Category Archives: Uncategorized

We’re from the Government and we’re here to Save the Day!

Late last year the US Army Corp of Engineers (USACOE) correctly decided to end it’s subsidy that funded a Skamania Summer Steelhead program on the North Santiam River. Since the early 1970’s, millions of these out of basin, invasive fish have been dumped into Upper Willamette Basin rivers under the pretense that doing so would contribute to the Corp’s mitigation requirements. In plain terms, mitigation refers to the idea that the Corp had a responsibility to “replace” fish runs impacted by the construction of the various dams built in the 1950’s-1960’s in order to control flood waters in the basin. While I agree that the USACOE does bear that responsibility, I have historically maintained that the “replacement” fish should not be derived from a completely different river basin or of a non-native stock.

Numerous scientific studies has proven beyond any shred of doubt that Skamania Summer Steelhead have a negative impact on Wild Upper Willamette Basin Winter Steelhead. They compete with each other for food, shelter, rearing habitat and every other resource needed to complete their life-cycle. Worse yet, the two species are known to interbreed, thus reducing the fitness and survivability of the wild winter steelhead that belong in the basin. As wild steelhead runs in the basin continue to crash, nearing the point of extinction, fisheries managers have turned a blind eye to the impact these out of basin species have had. Fishing clubs falsely claiming to be “conservation” groups lobby with great vigor to preserve this program.

You may wonder why such an obviously detrimental program would continue this long and why these special interest groups would put so much effort into to prolonging it. The answer to that question is quite laughable. It is quite simply because, as their name implies, Summer Steelhead enter the river system and reside in the river for nearly a year before they spawn and complete their life-cycle. This means they are easier to pursue during the warm, dry spring, summer and fall months of the year. It takes less effort and is much more “comfortable” to fish for them as compared to pursing wild winter steelhead that enter the system in January – March and spawn shortly thereafter. During that time of year, it’s cold and wet, and the rivers are often in a condition that limits angling opportunities.

The ODFW (those charged with protecting and managing our fish species) love the program as well. It allows them to sell more fishing licenses and harvest tags, thus increasing their revenue, which is ultimately what they really want to protect and manage.

And let me be clear about another issue related to mitigation. Those replacement fish are for the purpose of increasing stocks of fish destined for the ocean, to supplement stocks whose intended purpose is to be caught by commercial fishing fleets. The dregs of those stocks are what returns to our rivers for the opportunity to be caught by inland sport anglers at the very end of the life-cycle. If stopping this detrimental program were a real threat to commercial fishing viability, we could be sure that those interests would be making a lot of noise right now. But they aren’t…. because the Skamania Summer Steelhead program does not provide any appreciable benefit to support their mitigation contribution.

I am not so naive to think that any single factor has led to the near extinction of wild winter steelhead in the Upper Willamette Basin and specifically here on my home river, the North Santiam. Numerous issues have led to their rapid decline – Habitat destruction, Hatchery practices, over Harvest and Hydropower/Flood Control/Irrigation impoundments have all had a huge impact. But instead of our fisheries managers taking on those big issues, they continue to focus on some of the minor impacts like the ridiculous idea to trap and euthanize sea lions. As we can all see now after a few months of this idiotic plan going into effect – no measurable increase in run size has occurred. It’s a bust.

But the story doesn’t end here. As part of the 2019 Oregon Legislative Session, House Representative Sherry Springer and Senator Fred Girod have jointly introduced a bill to allow the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to pick up the funding necessary to continue this program. They are suggesting that all Oregon taxpayers fund a program that only does two things – 1; contributes to the decline and eventual extinction of a iconic native species and 2; makes it easier and more comfortable for a relatively few anglers to go fishing.

Part of their attempt to justify the expenditure of our taxpayer dollars is that it will “support economically viable fisheries throughout the basin”. Keep in mind that there are no commercial fisheries in the basin, so what they are obviously referring to are guys like me – fishing guides and the businesses that we support subsequently via our business operations. As a supposed beneficiary of this program, I say this is a waste of money and I don’t want this handout from our state government. Residents of the State of Oregon do NOT need to bear the financial burden of subsidizing my small business, for basically no return or benefit. And I would further argue that continuing the program actually hurts my business in a much bigger way than reviving it would benefit me.

My business model relies on healthy populations of native, wild fish. I get the privilege of taking people from all over the country on trips down a beautiful river that offers a variety of angling opportunities. Skamania Summer Steelhead have a direct negative impact on that those other fish populations and runs (anadromous and resident species). As one of the few guides on the North Santiam still in operation, I say let the program die and please, please, do not inflict more harm on the other runs and populations of fish in the river system that will ultimately kill what little “economically viable fishery” still remains here on the North Santiam.

