News from the Big Bend Pool – A message from our partners at the North Umpqua Foundation
Beginning with the summer of 1992, The North Umpqua Foundation (TNUF) has provided a caretaker at the Big Bend Pool and we are pleased Ed Kikumoto will be returning to that position again this year. Ed is in the process of setting up the visitor’s area which will again be open to the public.
The North Umpqua Foundation sends a big thank you to Kirk Blaine, President of the Steamboaters, for hauling the Air Stream trailer up to the Big Bend Pool on May 14th, just another example of the way the two organizations work together for the river.
Hope to see you there!
Kirk BlaineA Message from our Partners at The North Umpqua Foundation
It’s official, only 449 Wild Summer Steelhead returned to the Iconic North Umpqua River last year, the lowest run on record. It is an emergency and we must take action to do everything we can to restore these fish.
For decades, conservationists, including legendary Steamboater Frank Moore, have been working to protect this fragile run of wild steelhead. Recently, the Steamboaters have been a part of the North Umpqua Coalition, a group of conservation organizations working together to restore an all wild steelhead North Umpqua. Our mission is simple – focus on the management practices we can control and we know work. In the North Umpqua, we don’t look far for answers because the river’s wild winter steelhead show us the way.
Three decades ago, fisheries managers elected to end hatchery releases of winter steelhead into the North Umpqua. They invested in habitat restoration after decades of extensive logging and managing winter steelhead for the wild genetics and diversity, not fish reared in other watersheds or concrete raceways. Since then, the run has seen a dramatic recovery. In 2020, ODFW reported over 10,000 fish crossing Winchester dam and in 2015 over 13,000 wild winter steelhead made the journey over the dilapidated dam. This, by far is the largest run of wild fish in the entire Northern Oregon Coast.
In 2020, the Archie Creek fire obliterated ODFW’s Rock Creek Hatchery in the Umpqua Basin. In response, ODFW moved hatchery programs to Cole Rivers hatchery on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. After rearing there, those fish have been moved back up to the North Umpqua Basin.
The Coalition is asking ODFW to pause the planting of hatchery summer steelhead in the North Umpqua River starting this year. To be clear: we aren’t asking for an elimination of all hatchery programs in the basin, we are focused on the summer steelhead in the North Umpqua.
ODFW’s own monitoring shows that too many hatchery fish are spawning in the North Umpqua, and have been for decades. The Steamboaters are simply requesting that ODFW follow their own conservation management plan. This plan was adopted in 2014 to help restore and conserve multiple species of salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout on the Northern Oregon Coast. It is absurd that ODFW will not comply or enforce their own rules and regulations in fisheries management.
To outline the science and give a historical perspective we go to Jeff Dose, current Steamboaters president, and retired fisheries biologist of the Umpqua National Forest. Jeff worked in the North Umpqua Basin for over thirty years and deeply understands the hydrology, biology, and ecology of the entire watershed. There’s no better person to provide insights on why a pause to the summer steelhead hatchery program is part of the solution to giving the North Umpqua’s iconic wild fish their best chance to rebuild their numbers.
A Change in Management for the Future of Wild Summer Steelhead
By Jeff Dose, Steamboaters President
The topic I’d like to address is what I clearly believe is a needed, and appropriate, change to the Coastal Multi-species Management Plan (CMP). Specifically, since adoption of the CMP, there has been some substantially changed conditions to the environment within the North Umpqua basin from the Archie Creek fire and accelerated climate change. There has also been a changed condition with the status of the wild summer steelhead population, with a substantial declining trend. I believe plan amendments are entirely appropriate. Changes from the original assumptions regarding wild NU summer steelhead involve both biological and environmental factors.
Habitat quality is already problematic in some parts of the watershed and will undoubtedly be further reduced from decreased water quality, sedimentation, simplification of stream channels from landslides, among other factors. The biological conditions are such that there has been a decline from the observed abundance of 3,200 from which the CMP is based, while counts of wild summers at Winchester Dam have actually declined to under 2,000 for 4 of the last 6 years, with the 2021 run at about 350, the lowest on record since counting began in 1946. This is a major movement away from the desired abundance and towards the critical abundance of 1,200 identified in the CMP. They are classed as Sensitive – Vulnerable and proactive management of existing threats is warranted. It was true then and new information supports the need for even greater actions. If information appears to show that progress is not being made towards desired status goals, or declining towards critical abundance levels, the ODFW will consider if additional actions need to be implemented. I strongly believe this is the case.
