Presentation Abstract

The “ecosystem approach” to managing habitats is of growing interest in the world of conservation biology, with the realization that recovery of protected species ultimately relies on the health of their environment. In the case of the critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population, prey depletion is a major threat to their survival. Research has shown that the SRKWs are highly dependent on Chinook salmon; thus the restoration of Chinook throughout the U.S. and Canada Pacific region is crucial for SRKW recovery. The significant decline of salmon abundance can be attributed to habitat loss and degradation throughout their range. Restoring Chinook requires recovery of their natal rivers and spawning grounds, which could include removing or breaching dams or other structures blocking access to historic habitat. For example, the Columbia/Snake River Basin historically supported average runs of 10 to 16 million salmon per year and has been reduced to only 2.5 million fish annually, much of which come from hatcheries. Restoration of this basin offers the best opportunity to increase wild salmon in the SRKWs’ coastal range; recovering salmon populations in multiple river systems could provide abundant and reliable prey for the SRKWs throughout their habitat. However, each river basin has unique challenges for salmon restoration, and dam breaching has been a controversial topic for decades. Here, we present a plan showing how an ecosystem focus highlighting the connection between orcas, salmon, and healthy rivers provides a fresh approach, while demonstrating the potential of ecosystem-based management for endangered species recovery. The prospective effect on the SRKWs is indicative of the far-reaching impacts of taking the “ecosystem approach.” While the long-term effects may take decades to realize, river restoration can have considerable short-term impacts for multiple species. Such knowledge is invaluable for restoration ecology and for the future of the SRKWs.

Session Title

Cumulative Effects on Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca)

Keywords

Southern Resident killer whale, Chinook salmon, Ecosystem, Columbia River, Snake River, Recovery

Conference Track

SSE9: Transboundary Management and Policy

Conference Name

Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference (Seattle, WA : 2018)

Document Type

Event

SSEC Identifier

SSE9-562

Start Date

4-4-2018 2:45 PM

End Date

4-4-2018 3:00 PM

Type of Presentation

Oral

Contributing Repository

Digital content made available by University Archives, Heritage Resources, Western Libraries, Western Washington University.

Geographic Coverage

Salish Sea (B.C. and Wash.)

Rights

This resource is displayed for educational purposes only and may be subject to U.S. and international copyright laws. For more information about rights or obtaining copies of this resource, please contact University Archives, Heritage Resources, Western Libraries, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225-9103, USA (360-650-7534; heritage.resources@wwu.edu) and refer to the collection name and identifier. Any materials cited must be attributed to the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference Records, University Archives, Heritage Resources, Western Libraries, Western Washington University.

Type

text

Language

English

Format

application/pdf

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Apr 4th, 2:45 PM Apr 4th, 3:00 PM

The Ecosystem Approach: recovering rivers to help save the Southern Resident killer whales

The “ecosystem approach” to managing habitats is of growing interest in the world of conservation biology, with the realization that recovery of protected species ultimately relies on the health of their environment. In the case of the critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population, prey depletion is a major threat to their survival. Research has shown that the SRKWs are highly dependent on Chinook salmon; thus the restoration of Chinook throughout the U.S. and Canada Pacific region is crucial for SRKW recovery. The significant decline of salmon abundance can be attributed to habitat loss and degradation throughout their range. Restoring Chinook requires recovery of their natal rivers and spawning grounds, which could include removing or breaching dams or other structures blocking access to historic habitat. For example, the Columbia/Snake River Basin historically supported average runs of 10 to 16 million salmon per year and has been reduced to only 2.5 million fish annually, much of which come from hatcheries. Restoration of this basin offers the best opportunity to increase wild salmon in the SRKWs’ coastal range; recovering salmon populations in multiple river systems could provide abundant and reliable prey for the SRKWs throughout their habitat. However, each river basin has unique challenges for salmon restoration, and dam breaching has been a controversial topic for decades. Here, we present a plan showing how an ecosystem focus highlighting the connection between orcas, salmon, and healthy rivers provides a fresh approach, while demonstrating the potential of ecosystem-based management for endangered species recovery. The prospective effect on the SRKWs is indicative of the far-reaching impacts of taking the “ecosystem approach.” While the long-term effects may take decades to realize, river restoration can have considerable short-term impacts for multiple species. Such knowledge is invaluable for restoration ecology and for the future of the SRKWs.