The opportunity to make major progress toward rebuilding abundant, fishable wild steelhead populations does not occur often, but that is precisely the opportunity before us between now and August 13th.
During that period the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will receive public comment on which rivers to designate as “wild steelhead gene banks” – rivers that will be managed for wild fish and will not receive hatchery plants. We are asking all Wild Steelheaders United supporters to make their voices heard.
Below are priority rivers we recommend for wild gene bank designation in each of the three geographic areas in which at least one gene bank must be designated. While other rivers may qualify, we believe that wild steelhead in these rivers will benefit the most from such a designation. When choosing these rivers on the WDFW Comment form, choose STRONGLY SUPPORT, as in you support making them a wild steelhead gene bank.
Skagit River Basin (Skagit and Sauk)
Meets all of WDFW’s guidance criteria for a wild steelhead gene bank.
The Skagit system has proven that it can produce abundant, fishable numbers of wild steelhead without hatcheries. It is currently producing over 9,000 wild winter steelhead – far and away the most wild steelhead produced of any Puget Sound river.
Roughly $10 million in public money has been spent to restore habitat in the Skagit Basin for the purpose of recovering wild fish. This restored habitat, including over 100 miles of newly accessible habitat, will produce more wild fish if given the chance.
Elwha River Basin
Best habitat quality of any river system in Puget Sound. 91% of the basin is in public ownership, including 83% of the basin protected within Olympic National Park.
The public made a $350 million investment to remove two dams on the Elwha for the purpose of restoring wild steelhead and salmon. The system should be managed exclusively for wild fish to give the taxpayers the full benefit of their investment.
With the dams removed, all of the habitat historically available to steelhead has been reopened providing enormous wild steelhead production potential.
Puyallup/Carbon/White River Basin
Large watershed (over 1,000 square miles) with diverse habitats.
Highest abundance of wild steelhead in recent years of all the central and south Sound rivers.
Headwaters in Mt. Rainier National Park make it likely to provide good habitat conditions even with a warming climate.
Managing for wild steelhead increases the incentive to address fish passage problems at Electron and Buckley dams in the Puyallup and White rivers, respectively.
Additional reasons applicable to all three rivers.
We need a few large river basins free of hatchery fish to conduct the large scale experiments sorely needed to better understand the relative fitness and survival of wild and hatchery fish, and how the presence of hatchery steelhead effect wild steelhead.
Large river basins offer more habitat and more diverse habitat than smaller basins, which increases the potential for diversity among wild steelhead. The more diverse a wild steelhead population, the less variability in annual returns and the more resilient it is to catastrophic events, like drought and poor ocean conditions.
All three recommendations were strongly supported by the Puget Sound Hatchery Action Advisory Committee, a citizen committee appointed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to advise the agency.
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