Please note that in an OAR for steelhead management goals there is direction to protect wild populations of steelhead from detrimental interactions with hatchery fish. The literature clearly shows that hatchery fish have the potential to cause either genetic or ecological (i.e, competition or predation) impacts on any population with which they spatially and temporally overlap. They certainly do overlap in the case of NU summer steelhead at both juvenile and adult life stages. The desired proportion of hatchery fish in the natural environment (pHOS) goal is to not exceed 10%. This is either unmet or not accurately measured and is estimated to be over 30%. Many of the returning hatchery summers counted at Winchester Dam are not accounted for in harvest or the Rock Creek trap. Some indication of where they go, and likely spawn, is counts at Soda Springs Dam, which is some 40 miles upstream from Rock Creek. In some years the number of hatchery summers has equaled and occasionally greatly exceeded wild summers.
The environmental and biological conditions affecting the long-term persistence and abundance of wild NU summer steelhead is putting them at great risk. The potential social and economic benefits from a robust run of wild NU summer steelhead is great but is threatened. One action that the ODFW and the Commission, can take to reverse this trajectory is to amend the CMP to eliminate the NU summer steelhead hatchery program. We are not asking for a complete cessation of all hatchery programs, just a pause in the NU summer steelhead hatchery program for 10 years, which equates to about two generations. It won’t solve all the threats but will go a long way towards that goal. One final thought, the genetic diversity inherent in a wild steelhead population will provide for greatly improved resiliency that will be needed to cope with the anticipated future changes in environmental factors. There is no better biological insurance policy.
On April 7th, ODFW will be hosting a webinar discussing the future of Summer Steelhead in the North Umpqua River. The webinar will feature Dr. Megan Jones, a social scientist with ODFW and a member of the ODFW science team. There will be a presenation followed by questions and answers. Please join to share your concerns about the future of Summer Steelhead in the North Umpqua River.
On April 22nd, the ODFW Commissioners will be reviewing the situation of North Upmqua Summer Steelhead. The Steamboaters will be at that commission meeting asking ODFW to comply with the Conservation Management Plan adopted in 2014. Please join us in person that day or over the phone testifying to the Commission.
Kirk BlaineNorth Umpuqa Summer Steelhead – Wild is the Future
Joe Ferguson, board member of the Steamboaters lifelong conservationist, shared his most fond memories of Frank Moore and the stories that Jeanne would share when visiting by their famous trout ponds. We all miss Frank and the work he did to protect the place we all love and enjoy will always be remembered.
One evening, Frank and Jeanne were driving home up the North Umpqua River and noticed an Oscar Mayer Wiener-mobile, you know the hotdog mobile, parked along the highway and the driver was looking at a map. Frank said he was lost, Jeanne said he wasn’t really lost. Of course, Frank stopped the car to see if they could help. Frank and Jeanne ended up inviting him to their lovely home for dinner. After dinner, the Oscar Mayer Wiener driver ended up staying the evening with the caring and loving couple! That’s the kind of person Frank was and Jeanne continues to be – cabinet members, congressmen, rich and famous people, and wiener-mobile drivers were all welcomed at Frank and Jeanne’s wonderful cabin above the North Umpqua River.
Another great memory of Frank was when I stopped by their home one summer evening. I looked around the house expecting them to be making dinner or working outside, but it looked like nobody was home. As I went back to my van here came Frank running down the road BACKWARDS! He was only about 75 or 80 at the time and not missing a step. His pace was faster than most folks in the their 30’s. When he approached, he looked at me and told me, keeps my legs in good shape to wade…
Thanks, Joe, for sharing these wonderful memories of Frank and his lovely wife Jeanne. His legacy will continue to push each one of us to be better humans and continue his work in conservation.
North Umpqua Coalition asks ODFW to reduce harm to imperiled Summer Steelhead Populations
North Umpqua River, Idleyld Park, Oregon – On January 31, 2022 the North Umpqua Coalition, consisting of The Conservation Angler, Native Fish Society, The Steamboaters, The North Umpqua Foundation, Umpqua Watersheds, and Pacific Rivers, filed a Petition for Declaratory Ruling with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission asking them to pause the production and release of hatchery Summer Steelhead until ODFW staff and fisheries managers can adhere to their own conservation management plan (Coastal Multi-Species Conservation and Management Plan aka CMP) for the North Umpqua River. The North Umpqua Coalition shares a vision of an all wild Steelhead North Umpqua River.
