North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative
Responses to Sierra County Prospect Questions
This document sets forth responses of the North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative to questions received from the Sierra County Prospect (dated 11-28-11). The signatories to the North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative process agreement include the Yuba County Water Agency, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, California Department of Fish and Game, American Rivers and Trout Unlimited. The U.S. Forest Service is also a participant in this initiative.
If the spring run Chinook salmon and steelhead are returned to the Yuba, what will happen if someone catches one?
We expect that there would be no problem as long as the angler is complying with State fishing regulations and not intentionally fishing for these reintroduced fish. Prior to any reintroduction of these fish, the National Marine Fisheries Service plans to work with communities and local, state and federal agencies to use one of the tools under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to allow ongoing angling as it occurs today in the North Yuba River. For example, the reintroduction could be preceded by a proposal to designate these fish as a “nonessential experimental population” under section 10(j) of the ESA. The Deschutes River steelhead reintroduction in Oregon serves as a useful model and is the first 10(j) nonessential experimental population designation proposal that National Marine Fisheries Service has done. In the Deschutes River, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed a rule under section 4(d) of the ESA, along with the 10(j) designation, that exempted angling and other lawful activities from prohibitions as long as harm to the fish is unintentional and done incidental to such lawful activities, such as fishing for other fish under state fishing regulations.
The North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative participants, which include the National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Department of Fish and Game, are also working with local communities and legislators to create a tool under state law in the North Yuba watershed similar to the “nonessential experimental population” designation available in federal law.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Department of Fish and Game expect that anglers would not be allowed to specifically target the reintroduced salmon and/or steelhead, at least initially. Clearly, the reintroduced fish would need some measure of protection to ensure that the reintroduction succeeds. Anglers incidentally catching reintroduced salmon and steelhead would, at least initially, likely need to release the fish back into the wild. Angling for other fish is not expected to be affected by the reintroduction.
How likely is it we would have a run of sufficient numbers to catch and eat? When is that likely to happen?
Because there are no salmon or steelhead in the North Yuba River today, it is too soon to know when, or if, a viable fishery for salmon and/or steelhead would occur on this river. Re-establishing salmon and steelhead runs above Central Valley rim dams is one of the key tools identified in the National Marine Fisheries Services’ draft Central Valley recovery plan to achieve the goal of healthy runs. Recovering spring-run Chinook salmon and steelhead to a point where they would no longer be threatened will be a challenging endeavor, and will take some time. The goal of recovery is to de-list the species, and restore runs to support recreational and commercial fisheries. This is a long-term goal that we think is worth striving for.
Will having spring run Chinook salmon and steelhead in the river increase CA DFG and NMFS attention or authority over the river, users and adjacent land owners?
Today, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Department of Fish and Game have management authority over salmon and steelhead and their habitat within the current range of these fish, as well as authority over salmon and steelhead and their habitat in areas where they would be reintroduced. Additionally, the California Department of Fish and Game has management authority over inland fisheries, including the current trout fishery in the north Yuba River. Congress specifically added section 10(j) to the Endangered Species Act in 1982 to allay opposition to reintroduction efforts perceived to conflict with human activity, and hoped this new provision would encourage private parties to actually support the reintroduction of species into areas where they once existed. The North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative approach to reintroduction would include consideration of using a nonessential experimental population designation under ESA section 10(j) or an equivalent approach to protect those living and working in the area of the North Yuba.
We anticipate there would be a renewed focus on the reintroduction area because studies and research projects related to the reintroduction would need to be conducted. Also, the salmon and/or steelhead populations would need to be monitored and evaluated to gauge the program’s success and to determine if any changes needed to be made.
One of the reasons that the Deschutes reintroduction in Oregon is a good model for other reintroduction efforts is that support has coalesced around the 10(j) designation. For example, Oregon’s entire Congressional delegation supports the designation based on the premise that the 10(j) nonessential experimental population designation will serve as a model for successfully reintroducing listed species throughout the country while avoiding unnecessary controversies and unintended societal impacts. Oregon’s Congressional delegation stated, in part, “We’re pleased that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service is working with our constituents to use the Endangered Species Act to support the reintroduction of a federally protected species, and is doing so in a manner that promotes the social and economic needs of the broader community.”
There have been significant negative impacts on landowners in, for example, the Eel River, because of the presence of “threatened and endangered” fish. Will this also happen to our landowners?
