This 2020 Annual Report from the Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board (UCSRB) provides an overview of environmental conditions and an update on changes in hydropower, hatchery, harvest, habitat (“All-H”) management sectors affecting Endangered Species Act (ESA)- listed Upper Columbia (UC) spring Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout. These changes provide context for the current recovery efforts to restore and protect habitat in the UC and their contribution to the recovery and sustainability of UC spring Chinook and steelhead populations. The report also includes an overview of recovery projects completed in 2020 that benefit the ESA-listed fish species.
Returns of spring Chinook and steelhead remained low in 2020 in the Wenatchee, Entiat, Methow, and Okanogan subbasins (Figure 1). A total of 1,554 spring Chinook (639 natural-origin and 915 hatchery-origin) returned to the Upper Columbia in 2020, which was the second lowest return to the region since 1999 (WDFW 2020). The number of natural-origin spring Chinook was higher in 2020 than it has been in the last three years, but still less than half of the average return (12-year geometric mean = 1,053), which itself is well below the delisting target of 4,500 (12-year geometric mean) natural-origin spawners.
A total of 2,375 steelhead (849 natural- and 1,526 hatchery-origin) returned in 2020 which was the third lowest adult return in the last 40 years (WDFW 2020). The number of natural-origin returning spawners was only 36% of the average (12-year geometric mean = 1,628), and much lower than the delisting target of 3,000 (12-year geometric mean).
Returns to the Wenatchee and Entiat subbasins showed slight increases in returns in 2020 compared with 2019, whereas adult returns decreased in the Methow and Okanogan subbasins (Figure 1). Of note is the increase in natural-origin returns to the Entiat subbasin and the substantial reduction of hatchery-origin fish to this unsupplemented population through the reduction in strays from other areas. Returns of natural-origin spawners remain well below recovery goals in all four subbasins.
Figure 1. Spring Chinook and steelhead returns between 2000-2020 and percent hatchery-origin spawners (pHOS) by year. The solid line indicates the 12-year geometric mean of spawners, and the dashed line is the abundance delisting target (12-year geometric mean). Data sources: NOAA SPS data; WDFW SaSI data 2021.
Habitat Conditions in 2020
The winter of 2020 (November 2019 through March 2020) across the Upper Columbia was moderately dry and warm, with below-average winter precipitation across the region. Winter precipitation was only 2% below average in Chelan County, but 21% and 37% below average in Okanogan and Douglas Counties, respectively (West Wide Drought Tracker 2021). The snowpack varied widely in the Upper Columbia, relative to an average year. Across the seven representative USDA SNOTEL sites, the average peak snowpack was 16% below normal (NRCS 2020). However, peak snowpack at Stevens Pass was 30% above normal, and Harts Pass and Rainy Pass were only 3% and 8% below normal, respectively. Snow disappearance day was on average on May 22nd, four days earlier than normal.
For the calendar year of 2020, precipitation was 18% above normal in Chelan County, 2% above normal in Okanogan County, and 19% below normal in Douglas County. Winter temperatures in Chelan, Douglas, and Okanogan counties were 1.2 to 1.7 °F above normal. Across the entire calendar year of 2020, air temperature ranged from 1.0 to 1.3 °F above normal (West Wide Drought Tracker 2021). Total streamflow in the 2020 water year (Oct 2019 – Sept 2020) was 7% below normal (USGS 2021). August average flow was 21% below normal. Lower flows in the Upper Columbia contributed to higher-than-average peak 7-day average water temperatures. Across four long-term USGS monitoring sites (two stations in the Okanogan subbasin, and one each in the Methow and Wenatchee subbasins), the maximum 7-day average water temperature was 76.5 °F, which is 1.1 °F above the historic 7-day maximum water temperature. In contrast, the Columbia River summer (Jul-Aug) water temperature was 1.0 °F lower than normal (Columbia River DART 2020).
Wildfire is a major driver of aquatic habitat conditions in the Upper Columbia. In 2020, the only major wildfire was the Cold Springs fire, which burned 190,000 acres of predominantly sagebrush and grasslands near Omak in the Okanogan Basin (NWCC (2020) Annual Fire Report).
In 2020, August streamflow in the Upper Columbia was 21% below normal.
