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NOAA endorses plan for fish recovery in Upper Columbia River

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Federal authorities have released a final plan for restoring populations of chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout on the Upper Columbia River.

The 352-page recovery plan endorsed Tuesday by the National Marine Fisheries Service covers the chinook and steelhead, which are both listed as endangered, as well as bull trout, which is currently listed as threatened.

The plan suggests analyzing the impacts of habitat degradation, hydropower operations, fishing and hatchery management on the populations. The report says that if proper action is taken, the three species could be removed from the endangered and threatened lists within 10 to 30 years. The estimated cost is at least $296 million over the first 10-year period.

"Clearly habitat degradation is one of the themes that all recovery boards, and all of our scientists, have found is a common one in population losses," said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the fisheries service. "Habitat restoration is one of the keys to improvement."

Between 30 percent and 50 percent of salmon habitats have been lost to logging, agriculture, dams and development over the past 150 years, Gorman said.

The plan by the Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board is the third federally approved salmon recovery plan for endangered salmon in the Northwest. The others are for Puget Sound chinook and Hood Canal summer chum.

Additional plans are still expected from Oregon, Idaho and other parts of Washington state, Gorman said.

The Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board was created in 1999, and its members include representatives from Chelan County, Douglas County, Okanogan County, the Yakama Nation and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

The plan makes more than 300 suggestions to improve recovery, including building hydroelectric dams that have no negative impact on the species, evaluating whether hydroelectric projects affect spawning success and evaluating the effectiveness of predator control programs.

Also recommended are restoring and protecting stream flows suitable for spawning, rearing and migration, protecting water quality and reducing the amount of nonnative species that compete with the endangered and threatened species.

It's uncertain how all the money for recovery will be obtained. The report said while some of it has already been secured through various programs, additional money will need to be obtained, possibly from public utility districts and the state Legislature.

"This plan gives us a road map," said Bud Hover, chairman of the recovery board, and an Okanogan County commissioner. "It's not the cure, and it's not the end-all do-all for everything, but it gives us a road map to start out on."

Hover said that the plan, which is not mandatory, relies on money to get the projects done, and monitoring to ensure they work.

"Now it's incumbent upon us to take the bull by the horns and say look, we want to achieve the goal and get these fish delisted," he said.

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