The river is not only culturally important to the tribes but important to Endangered Species Act-listed fish in the Snake River Basin.Kris Fischer, the CTUIR’s Tucannon basin fish habitat enhancement project leader
Historically, the Tucannon River once produced thousands of salmon annually; however, environmental conditions such as drought, floods, and land management practices straightened the river channel increasing river velocities, while greatly reducing salmon habitat and productivity. Current estimates indicate less than 50 spring chinook will return to the Tucannon in 2023, which is well below the mitigation goal of 1,152 adult spring chinook (Columbia Basin Task Force, 2020).
The Tucannon River is not only important for fish, but to tribal culture as well. Nearly 60 miles long, the river is within the historic traditional homelands of the CTUIR and Nez Perce Tribe. Over the past 150 years, agriculture, forestry and other activities have channelized and simplified the river, decreasing rearing habitat for young salmon.
“The data shows most young fish don’t make it downstream to the lower Snake River to continue their journey to the sea. We believe a lot of them starve to death due to the increased stream velocity and lack of floodplain connectivity,” said Kris Fischer, the CTUIR’s Tucannon basin fish habitat enhancement project leader.
This summer, Fischer and his team are focused on improving a privately owned 1-mile stretch of the Tucannon’s floodplain. This restoration project is the first undertaken by CTUIR on a privately owned river section of the Tucannon, making it a major collaborative milestone for fish managers and private landowners. The effort will focus on improving channel braiding, and increasing meanders in the river channel, creating more pools and side channels that will increase floodplain connectivity to improve fish habitat. The changes will give the river space to spread out and slow its velocity, especially during high-flow events. The side channels, pools and additional floodplain will allow more protection from the flow of the river and additional nursery areas for young fish.
“The Tucannon is the first opportunity fish have to spawn as they leave the Columbia River and navigate up the Snake River,” said Fischer. “So, the river is not only culturally important to the tribes but important to Endangered Species Act-listed fish in the Snake River Basin.”
Jenny Lord, a BPA fish biologist, similarly emphasizes the importance of this restoration effort.
“Because of where the Tucannon is located, and it’s extremely cold headwaters that flow from the Blue Mountains, we definitely see the river’s restoration as a priority for salmon in southeastern Washington,” Lord said. “The CTUIR collaborates with local landowners, soil and water conservation districts and state agencies to prioritize and implement a comprehensive restoration strategy in the river.”
This spring, the CTUIR, BPA and other federal agencies signed a three-year extension of the Columbia Basin Fish Accords that included fish and wildlife enhancements on rivers and streams such as the Tucannon.
Due to low salmon and steelhead returns on the Tucannon, all salmon fishing – including tribal fishing – has been paused for the past several years. But as work on the river continues to expand, it progressively improves salmon and steelhead habitat. Federal, state, tribal and local restoration partners have restored approximately 15 miles of the river since 2010.
“The bottom line with all of these restoration projects is to get the river out of its incised channel and increase floodplain inundation to decrease stream velocity,” said Fischer. The plan includes finding more space for the river, installing log jams to sort gravels and dig pools, reconnecting old side channels and planting thousands of trees and shrubs – because a healthy floodplain makes a healthy river.”
The current project’s in-stream work will begin in late August or early September of 2023.
After months of mediation, BPA has entered into an agreement to support three upper Columbia River tribes’ effort to reintroduce salmon above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams.
BPA energy efficiency engineer Tony Koch spoke to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and represented BPA’s efforts to improve EE in multi-family residential and commercial domestic hot water heating.
Four BPA transmission line maintenance crews recently completed an emergency ground wire replacement operation across the Columbia River, restringing lines damaged during a January 2023 storm.