The North Umpqua Coalition’s petition asks the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to direct the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to pause the release of hatchery Summer Steelhead of the North Umpqua River in order to comply with their own conservation management plan and administrative rules. The coalition is asking for a management change based on the high levels of hatchery origin Summer Steelhead spawning in the wild. The best available science shows detrimental effects to wild native fish when hatchery fish spawn with wild native fish. To protect the viability of wild summer steelhead, ODFW’s conservation management plan for the North Umpqua River provides that the proportion of hatchery steelhead spawning in the wild must be 10% or less in the majority of wild fish spawning areas. ODFW reports a nine year average of 33% hatchery Summer Steelhead on the spawning beds in the North Umpqua River, and 77% hatchery Summer Steelhead are spawning in and near Rock Creek causing major concerns for the long-term health of wild Summer Steelhead. Not releasing hatchery summer steelhead smolts and pausing the summer steelhead hatchery program will allow summer steelhead to respond as the all-wild winter steelhead population on the North Umpqua has since the cessation of that hatchery program.
“The current scientific literature clearly shows substantial adverse impacts to wild Steelhead populations from interactions with hatchery fish. In addition to reduced fitness from genetic integration among the spawning populations, other factors; such as competition, predation, disease transmission, and altered predator survival and behavior begin as soon as juveniles are released into the natural environment” says Jeff Dose, longtime Fisheries Biologist with the Umpqua National Forest.
ODFW is rearing ~79,000 hatchery Summer Steelhead smolts at Cole River Hatchery in the Rogue River watershed. As recently reported in the Medford Mail Tribune, heaters at Cole Rivers Hatchery have malfunctioned and fish are unlikely to meet ODFW’s size standards for release. The best available scientific evidence shows that smaller juvenile Steelhead often fail to migrate to the ocean, with a subsequent high likelihood of residualizing where they were released and even spawning with wild fish. It is critical ODFW not release undersized Summer Steelhead smolts into the North Umpqua this year. ODFW has other options such as releasing them into the Galesville Reservoir where more anglers have the opportunity to catch them.
“The North Umpqua River’s iconic run of wild Summer Steelhead continue to struggle with only 347 wild fish returning to spawn this year,” said Becky McRae, President of The North Umpqua Foundation. “ It is clear a fisheries management change is critical and pausing the hatchery Summer Steelhead program is one limiting factor ODFW can easily change to help restore these wild Summer Steelhead populations.”
The North Umpqua Coalition began sharing their concerns about the wild Summer Steelhead population on the North Umpqua River with ODFW over a year ago. Members of the Coalition attended the September 2021 ODFW Commission meeting asking for action and change in management. The Coalition was informed there would be a public outreach period during the fall of 2021, yet no such meetings occurred. During the December 2021 ODFW Commission meeting a member of the coalition gave public testimony reminding commissioners and staff of the emergency situation and asked for a change in management. On January 7, 2022 the Coalition wrote again to the ODFW Director and Fisheries Division Administrator asking for immediate action. While ODFW made a statement at the January commission meeting that there is an evaluation underway, no management changes have been taken that would bring them into compliance with their own policies and rules.
The Coalition’s petition asks that the Commission directs ODFW Staff to pause the Summer Steelhead hatchery program to ensure the long-term health and conservation of wild Summer Steelhead.
“It is absurd that ODFW insists on releasing hatchery fish into a river with so few wild fish that it must be closed to all angling,” said Karl Konecny, board member of the Steamboaters and The North Umpqua Foundation.
The North Umpqua Coalition is working to conserve and restore the North Umpqua River and its wild fish populations. Working together, their vision is focused on restoring an all wild steelhead North Umpqua, making it the only river in Oregon with a population of both wild summer and wild winter steelhead. This advocacy has been made possible through a grant from the Flyfisher Foundation of Oregon.
Frank Alvin Moore always gave 125% in all his endeavors, but he didn’t expect others to meet that standard. His determination and grit made you want to give a 100% plus without saying a word. Sometimes Frank would give you a steely look or pronounced silence during a conversation. It always made me reflect, evaluate, and maybe make a change or shout a little louder.
In the summer of 2020, I was over at Frank and Jeanne’s on a hot summers evening. We were sitting by the pond talking about the history of the River, steelhead fishing stories, and steelhead history on the North Umpqua River. Jeanne correcting Frank and Frank correcting Jeanne as they always did. They got me laughing so hard I almost fell out of my chair into the pond. That would’ve been a good story if I’d gone in. Later that summer, Frank, Jeanne, Kathy (my wife) and I lost our homes to the Archie Creek Fire.
