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Cattlemen oppose fish project

Colville tribe plans project in Johnson Creek drainage

— The first phase of a proposed fish barrier passage project along Johnson Creek will not begin construction in June as planned, but some residents are objecting to the project.

“They will not quit until they have it all,” wrote Johnson Creek resident and “endangered cattle rancher” Casey Kuchenbuch in an email to The Chronicle.

Kuchenbuch, along with father-in-law and fellow rancher Rod Haeberle, were among a handful of residents who voiced their opinions about it during an April 1 meeting between Okanogan County commissioners and Bonneville Power Administration fish biologist Roy Beaty.

Beaty was seeking input on how to best involve the public in an upcoming review of draft land management plans for salmon habitat projects with the Colville Confederated Tribes.

Bonneville is not involved in the Johnson Creek project, Beaty told residents when they asked him to tell the tribe that the project isn’t wanted.

“We highly object to the procedure we see being done here,” Haeberle said. “Not one of us have been approached.”

According to a funding request filed in July 2013 by Trout Unlimited-Washington Water Project, which sought state funds on behalf of the Colville tribe, the first phase of the Johnson Creek project would involve replacing a culvert and removing a century-old gabion structure at two points on the tributary around 201 Second St.

However, the project was not funded this year, Jeri Timm of Trout Unlimited said.

“Since then we have had other funders show interest in the project and potentially could start designing this summer,” she said. “No permits have been submitted as we are in the preliminary stages. Trout Unlimited (TU) has been working very closely with the town of Riverside to ensure their support.

“TU only works with willing partners and consider all resource concerns with every project.”

The funding request notes that since spring 2012, the tribes’ Okanogan Basin Monitoring and Evaluation Program has found steelhead entering the creek.

“Historically, Johnson Creek was overlooked as suitable spawning grounds for ESA- listed summer steelhead as biological information on the creek was limited,” the report said.

“In 2012, upon completion of summer steelhead spawning, 14 redds were counted and seven fish were detected.”

Last year, six tagged fish and 11 steelhead redds were located in the lower reach of Johnson Creek. As of April 2013, six tagged steelhead in Johnson Creek and seven steelhead redds were located.

But Kuchenbuch pointed to a 2007 report completed for the Colville Fish and Wildlife Department that cited a 2004 study of Johnson Creek.

“Based upon field observations (no fish observed) and marginal habitat (lack of appropriate spawning substrate and high stream gradient, 8-11 percent) we estimate potential for anadromous fish production to be low and unsustainable (Arterburn and Kistler 2004),” the report said.

Kuchenbuch said the study “contradicts all of our wasted money trying to create something that never existed or ever will on Johnson Creek and probably many others.”

The goal, according to Trout Unlimited, is to “eliminate all complete and partial fish passage barriers for both adults and juveniles from the mouth of Johnson Creek to the point of origination, opening up 9.35 miles of habitat.”

Ten-year landowner agreements have been signed with Riverside, the state Department of Transportation and Omak School District, and the funding request noted Trout Unlimited would communicate with nearby property owners.

The project had been slated for completion in 2015. Phase 1 would have cost $194,000, with 15 percent matching funds would have come from the tribe.

Okanogan County Commissioner Ray Campbell, also a member of the Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board, reinforced the county’s stance against land being acquired for – and taxpayer dollars being spent on – wildlife habitat projects.

“It’s something that we’re still going to be pushing back on, but just what effects we’re going to have, it’s sometimes pretty hard to get around this stuff,” he said. “Without giving our hand away, we are working on some things there.”

If the project moves forward, the culvert will be replaced with a bottomless culvert or small bridge.

The proposed work site is in a residential area.

Trout Unlimited noted it had submitted a proposal to the Riverside Town Council to stop access across Johnson Creek where the culvert sits, but the council declined because of potential issues with snow plowing and emergency access.

The new culvert or bridge would belong to the town, according to Trout Unlimited.

A step pool could be added in place of the gabion, which is composed of large cobble, concrete and chicken wire.

Phase 2, the details of which were not included in the funding request, would remove other barriers along Johnson Creek.

“Phase two of the project is in development, but not currently in line for implementation due to complexity and cost of replacing a (Department of Transportation) culvert with a bottomless culvert on the very busy Highway 97,” the funding request stated.

“There is significant spawning and rearing potential on the upstream side of Green Acres Road, which is part of Phase 2 of this project...”

Meanwhile, the tribe and Bonneville are moving forward on salmon recovery projects.

Bonneville has purchased 13 properties – about 562 acres – for the project, but details have not been made available.

The properties were purchased using ratepayer funds, but the land is being given to the tribe.

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