«DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT FOR THE COLUMBIA STOCK RANCH SECTION 536 ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION PROJECT The environmental ...»
While native grasses and other graminoids would be seeded and planted across the site, native species take longer to establish and are often unable to compete against aggressive species like RCG. Because RCG is known to occupy elevations above 8.7 feet (NAVD 88) in this reach of the Columbia River watershed, it is expected to be difficult to control in wetland habitats. Invasive species control on the CSR project site following implementation of the Proposed Action would rely primarily on mechanical and chemical methods for eliminating and controlling the establishment and colonization of RCG. Any application of herbicides would follow BMPs and conditions of all permits from NOAA Fisheries, Oregon DEQ, and DSL. There may be shortterm, localized impacts to water quality and non-target vegetation following application of herbicides targeting invasive species, examples include a temporary increase in turbidity associated with from water runoff from herbicide application or the localized loss of vegetation immediately adjacent to invasive species where coverage of herbicide overlaps spatially. There is an expectation that the composition of vegetation communities in the CSR project site will transition to increased coverage of native species and, once established, native species would be able to out-compete or shade out RCG.
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4.4. Fish and Wildlife Many of the existing ponded areas and wetlands provide aquatic habitat for waterfowl and local, isolated fish populations. However, many of these areas lack a native riparian canopy and shrub layer, reducing overall habitat quality. There is evidence of beaver activity and presence in several locations west of Tide Creek and riverward of the existing levee. Recent research has shown the synergistic benefits for fish and other wildlife from beaver activity in tidally influenced habitats (Hood 2012). While unknown in the project area, native freshwater mussels are present in Merrill Creek, a tributary to Deer Island Slough upstream of the CSR project site (Allard et al. 2015). Freshwater mussels, including western pearlshell mussels (Margaritifera falcata), are thought to be long-living invertebrates and commonly exceed 100 years of age. Many freshwater mussel species are imperiled throughout North America. In addition, western pearlshell mussels are extremely slow growing and show little movement (if any) between sites, suggesting that movement into an area is dependent on external factors, including host fish transporting mussel larval as parasites into new areas or water currents transporting larvae downstream.
Site visits have documented the presence of several piscivorous birds in the project area, including cormorant ssp. (Phalacrocorax sp.), hooded mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus), belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), and pied-billed grebes (Podilymbus podiceps), which indicates that fish communities are present, but specific species and densities are unknown.
Fish ingress and egress in the project area has been functionally restricted following construction of the railroad and Columbia River Levee; any fish communities present on the site are presumably isolated from the Columbia River. However, recent fish surveys and monitoring by the Tidal Freshwater Monitoring project (funded by BPA and the Corps, conducted by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)) found abundant juvenile Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), coho salmon (O. kisutch), and chum (O. keta) throughout the lower Columbia River; juvenile steelhead (O. mykiss) were found in lower densities throughout the lower river. Because the CSR project site is isolated from tidal waters, juvenile salmonids are unable to access and benefit from the off-channel habitats currently present in the CSR project area. Results from fish surveys in adjacent waterways (Deer Island Slough and Tide Creek south of the CSR property) included 20 taxa of fish, where threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) and sculpin were the most abundant fish species; no salmonids were detected in the Deer Island Slough adjacent to the project site during the fish surveys (USFWS 2009, 2010a).
Threatened and Endangered Species – NOAA Fisheries The ESA, as amended, provides for the conservation and recovery of endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and NOAA Fisheries share joint jurisdiction for the administration of ESAlisted species. Under Section 7 of the ESA, federal agencies are required to evaluate the effects of actions they fund, permit, or authorize, and consult with the USFWS or NOAA Fisheries to ensure federal actions do not jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat. Critical habitat is defined as specific geographic locations critical to the existence of listed species.
