Regional steelhead recovery plan released

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A new federal plan to guide recovery of Mid-Columbia steelhead, including those in the Walla Walla River basin, has been released.

Required by the Endangered Species Act, the plan lays out a guide for people and agencies to restore and protect the steelhead population throughout 35,000 square miles of central Washington and Oregon.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service collaborated with 20 federal, state, tribal and local entities to produce the document, said Barry Thom, NOAA's Fisheries acting northwest regional administrator. There are 10 ESA-protected salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River basin under recovery plans.

"The great thing is, the federal plan relied heavily on the plan we drafted locally," said Steve Martin, director of the Snake River Salmon Recovery Board, which developed the recovery plan for southeast Washington.

Local participants included the Columbia and Walla Walla County commissions, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and citizens representing Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, Walla Walla and Whitman counties. Also taking part were the Columbia and Walla Walla County conservation districts, the Tri-State Steelheaders and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The participation of private citizens was particularly important, Martin said.

"None of this can occur without support from the landowners," he said. "Seventy percent of the land covered by this plan is privately owned, so without private owners taking part it goes nowhere."

Along with Umatilla and Walla Walla River basins, the new plan covers the Yakima and John Day river basins and the Deschutes and Klickitat Rivers.

In a release, Thom said the goal of the plan, as with all recovery plans, is to create self-sustaining fish populations that no longer need federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Steelhead populations in the Columbia River basin are listed as threatened except on the upper Columbia River where they are listed as endangered.

If all the plan's actions are implemented, it is estimated it could take 20 to 50 years to recover the mid-Columbia steelhead for $235 million for the first five years and $996 million for all actions planned, Thom said.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.

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