This database includes 115 critical uncertainties (i.e., research questions) listed in the Council’s 2017 Research Plan for the Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. For more information, see the About page.

Theme / QuestionProjects addressing (2016)
A. Tributary habitat
Question 1. Do investments in tributary habitat restoration mitigate for degraded mainstem habitat and passage conditions? 24 direct, 64 indirect
1.1. To what extent do tributary habitat restoration actions improve the survival, productivity, distribution and abundance of native fish populations? 17 direct, 41 indirect
1.2. How much does improving habitat and eliminating barriers (removing dams and culverts, or transporting migrating fish above dams) increase carrying capacity and contribute to recovering important fish populations? 25 direct, 46 indirect
1.3. To what extent is an increase in carrying capacity usurped by non-native invasive species, preventing recovery of native fish and wildlife populations? 3 direct, 14 indirect
1.4. To what extent do restoration efforts provide resilience to buffer against climate events and recover native species of interest? 11 direct, 40 indirect
Question 2. What additional habitat restoration projects should be implemented to benefit fish and wildlife? 9 direct, 37 indirect
2.1. Are the cumulative suites of restoration actions benefiting populations of fish and wildlife in tributary watersheds? 9 direct, 37 indirect
2.2. How can habitat restoration actions support or enhance cold water habitat to provide thermal refuges? (new)
B. Mainstem habitat
Question 1. Do hydrosystem operations or actions dedicated to improve mainstem habitat provide the expected benefits for fish? 2 direct, 12 indirect
1.1. What are the impacts of hydrosystem construction and operations on mainstem habitats, including the freshwater tidal realm from Bonneville Dam to the salt wedge? 1 direct, 9 indirect
1.2. How do hydrosystem reservoirs affect food web, predator-prey interactions, competition, survival and growth? 2 direct, 15 indirect
1.3. How might hydrosystem operations be altered to benefit fish, for example enhancing prey production, mainstem habitat and carrying capacity? 2 direct, 15 indirect
Question 2. What additional hydrosystem operations or actions should be considered to improve mainstem habitat to benefit fish? 5 direct, 9 indirect
2.1. What should the magnitude and timing be for restored flows and temperature regimes for the free-flowing segments of the river? 6 direct, 16 indirect
2.2. What would be the effects of operational changes for optimizing water temperatures and water quality for fish in shoreline and riparian habitats, as well as for wildlife in these habitats? 5 direct, 9 indirect
2.3. To what extent can managed releases from high-head dams mitigate or mask the effects of climate change by regulating water temperatures and thereby optimizing habitat for endangered fish downstream of such structures? 7 direct, 19 indirect
2.4. Where, when, and at what frequency under different conditions do salmonids and other native species use coldwater thermal refuges in the lower Columbia and Snake rivers? (new)
2.5. How much spawning and rearing habitat is available to white sturgeon above and below Bonneville Dam under a range of actual operational conditions? (new)
2.6. How do operational changes and habitat conditions, including temperature, differentially affect spawning success and juvenile growth and survival to the recruitment stage for White Sturgeon? (new)
C. Fish propagation
Question 1. Are current propagation efforts successfully meeting harvest and conservation objectives while managing risks to natural populations? 29 direct, 33 indirect
1.1. What is the relationship between basinwide hatchery production and the survival, fitness, and growth of naturally produced fish in freshwater, estuarine, and ocean habitats? 13 direct, 32 indirect
1.2. Can hatchery production programs meet adult production and harvest goals (integrated and segregated) while protecting naturally spawning populations? 29 direct, 24 indirect
1.3. What are the interactions, by life stage, between hatchery-origin and natural-origin populations with respect to competition, predation (direct and indirect), and disease including harvest in fisheries targeting hatchery-origin adults; and from hatchery effluent? 17 direct, 23 indirect
1.4. What is the magnitude of any demographic benefit or detriment to the production of natural-origin juveniles and adults from natural spawning of hatchery-origin supplementation adults? 20 direct, 18 indirect
1.5. What are the range, magnitude, and rates of change of natural spawning fitness of integrated (supplemented) populations, and how are these related to management rules, including the proportion of hatchery fish permitted on the spawning grounds, the broodstock mining rate, and the proportion of natural origin adults in the hatchery broodstock? 18 direct, 20 indirect
1.6. What the risks and benefits of artificial propagation to wild sturgeon? (new)
1.7. What are the potential impacts on wild sturgeon from mixing or not mixing of genetic stocks as part of broodstock and larval fish rearing mitigation efforts? (new)
Question 2. Are there additional fish propagation or related strategies that could be considered to benefit Pacific lamprey? (new)
2.1. What is the potential role of lamprey propagation as a way to mitigate for lost lamprey production when passage and habitat improvements alone are insufficient to restore lamprey populations? 1 indirect
