January 29, 2012 - Bend Bulletin - Salmon (and their stewards) are going above and beyond

Feb 02, 2012

January 29, 2012 - Bend Bulletin - Salmon (and their stewards) are going above and beyond

Salmon (and their stewards) are going above and beyond

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin
Published: January 29. 2012 4:00AM PST

After an absence of more than 40 years, adult salmon could be swimming in the upper reaches of the Deschutes River system this year.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs are finalizing a plan for seagoing fish in the river that may include the trapping and hauling of spring-run chinook salmon around the three dams in the Pelton Round Butte complex, said Bobby Brunoe, general manager of the tribes’ natural resources branch.

“I think we are really excited about adults getting above the project,” he said. “It’s been one of the goals of all this.”

For more than a decade, the tribes have worked with Portland General Electric, which co-owns the power-producing dams, as well as state and federal agencies, water users and conservation groups to restore the Deschutes runs. Once above the dams, the fish will swim into the Upper Deschutes, Metolius and Crooked rivers, as well as Whychus Creek.

The partners and collaborators in the fish committee have the “common goal of reintroducing the fish” to the rivers above the dams, said Brett Hodgson, ODFW district biologist in Bend.

He declined to go into any details of the plan under consideration by the state.

“We are real close to coming up with a strategy as how to handle the adults that show up in 2012,” he said. “But we are not quite there yet.”

The fish committee meets monthly, Brunoe said, so it has two or three more meetings before the spring-run chinook likely start arriving in late April.

Return of the salmon

When the dams in the Pelton Round Butte complex were built west of Madras between 1957 and 1964, the intent was to have salmon and steelhead swim around them using fish ladders. While the three-mile-long ladder successfully guided fish around the dams, young fish heading downstream from spawning beds were confused by currents in Lake Billy Chinook and didn’t find their way into the ladder.

In 1968 the Round Butte Fish hatchery was installed. Ever since, adult fish have been captured at the lowest dam in the complex and hauled to the hatchery.

The first phase in returning salmon and steelhead runs to the rivers above the dams was finished in 2009. That’s when the tribes and PGE completed a $100 million submerged tower that creates a current to attract migrating young fish. Volunteers in the years since have helped distribute hundreds of thousands of young fish from the hatchery into rivers above the dams, mimicking natural hatches from spawning beds.

More than 44,000 young chinook were collected at the tower, hauled downstream of the dams and released in 2010, according to PGE. Another 30,000 came through last year.

Last year, five adult chinook salmon returned, along with two “jack” chinook salmon — fish that return a year or two earlier than the fish they hatched with. This year’s run should have about 400 fish, said Brad Houslet, fisheries department manager for the tribes. Most of the chinook will be from the young fish that swam into the tower in 2010.

“This is the year that we are expecting more fish,” he said.

The tribes and ODFW will determine how many of this year’s chinook go to the hatchery and how many may be released above the dams.

Ready for fish

The tribes and PGE, whose officials said they eventually want to see harvestable salmon and steelhead runs on the upper rivers, aren’t the only groups eager about the possible return of the salmon. Conservation groups like Trout Unlimited and water users groups like the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, which represents seven irrigation districts in the Deschutes River basin, also share in the excitement.

“It’s all very, very exciting,” said Darek Staab, a project manager with Trout Unlimited in Bend. “There’s been so much work leading up to this point.”

The group has been involved with restoration efforts on rivers above the dams. Likewise, irrigation districts that draw water from above the dams have been working on ways to keep more water in the rivers, priming them for spawning salmon and steelhead, said Steve Johnson, chairman of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control.

He said more projects, such as the current lining of an irrigation canal between Bend and Redmond, will further improve conditions for fish.

“The job is not done yet,” Johnson said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,


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