Assessing the Status and Trends of Spring Chinook Habitat in the Upper Grande Ronde River and Catherine Creek: Annual Report 2017
Background and Objectives
The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) is conducting a fish habitat monitoring program in the Upper Grande Ronde River and Catherine Creek basins designed to evaluate the effectiveness of aggregate restoration actions in improving freshwater habitat conditions and viability of salmonids listed under the Endangered Species Act. Critical uncertainties for fisheries managers in the Columbia Basin are whether habitat restoration actions will yield a net improvement in basin-wide habitat quality, and whether expected improvements in fish production can be brought about by improvements in the quality and quantity of salmon habitat. The primary objectives of this project are to: 1) Assess current status and trends in fish habitat characteristics considered to be key limiting factors (particularly water temperature, pool habitats, streamflow, large wood, and fine sediment) to viability of spring Chinook Salmon populations; 2) Evaluate effectiveness of aggregate stream restoration actions aimed at improving key limiting habitat factors; and 3) Develop a life cycle model to link biotic responses of spring Chinook populations to projected changes in stream habitat conditions.
Life Cycle Model as an Organizing Concept
One of the central components of this project is a spring Chinook life cycle model which provides a means to integrate habitat monitoring efforts with recovery planning. The life cycle model is a tool to simulate fish population trends in relation to projected habitat conditions, and to examine the relative benefits of habitat improvements on fish population recovery potential. The fundamental basis of the model is that intrinsic watershed factors (such as geology, climate, or valley morphology) interact with human actions (such as forest harvest, cattle grazing, or stream restoration) to affect processes that drive known limiting factors (e.g., flow, temperature, pool area, etc.), and therefore fish survival via both density-dependent and density-independent processes. This conceptual model represents the general structure of our research program.The life history model is comprised of several interacting subcomponents that are built independently, each of which provides critical information about the interaction between landscape characteristics, instream habitat conditions, and fish response. Some of these subcomponents include modeling stream temperature from local riparian and geomorphic conditions, linking key limiting habitat characteristics (e.g., water temperature, fine sediment, pool abundance, and large woody debris) to fish abundance and productivity, estimating food base and growth potential for salmonids from stream macroinvertebrate data and habitat characteristics, evaluating habitat characteristics and fish use of coldwater refuges, and evaluating the vulnerability of sites to low and high streamflows. Though these components are described here as providing inputs to the life cycle model, each component is a valid research project on its own, likely to yield interesting scientific insights and practical applications for conservation.