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Wind River subbasin restoration: Annual report of US..Geological Survey activities, January 2018 through December 2018

March 2, 2020

We sampled juvenile wild Steelhead Oncorhynchus mykiss in headwater streams of the Wind River, WA, to characterize populations and investigate life-history metrics, particularly migratory patterns. We used Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT)-tagging and a series of instream PIT-tag interrogation systems (PTISs) to track juveniles. The Wind River subbasin is considered a wild Steelhead refuge by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). No hatchery Steelhead have been planted in the Wind River subbasin since 1997, and hatchery adults are estimated to be less than one percent of spawners in most years (pers comm. Thomas Buehrens, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife). Our repeated headwater sampling of consistent sites in the Wind River subbasin has also allowed us to track relative abundance of Brook Trout, a non-native species to the Wind River. Our work is contributing to understanding of Steelhead population response to numerous restoration actions in the subbasin, including removal of Hemlock Dam from Trout Creek in 2009, where our PTISs are helping to quantify adult response.

Data from our study, and companion work by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, are contributing to Bonneville Power Administration’s (BPA) Research Monitoring and Evaluation (RM&E) Program Strategy of Fish Population Status Monitoring ( Specifically this work addresses the sub-strategies of: 1) Assessing the Status and Trends of Diversity of Natural Origin Fish Populations and to Uncertainties Research regarding differing life histories of a wild Steelhead population, 2) Assessing the Status and Trend of Adult Natural Origin Fish Populations, and 3) Monitoring and Evaluating the Effectiveness of Tributary Habitat Actions Relative to Environmental, Physical, or Biological Performance Objectives. Our headwaters parr PIT tagging, WDFW parr, smolt, and adult tagging and our instream PTISs are providing data on movements and life histories of parr, smolt, and adult Steelhead.

During summer 2018, we PIT-tagged 1,592 age-0 and age-1 Steelhead parr in headwater areas of the Wind River subbasin to characterize population traits and investigate life-history diversity, including growth and pre-smolt downstream movement. Repeat headwater sampling and smolt trap operations provide opportunities for recapture, and instream PTISs and Columbia River infrastructure provide opportunity for detection of PIT-tagged fish. Throughout the year, we maintained a series of six instream PTISs to monitor movement of tagged Steelhead parr, smolts, and adults.

Detections at the instream PTISs have demonstrated trends of age-0 and age-1 parr emigration from natal areas during summer and fall, in addition to the expected movement of parr and smolts in spring. Substantial numbers of parr make downstream movements as age-1 fish. We have estimated that from 15 to 33 percent of parr tagged as age-0 fish make downstream migrations at age-1 for additional rearing. We have estimated that from 1 to 27 percent of parr tagged as age-1 fish make downstream migrations during fall. These findings raise many questions about parr rearing strategies, habitat use, and success of these migrants and suggest a need for broader monitoring of juvenile Steelhead in some river systems to fully document juvenile production. Long-term monitoring of PIT-tagged fish is providing information on contribution of various life-history strategies to smolt production and adult returns.

Movements of PIT-tagged adult Steelhead were recorded at instream PTISs. These data have allowed assessment of adult returns to tributary watersheds within the Wind River subbasin. Detection efficiency of adult PIT-tagged Steelhead at our primary adult-monitoring PTIS in Trout Creek has been greater than 92 percent during 6 of the past 7 years. This is providing excellent data to estimate adult returns to this watershed. Determination of adult use of tributary watersheds is providing data to help evaluate the efficacy of the removal of Hemlock Dam on Trout Creek. Hemlock Dam, located at rkm 2.0 of Trout Creek, was removed in summer 2009. The dam contributed to hydrologic impairment of Trout Creek and had potential negative effects on Steelhead. The improvements made to the upper Wind River PTIS (site code WRU at rkm 28.3; better site characteristics and grid power) during 2016 and 2017, and a planned new site in the Mine Reach of the upper Wind River, will allow estimates of subbasin adult escapement like those in Trout Creek.

During 2018, we also completed planning and permitting with U.S. Forest Service for a new PTIS site at rkm 36 of the Wind River (the Mine Reach, mentioned above). This site will replace two sites (one in Paradise Creek and one at rkm 41 of the Wind River), which had operational challenges due to lack of adequate solar power and winter difficulties. The new Mine Reach PTIS site at rkm 36, will have better solar exposure, fewer winter operations difficulties, and provide opportunity to detect fish from juvenile sampling sites that were downstream of the previous two PTISs. The more consistent operation of the new Mine Reach PTIS site will increase our ability to estimate migrant abundance as all the juveniles tagged upstream of it will be subject to the same potential detection history, instead of three different potential detection histories as before. Additionally, with the new Mine Reach PTIS site lower in the watershed, it will subject more PIT-tagged adult Steelhead to detection and provide ability to generate a nonbiased adult-detection efficiency estimate for the WRU PTIS at rkm 28.3 of the Wind River. This will provide the opportunity to estimate yearly adult Steelhead abundance to the upper Wind watershed area. Permitting is complete and some supplies have been purchased to build and install this new site in 2019.

Repeat sampling at consistent locations in the subbasin has allowed investigation into juvenile Steelhead growth patterns. Growth rates (relative change in weight) of age-0 PIT-tagged parr during summer are similar across the subbasin, but lower for age-1 parr in the Trout Creek watershed than the upper Wind River watershed. Yearly growth for parr tagged at age-0 is similar across the subbasin. Yearly growth for parr tagged at age-1 is lowest in Martha Creek, but similar elsewhere.

Non-native Brook Trout are present in portions of the subbasin, chiefly the Trout Creek watershed, and repeat sampling has allowed us to index their prevalence. Percentage of catch that is Brook Trout at each of four sample sites in Trout Creek have declined from the period 1998 – 2003 to the period 2011 – 2018. There was a pattern of decline in percent of catch and number of Brook Trout at the Trout Creek sites from 2011 through 2016, though a slight upward trend during 2017 and 2018 has been evident. 

Evaluating and planning restoration efforts are of interest to many managers and agencies to ensure efficient use of resources. The evaluation of various life-histories of Steelhead within the Wind River subbasin will provide information to better track populations, and to direct habitat restoration and water allocation planning. Movement of Steelhead parr raises many questions regarding estimating juvenile abundance, origin, and habitat use within watersheds. Improved PTISs and focused PIT tagging of age-0 and age-1 Steelhead parr are increasingly allowing us to investigate such questions. Increasingly detailed Viable Salmonid Population information, such as that provided by PIT-tagging and instream PTISs networks like those in the Wind River subbasin, provide data to inform policy and management, as life-history strategies and production bottlenecks are identified and understood.

Publication Year 2020
Title Wind River subbasin restoration: Annual report of US..Geological Survey activities, January 2018 through December 2018
Authors Ian G. Jezorek
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Index ID 70209070
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Fisheries Research Center