Maximum average water temperatures were more than 1°F above the historic maximum.
Cool ocean conditions during the winter and early spring of 2020 were beneficial for productivity in the Northern Pacific Ocean and likely the cause of the highest annual biomass of northern copepods observed in the previous 24 years. The nearshore winter ichthyoplankton index also indicated productive ocean conditions in 2020. Although summer temperatures were warmer than average, biological indices pointed towards a productive year in the marine environment for higher trophic levels like salmon and steelhead (see 2020 NOAA Report). The National Marine Fisheries Service analyzes numerous ocean conditions to develop “stoplight” tables that rank multiple metrics simultaneously to forecast adult salmon returns. Based on this combined index, ocean conditions in 2020 were considered “Fair” but were better than six of the last ten years (Figure 2).
Impacts from poor ocean conditions take years to fully register in the adult fish returns and to dissipate. The delay varies by species based on their life cycle in freshwater and the ocean. On average, Chinook generally have a four- to five-year delay and steelhead have a one- to two-year delay. Adult returns in 2020 reflected the negative impacts of smolts experiencing poor ocean conditions one to three years previously (2017-2019). Poor ocean conditions over the past eight years (particularly between 2015-2017) mean that returns of most species will likely continue to be low in the coming years but start to improve with fair ocean conditions in 2018 and 2020.
In 2020, fisheries were restricted due to low abundances of Columbia River salmon and steelhead. This was the sixth consecutive year that there were no conservation fisheries for Upper Columbia steelhead or Upper Columbia spring Chinook due to low fish returns and the need to meet hatchery broodstock goals. In the Upper Columbia, 2020 anadromous fisheries included summer Chinook in the Columbia mainstem, Chelan, and Entiat Rivers, sockeye in the Columbia mainstem, and coho in the Columbia Mainstem and Icicle River. Additionally, there was a limited spring Chinook fishery in the Icicle River in 2020 targeting unlisted, hatchery-origin spawners.
Harvest of Upper Columbia spring Chinook and summer steelhead occurred primarily in the mainstem Columbia River below the confluence of the Snake River. Under the U.S. v. Oregon Management Agreement, fisheries in this area are managed in accordance with an agreed-upon harvest rate schedule. The 2020 upriver spring Chinook return to the Columbia River totaled 81,300 adults (99.5% of the preseason forecast of 81,700 fish and only 43% the recent 10-year average). Non-treaty harvest of upriver spring Chinook primarily occurred through recreational fisheries. Treaty harvest of spring Chinook occurred through ceremonial and subsistence (C&S) fisheries. Total harvest (kept catch plus release mortality) of upriver spring Chinook in 2020 in the Lower Columbia River was 6,380 spring Chinook (similar to 2019).
Out of the total upriver spring Chinook harvest, an estimated 131 spring Chinook were from the Upper Columbia spring Chinook ESU (6% of run). Non-treaty and treaty fisheries in the Columbia River (0.5% and 5.5% respectively) did not exceed their ESA take limits for Upper Columbia spring Chinook (ODFW & WDFW 2020).
The largest proportion of Upper Columbia steelhead pass Bonneville Dam between July and October during the summer and fall fisheries. The total return to Bonneville Dam of upriver summer steelhead (April-October passage) was 111,692 fish and included 75,392 A-Index fish (higher than 2019). The 2020 return was 112% of the forecast of 99,900 upriver steelhead and 49% of the recent 10-year average (ODFW & WDFW 2020).
Total harvest (direct and indirect mortality) of A-index summer steelhead in fall recreational and commercial fisheries in 2020 (comprised of Upper Columbia summer steelhead to some degree) was 331 hatchery-origin and 105 natural-origin adults. Similar to past years, impacts to wild winter steelhead were minimal in 2020 (actual impact rate=0.4% of run; allowed impact rate=2% of run). Fall treaty fisheries (commercial and C&S) did not report incidental harvest of A-Index summer steelhead.
See more information on harvest in the UCSRB Harvest Background Summary.