2.2. Can translocation be used to supplement and restore populations of Pacific lamprey? (new)
D. Hydrosystem flow and passage operations
Question 1. Do hydrosystem operations dedicated to benefit fish provide the expected benefits? 12 direct, 23 indirect
1.1. What is the relationship between flow, spill, total dissolved gas and survival of fish (including salmonids, eulachon, sturgeon, lamprey, and other focal species) through the Columbia Basin hydrosystem (including the Columbia, Snake and Willamette rivers)? 9 direct, 12 indirect
1.2. What are the effects of spill operations on returning adults that subsequently affect adult fish migration behavior, straying, pre-spawning mortality, and smolt-to-adult return ratios (SARs)? 5 direct, 27 indirect
1.3. How does juvenile passage through multiple dams versus transportation affect adult fish migration behavior, including straying rates? 7 direct, 26 indirect
1.4. Do juvenile bypass systems negatively affect smolts making them less fit or are less fit smolts more likely to end up in the bypass system? 5 direct, 27 indirect
1.5. How does the existing hydrograph affect reproductive and recruitment success for sturgeon and burbot and thus conservation aquaculture operation decisions in the Kootenai River subbasin? 5 direct, 27 indirect
1.6. How do dams and recent structural upgrades affect lamprey at all life stages? (new)
Question 2. What additional hydrosystem operations or passage strategies could be considered to benefit fish? 6 direct, 16 indirect
2.1. What is the flexibility of the hydrosystem to be optimized for different species needs (flow, temperature, etc.)? 12 direct, 22 indirect
2.2. What additional actions at mainstem dams and reservoirs can be implemented to improve water temperature and fish passage (both juvenile and adults)? 5 direct, 9 indirect
E. Estuary, plume and ocean
Question 1. Are the investments in the estuary having the expected beneficial effects? 5 indirect
1.1. What are the responses of focal species (anadromous salmonids, white sturgeon, Pacific lamprey, and eulachon), life history types, and populations to alternative restoration actions and locations in the estuary, mainstem, and tributaries that will best inform management decisions? 17 direct, 50 indirect
1.2. How are efforts to manage and restore estuarine habitat increasing the carrying capacity of the estuary for salmonids and other focal species (anadromous salmonids, White sturgeon, Pacific Lamprey, and Eulachon)? 6 indirect
Question 2. What should we know about the estuary, plume and ocean that will improve life cycle forecasts or inform management actions? 11 indirect
2.1. How much do specific factors impact growth, fish condition, residence time, age at maturation and survival of focal fish species (anadromous salmonids, white sturgeon, Pacific lamprey, eulachon) in the estuary, plume, and ocean? 11 indirect
2.2. How do nutrient fluxes orginated above Bonneville Dam influence hypoxia in the estuary? (new)
2.3. How large are density dependence effects for salmonids in the estuary and ocean, including the influence of hatchery fish and/or invasive species (e.g., American shad juveniles)? 11 indirect
2.4. To what extent can predictive models be used to evaluate the potential impacts of hydrosystem projects on estuary, plume, and coastal marine habitats and their biota? 1 indirect
2.5. What additional information is needed to assess the importance of tidal freshwater, estuary, plume, and ocean habitats and their biota on focal species (anadromous salmonids, White Sturgeon, Pacific Lamprey, Eulachon)? 2 direct, 5 indirect
F. Population structure and diversity
Question 1. What level of population diversity is necessary to ensure population integrity? 3 direct, 27 indirect
1.1. What is the relationship between genetic diversity and ecological and evolutionary performance, and to what extent does the loss of stock diversity reduce the fitness, and hence survival rate and resilience, of remaining populations? 2 direct, 19 indirect
1.2. How effective is genetic assessment for determining trends in population status and population diversity? 4 direct, 6 indirect
1.3. What is the goal for spawning escapement for focal fish and wildlife populations including consideration of carrying capacity and nutrient return? 4 indirect
1.4. How is diversity distributed among populations within a geographic region or biological grouping? 3 direct, 27 indirect
Question 2. What is the potential for reintroducing anadromous fish above blocked areas? (new)
2.1. What are the results of the current efforts at reintroducing anadromous fish into blocked areas throughout the Pacific Northwest? (new)
2.2. What is the feasibility of reintroducing anadromous fish at each federal and non-federal project that currently blocks anadromous fish from historic habitat? (new)
2.3. What are the potential benefits and risks of re-introducing anadromous fish into blocked areas throughout the Pacific Northwest including impacts to novel native species and competition and predation from non-native species? (new)
2.4. What is the potential for and liklihood that reintroduced salmon will form adfluvial populations above barriers without volitional passage, and how will this impact population growth and persistence of the anadromous population? (new)
Question 3. What factors within and outside of the Columbia River Basin influence trends in recruitment, mortality, and abundance of Columbia River Basin fish and wildlife populations? 3 direct, 4 indirect
