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Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Please send an e-mail to your Oregon House Representative today urging him/her to oppose HB 2873, a bill that would roll back existing fish protection laws that currently apply to development of hydro power on manmade canals or diversion structures. The bill is coming to the floor for a vote today. To find your legislator click here. Please send your note to your state representative at the bottom of the list.

What House Bill 2873 does: HB 2873 prohibits the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife from requiring fish passage, screening or bypass devices when an “in-conduit” hydroelectric project is developed on manmade canal or diversion structure.

The development of hydroelectric facilities on existing manmade canals and diversion structures (otherwise known as in-conduit hydro) has long been allowed under Oregon law (ORS Chapter 543). In 2007, HB 2785 was adopted to allow an expedited process for the development this type of power. This new law allowed for a much quicker approval process—providing an incentive to develop this type of power – but only if key resource protections were in place. Fish passage and screening were contemplated from the outset as a minimum condition and were agreed to by the Oregon Water Resources Congress (the proponent of HB 2873), the Oregon Farm Bureau, conservation groups, state agencies, and others. This agreement was the basis for conservation groups to not oppose the 2007 bill.

If you are looking for a cut and paste message, this should work:

Please do not roll back existing fish protections, vote NO on HB 2873. HB 2873 is inconsistent with Oregon’s long-standing commitment to fish passage and screening across the state. HB 2873 undermines existing laws and policies intended to protect fish and allow energy development. Energy development is neither “green” nor “renewable” if it involves shortcuts that compromise existing protections for imperiled fish in Oregon.

Note: The development of inconduit hydro is not at issue in this bill. These projects are a viable source of power but provisions should remain to protect fish.

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Deep in the Coast Range, it wasn’t Saquatch that inhaled my roe. My friend Jason and I were catching lots of salmon and I do mean lots, every couple casts type lots of salmon. We even had a simultaneous bobber down double . . . . But we were catching mostly dusky chinook and the occasional bright hot coho thrown in and we were sorting through those fish looking for a chrome chinook or two.

‘Bobber down’ and I set the hook into a pretty hot fish. Hooked not far off the bank, I instantly caught a flash of purplish red tiger stripes. “Dude, this thing’s a chum!”

“Are you sure?” Jason asked incredulous.

“I think so.” While not so for folks in Alaska, BC or Washington, in these parts calling “chum” is a big deal. I had never caught one in Oregon. There are two stable populations, one in the streams draining into Tillamook Bay and the other in the Yaquina. According to the Oregon Native Fish Stock Status Report, the Oregon Coastal chum SMU consists of 13 populations, eight of which exist, three of which are extinct and two are presumed extinct. In the river system we were fishing, the chum is presumed extinct. Does this look extinct?

Rare Oregon Coast Range Chum

Rare Oregon Coast Range Chum

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It has been a really long time since I posted. Once you get out of the habit of frequently updating it gets to where you don’t even know where to start. I’ll try to catch up as best I can and start updating the blog more regularly.

Mom was here this spring and I made her go fishing with me. We, (Mom, me and my mustasch) hit the lower Mckenzie flyfishing for trout through the mark and recapture area and caught and tagged a few fish.

Lower Mckenzie Trout Tagging Trip

The procedure was simple. Catch the fish, and into a cooler of cool river water:

Lower Mckenzie Trout Tagging Trip

Measure the fish:

Lower Mckenzie Trout Tagging

Back into the cooler and then tag the fish. Log all information and repeat on another trout. The idea is to capture and tag trout and by knowing how many trout are caught and how many have tags and how many don’t, the size of the population can be extrapolated.

I also made Mom go winter steelheading with me. I caught a small steelhead, my last of the season:

Late Season Oregon Wild Winter Steelhead

Mom was watching from a bridge above the river and when she said, “oh you got another one,” I thought oh no, the old bird is losing her marbles. A split instant later and my lure got slammed by a big steelhead and . . . equipment failure. My reel wouldn’t engage and I lost the fish. From her perch high above the river mom had seen the sea-run brute turn and chase my lure. That’ll teach me.

