Salmon Watersheds Program

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Columbia River Watershed: Snapshots of Salmon Populations and Their Habitats

The Columbia River watershed stretches from the headwaters in the Rocky Mountains in Canada, across the Canada-U.S. border, flowing over 2,000 km to the Pacific Ocean. The region has undergone a long and complex history. Along with the development of the region for human use, has come immense pressure on local salmon populations that are critical to the economies and cultures of First Nations and other British Columbians in the region. The most major impact has been extensive development of dams built for the purposes of hydroelectricity and flood control. This leads to significant impacts on all stages of the salmon life cycle, from dam passage as adults and out-migrating juveniles to channelization and loss of natural river structure and habitat.

Salmon have been completely extirpated in some areas as a result of the development of dams. Efforts to strengthen local salmon populations are ongoing, such as Indigenous lead initiatives like “Bringing the Salmon Home” and the kł cp̓əlk̓ stim̓ Hatchery, along with non-profits like the Okanagan Fisheries Federation. Important progress has been made for habitat and spawning populations, but there are still many areas without access. Rebuilding efforts are strongest when guided by shared platforms for accessing the best available data, understanding the distribution of salmon in the region, and visualizing pressures on their habitats. Supporting the continued persistence of salmon in such a massive and complex cross-border watershed is incredibly challenging. The absence of standardized and easily accessible information on the status of these salmon populations and their habitats impedes efforts to make informed and transparent conservation and management decisions.

This project focuses on summarizing, analyzing, and visualizing the best available data for the two salmon Conservation Units (CUs) – Osoyoos Sockeye and Okanagan Chinook – that inhabit this region. This work will be guided by the following activities undertaken in partnership with the First Nations in the region, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and other salmon experts:

Outcomes

  1. Synthesize publicly available data on salmon populations (e.g. spawning locations, spawner surveys, catch and run size, run timing, enhancement)
  2. Quantify the extent and intensity of freshwater habitat pressures (e.g. forest disturbance, road density) in known spawning areas in order to assess habitat status
  3. Assess the biological status of salmon CUs
  4. Integrate the above information into an online data visualization tool called the Pacific Salmon Explorer (see Figure 1 below)
  5. Make all data readily accessible through the Salmon Data Library, PSF’s online public database

 

Figure 1: Example screenshots from the Pacific Salmon Explorer: (a) cumulative habitat pressures in the Columbia River watershed, and (b) spawner abundance for Okanagan salmon Conservation Units.