Needless to say, I am quite disappointed in the elected officials that represent me. They are bowing to special interests whose agenda is nothing but selfishness and greed. They want to take the easy road, fish in warm, dry weather and make all Oregonians pay the bill for their convenience and comfort. There are several other rivers within a short drive that will be continuing this harmful practice. The candy asses that want more comfortable fishing conditions can surely put forth a little bit of effort and go visit those places. My vote would be to let the North Santiam recover from this disaster. I would even go so far as to predict that if it’s left alone, it will become a REAL economically viable fishery – one that doesn’t require a subsidy from Oregon taxpayers.

Tight Lines,

Dave

Good guy with a gun

You won’t hear any thing about this in the fake news, nor the faux news for that matter.  Why is that?  It’s because a NRA member (see note below) used a gun to protect his family, friends and property from a boogie man last night.

Note:  By NRA “member”, I mean I signed up once and paid my dues because Moses inspired us all to get a grip on our guns, even in death. That, and the fact that I got a free sticker (made in China) and a complimentary genuine Bowie Knife (made in Korea) for signing up. 

P.S. – Weird thing is that they expect you to keep paying those dues – every year!  The way I understand it, they need your hard earned money so it can be mixed together with Russian Oligarch’s money so it comes out clean as a whistle. It’s then used to finance political campaigns for those that will protect our “God Given” 2nd Amendment rights and make sure common sense gun control laws never see the light of day. I think they also use some of the money sent by true Patriots and Russians to produce internet memes and other propaganda that ridicules and belittles kids that have had their schools shot up and classmates/teachers/coaches killed.

Read more about where your dues go here – https://www.outsideonline.com/2328866/its-time-hunters-leave-nra?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=facebookpost

Now back to my heroic tale.  As the sun was setting last night, I was on the back patio enjoying the evening with a glass of bourbon and my trusty guard dog by my side, ever watchful for prowlers, ne’er-do-wells, evil-doers, etc.  You know the type – Non-Americans, Democrats, Snowflakes.  The type that are always looking to inflict rules of some sort, or worse yet, forget to say “under god” when they recite the Pledge, still watch NFL games on TV, and say mean and hurtful things about POTUS – the worst type of scumbags.

As I sat there, enjoying my inalienable rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, a masked bandit approached from the east and proceeded to walk right through the back yard! He passed within 10 feet of my trusty guard dog, just along the brush line.  Old Gunner’s hackles raised and a low growl began, but he wasn’t about to let go of his chew toy.  The evil critter slipped into the brush, only to re-appear a couple minutes later.  He was casing the house and planning his assault. I checked in on the women folk (gabbing away in the house) and made sure the children were OK (playing badminton out front).

Gunner and I sprung into action – me holding tight to my bourbon and Old Gunner still carrying his chew toy.  The bandit was treed and had nowhere to run.  I went back to the house for reinforcement and convened the war council.  We quickly came to the consensus that actions by this perpetrator could not go unpunished (three chickens killed and numerous bowls of cat food devoured in past couple months).

While the ladies and Gunner kept an eye on the invader, I raced into the house and ran upstairs to the gun safe.  I then ran back downstairs to find my keys to the gun safe and returned again to unlock the safe (never spilling a drop of bourbon along the way).  I moved the boxes and containers blocking the door of the safe and made my choice of weapon and ammo. Finding nothing with a bump-stock or magazine capable of holding more than 5 rounds – I settled for the 4-10 shotgun. Being conscious of time, I opted not to change into full tactical gear (confederate flag breathable underwear, finger-less leather gloves, wife-beater/sleave-less flack jacket, MAGA skull cap, etc.)  Back outside in just my civvies, the threat was quickly abated.  Thoughts and prayers were offered.  Calm and silence returned to the night.

In retrospect, even though successful thwarting of the threat ensued, it wasn’t very efficient. The guard dog is pretty much useless, which should probably be expected from a Labrador/Sheppard mix – (Canadian/Australian and likely some French in there too).  Had this been an invasion by ISIS, Bad Hombres, or Millennial with a man-bun and his pants falling down, things may not have turned out so well.  If I’m not able to speed up the process soon, the new plan will be to invite them in, have the dog fetch them my slippers, turn on a ball game, and give them an IPA.  They’ll be so distracted that I’ll have time to find my keys, move the boxes, change into full battle uniform and handle the situation the ‘Merican way!

Enough writing for the day,  I’m off to scatter some soy bean seeds in the pasture so I can get a cut of the “winnings” from the new trade deals.  Then I’ll be able to afford a new big screen TV so I can watch the parade in honor of our lord/savior/aspiring president for life this fall.  It’ll have way higher ratings than Monday Night Football. I bet our new BFF’s in Russia and North Korea will be watching too.

