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Keith Kirkendall is the Chief of the Environmental Services Branch for NOAA Fisheries’ Oregon and Washington Coastal Offices.

Number of years working with NOAA: 

20 years

Current location: 

NOAA Fisheries’ Oregon and Washington Coastal Offices, Portland, Oregon.

Describe your role or a project related to habitat that you are currently working on at NOAA.

Mud Mountain Dam, White River, which is south of Seattle and near Mount Rainier. Enhancing upstream and downstream fish passage to allow access to historic habitat. The White River is home to coho, Chinook, chum, and pink salmon, as well as steelhead and bull trout. Southern Resident killer whales, which are listed as endangered, rely on Chinook salmon as their primary prey source. Therefore, killer whales are also impacted by the operation of Mud Mountain Dam to the extent that Chinook salmon numbers in Puget Sound are affected by passage at the dam. Fish passage projects like these help support salmon recovery for local communities and tribes, as well as for ecosystem benefits. It speaks to our values and the legacy we leave for future generations

What habitat work has been especially inspiring to you?

Every time we successfully move fish past a hydraulic barrier—from road crossings and culverts to high head dams to allow fish to complete their lifecycle without hindrance. With many of our hydropower projects, we’re attaining greater than 95 percent safe and timely fish passage to and from their natal habitat.

Describe a time when you were surprised by fish and/or habitat.

Restoring instream flows to the 21 mile bypassed reach of the White River helped all five anadromous [sea-going] species populations, but none more than the population of pink salmon. In just five generations, the population went from 10-20,000 adult spawners to about 800,000 adult pink salmon returning in 2013.

Then we had a new problem. Due to the poor condition of the fish passage facilities at the project, this huge return resulted in a widely publicized fish-kill. Fish passage at Mud Mountain Dam, both downstream and upstream, is severely limited at this time. A derelict diversion dam located near Buckley, Washington serves as a barrier to migrating fish and directs them into an antiquated and undersized trap and haul system. This, in turn, leads to extensive passage delay at the diversion dam and large numbers of fish being injured or killed. Which brings us full circle to our current efforts to replace older facilities and design new facilities.

Ultimately, this effort will promote healthy, sustainable fish runs and provide stability for fishing communities and tribes who depend on fishing for their livelihoods and culture.