Identification and Utility of Native Fish Conservation Areas in the Upper Snake River Basin, USA
Richard N. Williams, Daniel C. Dauwalter, Russell F. Thurow, David P. Philipp, Jack E. Williams, and Chris A. Walser
Abstract.—Native fish conservation areas (NFCAs) are watersheds where management emphasizes proactive conservation and restoration for long-term persistence of native fish assemblages while allowing for compatible uses. Native fish conservation areas are intended to complement traditional fisheries management approaches that are often reactive to population stressors and focused on single-species conservation efforts rather than complete assemblages. We identified potential NFCAs in the upper Snake River basin above Hells Canyon Dam using a process that ranked all subwatersheds (Hydrologic Unit Code 12) and used empirical data on distribution, abundance, and genetics for three native trout species (Bull Trout Salvelinus confluentus, Columbia River Redband Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss gairdneri, and Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout O. clarkii bouvieri, including the fine-spotted form) and both known occurrences and modeled potential distributions of native nongame fishes. Rankings also incorporated drainage network connectivity and land-protection status (e.g., national park, wilderness). Clusters of high-ranking subwatersheds were identified as potential NFCAs that were then classified according to the presence of nongame fishes identified as species of greatest conservation need in state wildlife action plans. The Pacific Creek and Goose Creek watersheds ranked high in the upper basin (above Shoshone Falls), and Little Jacks Creek and Squaw Creek ranked high in the lower basin. We then contrasted characteristics of a select few potential NFCAs, discuss the practical implementation and benefits of NFCAs for both fishes and other aquatic species in the upper Snake River basin, examined how the NFCA approach could enhance existing conservation partnerships, and discuss how designating select watersheds as NFCAs can create higher public awareness of the value of native fishes and other aquatic species and their habitats.