We also took a cool hike to Alsea Falls:

Alsea Falls Hike

Alsea Falls Hike

Alsea Falls Hike

Alsea Falls Hike

Alsea Falls Hike

We took a drive in the Cascades:

Mt. Washington, Oregon Cascades (3/30/10)

Mom left too soon but in another rare event my sister Stephanie was here and I made her, you guessed it, go fishing:

Me and Steph, Middle Fork Willamette

We hit the Middle Fork Willamette on a slow day but I eked out a few fish including this nice one:

Middle Fork Willamette Rainbow

Her visit was too short and she is back in Germany now.

Other fishing trips have yielded some nice trout:

Lower Mckenzie Guided Trip

Lower Mckenzie Trout

Mckenzie Redside

Middle Fork Willamette Rainbow

I even got out on the ocean for some rockfish. We headed out at Newport:

Heading Out at Newport

The catch included lingcod, cabezon, rock bass a quill back and even a sole:

Rockfish, Lingcod and a Sole

I’ve also been working on the Bartender. I have to run but I’ll try to finish catching up the next couple days.

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Warning: This post contains a fairly graphic image.

This isn’t the post I wanted to write about this trip. I wanted to write a love song about a remote backcountry stream somewhere between northern California and southern British Columbia, a place that has never been logged, where the runs of salmon and steelhead of decades and centuries past sway in the old growth sitka Spruce and douglas Fir and the younger alder and maples that stand along the stream banks. This place has strong runs of coho and chinook and steelhead. I make several pilgrimages a year there, where I always feel my spirits restored, my hopes renewed and my commitment to conservation of indigenous, self-sustaining coldwater fish populations reinvigorated. I feel good there.

I hiked in, greeted by the smell of death and stumbled on the poacher’s camp. A dead cow elk lay near an abondoned tent, debris and a igloo-esge wigwam constructed of douglas Fir boughs. The meat had been stripped of the side of the elk and much (to my untrained eye) had been wasted:

Poached Cow Elk

Near the corpse lay a calling card that completed the scene and gave a glimpse into the poacher’s mind. Not ashamed, he was genuinely proud . . .

Poacher's Calling Card

There were also signs of “fishing.” Abandoned bags of cured roe . . . my mind spun with the possibilities, poached hen salmon eggs used to poach steelhead in a pernicous cycle of waste and abuse. Somehow, the world felt cheaper and crueler, like the when unattainable girl you idolized from afar as a youth threw herself at some dumb jock who dumped her immediately and bragged to everybody who’d listen, relaying the story of conquest, sneering, laughing and coarse. Disgraceful. I strung up my rods.

The strategy was simple. Swing the swinging water, bobbercator the indiacator water and if the flies didn’t work, show ’em the spinner. I worked upstream fast as is my way without touching any fish and saw a flyfisher just ahead vacating a deep pool. Figuring he had thoroughly worked it with his flies I skipped mine, cast a spinner and retrieved slowly. A sea run cutty grabbed my lure but didn’t stick and I repeated the cast, retrieving even slower and a bucky buck, dual striped with a deep glowing red gill plate grabbed me and ran us up and down the pool before sucumbing. Of the fish I hooked or caught there is only this shot:

Bucky Wild Steelhead Buck

There were other hopeful signs. A log jam that started three years ago has continued to grow, accumulating habitat enhancing debris:

Natural Log Jam, Year 3

The stream was full of steelhead redds, I stopped counting at well over twenty in less than three miles:

Steelhead Redd

I moved a steelhead with a swung intruder and it took position behind the fly, grabbed and I set too soon. There was no connection. Then it happened in this pool:

Sage TCX

As my tandem offering drifted into the gut of the run my indicator plunged down and I was connected to the hottest steelhead I’ve ever hooked. The big buck went on a rampage, first running down toward the bouldery tailout I was able to turn him and he jumped in displeasure. He ran towards the top of the run, turned and reached full speed running downstream and again broke the surface with the most impressive leap I’ve ever personally witnessed from a hooked steelhead, easily four feet. He came upstream one last time and powered down toward the tailout again, I tried to stop him from reaching the rapids below . . . . I put on the brakes and held –but my but leader didn’t and it was over. No great loss. My only regret is that I had been unable to locate the tripod or you’d be watching video of this ass-kicking instead of reading about it.

