Recovery Plans

The Endangered Species Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1973, requires that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service (today known as NOAA Fisheries Service) create and implement plans for the recovery of endangered and threatened species. A species is considered endangered if it is in eminent danger of extinction and threatened if it is likely to become an endangered species.1

In the Columbia River Basin the Snake River sockeye population was listed as endangered in 1991 and twelve other populations of salmon, trout, and steelhead have been listed as threatened since 1992.2


Recovery of anadromous fish populations in the Columbia Basin is extremely complicated - made so by the large number of environmental factors that affect the species involved and by the large number of local, state, tribal, and federal agencies and interest groups that have a hand in the matter. Recovery efforts under the Endangered Species Act date back to 1978. Proposed protection measures have included spawning habitat restoration, improved passage through dams for returning fish, transport of juvenile fish around dams, and hatchery rearing of salmon fry. Consideration has also been given to drawing down reservoir levels and to breaching the four dams on the Snake River down river from its confluence with the Salmon River.3 Controversy over aspects of these proposals has landed decisions regarding proposed action in federal court. Several plans put forth by NOAA Fisheries have been remanded back for revision by Judge James Redden of Portland. Judge Redden's primary goal has been to balance the impact on hydropower production and the chances for a healthy salmon population. His 2010 decision in the case left in place biological actions proposed under the 2008 - 2013 NOAA plan, but required a commitment to specific actions over an extended period of time on the part of the Bonneville Power Administration and the other federal agencies involved. He also ordered renewed consideration of breaching the four Snake River dams:

I recognize the inherent uncertainty in making predictions about the effects of future actions. If NOAA Fisheries cannot rely on benefits from habitat improvement simply because they cannot conclusively quantify those benefits, they have no incentive to continue to fund these vital habitat improvements. Moreover, requiring certainty with respect to the effects of a mitigation plan would effectively prohibit NOAA Fisheries from using any novel approach to avoiding jeopardy, including dam removal.

No later than January 1, 2014, NOAA Fisheries shall produce a new biological opinion that reevaluates the efficacy of the RPAs [reasonable and prudent actions] in avoiding jeopardy, identifies reasonably specific mitigation plans for the life of the biological opinion, and considers whether more aggressive action, such as dam removal and/or additional flow augmentation and reservoir modifications are necessary to avoid jeopardy. As a practical matter, it may be difficult for Federal Defendants to develop a long-term biological opinion that relies only on mitigation measures that are reasonably certain to occur.4

Recovery Map

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To Start You Thinking

1) Determining the effectiveness of steps taken to return fish populations to acceptable levels requires an accurate count of fish migrating both to and from the ocean. The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission provides an excellent summary of the process. Go to the PTAGIS Interpretive Center, view the presentation and prepare an outline of the steps involved.

The map linked above, produced originally by the Bonneville Power Administration, provides a look at the extent of the extinction threat to anadromous species in the interior Columbia River basin. The companion Recovery Actions map identifies actions completed in the Columbia River Basin since 2008; the type of actions Judge Redden ordered continued pending a revised plan in 2014.

2) According to data in the Recovery Populations map, historically which species was distributed over the largest area in the Interior Columbia Basin?

3) Comparing the current extent of anadromous species with the historical is an eye opening exercise. Select one of the species (e.g. - spring/summer chinook) and filter the data to find where the population is still extant (still in existence). Repeat the process for each of the other species and summarize your conclusions.

4) Check areas where the salmon are no longer extant. What is the principle reason identified in the database. Explain what this means.

5) The Recovery Actions map shows the variety of actions taken by federal agencies from 2008 - 2011 to promote salmon and steelhead recovery. Explore the map and identify the various types of actions identified and explain what they involve.

6) In the Water Quality lesson you explored environmental problems associated with the decline of chinook salmon in the South Fork of the Salmon River in central Idaho. Zoom in on this area again and list the recovery activities that have taken place in this basin since 2008. Explain how these actions relate to the problem of siltation examined in the earlier lesson?

7) Select a subbasin within the Interior Columbia where there has been a large amount of recovery activity - perhaps an area near your home. Use all of the features in the map and analyze recovery efforts taken in this area in terms of the species involved and the actions taken. Prepare a timeline that incorporates both fish counts and recovery activities. Search on the internet to find additional information about this region and efforts at salmon recovery and add a written summary to your timeline outlining program effectiveness to date and possible future recovery activities.


1U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Glossary

2 John Harrison, "Endangered Species Act and Columbia River salmon and steelhead," Portland, Oregon Northwest Power & Conservation Council, 2010.

3 John Harrison, "Endangered Species Act and Columbia River salmon and steelhead," Portland, Oregon Northwest Power & Conservation Council, 2010.

4 James Redden, "National Wildlife Federation, et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Series, et al." Portland, Oregon: United States District Court, 2011.

Last modified in April, 2017 by Rick Thomas