Upper Columbia salmon and steelhead enter the Columbia River hydrosystem as smolts during their emigration from natal tributaries and again as adults on their upstream spawning migration. Survival for these populations may be influenced by the environmental conditions and operations associated with the dams and reservoirs encountered prior to ocean entry and upon return to spawning areas. Environmental conditions and management actions in 2020 resulted in a year with overall average water temperatures (but with high day-to-day variability), lower than average flow, and extremely high spill for most of the migration season. Daily flow values were well below long-term daily means for most of April; in late April and May, several short pulses in flow resulted in rapid oscillations in daily mean flow. (Columbia River DART 2020; Widener et al. 2021). Despite high spill levels during early to mid-April in 2020, downstream travel times for both Chinook and steelhead through the hydrosystem were longer than in most recent years, possibly related to below-average flow. After late April 2020, when flow was above or near the mean, travel times were shorter and similar to those from other recent years.
Survival through the hydrosystem is estimated annually by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for hatchery-origin Upper Columbia spring Chinook and steelhead. Survival of natural-origin Upper Columbia spring Chinook and steelhead is not assessed. For hatchery yearling Chinook salmon, estimated survival was 63% (SE 2.5%) from release to McNary Dam and 81% (SE 8.3%) from McNary to Bonneville Dam (Figure 3). For hatchery steelhead, estimated survival was 42% (SE 3.5%) from release to McNary Dam and 76% (SE 9.2%) from McNary to Bonneville Dam.
The Comparative Survival Study (CSS) also looks at hydropower survival over time and includes estimates of survival for wild spring Chinook and steelhead (McCann et al. 2020). The CSS study found that faster travel times in 2020 were associated with higher flows and higher reach survival was associated with higher flow and spill. The most recent smolt-to-adult returns (SAR) survival estimates for wild spring Chinook (Entiat/Methow) from Rocky Reach Dam back to Bonneville (RRE-BON) were 0.8% for the 2018 migration year, which is higher than the previous three migration years. Recent SAR survival estimates for wild steelhead (Entiat/Methow) at the same points were 1.14%, which was lower than two of the last three migration year estimates.
See more information on harvest in the UCSRB Hydropower Background Summary.
Figure 3. Estimated survival and standard error (SE) through the Columbia River hydropower system for hatchery-origin yearling Chinook salmon and steelhead originating in the upper Columbia River, 2008–2020 (data from Widener et al. 2021). Dashed lines show trend during that time frame.
In 2020, hatchery programs in the Upper Columbia released close to 2.7 million spring Chinook (1.2M listed, 1.4M unlisted) and over 800,000 steelhead (Fish Passage Center 2020). These fish were released as part of public utility district (PUD), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (CTCR) programs aimed at harvest, conservation, reintroduction, and safety-net goals.
These hatchery fish are managed as adults according to the goals of the program from which they were released as juveniles. One method for assessing the risk of a hatchery supplementation program is to determine the influence of the hatchery and natural environments on the adaptation of the composite population. This is estimated by the proportion of natural-origin fish in the hatchery broodstock (pNOB) and the proportion of hatchery-origin fish in the natural spawning escapement (pHOS). A composite metric called the Proportionate Natural Influence (PNI) is used to look at these two factors together to assess genetic risk. The greater the value, the greater the strength of selection in the natural environment relative to that of the hatchery environment. During years of low escapement, populations can be managed to meet escapement goals rather than PNI.
In 2020, higher returns of natural-origin adults and successful adult management drove the pHOS of most populations down compared with 2019 (Figure 1). This in turn improved the overall PNI values for most spring Chinook and steelhead populations (all improved except Methow spring Chinook). The PNI of Wenatchee (Chiwawa) spring Chinook was 0.60, Nason spring Chinook was 0.31, and Methow spring Chinook was 0.47 (Snow et al. 2021). Steelhead also had slightly higher PNI values than the previous year, with Wenatchee steelhead at a PNI of 0.72 (Hillman et al. 2021) and Methow steelhead at 0.59 in 2020 (Snow et al. 2021).
See more information on hatcheries in the UCSRB Hatchery Background Summary.
Habitat restoration and protection projects in the Upper Columbia are tracked on the Salmon Recovery Portal database, administered by the State of Washington Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office (GSRO). All habitat projects that could benefit salmon, steelhead, and bull trout, regardless of funder or sponsor, are tracked through this database. This information is used to track our progress toward implementing habitat goals in the Upper Columbia Spring Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Plan (Recovery Plan) and Upper Columbia Biological Strategy.