I continued to work upstream not doing any more good with the flyrod. I pitched my spinner just below a rapid and as soon as it hit the water a chrome hen grabbed it, breaking the surface I saw her silvery head and flanks as she spit my spinner back at me in disgust. I fished the next run with the flyrod and caught a bright hen on a spinner. In this small water she also ran toward the downstream rapid and I knew I couldn’t stop her. I stopped fighting, opening my bale and she held in the tailout for several minutes under minimal tension. Lulled to sleep I moved her into deeper water and began the fight again, a quick tailing and she was off. A couple casts later, a buck who must have been courting her chased down my offering, took a swipe but wasn’t hooked.

Hiking out thorough the old growth in the moonless night, a small circle of light thrown by my headlamp, I wondered if the cougar and bear used the trail once darkness had fallen and I thought of the big steelhead trout in the small stream below and whether they too felt a tinge of fear at the wildness of it all.

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Nearly fifty native trout supporters packed the Springfield Infantry Readiness room for ODFW’s local 25 year angling plan meeting. Like planters in the Mckenzie, the meeting space was stuffed to the gills to the point of overflowing and people sat on the floor and out in the hall.

ODFW 25-year planning committee meeting in Springfield

To be fair, there were about ten to fifteen members of the Mckenzie River Guides Association in attendance to show their preference for managing half of the Mckenzie River mainstem primarily for massive amounts of hatchery trout.

McKenzie River Native Trout Coalition

The Mckenzie River Native Trout Coalition, made up of concerned members of the public, conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited and the Native Fish Society as well as the Oregon Native Fish Guides Asscoiation disputes that the current managment of the river represents best practices and that it maximizes benefit.

Our vision for the river is that the Mckenize be managed primarily if not exclusively for the benefit of native fish and fisheries. In our view, proper managment will allow for a slot limit on native trout.

We believe that bait angling should be prohibited above Goodpasture Bridge because fifty percent of trout caught on bait die whereas only 4% of trout caught on flies and lures die. So, massive “harvest” of wild trout is already happpening on the Mckenzie River in the form of bait fishing mortality. The next step is a gradual drawdown of hatchery fish over many years allowing the native trout to recover witha minimum amount of socal disruption. The story was picked up by a couple local news stations. You can check out the KEZI Video video and the KVAL print story as well.

Some say that our coalition is greedy and doesn’t want to share. To that I respond:

The river is so overstocked that you can easily catch 20 to 30 hatchery trout per person before lunch. Even if you want a trout for lunch there is no legitimate reason that there need to be that many hatchery trout in the river to provide a fish fry lunch. In a day of fishing on 40 mile hatchery zone on the Mckenzie River, you might catch one or two nice native trout on a good day and about 30-50 planters. The bottom line is that native trout have been nearly wiped out about half of the mainstem river in favor of massive amount of hatchery trout. Where is the balance and sharing in that?

hmmm . . . . .

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Jan. 27, 2009

Last weekend I was in Portland for the conservation cause, hence I have no recent fishing reports. Friday was dedicated to a meeting of the full working group for the Carmen-Smith hydroproject. I’ve written about Carmen-Smith before but I’ll give you a quick primer.

Carmen is the highest dam in the Mckenzie watershed. It blocks 100% of the flow of the river and diverts it all to the neigboring watershed, the Smith River drainage. Smith River is also dammed. In that reservoir is a tunnel that diverts some of the flow through a penstock generating electricity and then into Trailbridge regulating reservoir formed by Trailbridge dam. The Smith Dam outfall also flows into Trailbridge reservoir.  At that point (Traibridge dam) the river is reregulated, ie. inflow in balanced with outfall. Meanwhile, the mainstem Mckenzie also reemerges upstream of Trailbridge dam fed by springs at Tamolitch dry falls and the mainstem Mckenzie also flows into Trailbridge reservoir. Clear as mud? Here’s a drawing.  Study it for a couple minutes and reread my explanation over and it might make sense:

Carmen Smith Hydroelectric Project

Some good things will be coming from the new license. Foremost among these is a fish ladder at the lowest dam in the project, Traibridge. This will allow spring chinook to utilize additional habitat above that dam and fragmented bull trout populations to reconnect.
There will be woody debris and gravel enhancements as well as guaranteed minimum flows in all reaches. Traibridge will be left at a pool level that allows bull trout unimpeded access through the culvert at Sweetwater Creek during their spawing season. There is also potential for a ladder at Carmen if brook trout can be controlled. There is no need to build a ladder for these invaders otherwise.

