Richland, Wash. – Significant water level reductions in the Columbia River as a result of a crack in a Wanapum Dam spillway created problems not only for farmers and boaters, but for birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. In May 2014, Grant County PUD selected Environmental Assessment Services to study migratory bird use of newly exposed shoreline areas because of a concern about the potential impact to nesting species when water levels return to normal after the dam is repaired.
For this study, EAS scientists will document migratory bird use of exposed riverine areas between Wanapum and Rock Island dams over three months. EAS will conduct surveys on land and water to locate and estimate the number and types of bird nests and nesting territories along the shoreline. EAS principal scientist Brett Tiller says the study team expects to find birds such as killdeer, common nighthawk and mourning dove, as well as Caspian tern and Forester’s tern (Washington Monitor species), and American white pelican (Washington Endangered species) in the exposed areas. Scientists are concerned terns and gulls could use these areas for foraging, which potentially could affect the survival of migrating juvenile salmon.
EAS also is conducting surveys for Grant PUD to assess other species potentially affected by the drawdown, including freshwater mussels—one of the most imperiled groups of organisms on the planet—clams and fish such as Pacific lamprey, part of an ancient lineage of fish culturally and religiously important to tribes in the Mid-Columbia River region. Tiller said, “The scientific information we gain from these studies will help Grant PUD and federal, state, and tribal governments make decisions on mitigating and restoring declining and protected species in the project area.” The PUD is required, as part of its federal licensing agreement and mission, to protect and conserve natural resources while generating power.