Lost watersheds: Barriers, aquatic habitat connectivity, and salmon persistence in the Willamette and Lower Columbia River basins

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adult, anadromous fish, barriers, chinook, Columbia River, fish passage, Gradient, habitat, migration, mitigation, rainbow trout, salmon, spawning, steelhead, stream habitat, streams, trout, watershed

Journal or Book Title

Transactions of the American Fisheries Society


Large portions of watersheds and streams are lost to anadromous fishes because of anthropogenic barriers to migration. The loss of these streams and rivers has shifted the distribution of accessible habitat, often reducing the diversity of accessible habitat and the quantity of high-quality habitat. We combined existing inventories of barriers to adult fish passage in the Willamette and Lower Columbia River basins and identified 1,491 anthropogenic barriers to fish passage blocking 14,931 km of streams. We quantified and compared the stream quality, land cover, and physical characteristics of lost versus currently accessible habitat by watershed, assessed the effect of barriers on the variability of accessible habitats, and investigated potential impacts of habitat reduction on endangered or threatened salmorrid populations. The majority of the study watersheds have lost more than 40% of total fish stream habitat. Overall, 40% of the streams with spawning gradients suitable for steelhead (anadromous rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss), 60% of streams with riparian habitat in good condition, and 30% of streams draining watersheds with all coniferous land cover are no longer accessible to anadromous fish. Across watersheds, hydrologic and topographic watershed characteristics were correlated with barrier location, barrier density, and the impacts of barriers on habitat. Population-based abundance scores for spring Chinook salmon 0. tshawytscha were strongly correlated with the magnitude of habitat lost and the number of lowland fish passage barriers. The characteristics of barrier and habitat distribution presented in this paper indicate that barrier removal projects and mitigation for instream barriers should consider both the magnitude and quality of the lost habitat







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