Cyanotoxins in the North Santiam Watershed

Cyanobateria are one of the largest and most important bacteria on Earth.  There was no life on land until the Cyanobacteria began releasing oxygen billions of years ago.  Cyanobacteria are found in most all fresh and saltwater environments around the world.

For the past couple of weeks, the City of Salem (Oregon) has issued warnings about potential health issues related to their drinking water.  The source of the problem is a Harmful Algal Bloom that is generating Cyanotoxins (Microsystins and Cylindrospermopsin) that causes a variety of problems for fish, wildlife, pets and humans if ingested. The cyanotoxins are created when Cyanobateria (Blue-Green Algae) reproduce rapidly (due to a variety of factors), create a “Bloom”, then die off, leaving the toxins as they decompose.

Salem, and many cities in the North Santiam Watershed, get their drinking water from the North Santiam River.  The North Santiam is impounded by two Army Corp of Engineer dams (Detroit and Big Cliff) approximately 60 east of Salem.  Detroit Reservoir (behind the dams), being a large body of water, contains Cyanobacteria (obviously).  However, in recent years, there has been an increase in the number, size and duration of the “blooms” and the resulting cyanotoxins levels have reached concerning levels.  For the first time since testing began, the toxins showed up in Salem’s municipal water distribution system. You can read more about that at the Statesman Journal newspaper website.

As a North Santiam Resident, Fly Fishing Guide, River Steward and Watershed Council member, I’m more interested in the cause, rather than the effect (impacts).  Why is it happening, what are the contributing factors, how do we stop it (or at least limit it)?  So far, I’ve stumbled across a few things that are potentially contributing to the increase in Harmful Algal Blooms:

  • Climate Change (Temperature Variance, Rain Cycles)
  • High levels of Nitrogen and Phosphorus
  • Excess Nutrients from runoff and sediment
  • PH level variations
  • Light Levels and Stratification
  • Die off of other bacteria and predators of Cyanobateria that help keep it in balance
  • Natural Adaptation (evolution?) of the Cyanobateria itself

Since I don’t wish to be drawn into the labyrinth of the Climate Change debate, I’ll just let that be for now.  However, that doesn’t mean I won’t point my finger at the other Human Impacts that are potentially part of the problem. Some of the more common blooms around the US have been near big cities (Great Lakes), coastal communities (red tides/shellfish toxicity) and in the heartland (agriculture runoff from pesticides and herbicides).

First, let’s talk about where the blooms are occurring – in Detroit Reservoir – a man made body of water (not a “Lake” as it is often referred to).  Prior to the 1950’s, the North Santiam River flowed from the headwaters in the Cascades to it’s mouth at the Willamette River unimpeded.  Detroit and Big Cliff Dams put an end to that free flow (and blocked fish passage to 60% +/- of the Spring Chinook and Winter Steelhead spawning areas in the watershed).  The dams were erected to control high flows from spring rain and snow melt each year that flooded a good portion of the lower basin on a regular basis. That was a good idea, other than the lack of fish passage.

To get a little more specific, within the reservoir, the large blooms are occurring in the Heater Arm, Kinney Creek Area and near the Dam itself – all of which are on the western half of the reservoir or “downstream”.  This makes some logical sense because that’s where things like sediment and runoff would collect and stagnate, and where nutrients would be trapped and settle.

Something different about these blooms compared to the more publicized blooms around the country is that there aren’t any large cities upstream.  Sure, the towns of Detroit and Idanha are upstream and have known sewage treatment issues, but the population of those communities is very small (less than 500 full time residents combined).  There are numerous campgrounds in the areas upstream.

The reservoir is not subjected to the churning of tides that stir things up and create coastal blooms. There is little to no farming in the area upstream and certainly nothing on a large scale.  Most all the land upstream of dams is National Forest, so logging is very limited nowdays (compared to State and Private land in Oregon). There are no factories producing industrial waste, no large mines in operation, etc. The only thing remotely close to “industry” is the fish hatchery at Marion Forks another 15 miles upstream.

Could this simply be a combination of “all of the above”? :

  • Clear cut logging (and subsequent herbicide use) are known major contributors to sediment and nutrient loading in watersheds (including nitrogen and phosphorus).  Although this has been greatly curtailed in National Forest Land, a Google Earth view of the area indicates a lot of recent (last 20 years) logging activity in the Cumley, Kinney and Box Canyon Creek drainage’s (where the blooms occur).
  • Detroit and Idanha sewage from aged/inadequate septic septic systems leaching into the reservoir from upstream
  • Campground sewage, recreational use on the reservoir
  • Marion Forks Hatchery effluent – fish and fish food waste, chemical disease treatments, etc.
  • Leaching from abandoned / inactive mines
  • Fluctuations in reservoir levels (draw down in fall, retention in spring) churning up sediment every year, changing light and temperature stratification.