Frank never gave out the names of fishing runs, he would say to me “you catch a fish there, come back and I’ll tell you.” Kathy and I explored more runs on the North Umpqua than ever imaginable, just trying to catch a fish so Frank would tell us the name of the run. We were doing intense fishing research with direction from Frank.
Frank loved to sing. I never got to hear him sing, but he took singing lessons at one time. That’s how he met Jeanne.
Keep your ears open on the river and you might hear….
I will miss you so much Frank. I feel privileged to have received many bone crushing bear hugs and handshakes over the years.
We are saddened by the news that Frank Moore passed away over the weekend. A legend in conservation with a heart of gold, Frank will be deeply missed in the community. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jeannie and the Moore family.
We will continue to fight and protect the North Umpqua River working to restore the future of wild fish in the river Frank loved so much.
Kirk BlaineSaddened by the loss of a North Umpqua Legend
The following is a repeat of an article that was published nearly 7 years ago in, among other journals, the Osprey. Written by current Steamboaters President, Jeff Dose, it is relevant today as well. As has been displayed in previous articles, the issue of the status of wild salmon and steelhead in the Umpqua has raised great concern. The Steamboaters are contributing members of the North Umpqua Coalition, a group of committed conservationists, with several Board members participating. Among the biggest issues the group is wrestling with is the imperative to stop the NU summer steelhead hatchery program, which is a contributing factor to the precipitous decline in the wild summer steelhead population. This article presents many of the problems resultant from the hatchery program and offers some potential solutions.
Restoring abundant runs of wild Pacific salmon and anadromous trout, that is, fish spawned in natural habitat from wild parents, to the rivers and streams of the Pacific Northwest and California bioregion has recently risen to the highest levels in the public’s consciousness. There is attention from the regions’ and nations’ top elected officials, the large expenditure of public and private funds, and almost daily coverage in the media. What was once primarily the subject of commerce and professional debate in the region’s fishing ports and academic institutions has blossomed spectacularly into the social, political, and economic arenas of the entire region – and beyond. This attention is certainly true here, in the Umpqua River basin, as well, where our fish runs support a multitude of recreational and commercial enterprises and where there is concern for some greatly diminished populations.
The Umpqua has one of the most diverse populations of wild salmon and searun trout in Oregon. There exists six different races representing four species. These races are further distributed in sub-basin specific populations (Mainstem, North, and South). These are spring Chinook salmon (North and South), fall Chinook salmon (all three sub-basins), coho salmon (all three sub-basins), winter steelhead (all three sub-basins), summer steelhead (North), and searun cutthroat trout (North, others?). In addition to the wild populations, for all but searun cutthroat and wild winter steelhead of the North Umpqua, there are artificially propagated populations from hatcheries. The following narrative is a general discussion of salmon and searun trout, but most of it applies to most aspects of salmon and steelhead management in the Umpqua.
Pacific salmon, broadly defined to include sea-run trout, are a truly remarkable and successful group of animals. On an evolutionary time scale, at least for teleost (bony) fishes, they are considered fairly primitive. The fossil record indicates that the first ancestors evolved about 45 million years ago, and that current species evolved two to six million years ago. During this time period, they have endured numerous global-scale climate changes – upheavals that caused the extinction of an untold numbers of other species – yet they persisted, albeit not always in the same locales.
Through evolutionary processes such as natural selection, salmon have been able to persist, and even thrive, by developing some rather unique and impressive characteristics and abilities which enhance their genetic diversity, including:
the ability to “navigate” and migrate enormous distances;
a very fine-tuned “homing” ability that allows them to return to their natal streams, while at the same time having sufficient straying capability to colonize new or previously lost habitats;
a life-history which results in the bulk of the population being at sea during the “catastrophic” natural disturbances (e.g., floods, wildfire, drought, etc.) which occur periodically within their freshwater habitat;
tetraploid chromosomes, common in plants but unusual in animals, which may provide resistance to adverse genetic effects from inbreeding when populations are low;
the ability to dramatically change their kidney function so as to be able to move between fresh and salt water, which allows them to utilize the relatively rich marine environment for growth and the relatively safe freshwater environment for reproduction and initial rearing; and
the ability to evolve quickly to different environments by adopting life-history strategies, such as migration timing or body size, to a wide variety of different, localized freshwater environments – ranging from intermittent streams in southern California to alpine lakes near the continental divide in Idaho to frequently frozen rivers above the Arctic Circle in Alaska and Canada.
