«DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT FOR THE COLUMBIA STOCK RANCH SECTION 536 ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION PROJECT The environmental ...»
Because habitat has been degraded in many basins and bull trout populations in these basins may be depressed, fish may utilize less optimal habitat including waters that anadromous salmon could occupy. Although bull trout prefer cold waters and nearly pristine habitat, they may occur in lower quality habitats because of their ability to seek out appropriate habitat niches (USFWS 2010b). The main environmental factor limiting distribution of bull trout is water temperature, wherein bull trout prefer cold water and avoid streams with high summer temperatures. Among the many factors that contributed to bull trout decline in the Columbia River Basin include: 1) fragmentation and isolation of local populations due to the proliferation of dams and water diversions that have eliminated habitat, altered water flow, and temperature regimes, and impeded migratory movements; 2) degradation of spawning and rearing habitat in upper watershed areas, particularly alterations in sedimentation rates and water temperature resulting from past forest and rangeland management practices and intensive development of roads; and 3) the introduction and spread of non-native species, particularly brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) and lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush). These trout compete with bull trout for resources and brook trout hybridize with bull trout (Federal Register 2002).
High quality bull trout habitat is typically characterized by cold temperatures, abundant cover in the form of large wood, undercut banks, and boulders, clean substrate for spawning, interstitial spaces large enough to conceal juvenile bull trout, and stable channels (USFWS 2010b). The Columbia River downstream of Bonneville Dam does not typically achieve water temperatures suitable for bull trout. Bull trout are piscivorous and frequent areas with overhead cover and coarse substrate and have been observed overwintering in deep beaver ponds or pools containing large woody debris (USFWS 2010b; Federal Register 2002).
Critical habitat for USFWS ESA-listed species is identified in terms of the Primary Constituent Elements (PCEs) that are necessary to support and maintain a species, including space for individual and population growth, and for normal behavior; food, water, air, light, minerals, or other nutritional or physiological requirements; cover or shelter; sites for breeding, reproduction, rearing of offspring, germination, or seed dispersal; and habitats that are protected from disturbance or are representative of the species historic geographic and ecological distribution. Bull trout critical habitat includes the Columbia River mainstem downstream of Bonneville Dam to the ocean, along with other areas of the Columbia River
Basin and bull trout PCEs include the following:
• Springs, seeps, groundwater sources, and subsurface water connectivity (hyporeic flows) to contribute to water quality and quantity and provide thermal refugia.
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• Migratory habitats with minimal physical, biological, or water quality impediments between spawning, rearing, overwintering, and freshwater and marine foraging habitats, including, but not limited to, permanent, partial, intermittent, or seasonal barriers.
• An abundant food base, including terrestrial organisms of riparian origin, macroinvertebrates, and forage fish.
Complex river, stream, lake, reservoir, and marine shoreline aquatic environments and processes with features such as large wood, side channels, pools, undercut banks and substrates, to provide a variety of depths, gradients, velocities, and structure.
• Water temperatures ranging from 2 to 15°C (36 to 59 °F), with adequate thermal refugia available for temperatures at the upper end of this range. Specific temperatures within this range varies depending on bull trout life history stage and form; geography;
elevation; diurnal and seasonal variation; shade, such as that provided by riparian habitat; and local groundwater influence.
Columbia White-tailed Deer The Columbian white-tailed deer is the western-most subspecies of white-tailed deer, and a species of concern in the lower Columbia River watershed. Research indicates that this species was once prolific throughout western Oregon and Washington, but it is now endangered due to habitat alterations by human activities such as agricultural practices, timber harvest, and development. Today, Columbian white-tailed deer exist in two isolated populations in the lower Columbia River counties of Oregon and Washington, as well as in Douglas County in the Umpqua River Basin in southern Oregon (USFWS 1983). Both populations of Columbian whitetailed deer inhabit riparian regions including island habitats. The deer prefer tidal spruce environments characterized by densely forested marshlands with a range of vegetation cover including mature conifer stands, tall shrubs, and deciduous trees (USFWS 1983). There are no known occurances of Columbian white-tailed deer occupying the CSR project site.
Streaked Horned Lark According to the USFWS (2010b), the streaked horned lark once occurred from British Columbia, Canada, south to northern California and was a common summer resident in larger and smaller valleys on the west side of the Cascade Mountain range, wintering in eastern Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. Streaked horned larks have also been reported on islands in the lower Columbia River. The species is associated with bare ground or sparsely vegetated habitat and are known to nest in grass seed fields, pastures, fallow fields, and wetland mudflats, and can also be found in and along gravel roads and adjacent ditches.
Nesting begins in late March and continues into June and consists of a shallow depression built in the open or near a grass clump and lined with fine dead grasses. The streaked horned lark feeds on the ground, and eats mainly weed seeds and insects.
Streaked horned larks are present on Sandy Island, adjacent to the CSR project site and have been observed foraging at the dredged material placement site at Deer Island. However, no individuals have been documented on the CSR project site and instances of occurances are unlikely due to a lack of suitable habitat characteristics at the project site.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo The best available information for Western DPS of yellow-billed cuckoos concludes the species has declined by several orders of magnitude over the past 100 years, and that the decline is continuing, isolating birds into smaller populations at core breeding areas. The decline is April 22, 2016 Page 37 primarily the result of habitat loss and degradation which have impacting the size, extent, connectivity, and quality of riparian vegetation within the range of the cuckoo. In 2014, the USFWS determined that no critical habitat was present in Oregon or Washington and as a result, no critical habitat was proposed for designation in this region.