No. The listed salmon and steelhead in the Eel River basin are not part of a reintroduction effort. This situation is unlike the North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative, where salmon and/or steelhead would be reintroduced. In the North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative scenario, the National Marine Fisheries Service intends to consider tools under the ESA to address legal, social, or economic concerns, including potential use of the 10(j) nonessential experimental population designation or similar approach.
What will happen to the trout species which weren’t in the river when salmon were there? I understand they love salmon fry.
There are many biological questions yet to be answered including the distribution and abundance of non-native introduced fish and the potential impact of these fish on the survival rates of introduced salmon and steelhead. Feasibility studies would evaluate this issue and many other related matters to determine if the reintroduction could be successful given the presence of non-native fish.
Is it true that our reaches of the Yuba would be considered to have spring run Chinook salmon and steelhead because they were placed in the river downstream, even if no actual salmon are spotted here?
Not necessarily. Under the North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative approach with a potential ESA section 10(j) nonessential experimental population designation, the National Marine Fisheries Service would need to designate a specific geographic area that would include all areas that the reintroduced fish could access. An important point to keep in mind is that, prior to any reintroduction of these fish, the National Marine Fisheries Service plans to work with communities and local, state and federal agencies to use one of the ESA’s tools to address ongoing activities as they occur today in the North Yuba River.
What if we don’t want spring run Chinook and steelhead in our creeks? Are they coming over our protests?
The North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative is a collaborative approach that can’t succeed without support from the local community. To encourage community support for this approach, the National Marine Fisheries Service plans to consider using a nonessential experimental population designation under ESA section 10(j) and/or rule under ESA section 4(d). In addition, the parties in the NYRI will continue to work with local stakeholders to address concerns as they arise, including the development of a new state law to create similar flexibility from California Endangered Species Act prohibitions. Representatives from the North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative are also meeting regularly with Sierra County Supervisors and others in the community to discuss all of the issues that may arise as part of this proposed initiative.
The “ESA exemption” has a time limit, is that not true? What is it?
The National Marine Fisheries Services’ proposal for a 10(j) nonessential experimental population designation in Oregon’s Deschutes Basin has a proposed sunset clause of 12 years to give landowners an opportunity to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan. This is the first proposed 10(j) nonessential experimental population designation that included a specific expiration date. A “time limit” or sunset clause is not a required or assumed component of a 10(j) designation, i.e., the designation can apply without a specific time limit.
If no truly viable spring run Chinook or steelhead runs develop, will there come a day when the NMFS would say, “they couldn’t be re-introduced”? When?
Under the North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative, there would need to be a reasonable likelihood of success before the reintroduction would proceed. Before the reintroduction was initiated, a complete set of feasibility studies would be completed to address key uncertainties and to identify practical measures of what would be considered a success. It would be speculative to say how long a reintroduction would need to proceed before it is deemed a success or failure until we define our measures of success and understand the critical technological and biological issues. Because substantial funding would be required for a reintroduction, however, a complete set of studies and testing would be conducted prior to a full-scale reintroduction to help ensure success.
The North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Q. What is the North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative?
A. The North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative (NYRI) is a voluntary, collaborative, science-based initiative designed to explore responsible options to reintroduce spring-run Chinook salmon and/or steelhead to their historic habitat in California’s North Yuba River.
2. Q. Who is participating in the NYRI?
A. Local, state and federal agencies and conservation organizations, including the Yuba County Water Agency (YCWA), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), California Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, American Rivers, and Trout Unlimited. The U.S. Forest Service is also involved, but to a lesser extent.
3. Q. Why is it important to consider reintroducing salmon and/or steelhead into North the North Yuba River?
4. Q. How could these fish be physically reintroduced to the North Yuba River?
A. There are two major dams that fish would need to be moved around to reach the North Yuba River: the USACE’s 260-foot high Engelbright Dam and YCWA’s 645-foot high New Bullard’s Bar Dam. Engelbright was built in 1941 to retain mining debris while New Bullard’s Bar was built in 1970 and provides significant flood control, hydropower, recreation and irrigation benefits. The focus of the NYRI is evaluating the feasibility of a “collection and transport” program to move these fish upstream and downstream around these dams.
One concept being considered by the NYRI participants is the construction and operation of: (1) facilities downstream of Englebright for the collection of and transport of adult salmon; and (2) facilities upstream of New Bullard’s Bar for: (a) release of adult salmon to migrate to and spawn in upstream habitat; and (b) collection and transport of juvenile salmon for release downstream of Englebright. The NYRI participants are still reviewing several alternatives as to the best manner to accomplish this reintroduction.
