More on Cold Water Refugia for Columbia Steelhead

David Moskowitz, Executive Director of The Conservation Anger, emailed me with a few comments on my post about the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s plans for creating cold water refugia for steelhead in the Columbia River.  I have been thinking about this more as well, so here are some things to consider.  I really hope you take the time to look at ODFW’s web page on this topic and submit your comments via email.

Steelhead anglers know that returns to the Deschutes River have been decreasing for decades and have recently plummeted.  I have written extensively about the reasons why many Columbia Basin steelhead runs appear to be on the path to extinction.  (The ODFW presentation contains a graph illustrating this.)  One of the ways we can provide immediate help is to provide refuge in areas that are cooler than the lethally hot temperatures that occur in the rest of the Columbia River during the summer.

ODFW has closed these refugia areas to steelhead fishing at times over the past two years, they are now taking comment on making these closures automatic when various thresholds are exceeded.  I am thankful that ODFW is considering this, steelhead need all the help they can get, but believe some improvements could be made to the proposed plan.

Most importantly, the refugia areas could be larger.  As you can see in the ODFW presentation, the proposed refugia do not cover the entire cold water plumes.  I believe that the refugia should not only cover the entire plume but extend beyond it to provide a buffer.  Do we really need anglers targeting fish in the cold water plume outside refugia boundaries or right on the edge?  I think a buffer area of at least 100 yards beyond the plume would be reasonable.

And what about enforcement?  During ODFW’s presentation they stated they did not know how Oregon State Police would enforce the closure.  Shouldn’t this be part of the discussion?  ODFW recently announced they were funding OSP to hire additional officers to enforce fish and wildlife regulations.  My experience is that OSP focuses on poaching by hunters, shouldn’t threatened and endangered salmonids be a priority as well?

Finally, it would be good to monitor angler effort on the edge of the refugia in the Columbia as well as upstream of Moody Rapids on the Deschutes.  How effective will the refugia be?  How will this be measured?

I am completely in favor of establishing refugia but believe that in order to maintain public support enforcement and measurement must be included in the plan.  Whether you agree with me or not, you should let ODFW know what you think.