So that is about what to expect from the new license once FERC issues it. So, what is holding the license up? The Bi-op needs to be completed by the feds and the 401 certification needs to be completed by the DEQ.  The 401 is complicated by the fact that the Mckenzie goes undergound for a time.  So, where is the water temerature to be measured?  No matter really, it is damn cold everywhere up there and will certainly pass muster. 

I also discussed implications of the drawdown of Trailbridge reservoir during construction and I was assured that we will not see a repeat of the gawdawful sediment issues that took place during the Cougar dam project.  EWEB also indicated that they are going to try to avoid drawing the reservoir down at all during construction. 

Expet to see a new license issued sometime in the fall of this year or early next year.  The sooner the better.  If it’s issued sooner we may not miss the instream work period for next year.  That’d be nice.

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It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people. Earnest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises.

He could have just as well been describing fish managment on the Mckenzie for the last three generations and maybe I just need a few drinks and then a couple more. We’ve been abusing the river and pretending like we care–all the while avoiding facing the inevitable.  We’ve pushed our native trout to the brink between Hayden Bridge and Forest Glenn-a majority or nearly so of the mainstem in the famed Mckenzie River.

Reknowned as the spawning grounds of the driftboat, we used to be a destination fishery. Some of the West’s first fishing guides made their livings here. Presidents used to fish here every summer . . . . Obama took up the fly rod in Montana.

Many still refuse to recognize that there is a problem, like addicts who only care about their short term fix. You can catch fifty hatchery trout and be asked, “what did you do after lunch?” But when a resource declines and the powers that be show little or inclination to fix it, conflict is unavoidable.

This conflict has been brewing underneath the surface of the Mckenzie River where our native trout population has declined to alarmingly low levels in the “sacrifice zone,” so described aptly by our Regional ODFW Fish Biologist.

In the local anglers’ collective consciousness, those who get it anyway, a sense of dissatisfaction has been growing, a nagging feeling that fishing could be better, hell, should be better on the Mckenzie River if only it was managed better . . . . If only one hundred and forty thousand hatchery trout weren’t dumped on top of our native fish, crowding them out of limted habitat and gobbling up finite food resources. If only bait fishing wasn’t allowed. If only certain vested interests weren’t standing in the way of progress . . . .

The underlying issue gurgled to the surface when Matt Stansberry of our local Mckenzie-Upper Willamette Trout Unlimited chapter and Chris Daughters, owner of the Caddis Fly Angling Shop published an opinion piece in the Register Guard suggesting it is time to start managing the Mckenzie for wild trout. This is hardly a radical notion. Montana and Washington don’t stock their moving waters with resident trout and Oregon, despite its green reputation is way behind on this issue.

Unsurprisingly, the Mckenzie River Guides Association came out in opposition to the proposal in a counter piece in the Register Guard. In case you don’t want to actually read this piece here are some highlights:

Stansberry and Daughters declare that the section from Blue River to Leaburg Lake is a “sacrifice zone” due to the number of hatchery-reared trout released in this section of river. This reach of the McKenzie would be more appropriately labeled as “multiple use,” or an area for sharing, available to all citizens — young and old alike, regardless of skill level or income. It’s a place where all types of anglers can enjoy a river trout fishing experience.