5. Q. Have collection and transport facilities been used for salmon reintroductions elsewhere?
A. Yes. You can learn about the Baker Project (Washington) and the Pelton Round Butte Project (Oregon) at the following links: http://pse.com/aboutpse/PseNewsroom/MediaKit/001_Baker_River_Fact_Sheet.pdf and www.deschutespassage.com/deschutes-passage-background.html.
6. Q. Are other alternatives, like dam removal, underway or being considered?
A. An array of actions are underway in the Yuba River watershed to protect, restore and enhance habitat for salmon, steelhead and other fish and wildlife species. These include partnerships among local, state and federal agencies to explore a variety of reintroduction alternatives, including dam modification and removal. Besides studies, real in-river measures are now underway to improve fisheries habitat, such as the award-winning Lower Yuba River Accord.
7. Q. Because these species are listed as "threatened" under state and federal law, won't the reintroduction create problems for local communities, like Sierra County?
A. Spring-run Chinook salmon and steelhead are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and are federally protected. The NYRI participants, however, are working with local, state and federal agencies including the Sierra County Board of Supervisors to gain the support of communities upstream and downstream of the reintroduction area. Additionally, the 2009 Draft Recovery Plan states that salmon recovery actions in the upper Yuba River should include measures to minimize opposition by local communities. Under ESA Section 10(j), NMFS has authority, if certain requirements are met, to designate these species as “nonessential, experimental populations,” which allows for the relaxation of ESA restrictions on lawful activities. This is a critical issue that must be addressed for the NYRI to succeed.
Spring-run salmon are also listed as a threatened species under the California ESA. The NYRI would also develop provisions under state law to protect local communities and provide consistency with the federal designations and regulations.
8. Q. Does the NYRI have any relationship to the Bay-Delta?
A. Yes. If successful, the NYRI could improve populations of salmon and other fish and wildlife species, which could complement the habitat expansion objectives of
the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process.
9. Q. What is the status of the NYRI and when is it expected to begin?
A. The NYRI participants have approved a process agreement. Feasibility studies and work-plans are now underway on potential infrastructure, biological considerations, legal and regulatory matters and funding issues. All of these variables will affect when any aspect of a reintroduction program could begin, but there could be a pilot reintroduction program within 5 to 7 years.
10. Q. How much is the NYRI expected to cost and who will pay for it?
A. Until the feasibility and other studies are completed, it is difficult to estimate capital and operation and maintenance costs. Based on other passage and reintroduction programs, including the Baker River and Pelton Round Butte projects, infrastructure costs could run from $50 to $100 million. YCWA is currently funding the NYRI study costs, but the NYRI participants intend to develop a comprehensive funding plan to reflect sharing all costs among a variety of local, state and federal entities with interests in salmon reintroduction to the upper Yuba River.
11. Q. Will local communities benefit from the NYRI?
A. A fundamental commitment of the NYRI is to collaborate with regional stakeholders. The NYRI participants are committed to ensuring that local communities in the reintroduction areas, particularly Yuba and Sierra Counties, receive long-term social, economic and environmental benefits.
12. Q. Why is the focus on the North Yuba River? If the NYRI is successful, would it preclude salmon and/or steelhead reintroductions to the Middle Yuba River or the South Yuba River?
A. The North Yuba River contains over 30 miles of unregulated (i.e., no additional dams) river upstream from New Bullard’s Bar Reservoir (more than all other reaches above Englebright Dam combined). It also has higher and colder summer and fall unimpaired flows compared to the Middle or South Yuba Rivers, and the North Yuba is a heavily forested area with more favorable fisheries habitat. For these reasons, it appears a salmon and/or steelhead reintroduction on the North Yuba may be successful. Pursuing a North Yuba River reintroduction, however, does not preclude a reintroduction elsewhere in the watershed.
13. Q. Is the North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative related to the proceedings under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for relicensing hydroelectric facilities in the Yuba River watershed?
A. The NYRI is separate from proceedings for relicensing by FERC of YCWA's Yuba River Development Project, and the relicensing of other projects in the watershed (e.g., the Yuba-Bear and Drum-Spaulding projects). Any agreement reached on a salmon reintroduction in their process could be reflected in the FERC relicensing proceedings in the Yuba River watershed. If or how this could be done has not been determined.
14. Q. Who should I contact if I want to learn more about the NYRI?
A. For more information specific to the North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative, contact Curt Aikens of Yuba County Water Agency (530-741-6278), Steve Rothert of American Rivers (530-277-0448), or Alice Berg of the National Marine Fisheries Service (916-930-3727).