In a unique collaborative process, a dozen state and federal resource agencies, conservation groups, The Yakama Tribe and the City of Tacoma have negotiated a comprehensive mitigation plan which focuses on the restoration of wild fish on the Cowlitz River watershed while ensuring continuing opportunities for sustainable fisheries now and in the future, the Washington Department of Fish Wildlife (WDFW) reported.
The settlement agreement is expected to fulfill requirements by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing of the Cowlitz River Hydroelectric Project operated by the City of Tacoma Public Works Department.
WDFW Director Dr. Jeff Koenings called the agreement a good deal for the resources and the river. "We've worked through this collaborative process to come up with a framework agreement that allows us the flexibility to create effective management plans.
"Now the real work begins," Koenings said. "All the groups and agencies that helped guide this process need to come to the table and continue to work together to develop the specific management plans required in the settlement agreement. Through this agreement and the work ahead, WDFW's ultimate goals to restore wild salmon and to provide opportunities for fishers can become a reality."
The agreement is a commitment by all signature parties to ecosystem improvements, wild salmon recovery and significant improvements to hatchery practices in the Cowlitz basin. The agreement:
- Requires Tacoma City Light to construct fish passage upon successful recovery of anadromous fish in the Tilton River above Mayfield Dam and spring chinook or late winter steelhead in the upper Cowlitz River above Mossyrock and Cowlitz Falls dams.
- Provides for the continued annual rearing of 50,000 pounds of resident fish annually from the trout facility.
- Provides for the continued rearing of early winter steelhead and summer steehead as part of the 650,000 pounds of fish to be produced at the salmon hatchery under the terms of the license.
- Requires Tacoma City Light to establish a $3 million habitat restoration and enhancement fund.
- Requires Tacoma to remodel the Cowlitz hatchery complex, establish satellite facilities in the upper watershed and improve the existing hatchery disease problems.
- Emphasizes changes in hatchery operations to produce fish under conditions that mimic natural conditions as much as possible. This will help to increase survival of juvenile fish, thereby increasing the mitigation effectiveness of the hatcheries.
- Emphasizes and reinforces the 1993 wildlife mitigation agreement and provides additional recreation improvements for all users.
The agreement also establishes the state Department of Fish and Wildlife as the primary hatchery operator at least through 2008 and provides for a process to negotiate changes under the lead of the Department of Fish and Wildlife when wild fish are restored in the upper watershed and the Endangered Species Act is no longer an issue on the Cowlitz.
"This unique agreement addresses each of the so-called "four Hs" involved in salmon recovery – hatchery reform, habitat improvements, harvest changes and hydropower operations," Koenings added. "This shows we can work together to achieve common goals with a diversity of ideas."