Managing salmon resources involves preventing overharvest, protecting and restoring habitat, managing hydro and other dams, and augmentation of wild populations with hatchery production. While counter-intuitive, large-scale hatchery production does not usually produce more fish and can seriously reduce fitness of wild populations. Most current hatchery practices, such as supplementing or augmenting wild populations with hatchery-bred fish produced from artificial (rather than natural) mate selection, are antithetical to the goal. Additionally, hatchery production requires a large investment of funds that might be better spent on habitat acquisition and restoration, alternative energy sources, law enforcement or better monitoring and evaluation. It is not uncommon for the return of one hatchery salmon to cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. The majority of which is paid by taxpayers and ratepayers, not from the sale of licenses and tags.
Among other effects, genetic changes are contributing to the problem of salmon declines. Most recent research has shown significant reductions in salmon and steelhead production when hatchery fish are spawning with wild fish, even at fairly low levels (~10-15%) of hatchery fish. In addition to genetic effects from interbreeding, impacts to wild salmon begin as soon as the hatchery fish are released into the rivers and streams. These potentially include disease transmission, competition, direct predation, altered migratory behavior, and altered predator survival and behavior.
In addition to these direct effects, the release of millions of hatchery reared fish (and their subsequent return) makes it nearly impossible to assess accurately the status of many wild stocks. This is further exacerbated during periods of high ocean productivity when hatchery fish survive (and spawn) at much higher rates than at other times. The offspring from these pairings are unmarked and are essentially indistinguishable (without genetic analysis) from true wild stocks. They are then usually counted, inappropriately, as wild.
Despite the large body of scientific information that portrays the damage done, there has been little real change in the current hatchery/harvest paradigm. The effects on mixed-stock fisheries are evaluated as large, coast-wide aggregates while potentially devastating impacts on local population segments go unevaluated, and unreported. Similarly, there has been very little change in land and water uses that affect salmon habitat.
As to habitat “restoration,” most of what has been done to date is the uncoordinated treatment of some of the more obvious symptoms, while totally ignoring the causes – like widespread clearcutting and road building in forest watersheds, unrestricted livestock grazing, diversions of large amounts of water from stream channels for irrigation and domestic use, urban and industrial development on and adjacent to floodplains, and the continued construction (or retention) of more dams. Successful, widespread restoration of wild salmon stocks will require a significant paradigm shift from current approaches.
Many researchers have concluded that for restoration programs to succeed, there must be a shift away from simplistic technofixes – such as hatcheries for low fish numbers or log structures for poor habitat conditions – to ecologically-based restoration of watershed processes.
I’ll conclude with a quote from the book Salmon Without Rivers, (Lichatowich, 1999) in which he concluded:
Today we are faced with a legacy of more than a century of salmon management based on a faulty set of assumptions. Natural salmon habitats have been wrecked while we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on hatcheries, chasing the foolish dream of producing salmon without rivers. Every independent scientific review of the current management system has called for a major overhaul, but bureaucratic salmon managers still cling to the status quo, defend their hatchery programs, and embrace without thinking the outmoded worldview from which hatcheries first emerged in 1872. [Page 219]
If your interested in learning more about fisheries management in the Umpqua Basin or would like to get involved, contact the Steamboaters Board at email@example.com.
Kirk BlaineSalmon and Steelhead Management in the Umpqua River
On December 1, 2021, the North Umpqua River reopened to winter steelhead angling from Soda Springs Dam to the confluence of the South Umpqua River. ODFW closed the North Umpqua River August 10 to all angling to protect wild summer steelhead due to low returns, low flows, and high water temperatures.
From May 1, 2021to September 15, 2021, 347 wild summer steelhead and 158 hatchery summer steelhead crossed Winchester Dam. These are unprecedented numbers placing the North Umpqua River on track for the lowest number of summer steelhead returning on record.
As anglers let’s protect these fish. Don’t fish to summer steelhead. Enjoy fishing, but make sure you target winter fish or hatchery fish below rock creek. It is our duty to ensure no further harm is inflicted on these fish. We need all the spawners we can get.
If you care about these fish and would like to give back, reach out to us today. There are multiple ways you can help, using your voice, volunteer hours, or financially by joining the Steamboaters.