3.1. What are the relative contributions of habitat loss, harvest, predation and mainstem passage to reduced riverine survival and production of anadromous salmonids and other fishes targeted in the Fish and Wildlife Program? (new)
3.2. At the population scale how do fish move among rearing habitats, and what is the importance of habitat connectivity and spatial distribution? 3 direct, 9 indirect
3.3. How does changing hydrosystem, harvest, hatchery and habitat actions affect salmon and steelhead status and trends given the influence of ocean conditions? 2 direct
3.4. What factors are limiting recruitment of white sturgeon above and below Bonneville Dam? (new)
3.5. Do the mainstem dams isolate sturgeon populations, and if so, what is the feasibility of restoring connectivity to maintain genetic diversity in the long-term? (new)
3.6. What life history strategies are utilized by Columbia River Basin fishes (e.g., Pacific salmon, lamprey, sturgeon, eulachon), and how do they influence survival and growth in tributaries, the mainstem above and below the dams, estuary, and ocean plume? 5 direct, 22 indirect
3.7. What level of SARs is needed for each salmon ESU in order to (1) provide for a self-sustaining population, and (2) provide harvests that meet harvest goals? (new)
3.8. How can the abundance and diversity of fish in the Columbia River be increased and sustained over the long term given the multitude of biological, physical, and cultural constraints? 3 direct, 9 indirect
3.9. What are the levels of genetic diversity and degree of spatial genetic differentiation among populations or aggregations of Pacific lamprey from the Columbia River Basin and rivers along the West Coast of North America? Specifically, what are the genetics of anadromous and resident lamprey populations (e.g., existence of genetically distinct population structure, rate of gene flow, population/subpopulation characteristics, etc.)? (new)
G. Predation
Question 1. Are the current efforts to address predation and reduce number of predators effective? (new)
1.1. How effectively can undesirable impacts of predation be ameliorated by management actions including hydrosystem operations, habitat modifications and predator population control? (new)
1.2. What proportion of adult salmon, steelhead and White Sturgeon are killed (immediately or by delayed mortality) by sea lions (and other marine mammals) during their upstream migration below Bonneville Dam and how does predation impact the viability and abundance of native fish and wildlife population? (new)
1.3. What extent is the productivity or viability of salmon populations increased by management actions to reduce avian and fish predation on smolts during the downstream migration versus actions to reduce marine mammal predation during the upstream migration below Bonneville Dam? (new)
1.4. How does the cost-effectiveness of actions to control predator populations compare to that for alternative actions (e.g., flow and habitat modifications, hatchery supplementation) to increase the productivity or viability of natural salmon populations? (new)
Question 2. Are there actions other than removing predators that could reduce predation on listed species? (new)
2.1. How does increasing the total density of prey through hatchery releases, and alternative prey species such as Eulachon affect the rate of predation on natural-origin juvenile and adult salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and lamprey? (new)
H. Non-native species
Question 1. Are current efforts to prevent the introduction and reduce the populations of non-native species effectively protecting native species? 1 direct, 11 indirect
1.1. What are the primary pathways of introduction of invasive and non-native species, and what management actions could control and limit them? 2 indirect
1.2. To what extent is the viability or abundance of native fish and wildlife species in the Columbia River Basin jeopardized by non-native species? 3 direct, 14 indirect
I. Contaminants
Question 1. Can toxic substances undermine fish and wildlife recovery efforts? 1 direct, 5 indirect
1.1. What are the distributions, uses, and concentrations of toxics, including emerging contaminants, in the Columbia River Basin, and what are their trends over time? 2 direct, 2 indirect
1.2. What are the impacts of different hydrologic scenarios and management actions (e.g., dam operations and flow management) on contaminant distributions and transfer of contaminants to food webs? 2 direct, 2 indirect
1.3. How do toxic substances, alone and in combination, affect fish and wildlife distribution and abundance, survival and fitness, and productivity in the Columbia River Basin? 1 direct, 5 indirect
1.4. What are the cumulative and/or synergistic effects of multiple toxic contaminants, particularly pesticides, on riparian insects and other organisms that impact the carrying capacity of the Columbia River ecosystem (including estuarine, coastal ocean and riverine habitats), as well as interactions between these chemicals and non-chemical stressors? 1 direct, 5 indirect
1.5. How do food web transfer, sediment transport, and biological effects of emerging and legacy organic contaminants under current management regimes affect key Columbia River species, the success of restoration projects within the Basin, and human health (i.e., the success of harvest mitigation)? 1 direct, 5 indirect
1.6. What levels of chemicals of emerging concern (CECs) impact the health of focal species including Pacific lamprey, white sturgeon, and salmonids? 3 direct, 4 indirect