2020 Habitat Accomplishments
of habitat protected
of stream treated
of floodplain reconnected
In 2020, partners completed 9 projects across all four major subbasins (Figure 4), with four projects implemented in the Methow, three in the Wenatchee, two in the Entiat, and one in the Okanogan. The number of projects completed in 2020 was lower than previous years due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ability of sponsors to implement projects. Of the completed projects, four were restoration, two protection, two assessment, and one was design. Since 1998, there have been 519 projects completed in the region, with most projects implemented in the last 10 years. Over the last five years, an average of 18 projects have been completed annually. As noted in previous annual reports, the scope and scale of current projects is significant based on the cost of recently completed projects. The total budget for the nine projects was $3.3 million, with one project making up most of the total. The average funding per project in 2020 was $366,00 which is less than in previous years. A complete list of projects completed in 2020 is provided in Attachment 1.
Total Number of Projects and Money Spent By Year
Figure 4. Total number of habitat projects and amount of money (in millions) spent by year (1998-2020).
In 2021, the Upper Columbia Regional Technical Team (UCRTT) completed a prioritization process for habitat restoration and protection (see https://www.ucsrb.org/science-resources/prioritization/). This led to an update to the UCRTT Biological Strategy in 2021, which defined priority areas and limiting factors for all three listed species. Because there are three listed fish species in the Upper Columbia and one of those species is critically endangered, it is important to track the amount of habitat work benefitting each species. All nine completed restoration and protection projects occurred in the range of steelhead and eight occurred in the range of endangered spring Chinook. All projects were in assessment units (HUC 12 watersheds) prioritized as a high priority (Tier 1) for at least one species and many occurred in areas that were prioritized as a high priority for all three listed species. Restoration projects also targeted high priority limiting factors within the reach they were implemented (Figure 5).
See more information on habitat in the UCSRB Habitat Background Summary.
Number of Projects by Priority Ranking
Figure 5. Number of projects by assessment unit (HUC 12 watershed) priority rankings as defined in the UCRTT Biological Strategy for each of three ESA-listed species.
Partners in the Okanogan subbasin implemented one restoration project in 2020 (see Attachment 1).
Featured Project: Omak Creek Riparian Restoration
Sponsor: Okanogan Conservation District
Location: Omak Creek – Okanogan River
Funding: $15,000 from Department of Ecology
Outcomes: 1.1 acres of riparian acres treated; 650 feet of unvegetated banks planted with native riparian vegetation; livestock exclusion fencing placed around 1,300 feet of stream
Riparian restoration along Omak Creek included livestock exclusion fencing to protect 1,300 feet of stream and allow vegetative regrowth and prevent erosion. In addition, 650 feet of unvegetated banks were planted with native riparian plants, resulting in 1.1 riparian acres treated on private property. Okanogan Conservation District worked with willing landowners to implement these restoration actions, which helped stabilize banks to limit erosion along this section of stream and provide high priority habitat for ESA listed steelhead. The project site was a former hay field and will now be managed to provide long-term benefits to Omak Creek.
Data in the Salmon Recovery Portal database can be used to asses the status of identified projects in the region. There are currently 69 planned, 13 proposed, and 62 active projects in the SRP database (SRP October 2021). The total funding request (based on budget) for planned projects is $22.9 million and the total for proposed projects is $15.7 million, although not all planned and proposed projects included cost estimates. The UCSRB will continue working with partners in 2021 to build out the capability of using the Salmon Recovery Portal to capture out-year needs of sponsors. The full list of projects in the region can be found in the Implementation Schedule at https://www.ucsrb.org/mdocuments-library/reports/.
Table of Information for Projects Completed in 2020
List of projects completed in 2020. Source: Salmon Recovery Portal database (September 2021). CF= Cascade Fisheries (formerly Cascade-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group), CCNRD= Chelan Country Natural Resources Department, MSRF= Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation, OkanoganCD= Okanogan Conservation District.