The yellow-billed cuckoo is a riparian obligate species, historically found in parts of 12 states west of the Continental Divide, including: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Approximately 350-500 pairs are estimated to breed north of the Mexican border where habitat requirements include extensive riparian forests dominated by mature, structurally diverse trees and a vegetative understory consisting of shrubs and smaller trees. The last confirmed breeding records in Oregon are from the 1940s and observations of individual birds in 2009, 2010, and 2012 near the Sandy River Delta and its confluence with the Columbia River were the first confirmed sightings west of the Cascade Mountains since 1977. However, these observations did not coincide with suitable habitat and it is assumed the individuals were migrants and not nesting in the area. The yellow-billed cuckoo was historically considered rare in the Pacific Northwest and the available data suggests that if yellow-billed cuckoos still breed in Oregon and Washington, the numbers are extremely low with pairs numbering in the single digits.
Environmental Consequences No Action Alternative Implementing the No Action Alternative would result in no changes to fish and wildlife in the CSR project area. Terrestrial and aquatic vegetation may experience natural succession, but it is anticipated that invasive species, namely RCG, would continue to dominate the landscape and limit overall biodiversity and habitat quality. The diversity of fish and wildlife currently using the CSR project site would not change from current conditions. Habitat types would continue to be disconnected from the mainstem Columbia River, limiting access and opportunity for fish and other aquatic organisms. No additional habitat opportunities, such as foraging and rearing for estuarine and riverine dependent fish and wildlife species would benefit from implementing the No Action Alternative.
Proposed Action By implementing the Proposed Action, the restoration of low-energy, off-channel habitats in the CSR project site would alleviate some ecological stressors influencing opportunities for salmon and steelhead to feed, rear, and find refuge from the higher-energy environment of the lower Columbia River and estuary. In addition, the restoration of degraded off-channel areas facilitates prey production and macrodetrital inputs to the Columbia River, supporting the broader ecosystem and increasing structural complexity and overall biological heterogeneity.
Activities associated with the Proposed Action include active restoration of tidal connection and fish access to 345 acres of historically tidal wetlands and floodplain habitat. Over 36 acres of tidal channel networks would be restored and excavated to support fish and wildlife habitat, specifically for juvenile salmonid foraging and rearing habitat. Excavation would also create areas of marsh and wetland habitat, supporting a variety of vegetation species and increasing the overall diverse macroinvertebrate prey inputs into the CSR project site and the Columbia River. Restoration efforts to reestablish and maintain vegetation in these areas would increase cover and shade near the aquatic edge, increasing the potential for high quality habitat to support existing birds and wildlife. In addition, reconnecting the floodplain to the mainstem of the Columbia River and increasing the linear extent of edge habitat would provide a regular April 22, 2016 Page 38 exchange of water, nutrients and organic materials to further supplement productivity throughout the project area.
Following implementation of the Proposed Action and restoring surface water connectivity with the Columbia River, the CSR project site would be accessible to juvenile salmonids, providing long-term benefits to these fish. Most construction activities would occur in areas isolated from the Columbia River where salmonids are present, but there could be short-term adverse impacts during the final phase of construction when the existing levee would be fully breached. Short-term wildlife displacement in the CSR project site could occur from noise and activity associated with project construction. Where construction activities could impact nesting birds, construction activities would be timed to occur outside of active breeding season.
Other precautionary measures would include completing in-water work during the period recommended by NOAA Fisheries and ODFW, and conducting fish salvage prior to beginning work would further ensure that the least amount of aquatic wildlife would be displaced. Prior to construction, wetland areas would be surveyed for amphibians and other terrestrial fauna and an attempt would be made to move individuals to other suitable locations to lessen potential short-term adverse impacts. Adverse long-term impacts to wildlife currently utilizing the CSR project site would be offset by the overall net improvements to high quality riparian habitat and tidal channels in the project area.
4.5. Water Quality The Oregon DEQ is required to regularly assess water quality and report to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the condition of the State’s waters. As required by CWA Section 303(d) and 33 U.S.C. § 1313(d), Oregon DEQ and Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) identify waters which do not meet water quality standards for beneficial uses;
the summary report is commonly referred to as the 303(d) list.8 The 303(d) list is used to identify where regulations are needed to improve water quality to better meet state and national standards. The Columbia River was designated in 2004 as water quality limited and placed on the CWA’s 303(d) list for temperature, potential hydrogen (pH), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic, dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane (DDT), polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)(Oregon DEQ 2010, Corps 2011a). Furthermore, the entire Columbia River is subject to an EPA total maximum daily load (TMDL) for dioxin for the beneficial uses of “anadromous fish passage,” “drinking water,” and “resident fish and aquatic life” (Oregon DEQ 2010, Corps 2011a).
Measurements of pH reflect the relative acidity and alkalinity, which can be influenced by human activities, primary production (photosynthesis), and local geologic conditions. Primary production is influenced by temperature, and aquatic organisms adapted to cold-water systems (cutthroat and bull trout, for example) are sensitive to even minor increases in temperatures, especially when spawning. Increased concentrations of nutrients (phosphorous and nitrogen) and pesticides can limit plant growth and at high levels be toxic to plants and animals. High levels of nutrients can also trigger algae blooms, which can lead to lower DO concentrations, starving fish and wildlife of much needed oxygen. Fecal coliform concentrations and heavy metals (arsenic, mercury, etc.) can directly affect human health and some species of fish and aquatic wildlife.
Beneficial uses include domestic and industrial water supply; irrigation and livestock watering; fishing, boating, and water contact recreation; fish and aquatic life, wildlife, and hunting; aesthetic qualities; and hydropower, commercial navigation, and transportation.