Climate Change to Add New Habitat Threats for Pacific NW Salmon

Despite the current trend of positive news regarding salmon habitat in the Pacific Northwest, which includes dam removal and associated habitat restoration efforts, a recent study suggests that global warming will pose a very significant threat to salmon populations that migrate through the waters of that region. According to the study, the continuing trend of rising global temperatures will lead to an rise in water temperatures that will render an increasing amount of habitat dangerous to migrating salmon.

As salmon migrate, they must avoid thermal pockets in streams and rivers where the water temperature is outside their range of tolerance. For most salmon, this is around 70 degrees. Above that threshold, conditions become dangerous and potentially fatal. The results of the study, led by University of Washington professor Nathan Manuta, indicate that -- in the next decade alone -- water temperatures in several Pacific NW waters will rise 1-2 degrees. While this rise may seem modest, the study indicates that this increase in temperature will push a considerable amount of habitat currently in the upper reaches of salmon tolerance into a zone of potentially fatal conditions. This is especially true for waters of the lower Columbia and Snake rivers.

Deer Creek Falls and fish ladder, near Highway 32 in Tehema County, California.

In an era where the oil and gas drilling industries are lobbying heavily at the federal, state and local levels against oil and gas extraction fees, last week's announcement from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) may serve as a reminder of just how important and vital these fees can be. In 2011, over 40 million dollars worth of land acquisition purchases were made using oil and gas extraction fees. Lands were acquired in Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Washington as part of an an ongoing program established in 1965.

Each year, four federal agencies -- the USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management -- identify high value land acquisition targets recommended for purchase. To date, over 7 million acres have been purchased. The lands are purchased with the goal of providing recreational opportunities, protecting scenic landscapes, preserving wildlife habitat, protecting clean water and enhancing the public's overall quality of life.

The shore of Bristol Bay near Naknek.

Since the active exploration of the proposed Pebble Mine area in Bristol Bay, Alaska began in 2002, the potential impacts and other issues surrounding the proposed mining project have been on the forefronts of minds across the country and across the globe. Discovered in 1986, the Pebble Mine area of Bristol Bay is home to one of the largest deposits of copper, gold, and molybdenum in the world. Bristol Bay also happens to be home to what is considered to be the largest wild salmon fishery in the world. Opponents to the proposed Pebble Mine project have warned for years about the potential disastrous consequences of the project, but the issue is likely to come to a head this year as the owner and driving force behind the exploratory project, Northern Dynasty, intends to file permit applications this year.

Northern Dynasty has already filed for water-use permits from the Upper Talarik Creek and the Koktuli River, in the amount of 35 billion gallons per year (about 4 times the annual water usage of the city of Anchorage). More permit applications are expected once Northern Dynasty completes its 91 million dollar pre-feasibility study some time this year. Proponents of the mining project argue that the revenue opportunities for the state of Alaska and the 1000-2000 jobs that the project is expected to create are too valuable to ignore. Northern Dynasty and its supporters also point out that the poor environmental record of mining operations similar to the proposed Pebble Mine project are the result of a lack of technology, a barrier which has since been removed.

Record Salmon Season Predicted Klamath River

In a statement released yesterday, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council presented several alternatives to currently in-place management practices for the upcoming Chinook and Coho salmon season. According to the statement, a combination of good river conditions and excellent ocean conditions has led to what is expected to be above-average returns for most rivers in northern California and southern and central Oregon.

Returns of Chinook to the Sacramento, Rogue, and Klamath are expected to be "well above" last year's totals, with the Klamath expected to see four times as many returning salmon versus last year. When compared to totals from 2006, the forecasted returns for 2012 are expected to be an estimated 15 times greater. The current ocean population of Klamath Chinook is estimated at 1.6 million, one of the highest totals ever recorded.

Big Sky Country is Closer Than You Thnk

We have some great trout fishing here in the East; there is no doubt about that. However, once you spend some time trout fishing in Montana, it changes everything. However, I am consistently surprised by the number of fly fishermen that we talk to in our travels that say something like, “man, I’d like to fish Montana some year." Well, that year can be now. You're not getting any younger and anything can happen in life.

Like all trips, a fishing trip out west takes time and costs money. However, it is time and money well spent. Unfortunately, many people are wrongfully under the impression that the only way they can fish out west to go the guide + lodge route, complete with $3,000 price tag. This is not true. Others may be concerned about the skills needed to catch trout out west. If you catch trout in Pennsylvania and other Eastern states then you have more than enough skills to get it done out west, without doubt.

The biggest hurdle (and cost) to a trip to Big Sky Country is usually simply getting yourself there.