Chehalis Basin Restoration Plan critical for spring Chinook says Quinault Nation

  • Wed Nov 20th, 2019 2:08pm
  • News

Taholah, WA – The Washington State Office of Chehalis Basin has released for public comment the Phase 1 draft of the Aquatic Species Restoration Plan (ASRP) for the Chehalis Basin, the largest river system contained entirely within the state. The ASRP is being developed jointly by the state, the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, the Quinault Indian Nation and other interests in the Basin.

“We appreciate the ambitious scale of the ASRP and the opportunity to join with our Basin neighbors to reverse decades of habitat degradation and address the growing impacts from climate change,” said Quinault Nation Vice-President Tyson Johnston. “We have a big mountain to climb and this first wave of proposed actions under the ASRP is an important first step. Comprehensive habitat restoration aimed at rebuilding our sacred salmon runs must happen regardless of other actions taken in the Chehalis Basin.”

The Quinault Nation is especially concerned about Chehalis River spring Chinook which spend more time in-river than other salmon species, and as such, are more susceptible to increased summer water temperatures. The freshwater environment is critically important to their survival. Their continued decline led to a closure of all fisheries for spring Chinook entering the Chehalis River this year, except for a single fish for the Chehalis Tribe’s first salmon ceremony.

After forecasts for a second straight year of low salmon returns and lower than normal river flows, Quinault Nation fisheries managers last June decided to close the tribal fishery and reached out to the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife urging closure of all fisheries for spring Chinook entering the Chehalis River. State-managed fisheries for spring Chinook were closed in late June.

“We can’t control ocean conditions or low river levels. What we can control is fishing in the river and its tributaries and how hard we work to protect and restore freshwater habitat. The ASRP is critically important for spring Chinook which hold special significance for Quinault fishermen,” added Quinault Nation Vice-President Tyson Johnston.

Adult spring Chinook return to their native rivers as early as March, with peak runs in May and June, historically a time of food scarcity for the Nation and many other tribes. Springers spend many months in late spring and summer holding in deep river pools subsisting on fat reserves waiting to spawn in the late summer and early fall. In contrast, fall Chinook don’t migrate to spawning grounds until the late summer/early fall and essentially spawn right away. Lower than normal stream flows and elevated water temperatures typically means many spring Chinook die in the river before spawning.

The ASRP is a centerpiece of the Chehalis Basin Strategy’s two-pronged mission to both reduce flood damage and restore habitat. Actions taken under the ASRP will include protecting or restoring habitat along the banks of rivers and streams, removing fish barriers such as undersized culverts, rebuilding off-channel habitat (oxbows and side channels off the main river), reconnecting the river to its floodplain and creating, restoring or enhancing wetlands.

Phase 1 of the ASRP identifies initial priority reaches of Chehalis Basin rivers and their tributaries and sets targets for number of river miles and acres of habitat to be restored.