The Stream Doctor

December 15th, 2003

Email YOUR Questions directly to the Stream Doctor. This is your opportunity to get an experts professional opinion on anything stream related.

Q. Do you think watershed analysis will be effective in protecting and/or restoring salmonid habitat in the Pacific Northwest Region?

A. This is a huge and involved question that really requires much more space and time than we have here. Let me try and give you some of my thoughts on this. Much of this will be based on the recommendations that former President Clinton received from the FEMAT plan; I was a reviewer of the aquatic section for that document, so know a little about what they have recommended.

First, of course, watershed analysis alone will not do the job, but is the obvious first step in determining where and how we should exert what resources are available. Merely analyzing watersheds only defines the status quo; it will be the implementation that will - or will not - accomplish any restoration of salmonid habitat. FEMAT's approach, I believe, is solid and based on good scientific criteria. Briefly, as I understood it, it involves identifying watersheds with the potential for being good salmonid habitat, beginning restoration in the headwater reaches, and working downstream to see that these areas are not further degraded so that they provide a suitable conduit from the restored headwater spawning areas to the ocean or large river. Restoration of riparian corridors, elimination of back-country roads which result in increased silt loading, and other similar efforts are included in the plan. To make a significant impact throughout the Pacific Northwest will take a large and continuing dedication of money and effort; this is the part that scares me because now politics, and not science, gets stirred into the pot. It will do little good in the long-term if a significant beginning effort, say full-funding for 7 or 8 years, is suddenly cut to lesser funding or less effort for a significant number of years. I think it will cause the whole effort to crash, not just part of it. As you probably know, we're talking about large, integrated ecosystems extending from the many headwater basins to large downstream rivers, and these must be treated as wholes, not pieces, if we are to have significant, long-term restoration of the habitat for salmonids.

I better stop here; I hope I've given you some idea of the complexity involved. If you'd like to pursue this, I'd suggest you get a copy of the FEMAT document. I might as well throw out one more personal opinion. Am I optimistic that this area (I live in Washington State) will get it's act together and come up with a way to reverse the downward trend of salmon populations in the Columbia River drainage? No, I don't see anything encouraging despite all of the panels, organizations, teams, etc. that are trying to figure out how to make this system satisfy everybody, because the bottom line is habitat and NONE of the plans so far suggested (except FEMAT) addresses habitat restoration. You can barge salmon, drawdown reservoirs, improve passage around dams, or whatever other things you come up with, it's still the habitat that counts. There are just too many large (powerful) self-interest groups involved who do not have a history of even trying to cooperate.

If you have a question, please feel free to contact me.
~ C. E. (Bert) Cushing, aka Streamdoctor
105 W. Cherokee Dr.
Estes Park, CO 80517
Phone: 970-577-1584

The 'Stream Doctor' is a retired professional stream ecologist and author, now living in the West and spending way too much time fly-fishing. You are invited to submit questions relating to anything stream related directly to him for use in this Q & A Feature at

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