Questions and Answers on the Rule to Authorize the Reintroduction of Central Valley Spring-Run Chinook Salmon in the Upper Yuba River
NOAA Fisheries is issuing a proposed rule to authorize the reintroduction of Central Valley (CV) spring-run Chinook salmon in the upper Yuba River above Englebright Dam.
Why is it important to reintroduce salmon and/or steelhead into historical habitat?
California’s once abundant and signature salmon and steelhead runs have experienced severe declines over the last several decades. On July 22, 2014, NOAA Fisheries adopted a final ESA Recovery Plan for Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, and California Central Valley steelhead. Spring-run Chinook salmon are believed to have once been the most abundant of the four salmon runs in the Central Valley. The Recovery Plan identifies that re-establishing populations of spring-run Chinook salmon above dams would aid in recovery of this Evolutionarily Significant Unit of Chinook salmon by increasing abundance and productivity, improving spatial structure and diversity, and reducing the risk of extinction. Reintroduction above Englebright Dam represents an opportunity to reconnect this species to valuable and relatively unimpaired habitat in the upper Yuba River.
Will reintroduction help the species survive climate change?
Yes, because lower-elevation reaches of rivers are projected to grow increasingly warm with climate change, reducing the odds that the fish and the eggs they lay in riverbeds will survive. Restoring access for the species to cold waters above rim dams (see below) would provide the species with much greater chances of survival.
Who is participating in the reintroduction?
NOAA Fisheries is working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, water agencies, land managers and other non-governmental organizations to identify partners, evaluate likely reintroduction areas, and develop methods for a future reintroduction program.
How would these fish be physically reintroduced to habitat above Englebright Dam?
Englebright Dam is a major barrier preventing fish from reaching their historical habitat in the upper Yuba River. NOAA Fisheries and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are currently evaluating fish passage methods. It is likely that reintroduction will include the use of a “collection and transport” program to move these fish upstream and downstream around Englebright Dam.
What are “rim dams” and has NOAA Fisheries considered dam removal as an option for fish passage?
Rim dams are the large dams at the base of nearly all major river systems in the California Central Valley. Most dams are between 100 and 700 feet high and block access to over 5,000 miles of high elevation salmon habitat. Consequently, these dams have had significant adverse impacts to California’s salmon and steelhead populations in the Central Valley by blocking access to 95% of their historical holding, spawning and rearing habitats. However, the rim dams are integral to California’s water infrastructure, providing water storage, power, and flood control and in general, dam removal is not a viable option. However, where feasible, NOAA Fisheries is evaluating opportunities to provide fish passage upstream of some of these dams to ensure the long-term viability of salmon and steelhead in the Central Valley.
Have collection and transport programs been used for salmon reintroductions elsewhere?
Yes. More information on fish passage projects on the West Coast can be found here:
- The Baker Project (Washington)
- The Pelton Round Butte Project (Oregon)
- The Foster Dam Project (Oregon)
- Review of Fish Passage Technologies at High Head Dams
- California Fish Passage: Frequently Asked Questions
How would reintroduction of an Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed species above Englebright Dam affect landowners?
Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon are listed as “threatened” under the ESA and federally protected. NOAA Fisheries 2014 California Central Valley Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Plan states that salmon recovery actions should include measures to minimize regulatory impacts to local communities. Under ESA section 10(j), NOAA Fisheries has authority, if certain requirements are met, to designate these reintroduced populations as “nonessential, experimental populations” that do not carry the same protections as fully listed populations. This allows for the exemption of ESA restrictions on lawful activities in these watersheds.
Central Valley salmon and steelhead are also listed under the California ESA (CESA). Provisions under state law enacted in 2018 protect local communities from land-use restrictions related to reintroductions of CESA-listed species and provide consistency with future federal designations and regulations.
For Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon that are part of the non-essential experimental population area above Englebright Dam, NOAA Fisheries is proposing to exempt all otherwise legal activities from ESA take prohibitions. In other words, individuals or entities engaged in lawful activities that may incidentally take Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon in the Non Essential Population (aka NEP) area, would not be required to obtain a take permit from NOAA Fisheries. This final rule would ensure that landowners, water managers, recreational fishers, power producers, and others engaged in lawful action would not be adversely impacted by the reintroduction of these fish to the waterways above Englebright Dam.
What is the status of the reintroduction and when is it expected to begin?
A firm timeline for the reintroduction of Central Valley Chinook salmon into the upper Yuba River has not been established but is currently in early planning stages. NOAA Fisheries and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife believe a pilot reintroduction program could start within three to five years. Many key actions still need to occur including identification of a lead agency to implement a reintroduction program, identification of the most appropriate methods to reintroduce these fish, and subsequent identification of the necessary infrastructure to implement a successful program.