Salmon, Steelhead Still Face Threats in Interior Columbia Basin

Image via NOAA.

NOAA Fisheries researchers have determined that salmon and steelhead species in the Interior Columbia Basin protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) still need such protection, due to the impact of climate change and the need for further recovery actions.

The five-year review, released in mid-August, focuses on species in the Snake River and upper and middle Columbia River systems. It recommends further improving the passage of these fish through hydropower dams, restoring tributary and estuary habitat, controlling predators and modifying hatchery practices to improve the resilience of these species.

The review of Snake River spring/summer-run Chinook salmon noted an increased level of concern for the species, based on declining population trend and the impacts of climate change and called for further review if that trend continues. Researchers recommended that at least 20% of floodplain and side-channel habitat in a watershed must be restored to provide for a 25% increase in surviving salmon smolts.

The study also found that all three populations of spring-run Chinooks in the upper Columbia River declined over the past five years by an average of 48%, with low survival in the ocean being a major factor.

These are the first of 28 reviews of West Coast salmon and steelhead that NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region plans to release over the next few months. The ESA calls for a review of listed species at least every five years to determine if their listing status is accurate or should be changed.

For Interior Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead, a series of marine heatwaves have reduced their survival rate in the ocean, Drought and high temperatures impacted their survival and reproduction across both the Columbia and Same River basins. Human populations in western states has also continued to grow, and with it increased urban and agricultural land and water use.

Michael Tehan, assistant regional administrator for the Interior Columbia Basin, said the impacts of climate change demonstrates the urgency of moving the most critical recovery actions ahead now.

Upper Columbia River spring run Chinooks and Snake River sockeye salmon are among the most endangered salmon on the West Coast, with both facing a high risk of extinction, according to assessments completed by the NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Snake River fall run Chinooks are listed as threatened and face moderate-to-low extinction risk, but current trends for that species are seen as encouraging. If recent actions prove as effective as predicted and current trends continue, Snake River fall run Chinooks could be removed from the ESA listings, Snake River spring/summer run Chinooks remain at moderate-to-high risk of extinction.

The Columbia Basin Partnership, convened by NOAA Fisheries, reached agreement in 2020 on a vision for the basin and goals for all Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead.

NOAA Fisheries recently worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon and the Nez Pere Triber to develop a draft assessment of what needs to happen to achieve the Partnership’s mid-range goals. The draft Rebuilding Interior Columbia Salmon and Steelhead Report outlines steps to help return these fish to harvestable levels outlined by the Partnership.

NOAA Fisheries is currently seeking input on the draft rebuilding report from other tribal and state fisheries co-managers in the Basin. The draft report is online at