Oregon’s Deschutes River basin is buzzing with the knowledge of good works completed, and more to come, in the effort to boost existing wild and hatchery produced salmon and steelhead populations, and create new ones.
Federal, state, tribal and private researchers gathered March 27-28 in Madras to update each other about advances that have taken place over the past year, and what studies and projects would take place this year to help support and rejuvenate the basin’s fish and wildlife.
The ongoing research and monitoring have definite emphasis on salmon, but bull trout, lamprey and other species are all a part of an overarching plan for the basin. The first day of the fisheries workshop focused on fish reintroduction and enhancement plans; the second day on habitat improvement projects.
Folks have long been engaged in such efforts but an enhanced program has developed since a multi-party settlement agreement was reached in 2004 that included fish restoration/dam passage provisions as a part of the federal relicensing of the Pelton-Round Butte hydro projects co-owned by Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.
“We’ve made huge leaps forward,” said Jim Manion, general manager, Warm Springs Power and Water Enterprises.
He noted as an example completion last year of a project in which the flow of Whycus Creek in central Oregon was restored to its historic path through Camp Polk Meadow, near Sisters, Ore., marking a major step in the return of salmon and steelhead to the upper Deschutes Basin.
The now meandering stream was the recipient in March of juvenile hatchery salmon and steelhead as part of an ongoing program to reintroduce the species to the Deschutes and its tributaries, including the Metolius and Crooked rivers, above the Pelton-Round Butte project.
The dams effectively since their construction was completed in the late 1960s eliminated their presence in the rivers’ upper reaches and tributaries.
The Whychus Creek restoration at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve is a joint effort between the Deschutes Land Trust, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and the Deschutes National Forest. Primary funders of the project include: Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Pelton Round Butte Fund (Portland General Electric & the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs), Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Forest Foundation, Bella Vista Foundation, Laird Norton Family Foundation, Deschutes River Conservancy, Freshwater Trust, The Nature Conservancy and East Cascade Audubon Society.
Most of those same entities were involved in long-running talks that led to the settlement agreement, and continue to be involved in reintroduction, habitat restoration and research and monitoring efforts in the basin.
The spring and summer of 2012 is being approached with considerable anticipation by all partied involved. Starting in 2007 the ODFW has been leading a program involving the outplanting steelhead and chinook fry in headwater rivers and creeks in anticipation of the completion of a downstream collection-passage device at Round Butte Dam, which backs up the Deschutes, Metolius and Crooked to form Lake Billy Chinook. The Metolius and Crooked rivers join the Deschutes above the three-dam complex that forms the Pelton-Round Butte Project.
The fish collection facility at Round Butte Dam began operations late in 2009 to capture the outmigrating smolts and release them below the dam so they could continue their migration down the lower 100 miles of the Deschutes to the Columbia River and then to the Pacific Ocean.
A total of 44,000 spring chinook, 7,700 steelhead, and 49,700 kokanee were passed downriver in 2010. And they are expected to produce the first significant number of adult fish to return to the dam complex this year.
Last year seven spring chinook from above the dam returned. They were the product of a tributary trap and haul operation that send 666 smolts downstream in 2009 before the collection facility was working. A total of 19 “one-salt” sockeye – the product of those downriver releases of landlocked sockeye, the kokanee -- also returned from the 2010 outmigration.
For the first time this year, returning adults (as many as half) that are identified as having originated above the dams will be corralled at the recently upgraded Pelton trap below the lowermost dam and transported above Round Butte for release into Lake Billy Chinook. From there they will have to make their way to streams where they were released, in the hope they will spawn. The operation includes a new adult release facility that will pipe the fish toward the reservoir’s cooler depths so that they avoid any heat shock from warm surface waters.
The other half of the returning fish will be used as hatchery broodstock to help produce a next generation of fish for outplanting above the dams.
“We’ll be ready to go May 1,” though the expectation is that spawners will not return until mid- to late May, PGE senior biologist Don Ratliff said during last week’s workshop.
At the trap perhaps as many as half of the adult fish destined for release above the dams will be outfitted with newly developed tags that fuse “juvenile salmon acoustic telemetry system (JSATS)” technology and esophageal radio tags.
“We’re actually the first ones to uses these tags,” PGE’s Cory Quesada of the acoustic/radio combos. Signals from the radio tags will be picked up and logged by antennas and receivers positioned at various points in the tributaries. Underwater “hydrophones” will log acoustic signals about the fishes’ whereabouts so researchers can chart behaviors.
Later in the season researchers will conduct redd surveys to judge spawning success. They will focus on areas where transmittered fish are located spawning. The surveys will be coordinated with kokanee, redband, and bull trout spawning surveys in Metolius River, and redband surveys in Whychus Creek.