Fly-fishing guides enter the spotted frog case

March 3, 2016
Fly-fishing guides enter the spotted frog case

They say restoring Deschutes River stream flows would help fish

By Joseph Ditzler / The Bulletin / @josefditzler

The Deschutes River was once among the best fishing streams in Oregon and, if water flows are managed properly, could be again, said Jeff Perin, a Sisters fly-fishing guide.

Perin, who owns The Fly Fisher’s Place, also serves on the board of WaterWatch of Oregon, which, along with the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation and the Arnold, Central Oregon, Tumalo, Lone Pine and North Unit irrigation districts. The issue is the Oregon spotted frog, since 2014 listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The environmental groups want Deschutes River stream flows, which vary greatly depending on the season, restored to save the frog. Farmers and others who rely on Deschutes River irrigation water say their livelihood is imperiled if the court interrupts the flow of water.

But anglers say it’s not just the spotted frog that needs a consistently flowing river.

Perin, in a court filing, wrote that low winter flows in the river kill thousands of fish. When the irrigation season ends in October and the bureau begins storing water in Crescent Lake and Crane Prairie and Wickiup reservoirs, the reduced amount of water flowing in the river leaves fish stranded and dying in isolated pools. During spring and summer when more water gets released for irrigation, he’s had to cancel guided fishing trips due to high water levels, he wrote.

“I would say with absolute certainty that the majority of the fly-fishing community, including my colleagues that own fly shops and guide the rivers and lakes of the region, would agree that something needs to be done to protect a resource that brings us income,” Perin said Wednesday “It’s our economy, too.”

WaterWatch in court filings proposed stream flows that would avoid further harm to spotted frogs but do not take the needs of irrigators into account, said Janette Brimmer, a Seattle attorney representing the group. The analyst who prepared the WaterWatch proposal did not have irrigation information available, Brimmer said. She said that, based on the bureau’s and irrigation districts’ responses, the WaterWatch proposal may change. U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken has scheduled a hearing March 22 in Eugene to hear arguments on the environmental groups’ request for a preliminary injunction.

The number of tourists fishing on Central Oregon streams has declined, according to the 2013 Bend Area Summer Visitor Survey for Visit Bend, the city’s tourism promotion agency. The survey found 12 percent in 2008 said they planned to fish during their visits, versus 9 percent in 2013.

An increase in fees for Oregon fishing licenses could be one cause for the decline in numbers. Other outdoor activities saw a similar drop in participants over the same period, except for floating and paddling, according to the survey. Participation in those activities grew from 11 percent of respondents to 25 percent over the same period, according to the survey.

The decline in fishing falls within the margin for survey error, but the consistent decline over those five years is troubling, said Doug La Placa, president and CEO of Visit Bend. “I hope the lawsuit will bring to light what dire condition the river is in,” he said Wednesday.

Tom Davis, of Sisters, a hydrologist and fisherman, in a 2014 paper he prepared for Trout Unlimited, wrote that the Upper Deschutes River fishery has a potential economic value of $50 million to $75 million annually, a number based on similar streams in New Mexico and Montana. Davis wrote that a consistent, minimum stream flow of 300 cubic feet per second would foster “very high” economic returns from the river. WaterWatch proposes stream flows two to three times higher, depending on the season.

By comparison, the total value of agricultural products sold in Deschutes and Jefferson counties, whose farmers rely on stored water from the Deschutes River to irrigate their crops, in 2012 reached $85.6 million, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Jefferson County accounted for $65 million of that sum.

— Reporter: 541-617-7815,

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