Species under the jurisdiction of NOAA Fisheries include 13 ESUs of salmonids found in the Columbia River adjacent to the CSR project site, listed in Table 4. In 2005, critical habitat was designated for all Columbia River salmon and steelhead ESUs, with the exception of lower Columbia River coho. Critical habitat for lower Columbia River coho was designated in 2013.
In addition to the 13 ESUs listed above, coastal cutthroat (O. clarki) could be present in the lower Columbia River near the project site. ODFW has documented the presence of coho, steelhead, coastal cutthroat trout and Pacific lamprey in off-channel habitats near the CSR project site (USFWS 2009). The lower Columbia River and estuary are important areas for anadromous fish migrating to spawning areas and for juveniles migrating downstream to the ocean. Adult ESA-listed anadromous salmonids use the lower Columbia River and estuary as a corridor to migrate upstream to spawning habitats throughout much of the Columbia River Basin. Adults actively migrate and are not expected to use the area adjacent to the CSR project site for resting or feeding, although individuals could spend time in the estuary to physiologically acclimate to freshwater, especially if they find cool water areas during warmer summer months. Chum, coho and Chinook salmon, and steelhead populations spawn in tributaries to the Columbia River, and chum and Chinook salmon spawn in the mainstem Columbia River in appropriately sized gravel. Spawning is not expected to occur in the CSR project site because the site lacks the appropriate spawning habitat and substrate.
April 22, 2016 Page 33 The lower Columbia River and estuary provide overwintering, foraging, and rearing habitat for juveniles before they enter the ocean environment. Juvenile salmonids, particularly those with ocean-type life histories (e.g., subyearling or early life-stage Chinook salmon [i.e., Lower Columbia River, Snake River, Upper Willamette River ESUs] and chum salmon), rear in the shallow water and nearshore habitats in the lower Columbia River estuary for up to several months before moving out into the ocean (Simenstad et al. 1982, Bottom et al. 2001, Williams 2006). Rearing occurs primarily in low-energy, shallow off-channel habitats year-round. The majority of juvenile salmonids out-migrate in mid- to late winter, late spring and early summer, although fall Chinook salmon typically have a more extended outmigration period than other Columbia Basin salmonids and commonly out-migrate in late summer as well.
In addition to Pacific salmonids, the Southern distinct population segment (DPS) of North American green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris) and the Southern DPS of Pacific eulachon (also known as Columbia River smelt) (Thaleichthys pacificus) are both listed as threatened under the ESA and may be present in the Columbia River near the CSR project site. The Southern DPS of green sturgeon was listed in July 2006 and the Southern DPS of Pacific eulachon was listed in March 2010. Both species have designated critical habitat in the mainstem Columbia River, but critical habitat does not include aquatic habitats present on the CSR project site. Furthermore, green sturgeon and eulachon do not currently have access to aquatic habitats in the project area (like salmonids), nor are habitat conditions suitable in the project area to support individuals of either species.
Green sturgeon is a widely distributed, marine-oriented sturgeon found in nearshore waters from Baja California to Canada, spawning in the Sacramento, Klamath and Rogue rivers in the spring. Spawning occurs in deep pools or holes in large, turbulent river mainstreams. Two DPSs have been defined, a Northern DPS with spawning populations in the Klamath and Rogue rivers and a Southern DPS that spawns in the Sacramento River. While the southern DPS was listed as threatened in 2006, the northern DPS remains a species of concern. Critical habitat for Southern DPS was designated in 2009 and includes all tidally-influenced areas of the Columbia River to approximately RM 46 and up to MHHW and includes adjacent coastal marine areas [74 Federal Register (FR) 52300]. The CSR project site does not fall within range of critical habitat designation for the Souther DPS of North American green sturgeon.
