Sunday, June 27, 2010

Diversity: A key factor in species survival

by Lawrence G. Dominguez - June 27th, 2010

Fish biologist Lawrence Dominguez highlights a crucial concept for salmon and the implications here are clear: the habitat of the Snake River basin remains a critical piece of the ongoing work to ensure the return to abundance of endangered salmon in the Northwest.

Growing up, I instinctively knew that diversity was a good thing. I didn't know what it meant but when my mom used to tell me not to put all my eggs in one basket I felt that she meant well, even though growing up in the suburbs didn't require a trip to the coop every morning. From Hot Wheels to baseball card collections, the king of the block was the one who had the greatest assortment. It wasn't until late in high school and in college biology and ecology classes that I began to see those same fundamental truths apply to the survival and population growth of animals.

Diversity of populations plays out in various ways in the animal kingdom, starting with how many eggs or offspring that can be produced. This measure of fecundity varies vastly among species; oysters produce 55-114 million eggs, some halibut up to a million eggs per day (!), a spawning salmon lays hundreds to thousands in her redd (nest), birds have between one and 20 offspring, mammals generally up to ten. In general, fecundity is inversely proportional to the amount of parental investment. Salmon parents do a great job of making and protecting nests, but are not around to protect them from predators in the early days and weeks. They embody the very definition of posthumous nurturing, however. (1)

Imagine how much diversity of the Pacific salmon is represented by the combined millions and millions of salmon eggs, growing and hatching in the thousands of Pacific Northwest streams and lakes every year. Successful diversity continues after that with their ability to access diverse and productive habitats (lakes or streams, rivers, estuaries, oceans) throughout their various life stages, and concludes with their ability to make it back to their river of origin to give them the opportunity to pass on that diversity to future generations.

Maintaining biological diversity (habitats, species, and population diversity) has been a cornerstone for providing what species need. It is at the forefront of topics regarding species conservation now more than ever – and rightly so, amidst diminishing animal populations around the world. A recent article in Nature magazine (2) highlights the significance of population and life history diversity in how a population performs.

Using an illustration to which we can all relate to these days, the authors describe the success of a diverse financial portfolio in stressful, uncertain financial times, to illustrate that a diversified "population portfolio" can similarly still perform in challenging circumstances. However, populations inhabiting landscapes that have been heavily altered or influenced – whether by extensive land use alterations, habitat loss, climate change, hatchery impacts, or hydropower influences – will have very difficult times persisting. Adapting to these influences was not necessarily a consideration when the "resiliency portfolio" for salmon populations was "assembled."

Certainly some of those resiliency allocations are becoming manifest in the changing environment but there is uncertainty about how much of that can be explained in adapting to changing environments or simply pushing the salmon to less-preferred areas of their tolerances. Several years ago similar considerations of population diversity were made in an analysis of multiple populations (3) to suggest characteristics of populations that warrant the highest conservation priorities. These are populations that have a high potential for adaptive variation (use of various habitats, different timing, life history diversity), a genetic structure with propensity to spread to larger areas, a sharing of habitats with other populations, and a sharing of distinctive habitat characteristics among populations.

The authors noted that watersheds without restrictive land use areas (that would otherwise provide productive areas to allow portions of the population to recover), should be the highest conservation priorities. Both these articles concur, on different scales, of the importance of population diversity to restore or maintain viable salmon populations or fisheries. A greater source of diverse populations, aided by effective connections between them and their habitats, provide a greater number of pathways to recovery.

Many of the baseball cards I collected in my childhood ended up being clothes-pinned to my bike spokes to simulate a motorcycle sound. Decades later, I humbly learned that the combined value of some of those cards would have likely sent me on a different life history path than a salmon biologist. In the same vein, while we may not have understood it in the past, the value of our remaining diversity of salmon habitats and populations is increasing as its abundance diminishes and threats increase. We must ensure access to and connectivity of habitats, and enough adult returns to the streams to satisfy the fundamental need of diversity in recovery efforts.

Finally – and vitally – let us not overlook the values we have yet to understand, as the recent Nature article demonstrates. The closer we look at, and the more we learn about, salmon populations and their needs, the more factors we must consider in maintaining and recovering fisheries.

by Lawrence G. Dominguez, Fish Ecologist
Cramer Fish Sciences
Providing innovative solutions for fisheries and environmental challenges, serving Oregon, California, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

Mr. Dominguez is a salmon ecologist with expertise in habitat restoration ecology and Endangered Species Act compliance and recovery. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or by phone at 360-915-4194.

(1) While alive, adult salmon provide protection for their young for only several days after spawning,, however, through the form of providing nutrient and tissue, they contribute fundamental elements of the food web to the watershed where their young will emerge from the gravel and feed.

(2) Schindler, D.E., R. Hilborn, B. Chasco, C.P. Boatright, T.P. Quinn, L.A. Rogers, and M.S Webster. 2010. Population diversity and the portfolio effect in an exploited species.

