenile steelhead (through smolt origin data) and coho salmon in Mill, Buck, and Rattlesnake Creeks, which are all upstream from the former site of Condit Dam. Juvenile salmonid abundance sampling at a site in Buck Creek during 2016–20 indicated the presence of juvenile coho salmon in all years except 2020. Total salmonid abundance (steelhead and coho salmon combined) at the Buck Creek site each year exceeded abundance in sampling prior to dam removal in 2009 and 2010. Juvenile salmonid abundance sampling in Rattlesnake Creek during 2016–20 indicated the presence of juvenile coho salmon in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Total juvenile salmonid abundance at the Rattlesnake Creek site was highly variable, sometimes exceeding and sometimes less than abundance prior to dam removal during 2001–05. During the period covered by this report, adult salmonid returns to the Columbia River were decreasing, largely because of marine survival. The extent to which this basin-wide decrease affected adult returns and juvenile populations in the White Salmon River subbasin is not known.

Despite a period of poor marine survival, PIT-tagged smolt and juvenile steelhead and coho salmon from the screw trap and tributaries returned to Bonneville Dam. Smolt-to-adult return rates from the screw trap to Bonneville Dam were similar to those in other nearby rivers during this period. However, data are still incomplete for some years and sample sizes were low. Future tagging and monitoring would be beneficial to track this valuable metric.

Genetic samples from steelhead smolt and parr collected at the screw trap and some main-stem electrofishing during 2016 were analyzed for Genetic Stock Identification (GSI) by CRITFC. Preliminary data showed that White Salmon River fish were the most common at about 42 percent, with 19 percent typing to Hood River, Oregon stock, and about 26 percent typing to Skamania stock, a common hatchery stock in the area. Winter and summer runs were represented in the samples.

Juvenile salmonid sampling in the White Salmon River, Washington, following removal of Condit Dam, demonstrated that anadromous salmonids are using newly opened habitat upstream from the former dam site and improved lower river habitat. Steelhead and coho salmon smolts are being produced upstream from the former dam site, and some have returned to Bonneville Dam as adults. Chinook salmon spawning upstream from our smolt trap site are producing fry. These results are encouraging for success of the strictly natural recolonization strategy. However, declines in anadromous runs to the larger Columbia River Basin also likely have affected the White Salmon runs and our data may not reflect full capacity of the White Salmon River subbasin juvenile production. Continued abundance, distribution, and GSI monitoring will help to track the evolution of anadromous fish in the White Salmon River under a natural recolonization strategy.

Publication Year 2023
Title Juvenile salmonid monitoring to assess natural recolonization following removal of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River, Washington, 2016–21
DOI 10.3133/ofr20221117
Authors Ian G. Jezorek, Jill M. Hardiman
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2022-1117
Index ID ofr20221117
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Fisheries Research Center