Annual Implementation Schedule Update Process
The 2020 Implementation Schedule was generated directly from the Salmon Recovery Portal (SRP) online database. Summarized below are the steps the Upper Columbia region takes to build science, best available information, and public input into the Implementation Schedule updates. The process is based on guidance from NMFS (Interim Endangered and Threatened Species Recovery Planning Guidance, July 2006) that outlines the following three types of Recovery Plan revisions, and required public process:
“Updates” – do not require formal public process. A memo to NMFS outlining the updates will complete the record.
“Revisions” – require a formal Federal Register Notice. These have an associated comment period.
“Addenda” – are communicated by attaching information updates as an addendum in a memo to NMFS. This process may require formal public input.
Upper Columbia Process for Implementation Schedule Updates
Using NMFS guidance, the UCSRB uses the following process for annual updates to the Upper Columbia Spring Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Plan Implementation Schedule.
In the fall (October/November) the UCSRB will assemble all updates in reporting terminology. The sources for reporting codes are derived from PNAMP, PCSRF and the SRP. The UCSRB will engage the UCRTT in a review of those terms.
The UCSRB will work with the four subbasin Watershed Action Teams to update the Implementation Schedule with (a) any revised reporting codes; and (b) all relevant information regarding actions implemented and actions planned for the future. The Watershed Action Teams will work with their constituents and respective stakeholders to engage them in the update process, which may include additional public meetings.
The UCSRB will consolidate all updates into the Recovery Plan Implementation Schedule.
The updated Implementation Schedule will be presented to the UCSRB Directors for discussion and any public comment. Upon approval by the Board, the updated Implementation Schedule will be sent to NMFS advising the agency of the updates.
Muir, H., M. Maxey, T. Becker, M. Cooper 2021. Monitoring and Evaluation of the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery Spring Chinook Salmon Program, 2020. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Leavenworth WA.
Hillman, T., M. Miller, M. Hughes, C. Moran, J. Williams, M. Tonseth, C. Willard, S. Hopkins, J. Caisman, T. Pearsons, and P. Graf. 2021. Monitoring and evaluation of the Chelan and Grant County PUDs hatchery programs: 2020 annual report. Report to the HCP and PRCC Hatchery Committees, Wenatchee and Ephrata, WA.
ODFW & WDFW 2021. 2021 Joint Staff Report: Stock Status and Fisheries For Fall Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, Chum Salmon, Summer Steelhead, and White Sturgeon. Joint Columbia River Management Staff. Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. July 19, 2021.
ODFW & WDFW 2021. 2021 Joint Staff Report: Stock Status and Fisheries For Spring Chinook, Summer Chinook, Sockeye, Steelhead, and Other Species. Joint Columbia River Management Staff. Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. February 4, 2021.
National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). 2020. National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. College Park, MD, USA. Retrieved from https://origin.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/ensostuff/ONI_v5.php
Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) – National Water and Climate Center. Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) and Snow Course Data and Products. https://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/
Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. 2020. Northwest Annual Fire Report 2021. Portland, OR, USA.
Peterson, W.T., J. Fisher, C. Morgan, S. Zeman, B. Burkey, K. Jacobson. Ocean Ecosystem Indicators of Salmon Marine Survival in the Northern California Current. NOAA NMFS Report. December 2020.
Salmon Recovery Portal. 2020. Online database access October 2020.
Snow, C., C. Frady, D. Grundy, B. Goodman, and A. Haukenes. 2020. Monitoring and evaluation of the Wells Hatchery and Methow Hatchery programs: 2020 annual report. Report to Douglas PUD, Grant PUD, Chelan PUD, and the Wells and Rocky Reach HCP Hatchery Committees, and the Priest Rapids Hatchery Subcommittees, East Wenatchee, WA.
United States Geological Survey (USGS). 2020. U.S. Department of the Interior. https://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/sw.
WDFW. 2020. WDFW-Salmonid Stock Inventory Population Escapement. Data on data.wa.gov.
Daniel L. Widener, James R. Faulkner, Steven G. Smith, Tiffani M. Marsh, and Richard W. Zabel. 2021. Survival estimates for the passage of spring‑migrating juvenile salmonids through Snake and Columbia River dams and reservoirs, 2020. Report of research by Fish Ecology Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Seattle, WA. For Division of Fish and Wildlife Bonneville Power Administration. August 2021