Monthly Archives: May 2017

Scotch Broom and Spring Chinook

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Excerpt from Wikipedia:  Scotch Broom (C. scoparius) has been introduced into several other continents outside its native range (western and central Europe) and is classified as a noxious invasive species in California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and parts of the east coast of North America. These shrubs commonly grow in disturbed areas and along utility and transportation rights-of-way. The prolific growth of this species after timber harvest inhibits reforestation by competing with seedling trees. It is estimated that it is responsible for US$47 million in lost timber production each year in Oregon.

Having now spent the last 1/4 century living in western Oregon, I feel qualified to say that the only positive thing about Scotch Broom is that it is the harbinger for Spring Chinook in the Willamette Valley.  When it’s blooming near Oregon City, the Springers are passing Willamette Falls.  When it’s blooming near Salem, Spring Chinook are moving into the mainstem Santiam and so on and so forth.

Scotch Broom is currently blooming near Stayton, Lyons, Mill City, Gates and even as far east as Detroit.  Usually that would mean 3,000 – 5,000 Spring Chinook are in the North Santiam Basin. This annual run of Spring Chinook generally breaks down to 20% native/wild fish and 80% hatchery raised fish.   The wild portion of this run is listed as threatened on the Endangered Species List.  Although 4,000 fish have passed Oregon City this year, only 1 has made it as far as Stayton, to pass above Bennett Dams.

The Scotch Broom was wrong this year.  So were the fishery forecasters.  But shooting the messengers doesn’t provide any answers or solve the problem.  Many folks did see this coming (and many more should have).  When this run of fish were smolts heading to ocean 2-3 years ago, they ran head on into both El Nino conditions and what was called “the Blob”.  (I wrote about it in July of 2015 here on this Blog if you want a refresher).  Essentially, these fish swam into an ocean that was warmer than usual.  These conditions disrupted the food chain from bottom to top.  When there’s no food, the populations suffer.

In order for anadromous species to survive, adult fish, that have been living in the ocean, must return to the freshwater to produce the next cycle of fish.  For wild/native fish, they must return to their natal streams and rivers.  For hatchery stocks, the fish have to make it back to the hatchery traps. Although early in the run, it’s probably a good time to be concerned.

Nothing was done to curtail fishing while these fish were in the ocean.  And until very recently, inland sport angling seasons were actually being extended.  Only within the past couple of weeks has the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) taken steps to offer protection of the stocks.  Angling days and bag limits below Willlamette Falls were reduced.  Some recent closures in the Columbia system were addressed as well.  As of yet, ODFW has not addressed angling restrictions or closures upstream of Willamette Falls. (where these fish are working their way towards their natal streams and/or hatchery traps).  In fact, there’s a very clear reminder on the Willamette Zone regulations update page that usual regulations are still in effect.  If this isn’t a clear case of an Ostrich with it’s head in it’s ass  in the sand, I don’t know what is!

The ODFW is following the same route it took with Wild Winter Steelhead (another ESA listed species) earlier this year with a “wait and see” position.  We waited.  What we “saw” was a run of fish that collapsed.  We are at the end of this run of fish and the numbers came out at around 10% of normal.  It’s this type of management that leads directly to extinction of a species.  We can’t blame ODFW for the El Nino or the Blob.  But I do believe we can, and should, call them out for mismanaging the end of the cycle once these fish entered freshwater.

I can only speak for my river – the North Santiam, but I think other tributaries of the Willamette have similar regulations.  As opposed to Salmon angling, there is no closure for steelhead fishing during the year, even when wild winter steelhead are spawning and kelting.  Bait is also allowed year-round. At least spawning salmon are given consideration in the early fall, when angling for them closes for a period of time.  And that consideration is absolutely necessary, not only for the wild/native fish, but also to ensure hatchery brood stock returns. After all, the North Santiam hatchery provides juvenile fish for the Molalla River, Tongue Point and Youngs Bay net pens, in addition to the North Santiam River below Big Cliff dam.  Without returning adults, there is no way to produce the 1.5 million juveniles for stocking locations in the Willamette and Columbia basins annually.

One final issue I generally point out when talking about management of fisheries on my river is the annual stocking of introduced Skamania Summer Steelhead.  I liken it to Scotch Broom from the invasive/noxious perspective.  As noted above, Scotch Broom has a serious impact on forestry as it “inhibits reforestation by competing with seedling trees”.  There is overwhelming scientific evidence the Skamania Summer Steelhead have the same type of impact on wild/native fish species in the region.  They compete with the wild fish at every stage of their life cycle.  Why the ODFW continues this practice is beyond my comprehension.  To purposefully introduce known harmful impacts on an ESA listed species is negligence.  Even more so when we all knew that there was a breakdown in the system for the past couple of years and that ALL species would be taking a hit.

Those yellow flowers we see each spring may be pretty, but they are a killer of our native plant life and cause significant financial problems in the local economy.  They no longer signal the arrival of Spring Chinook, at least this year in the North Santiam Basin.  However, I don’t point my finger at the messenger, instead I point it at the fishery managers.  If this year isn’t a wake up call that hatchery management systems are a failure, then I don’t know what is. Allowing ESA species to blink out on our watch, 2 in particular that are Pacific Northwest Icons, is criminal.