In this technological world where the general population is disconnecting with the outdoors and natural experiences at an alarming rate (see Richard Louv’s 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods”), having sections of the McKenzie River where anglers are allowed to catch and consume hatchery fish could very well be what preserves the “redsides!” It is heartwarming for us to see a family in a drift boat with youngsters excited by the real prospect of catching a trout. These are tomorrow’s sportsmen, sportswomen and conservationists. As opportunities for this type of outdoor experience decline statewide, angling pressure will likely increase in those areas that allow harvest.
 
To their credit, the MRGA wants to see bait banned between Goodpasture Bridge and Forest Glen. Bait hooked trout have a fifty fifty shot of surviving a release whereas flies caught on lures survive about twently four of twenty five times. But the Guides Association is plain wrong on the hatchery trout issue.

For one, the term sacrifice zone was not coined by Stansberry or Daughters. It is a quote from our ODFW biologist. Nitpicking aside, we all agree that it is a good idea to get kids outdoors.  The area of disagreement is about what we teach them once we get them out there.

Do we teach them to live beyond their means? That the river is just a vessel to fulfill their selfish desire for a fishstick? Do we teach them to ask the river to give more than it is capable of?

Or . . .

Do we teach them to live within their means? Do we teach them to harvest only where and when such harvest is sustainable?

I know where I stand on those issues and the put and take fishery on the Mckenzie is out of step with the growing consensus that we should utilize natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Regarding the shared resource issue, the wild trout areas cited by the Guides Association are located either in the lower river, where extensive private property basically limits access to those of us with boats or in the swift and violent upper river, where the trout holding areas are accessable only to boats and those boats better be manned by highly skilled oarsmen–or else. I can fish there. Actually, I can watch people fish there. I have to be on the oars. But the old, the young, people without boats . . . sorry.

So, I ask this: Where’s our share? Where is our fair opportunity for the young and old, people of all incomes to catch native trout in the Mckenzie River? The current managment regime denies many that opportunity in the most highly accessible and productive area of the river. It needs to change.

There seems to be an idea that the river couldn’t sustain a fishery without the hatchery trout. This is not true. The science coudn’t be more clear:

“Fall wild populations of two-year-old and older brown and rainbow trout increased 159% and 868% in number and 160% and 1016% in total biomass respectively, four years after the last catchable-sized hatchery rainbow trout was stocked in the Varney section of the Madison river . . . [W]ild rainbow trout biomass levels were still showing increases four years after the last stocking. Wild brown and rainbow trout between 10.0-17.9 inches showed the greatest increases when stocking ceased . . . . “ (’The Effects of Stocking Catchable-Sized Hatchery Trout on Wild Trout in the Madison River and O’Dell Creek, Montana.’ E. Richard Vincent of the Montana Department of Fish and Wildlife, 1982.)

If we stop stocking the Mckenzie within four years it is likely that the number of wild rainbow trout will increase by up to 1100% and biomass may increase by as much as 1175%. I have combined the increases for browns and rainbows found in the Montana study as our Mckenzie fish do not have to compete with brown trout. With 11 times as many wild fish and 12 times the biomass with the largest increase in trout between 10 and 17.9 inches, I think children and people of all ability levels could still have an enjoyable experience without stocking.

But we don’t have to go to Montana for success stories. The Metolius is an example of an Oregon fishery that has taken off once stocking ceased. The Deschutes trout population absolutley exploded in the absence of competition from hatchery trout. Sadly, ODFW seems disinclined to learn from its past successes.

If you wonder why we care, some of it is simply for the sake of the fish. But there is also the angler in me who wants to catch more and bigger wild trout. Guiding or fishing the river I can tell instantly whena native is on the line. The speed and power are the giveaways. Anemic stocked trout simply struggle weakly. Even if you don’t fish take a look at these pictures and ask yourself what you would rather catch:

Native Mckenzie River Trout:

Two Fly Tournament-Mckenzie River Native Trout

Hatchery Trout:

Typical Mckenzie Planter

Native Trout:

Mckenzie River Native Redside

Hatchery Trout:

Hatchery Trout-Not Pretty

Native Trout:

Two Fly Tornament-Mckenzie River Native Trout

Hatchery Trout:

Hatchery Trout-Not Pretty

Native:

Mckenzie Redside Rainbow

Seems pretty obvious doesn’t it.

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