Land Management Agencies:

Restoring Fish Passage Through Culverts on Forest Service and BLM Lands in Oregon and Washington Could Take Decades

GAO-02-136: Published: Nov 23, 2001. Publicly Released: Nov 23, 2001.

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The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service manage more than 41 million acres of federal lands in Oregon and Washington, including 122,000 miles of roads that use culverts--pipes or arches that allow water to flow from one side of the road to the other. Many of the streams that pass through these culverts are essential habitat for fish and other aquatic species. More than 10,000 culverts exist on fish-bearing streams in Oregon and Washington, but the number that impede fish passage is unknown. Ongoing agency inventory and assessment efforts have identified nearly 2,600 barrier culverts, but agency officials estimate that more than twice that number may exist. Although the agencies recognize the importance of restoring fish passage, several factors inhibit their efforts. Most significantly, the agencies have not made enough money available to do all the necessary culvert work. In addition, the often lengthy process of obtaining federal and state environmental clearances and permits, as well as the short seasonal "window of opportunity" to do the work, affects the agencies' ability to restore fish passages quickly. Furthermore, the shortage of experienced engineering staff limits the number of projects that can be designed and completed. BLM and the Forest Service have completed 141 culvert projects to remove barriers and to open an estimated 171 miles of fish habitat from fiscal year 1998 through 2000. Neither agency, however, knows the extent to which culvert projects ultimately improve fish passage because they don't require systematic post-project monitoring to measure the outcomes of their efforts.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To determine whether fish passage restoration projects are achieving their intended purpose, the Director of the Bureau of Land Management and the Chief of the Forest Service should each develop guidance for systematically monitoring completed barrier removal projects. This guidance should establish procedures that will allow the agencies to cost-effectively measure and document improvements to fish passage.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency issued guidance, as recommended, in November 2002.

    Recommendation: To determine whether fish passage restoration projects are achieving their intended purpose, the Director of the Bureau of Land Management and the Chief of the Forest Service should each develop guidance for systematically monitoring completed barrier removal projects. This guidance should establish procedures that will allow the agencies to cost-effectively measure and document improvements to fish passage.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service issued guidance in fiscal year 2004 for overseeing and monitoring fish passage culvert replacements. The guidance requires forest service offices to complete a standardized culvert assessment protocol on all fish passage culverts at the time of completion, and requires that results be tracked in the regional fish passage culvert database.

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