WDFW and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation
Partner for Salmon, Ecosystems
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (CTCR) are a long-time partner of WDFW; with coordination efforts centering around the fish and aquatic habitat we all highly value. In recent years, we have worked closely with the tribes on efforts to protect and reintroduce salmon. Two of the major efforts we have coordinated on will be highlighted at the October 2020 Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting.
“We are thankful for the partnership with CTCR and the many resources they bring to the table,” said WDFW Fish Program Director Kelly Cunningham. “We are stronger together and can accomplish more. We all have the same objectives and goals, so it makes sense to take on a united front when working to accomplish them.”
Working to Reduce the Threat of Northern Pike
For the past five years, crews from both WDFW and CTCR, along with the Spokane Tribe of Indians, have spent months each year netting northern pike in Lake Roosevelt in an effort to reduce their impact on native fish like redband rainbow trout.
Northern pike are voracious predators that prey on other fish species like trout, but will eat almost anything, including baby ducks and even bats. Northern pike populate quickly, with one adult female able to produce hundreds of thousands of eggs. This makes them able to spread quickly. Within the last several decades, they have spread through the upper Columbia Basin from Montana’s Clark Fork River to Idaho’s Pend Oreille River, to the Columbia River and Lake Roosevelt in Washington.
Northern pike are now only two dams (Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph) away — a mere 89 miles by river — from critical Columbia River salmon habitat. WDFW and CTCR are doing their best to keep them from reaching this critical ecosystem and habitat, through annual suppression operations.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck operation born out of necessity to protect the Columbia River fish communities,” said Holly McLellan, fisheries biologist with Colville Confederated Tribes. “Partnerships are invaluable in efforts like this and further our cause, and the results, with this important work.”
CTCR and WDFW send out several crews each year with special nets made of braided nylon that tend to capture primarily Northern Pike with very little bycatch. This year work started late on the effort due to the pandemic but will continue throughout the fall.
The Colville Tribe also has a Northern Pike Reward Program for tribal and non-tribal anglers that pays $10 per head they turn in. (For information on this program, click the link then scroll to the bottom of the page.)
Bringing Back Salmon
Another project CTCR and WDFW partner on is salmon reintroduction. Last summer, WDFW partnered with CCT on a project to release salmon into the Columbia River upstream of the Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams. This was part of a larger effort to evaluate the feasibility of reintroducing salmon into the Upper Columbia River. The migratory fish were extirpated from the Upper Columbia when Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams were built in the early and mid-20th century. Neither dam was built with fish ladders or any mechanism to help salmon return to their traditional spawning grounds in these reaches of the river.
“This is an important initial step toward the ultimate goal of restoring salmon above these barriers,” said Cunningham.
In a touching ceremony, Tribal members passed the fish hand to hand, in containers filled with water, from hatchery trucks to the river, where they were blessed and released. This was a momentous cultural event and conservation effort.
“Despite the dams, the river above the Grand Coulee Dam contains hundreds of miles of spawning and rearing habitat suitable for salmon and steelhead production,” said Casey Baldwin, Research Scientist with the CTCR and one of the coordinators of this effort for the tribes.
Our Shared Future
With partnerships like the one between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the hope is that there will be many more future efforts like this.
To learn more about these efforts to preserve and grow our salmon populations, and the partnership between WDFW and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, watch the recorded WDFW Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting from Friday, Oct. 23 or visit the Upper Columbia United Tribes website.