(3) Halupka, K.C., M.F. Willson, M.D. Bryant, F. H. Everest, and A.J. Gharett. 2003. Conservation of population diversity of Pacific salmon in Southeast Alaska. North American Journal of Fisheries Management (23): 1057-1086.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Calling on Senators Murray and Cantwell

120 Western Washington business and community leaders seek leadership of Washington's Senators in resolving Columbia Basin salmon crisis

Open letter echoes Eastern Washington leaders’ earlier request that senators bring stakeholders together to craft a comprehensive solution for salmon and the state and regional economy

June 16th, 2010 - Seattle, WA – On Tuesday, 120 Western Washington business owners and community leaders wrote to U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell urging their leadership in solving the Northwest salmon crisis. The open letter to the senators also appears as a full-page ad in today’s Puget Sound-based weekly - the Stranger. The letter signers include over 50 businesses, 40 community leaders, 20 organizations, and several prominent local scientists.

Download the Westside Letter to Senators Murray and Cantwell
Download the Press Release.
See the Westside Letter as it appeared in the Stranger, June 16 issue.
Download the April 28 Eastside Letter to Senators Murray and Cantwell.
See the Eastside Letter as it appeared in the Pacific Northwest Inlander, April 28.

Read about the Eastside Letter in article by Daniel Jack Chasan


These leaders want the senators to bring together all interests —farmers, fishermen, energy users, business owners and local communities—to craft a durable science-based and economically viable salmon restoration plan. They acknowledge past tensions surrounding the salmon issue, but note the enormous economic opportunity if Washington can forge an effective long-term solution.

Watch videos from other leaders in Washington State.

“Salmon aren’t just a part of our state’s natural heritage, they are also very important to our economy,” said Jeremy Brown, commercial salmon troller and Washington Trollers Association board member.  “Especially in our coastal and river communities, salmon has traditionally been a huge source of good jobs and income. The population declines of Columbia Basin salmon in the past several decades have taken a heavy toll on the health of our communities. It’s time to sit down together to figure out how we can constructively address these issues for people on both sides of the mountains.”

Kevin Davis, who owns and operates the Steelhead Diner and Blueacre Seafood in Seattle with his wife Terresa, stressed that his business success depends on fresh, high-quality foods. “I am working constantly with both farmers and fishermen, and I see absolutely no reason why Washington state can’t chart a path forward that supports both healthy farms and healthy fisheries,” Davis said. “We need both. I know that we can find common solutions to our common problems, and bringing people together to finally start that discussion is the right next step.”

Regional orca experts and federal scientists recognize how critical Columbia basin chinook are to the diet of Puget Sound resident killer whales. The Columbia and Snake rivers were once the West Coast’s
greatest source of chinook salmon.

"One of the biggest threats facing our resident orcas today is the availability of food,” said People For Puget Sound executive director Kathy Fletcher. “Our killer whales depend largely on chinook salmon - whose numbers have dropped significantly in the Northwest. This relationship between orcas and salmon is one more connection -- like those of food and energy -- uniting the people of Eastern and Western Washington. And its one more reason why we need leadership from our senators to bring our communities together to find effective lasting solutions. No salmon -- no orcas. It’s that simple.”

More than 50 Eastern Washington business and community leaders began the discussion with Senators Murray and Cantwell in late April in an open letter urging their support of a new inclusive approach to Columbia Basin salmon recovery. U.S. Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) previously expressed support for resolving the salmon recovery stalemate through a regional stakeholder negotiation that considers all credible options, including the removal of the four lower Snake River dams.

“I am certainly encouraged by the effort and support of so many business and community leaders on the other side of the mountains and for their interest in sitting down together to work through the issues in a way that can benefit everyone,” said Spokane resident Don Barbieri, chair for Red Lion Hotels and a signer of the eastside letter. “The uncertainty caused by the failure to resolve the salmon crisis affects all of us.”

The Western Washington letter signers — a cross section of business and community leaders — seek a cooperative approach to salmon recovery and to the issue of the lower Snake River dams. An inclusive stakeholder process could not only protect and restore endangered salmon, but also leverage solutions that improve transportation networks, produce clean and affordable energy, and create jobs in all three sectors.

“Healthy fish populations, and especially salmon and steelhead, are my bread and butter,” said Dave McCoy of Seattle’s Emerald Water Anglers, a successful Puget Sound-area guiding business. “The Columbia River and its tributaries really need to be viewed as a special resource for all the people of the region. The courts are typically good at reminding us about what we can’t do. That’s why a stakeholder process makes sense, where we can come together to work on what we can and should do. But we need the support and leadership of Washington’s senators to truly make it happen this time.”

Thirteen salmon and steelhead stocks remain listed under the Endangered Species Act despite 20 years of litigation and expenditure of more than $9 billion on failed restoration efforts. “Our coalition of fishing businesses and conservation groups recognizes that the salmon restoration process must work for our farmers, shippers, energy users and riverside towns,” said Save Our Wild Salmon outreach director Joseph Bogaard. “We are committed to working with fellow stakeholders and our elected leaders to craft a solution that restores our salmon and benefits our communities across the state and
throughout the region.”

For more information, please contact:

Jeremy Brown, commercial salmon troller, WTA board member 360-201-2487 (cell)
Kathy Fletcher, Executive Director, People For Puget Sound, 206-382-7007 (office)
Don Barbieri, Chair, Red Lion Hotels, 509-951-9535 (cell)
Kevin Davis, Steelhead Diner and Blueacre Seafood, 206-659-0737, 206-427-2915 (cell)
Dave McCoy, Owner and Head Guide, Emerald Water Anglers, 206-601-0132 (cell)
Sara Patton, NW Energy Coalition, 206-621-0094
Joseph Bogaard, Save Our Wild Salmon, 206-286-4455, x103, 300-1003 (c)