Four years ago, 5.2 million juvenile fish (4.6M Chinook, 600K Steelhead) were released into the Willamette Basin Rivers (Coast Fork, Middle Fork and Main stem Willamette, McKenzie, South and North Santiam, Mollala and others). With each fish costing roughly $1 each to raise, this was a sizable investment for the ODFW, NOAA and other government entities. And this is not a one-time thing, it happens every year. Why you may ask? Simple – to replace wild fish runs lost due to the construction of dams.
We replace the lost fish (due to being cutoff from spawning habitat) with hatchery raised fish of similar species so that commercial and sport anglers can continue the business/sport of catching fish.
So, how’d it all work out?
For Spring Chinook, it went pretty well, we have roughly 50,000 Spring Chinook making their way back to the hatcheries they were released from. That’s a return on the investment of 1.1%. It’s the best return of Spring Chinook we’ve seen in the last five years. That’s the good news.
We burned a few gallons of gas and left some rubber on the road to go see The Breach last night in Portland. An awesome film! A fellow movie goer remarked during the Q&A session afterwards – ” I’m overwhelmed, how do I, as an individual, do anything to help?”
Lori and I had a great discussion on the way home about how we can justify taking a stand on the issues when we as a family are a major contributor to so many of the problems. We added to the population explosion by having 8 kids between us. We live in a home made of 95% wood, we heat our home with firewood and electricity. A home which is protected from flood by two dams just upstream. We have a septic tank and drain field within 50 feet of the river and we aren’t all that careful about the chemicals we use within our home. Part of our household income is derived from my fishing guide service. The bulk of my working career has been in the telecommunications industry – a huge consumer of copper. Yup, we’re consumers of the “4 Hs” that are slowly driving nails into the coffin for wild fish species – Hydro, Habitat, Harvest and Hatchery.
The representatives of the 4 H’s (Hydro, Harvest, Hatchery and Habitat) are working overtime to paint a pretty picture here in Oregon. Lately I’ve been seeing lots of TV ads from groups like the Associated Oregon Loggers, Oregon Forest Resources Institute, Northwest River Partners, and others. The commercials feature shots of lush, green forests, and crystal clear mountain streams filled with salmon and steelhead making their way upstream. (Must be buying stock footage from video shot in Alaska). They tout the benefits of the Oregon Forest Practices Rules, Clean Hydropower, Commercial Fishing and other “great” things that those industries provide.
The rules and regulations put into place in the 1970’s were great … for the 1970’s. It stopped the wholesale destruction of Oregon Forests and Farmland, the watersheds within, and the fish and wildlife that resided there. Those 40 year old policies did some good. It probably kept several anadromous fish runs from extinction. (See prior blog post here)
“Clean Hyro” is that latest label used by the Hydropower Industry. In my mind, it’s just lipstick on a pig. We’re talking about dams that were built as far back as 90 years ago! Just how clean can that be. Sure, Hydro doesn’t produce toxic waste in vast quantities, so in that regard, it is clean. But it does have some serious, permanent, long term effects on a river system. The most obvious of course is cutting off access to spawning grounds. Grand Coulee Dam blocked 1,100 miles of natural spawning habitat for Chinook, Sockeye and Coho Salmon, Steelhead, and Lamprey Eels and flooded 21,000 acres of land. It also opened the door for building dams elsewhere on the Columbia and Snake River systems without regard for native fish runs. Today it’s estimated that between 40 -60% of Columbia Basin spawning grounds are inaccessible to anadromous fish. Continue reading
The early 1970’s marked the beginning of the way Oregonians (and the rest of America) saw their environment. Change was brewing, not just regarding the environment, but also on numerous political and social issues around that time. Vietnam War protests were heating up and becoming more violent. Cigarette advertising was banned from Television. Woodsy the Owl joined Smokey the Bear at the US Forest Service. Not only were we reminded that only we could prevent forest fires, but we should also give a hoot and not pollute.
Tom McCall was the Governor of Oregon at the time and was pushing his message about the environment. The “bottle bill” was enacted, SOLV was in it’s infancy, and the Willamette River was being cleaned up after decades of being treated as a sewage dump. Continue reading
“Steelhead Green” is a term used by NW anglers to describe a river that is dropping and clearing after a winter storm. When that happens, the river takes on a greenish look. It’s generally when fishing gets good for steelhead. The fish are on the move and in a mood to bite. Here in the Willamette Valley, we haven’t seen those conditions very often this year.
We finally have some rain in Oregon! After an extremely dry winter, we’re getting some good old liquid sunshine here in Pacific Northwest. The Little North Santiam, a river with a good run of Wild Winter Steelhead, has begun to rise.
For over a month, the Little North Santiam (aka North Fork) has been low and clear, running at under 200 cfs, reaching a low of 152 cfs earlier this week. Those are summer time levels. Normally we see flows between 800 – 2500 cfs this time of year with the 83 year average right at 1,200 cfs. When the flow is under 200 cfs, the gravel beds are dry and only the deep pools and troughs have water. The water temperature has also been impacted by the unusually dry weather. Temps spiked on the Little North Santiam to 53 degrees this week, where the norm this time of year is in the low 40’s. The same situation exists all over the Willamette Valley. As luck would have it, we’re having a pretty decent run of fish this year with nearly 2,800 winter steelhead over Willamette Falls so far. Continue reading