Alone, each bullet point seems minor, but added together and maybe there’s something to it.

With the current political atmosphere, I doubt there will be much in the way of scientific study on the matter.  With the  reduced funding of the EPA, NOAA and other government scientific type entities and the emphasis on reducing regulations, the time and money won’t stretch to our little corner of the country.

A friend of mine claims this is all a big conspiracy.  I’m not sure I buy into that, but I don’t have any doubt that this current issue will be used for political and social gamesmanship for the foreseeable future.

The North Santiam Canyon Joint Wastewater project may get moved up a bit.  Salem (and other communities downstream) may make investments in municipal water treatment facilities to rid the systems of cyanotoxins. Opponents of the USACOE water mixing tower and juvenile fish passage project will likely use this to their advantage as well.  The projects will cost huge amounts of money and ultimately, taxpayers and water consumers will foot the bill. In the end, the water in Salem will be safe to drink again. Once the immediate issue is taken care of, the causes will be ignored. The band-aids will have been applied.  Fish, wildlife and the environmental concerns will fade from our collective memory.

Scotch Broom and Spring Chinook

Related image

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.

 

Fish Watch – 2017

In recent days I’ve been called a number of things – cry-baby, snowflake, bleeding heart, etc. It’s even been suggested that I wear pink ladies panties under my waders.  I will neither confirm nor deny such a thing, but will say that the idea does have some merit.  I can see how it would be easier to get in and out of wading gear.  Back to the point of this post – call me what you will, it doesn’t bother me.  I have a few ideas that may help the situation.  Are they the popular options? Oh hell no.  Will it have negative impacts on my guide business? Yes, big time.

As of April 10, 2017 there are 2 Spring Chinook and 16 Summer Steelhead above Willamette Falls. Normally, that count would be 500-750 of each species at this time of year. A small percentage of this run is what remains of the Upper Willamette Basin (UWB) Wild Spring Chinook (ESA Threatened), the rest are all hatchery raised fish used as broodstock to keep hatcheries going and provide an inland harvest sport fishery.

The hatchery fish are expensive, not just because of the millions of dollars it takes to raise, rear and release them each year, but also because of capital investment of millions of dollars to build and maintain the facilities to support the programs.

So far this year, Fishery Managers (ODFW) have stood by and done nothing as the Wild Winter Steelhead (ESA Threatened) in the UWB crashed. Even though they are charged with the responsibility to protect them, they don’t have a huge financial investment in those fish, so big deal, right?  Sure, they toss some money towards habitat improvement and research to find ways to limit interaction between hatchery and wild fish, but they don’t dedicate millions to a fish that has basically taken care of itself (as long as we stay out of it’s way).  The bulk of the money they do spend for “wild” fish also helps their hatchery fish as well, so just how dedicated are they?

Now their precious hatchery fish are looking like they’ll face the same fate. Will ODFW step up and take action to protect their hatchery broodstock? After all, we’re talking about a sizable investment of time and dollars, plus an offshore fishery that’s dependent on them. It’s really hard to “just make more” when you have no milt and eggs to work with. Under current regulations, they’re not allowed to use broodstock from a different ESU source, so unless Pres Donny J signs another Exec Order doing away with those pesky regulations, they’re out of luck.

There are rumors swirling that both UWB Spring Chinook and Winter Steelhead will be downgraded from Threatened to Endangered now, triggering more protection (and restrictions) on what ODFW can and can’t do. Of course, the current circus, I mean administration, is working hard to do away with the Endangered Species Act, so maybe the downgrade won’t mean anything.

My ideas are fairly plain and simple – shut it down.  Close angling on the North Santiam (and other UWB tributaries) for anadromous species immediately, until we get a handle on what’s happening! The status quo has changed drastically from a fish count perspective, so why maintain the status quo when it comes to inland harvest?

Another idea (very unpopular) – end the Skamania Summer Steelhead program on the North Santiam.  It’s a bust.  Spend that $150,000 per year on something that really benefits wild fish. It would be a win-win.  You stop putting an invasive species on top of an ESA listed species and have money going towards real improvement.

We have a tendency as anglers to point our fingers at everyone else as the problem.  We want everyone else to adjust and sacrifice, but not us. Until we’re willing to point that fickle finger at ourselves, nothing will change. I’m willing to support changes that would have a serious impact on my business, how about you?  It’s not so bad, I hear Victoria’s Secret has regular sales and not all of their panties are pink.

Dave