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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on place-based stewardship education. Since 2001, a partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department (KNRD) has supported this newsletter and allowed us to expand class offerings through EPA funding. Further staff support comes through Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA). Many thanks to our partners and to you, our readers, for your continued enthusiasm for "digging" into the natural history and culture of this part of the world.

Restoration of Bull Trout Passage at Albeni Falls Dam

by Jason Connor, Fisheries Management Program, Kalispel Tribe of Indians

The Pend Oreille/Clark Fork River flows 500 miles from its source near Butte, Montana, through Pend Oreille Lake, Idaho to its confluence with the Columbia River in southern British Columbia. Eight non-federal hydroelectric dams and one federal facility (Albeni Falls Dam) have been constructed without fish passage. These dams have fragmented bull trout habitat throughout the basin and blocked the fish from returning to natal spawning tributaries. Fish passage facilities have been or will be constructed at all non-federal hydroelectric facilities in the US portion within the coming decade. The US Army Corps of Engineers is currently conducting a feasibility study for permanent fish passage at Albeni Falls Dam.

Bull trout were historically abundant in the Box Canyon Reach of the Pend Oreille River between Metaline Falls and Albeni Falls, but precipitously declined after construction of Albeni Falls Dam in 1952. In their 2000 Biological Opinion, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) commented on their rapid disappearance and noted that "their numbers [had] decreased to the point that individual fish [were] noteworthy". Hundreds of thousands of fish have been sampled in that reach since 1988 by multiple entities, with bull trout only numbering in the dozens.

Gilbert and Evermann (1895) surveyed the Box Canyon Reach for the United States Fish commission in 1892 and described its water as "clear and pure and cold - an ideal trout stream," further noting that "salmon trout", identified as bull trout in the taxonomy section of their report, were "quite abundant . . . We know of no stream which offers finer opportunities with rod and reel than the lower Pend Oreille." Jordan and Evermann (1908) identified the Box Canyon Reach as one of the nation's premier bull trout waters: It has been our pleasure to fish for Dolly Varden [i.e., bull trout] in many different waters, among which we recall with particular satisfaction the Pend Oreille River from the Great Northern Railroad [i.e., Newport, Washington] to the international boundary . . .". Bull trout persisted in good numbers throughout the Box Canyon Reach until the 1950's: "many large Dolly Varden [i.e., bull trout]" were harvested during a Field and Stream tournament held on the Pend Oreille River in 1957 (Metaline Falls Gazette, April 3, 1958) (Scholz et al 2008).

Historical records documented that salmonids easily ascended the natural falls upon which Albeni Falls Dam was constructed. Gilbert and Evermann (1885) noted, "These falls [were] scarcely more than a pretty steep rapid and would not interfere at all with the ascent of salmon[ids]." Rathbun (1895) observed that "trout [species not indicated] pass[ed] freely up the[se] falls" (Scholz et al 2008).

Albeni Falls Dam created two types of problems for bull trout in the Pend Oreille Basin. First, bull trout from natal tributaries above the dam that either become entrained or choose to pass downstream are unable to return to spawn in those tributaries. Source populations could include bull trout spawning in the Priest River, inlet tributaries of Pend Oreille Lake, or tributaries of the Clark Fork River. Second, adfluvial bull trout that formerly spawned in tributaries below the dam and migrated upstream to a cold water refuge in Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho are no longer able to do so. Further, completion of Box Canyon Dam in 1957 inundated the Box Canyon Reach, converting it from "an ideal trout stream" into a reservoir that was not conducive to bull trout production (Scholz et al 2008).

Because of these impacts from Albeni Falls Dam, the USFWS Biological Opinion (USFWS 2000) directed the Corps to evaluate the feasibility of restoring passage at Albeni Falls Dam. This research began in 2001 and continues today including movement, habitat use, survival, genetic assignment of natal tributaries, and biological statistics. The Kalispel Tribe, Eastern Washington University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratories have been providing temporary upstream passage by boat electrofishing, snorkeling and dip-netting in coldwater refugia, and angling since 2007. Twenty-eight bull trout originating from tributaries upstream of the dam have been returned upstream, providing valuable information on the homing behavior of bull trout in the watershed.

Due to concern about personnel safety, potential electrofishing injury to bull trout, and low capture efficiency, alternative methods of bull trout capture have been sought. The Kalispel Tribe and partners have begun developing a temporary upstream trap to be fished annually in the tailrace of the dam as an additional interim fish passage measure in lieu of intensive electrofishing downstream of Albeni Falls Dam. We expect to operate the facility annually (beginning 2014) from March-July until river temperatures exceed 16-18 °C and again in fall once temperatures drop below that point. Providing effective fish passage at the dam will allow connectivity among essential habitats, including access to thermal refugia, forage and natal spawning tributaries. This will result in increased survival, productivity, and genetic integrity of the population which should naturally promote recovery.

Successful downstream passage of migrating fish at Albeni Falls Dam is also necessary to sustain, increase, and restore migratory bull trout, as well as other native species. Injury and mortality associated with passage through hydroelectric turbines and spillways is a major concern. The Corps, Kalispel Tribe, and contractors plan to quantify the direct effects of passage through Albeni Falls Dam in the fall of 2013 using marked fish released above the dam and subsequently recaptured and evaluated immediately downstream. This study should provide insight that can potentially lead to operational changes, structural modifications, and/or pattern and rate of spill.

For more information on the Kalispel Tribe involvement in bull trout passage at Albeni Falls Dam, please contact: Jason Connor̓, Fisheries Management Program, Kalispel Tribe of Indians, (509) 447-7285, jconnor@knrd.org

Like all salmonids, bull trout have a fleshy adipose fin located between the dorsal fin and the slightly-forked tail. The back and sides of bull trout are typically an olive-green/brown color with light cream to crimson colored spots that are similar in size to the pupil of the eye. The belly is often pale yellow or a whitish color. The pectoral, pelvic, and anal fins have a white leading edge and the dorsal fin lacks markings, appearing opaque. In 1998 Bull Trout were listed under ESA as a “threatened” species. The Pend Oreille Salmonid Recovery Team chose bull trout as the top priority fish species for recovery in the Pend Oreille River Watershed. Bull trout are extremely sensitive to environmental disturbance which makes this an indicator species of environmental change. (www.posrt.org)

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