J. Climate change
Question 1. How are long-term climate trends expected to impact recovery efforts for fish and wildlife in the region? 2 direct, 11 indirect
1.1. What food web effects are associated with long-term climate trends predicted for the Columbia River Basin? 2 direct, 8 indirect
1.2. Are the Program’s hatchery facilities able to effectively respond to rapid changes in water availability and quality; are Program habitat actions mitigating for climate related changes including water availability and quality? (new)
1.3. What are the potential effects of climate change on river hydraulics, temperature, and sediment movement in tributaries and mainstem reaches of the Columbia River Basin? 2 direct, 11 indirect
1.4. How might climate change affect the success of salmonid reintroductions, supplementation or recovery efforts, particularly since warmer waters may favor other species, especially non-natives? (new)
Question 2. What strategic actions could help ameliorate potential effects of climate change including increased water temperatures, decreased summer river flows, changes in upland plant communities, and other ecosystem changes? 2 direct, 15 indirect
2.1. How can understanding future climate conditions help guide restoration actions and ensure their effectiveness over time? 2 direct, 15 indirect
2.2. How could integrated ecological monitoring be used to determine how climate change affects fish and wildlife and the freshwater, estuarine, ocean and terrestrial habitats and ecosystems that sustain them; how can this information inform decisions? 2 direct, 12 indirect
K. Human development
Question 1. How are projected changes in society’s use of land and other resources likely to affect environmental quality, habitats and fish and wildlife populations? 12 indirect
1.1. What changes in human population levels and their distribution, per capita income and economic activity are expected over the next 20 years? 3 indirect
L. Harvest
Question 1. Do current harvest and escapement strategies provide the expected results in supporting recovery efforts and providing harvest opportunities? 4 indirect
1.1. Are current fishery monitoring tools effective at determining if fisheries are meeting harvest and conservation objectives? 4 direct, 6 indirect
Question 2. Are there additional harvest and escapement strategies that would support recovery and conservation objectives? 4 direct, 6 indirect
2.1. Do current harvest strategies effectively reduce risk to fish populations, their abundance, productivity population structure and viability? 4 direct, 13 indirect
2.2. Are the release mortality rates for bycatch accurate and do they vary as environmental conditions change? (new)
2.3. Are hatchery harvest rates a reasonable surrogate for wild salmon harvest rates in freshwater and the ocean, and are there ways to improve stock and population specific estimates of harvest impacts? (new)
2.4. Are there additional strategies that can be employed to increase harvest of certain hatchery fish and benefit both wild fish and harvesters? 4 direct, 6 indirect
M. Monitoring and evaluation methods
Question 1. Are current methods to identify restoration actions, to count fish, and to ensure productivity adequate to cost effectively imform decisions? 7 direct, 21 indirect
1.1. Are models used to predict habitat benefits of actions prior to implementing actions accurate and useful in order to prioritize actions and assess cost/benefit ratios? 6 direct, 14 indirect
1.2. What are the acute and chronic effects of various tag types on fish survival, for example PIT-tag effects on juvenile salmonids? 8 direct, 11 indirect
1.3. How can survival of juvenile salmonids from spawning site to estuary be effectively and efficiently monitored (new)
Question 2. Are there innovative methods for counting fish and measuring their productivity that would better inform decisions? 7 direct, 15 indirect
2.1. How can advances in genetic stock identification, reductions in sizes of tags, new tag technologies, and other emerging methods be used to improve estimates of survival and reduce costs? (new)
2.2. What statistical methodologies are available for estimating the number of fish (1) entering and then leaving habitat areas or for (2) entering and the number of progeny leaving the habitat area? And how effective are the statistical methodologies for different habitat types? 7 direct, 15 indirect
2.3. What methods can be used to estimate the survival and abundance of lamprey? (new)
Question 3. What methods are effective for determining the response of fish populations to habitat restoration? (new)
3.1. What are effective methods to estimate fish response to habitat restoration, from individual restoration treatments at a site-scale to a suite of actions at a whole watershed scale? 12 direct, 33 indirect
3.2. Are there other methods for fish-in and fish-out monitoring that would be more effective for measuring effects of habitat restoration and other changes? (new)
Question 4. Are there better methods for determining the response of wildlife populations (other than fish) to habitat restoration? (new)
4.1. Can impacts to transient wildlife populations (e.g., waterfowl) and small localized wildlife populations (e.g. bears) be effectively monitored at a lower cost? (new)
N. Public engagement
Question 1. How well does the Fish and Wildlife Program communicate with and engage the public (and its diverse social groups) associated directly or indirectly with the landscape? (new)