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Concerns voiced for lower White Salmon River’s future

Residents, recreationists, fishermen, business owners, biologists, and more turned out last Saturday for a meeting to swap ideas and discuss concerns regarding what could be in store for the future of the lower White Salmon River.

The Husum Fire Hall was packed with interested stakeholders in not only the return of salmon and other fish to the river, but also those concerned with access for recreational opportunities, land management, and some uncertainty surrounding up to 600 acres of land along the lower 6 miles of the river still owned by PacifiCorp.

The meeting was organized by Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group and the White Salmon Watershed Management Committee with the main focus of developing a strategy for fish habitat conservation. Research regarding fish habitat and development suitability along the lower section of the river presented at the meeting was all possible due to a grant via the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board that Mid-Columbia Fisheries obtained after the completion of the Condit Dam removal in 2012.

“I believe we as a community have a fairly unique opportunity to make decisions that affect fish habitat on the lower White Salmon River,” said Margaret Neuman, executive director of Mid-Columbia Fisheries.

Jill Hardiman, a fish biologist with the United States Geological Survey, shared information from a salmon habitat assessment on the lower 6 miles of the river.

Through her analysis of data from 2012, the highest density of salmon redds found throughout that portion of the White Salmon River has been noted in the first two river miles. Additional surveys from August to mid-December of 2013 also found high-density spawning between river mile two and the mouth of the White Salmon for fall chinook salmon. For spring chinook salmon, around half of observed spawning occurred above the former site of the Condit Dam.

While she presented data on spawning, Hardiman also mentioned that the lower six miles of the river is important habitat for juvenile salmon rearing and migration.

“The river is in a state of flux, so it’s great to have this information, but it is changing and it is going to continue to change,” Hardiman said.

Neuman also provided information on a development suitability analysis of the lower White Salmon River, which examined the impacts of the topography along the river and zoning restrictions from Klickitat and Skamania counties, as well as the Columbia River Gorge Commission.

While open space zoning through the Gorge Commission protects natural resources within the National Scenic Area, zoning in Klickitat and Skamania counties could allow for some residential development along the river, but the terrain is also always a factor to be considered.

“A major limiting factor to developing on the White Salmon River is that there is a steep canyon,” Neuman said.

When it came to many in attendance at Saturday’s meeting, keeping residential development along the river to a minimum seemed more desirable, but potentially building trails that would allow access for fishermen, kayakers, hikers, and other recreationists was brought up.

Others at the meeting simply called for an exercise in caution even when it comes to conservation efforts in and along the river as it recovers naturally following the dam removal. Controlling fuel that could pose a potential fire risk while still building up riparian habitats, the impact of climate change, creating safe put-ins and take-outs for boaters, and more were all brought up at the meeting.

For those who already live along the river, designated access points that could prevent or deter trespassing — an issue some in attendance said is a continuous problem — was of great interest. Those living in homes either along the river or previously situated on the now-drained Northwestern Lake also voiced concerns over PacifiCorp’s land management practices and what the company might eventually do with the land it owns .

Neuman said that though no representative with PacifiCorp was at Saturday’s meeting, the company has been helpful in providing information for the habitat assessment and development suitability analysis.

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