LAKE WENATCHEE — After working for the last decade to restore a coho run in the upper Wenatchee River, the Yakama tribe is now embarking on a long-term plan for this late-season spawner.
The tribe last month closed a deal to buy 155 acres about a mile south of Lake Wenatchee, where it hopes to eventually build a small coho incubation facility and rehabilitate a dry side channel for juvenile fish.
Tribal biologists said that planning is in the very early stages, and residents and local groups will have a chance to weigh in on what happens with the former Raymond W. Zufall Trust property, bought with $1.55 million in Bonneville Power Administration funds as part of compensation for fish lost at Columbia River dams.
Last year, due to the Yakama’s coho project, the state allowed coho fishing in the Wenatchee and Methow rivers for the first time in decades.
In the end, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation wants to develop wild runs of coho in the Wenatchee and Methow rivers rivaling those that spawned here before they went extinct in upper Columbia tributaries nearly a century ago.
A strong coho population may also be a key to recovering other fish throughout the region, said Cory Kamphaus, Yakama tribal biologist.
“We’ve found these fish were a very important component to the success of all the different species in the upper Columbia,” he said. That’s because they spawn in late winter, and when rivers and streams lost the coho, they also lost the nutrients that their dying carcasses provided for other species.
“Coho could provide those, to help with the over-winter success of not only coho, but spring chinook and steelhead,” Kamphaus said, adding, “It’s more of a holistic approach.”
Eventually, the tribe hopes to build a facility on about 5 acres of the land to incubate about 1.2 million eggs from adult coho salmon that are return to the Wenatchee River. Those incubated eggs will then be transported to lower Columbia River facilities to be reared, and later brought back to acclimation ponds in the Wenatchee River basin before they’re released as juveniles.
Plans for the property also include restoring a former channel of the river. “We are in the absolute conceptual stages,” said Yakama fish biologist Brandon Rogers, adding, “We know there will be some kind of side channel restoration on that property, but we don’t know much more.”
The tribe has completed an assessment of the upper Wenatchee River basin from Lake Wenatchee to Tumwater Canyon to help determine what types of salmon recovery projects might be considered, and appropriate locations for recovery projects, said Mike Kaputa, director of the Chelan County Natural Resources Department.
The proposal has prompted an effort to take a comprehensive look at all of the uses in the upper Wenatchee River basin, from salmon recover to recreation.
“We’re really excited about this, and there are a lot of land owners and community members who are also very excited,” Kaputa said.
Meetings will begin in early October, and the group should have time to provide input, as construction of any facility could not happen for at least two years, due to the time it takes to permit such a project.
Chelan County Commissioner Keith Goehner said tribal biologists have also presented their conceptual plans to the commission, and will be reaching out to the community to coordinate plans with other uses of the river, such as recreation.
He said it’s important that the Yakamas are coordinating their efforts with the county and with other fish recovery projects in the area.
“We’re continuing to do things to enhance the actual return. But at what point do we have more (fish) than we can support?” he asked.
The plan so far has also met the approval of the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, which opposed a Grant County PUD proposal on the nearby White River.
“We have had discussions with them and we think that’s an appropriate place,” said Bob Bugert, executive director of the land trust.
He said the White River proposal is located in an area that frequently flooded, and could impede the natural migration of the river.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512