Information from fisheries-dependent sampling suggests that green sturgeon only occupy large estuaries during the summer and early fall in the northwestern U.S. Commercial catches of green sturgeon peak in October in the Columbia River estuary, and records from other estuarine fisheries (Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, Washington) support the idea that sturgeon are only present in these estuaries from June until October. Green sturgeon enter the Columbia River at the end of spring with their numbers increasing through June, and the greatest numbers are caught in the estuary between July and September. The majority of green sturgeon were caught in the lower reaches of the Columbia River based upon harvest information from 1981-2004. There are no known spawning populations in the Columbia River and its tributaries.
NOAA Fisheries listed the Southern DPS of Pacific eulachon (smelt) as threatened in March
2010. This DPS consists of populations spawning in rivers south of the Nass River in British Columbia, Canada, to and including the Mad River in California. The Columbia River and its tributaries support the largest known eulachon run. The major and most consistent spawning runs return to the mainstem Columbia River (from just upstream of the estuary at RM 25 to immediately downstream of Bonneville Dam) and in the Cowlitz River.
April 22, 2016 Page 34 Eulachon typically spend 3 to 5 years in saltwater before returning to freshwater to spawn from late winter through early summer. Spawning occurs in January, February, and March in the Columbia River. Spawning occurs at temperatures from about 39° to 50°F (4° to 10°C) in the Columbia River and tributaries over sand, coarse gravel, or detrital substrates. Shortly after hatching in late spring, the larvae are carried downstream. Shortly after emergence from their egg, eulachon are dispersed by estuarine and ocean currents into the ocean, indicating short rearing time in the estuarine environment. Juvenile eulachon move from shallow nearshore areas to deeper areas over the continental shelf, becoming widely distributed in coastal waters.
Essential Fish Habitat The Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act of 1976 (16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) regulates Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) for the conservation and management of highly migratory species. EFH is defined as “those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity.” Waters include aquatic areas and their associated physical, chemical, and biological properties used by fish and may include aquatic areas historically used by fish where appropriate; substrate includes sediment, hard bottom, structures underlying the waters, and associated biological communities. “Necessary” means the habitat required to support a sustainable fishery and the managed species’ contribution to a healthy ecosystem; and “spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity” covers a species’ full life cycle (50 C.F.R. §600.10 (2010)). Relative to the CSR project site, the Columbia River mainstem supports EFH for Pacific Coast Salmon, but EFH is not currently present in the CSR project site.
Threatened and Endangered Species – USFWS Threathened and endangered species found in or near the CSR project site which are under the jurisdiction of USFWS are listed in Table 5 and include the Columbia River population of bull trout, which was listed as threatened under the ESA in 1998. In addition, it is unknown if Columbian white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus leucurus) are present in the project vicinity, but they are known to occur in Columbia County, Oregon. The deer are closely associated with bottomland, riparian habitats in the lower Columbia River estuary; however, no critical habitat has been designated for this species. Streaked horned larks (Eremophila alpestris strigata) were listed as threatened under the ESA in October 2013, and critical habitat was designated in select locations within the Columbia River. Streaked horned larks prefer open habitats with sparse vegetation, typical of highly disturbed areas where vegetation succession occurs following disturbance. These areas are currently found on sites in the Columbia River used by the Corps for the placement of dredged materials. The closest location with known streaked horned larks is Sandy Island, immediately across the river from the CSR project site. The Western DPS of yellow-billed cuckoos (Coccyzus americanus) was listed as threatened under the ESA in November 2014. Cuckoos use wooded habitats associated with riparian areas along streams and marshes, but it is believed to have been extripated from Oregon and Washington as a breeding species for the past 90 years (USFWS 2014).
Table 5: USFWS ESA-listed Species
Bull trout At this time, the occurrence of bull trout in the lower Columbia River appears to be incidental and bull trout are not present in Tide Creek or waters adjacent to CSR. Four distinct life history patterns of bull trout have been identified: anadromous, adfluvial, fluvial, and resident. Habitat in the Columbia River is presently considered to be used sparingly for foraging, overwintering, and migration of adfluvial fish. Bull trout are dependent on cool water and their movements are limited by the availability of cool water.