Today is the day! On Giving Tuesday, people around the world will come together to participate in a global day of generosity. This year, all #GivingTuesday proceeds will go directly to the North Umpqua Coalition’s mission of rebuilding wild abundance on the North Umpqua River.
In the last few years, the North Umpqua has experienced historic wildfires, high water temperatures, and low returns. Now is our chance to support this river, its wild fisheries, and help build the next chapter in its story. Oregon can embark on a new journey that envisions managing fisheries on the river, focusing on fostering abundant wild fish populations that support recreational fisheries, healthy ecosystems, and increased natural resilience to our changing climate.
Even if you can’t give monetarily, you can help by sharing on social media to let your loved ones know today is the day to support wild abundance on the North Umpqua! Grassroots generosity and community action are powerful forces for good, especially in turbulent times. Join us in safeguarding and rebuilding wild abundance on the North Umpqua!
Donate $100 or more to the #GivingTuesday campaign and get a North Umpqua Book by Dan Callaghan! Support an all-wild North Umpqua River by donating to North Umpqua Coalition member organizations on Giving Tuesday!
The iconic North Umpqua summer steelhead run is collapsing. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has closed the river to fishing to protect the few remaining wild fish. As an organization founded by anglers dedicated to the protection of this river we are very saddened but fully support the closure and are committed to addressing all the issues that have depleted this iconic run of fish. The annual snorkel survey of Steamboat and Canton Creek, traditional spawning ground strongholds, found only 59 wild steelhead, none of them in Canton Creek. In 2000, Dan Callaghan captured his iconic photo of over 400 wild summer steelhead in the Big Bend pool of Steamboat Creek. In 1999 the run was even more amazing, over 600 fish were in that resting pool. The photo above was taken in 2012. In just over 20 years, the famous North Umpqua summer steelhead run has collapsed by over eighty percent.
The North Umpqua steelhead run has been influenced by humans for millennia. Native Americans thrived in the watershed, subsisting on the natural abundance. European immigrants began commercial harvest of the apparently endless salmon runs in the 19th century. Shortly thereafter, the Oregon legislature, concerned over diminishing runs, turned to the unproven promise of hatcheries — building the first one on the North Umpqua in 1900. In 1927, a dirt road was pushed through to the mouth of Steamboat Creek. Sport-fishing camps soon followed, word of the spectacular run of large steelhead got out and anglers began to arrive from around the world. Zane Grey first fished the North Umpqua in 1931.
After World War II activity really heated up. A paved road was pushed up the stream side grade, not only altering the bed and character of the canyon river but allowing access to dam builders and timber companies. The upper most river accessible to steelhead was cutoff by dams and a web of logging roads began to push into the tributary valleys. By 1949, depleted runs forced the closure of the river to commercial harvest. Yet the summer steelhead persisted, although at reduced levels.
In 1957 Frank and Jeanne Moore bought Clarence Gordon’s store downstream of Steamboat Creek (the remnant of his North Umpqua Lodge) and developed Steamboat Inn. Poor logging practices began to decimate tributary streams. In 1964 Frank Moore instigated the production of the film “Pass Creek” that documented the logging damage and pushed for reform. While logging practices have improved, there is continuing harm from the extensive road network, the mass conversion of the native forest into young overstocked plantations, insufficient riparian buffers, and widespread herbicide use on private timberland.In 2019 much of the Steamboat Creek drainage was designated The Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Sanctuary, honoring the tireless work of the Moores for the North Umpqua’s iconic steelhead run and specifying that the watershed be managed for the prosperity of the fish. Unfortunately, no money was allocated for restoration and management of the landscape.
Lately, the impacts of climate change are becoming undeniably obvious and the summer steelhead are suffering from them. Reduced snow pack, hotter summers, extended droughts, increased wildfires. All of this results in lower flows and warmer water which give shorter migration windows, fewer cool-water summer refuges, and reduced suitable rearing habitat.
Other threats exist: Hatchery summer steelhead, planted to boost sport angling, negatively impact the wild fish through competition and cross breeding which genetically weakens the resilience of the wild population. inadequate fish passage at Winchester Dam that delays upstream migration of adults and physically harms downstream smolts as they crash onto shallow bedrock after being swept over the lip of the dam. Striped and Smallmouth Bass, invasive predators in the main stem, are proliferating. Finally, the impact of catch and release angling cannot be overlooked. We have declining runs and heavy angling pressure. How often can a wild fish be caught and released and still have the reserves to spawn successfully?The sad irony of so many threats impacting the North Umpqua Summer Steelhead run is that all parties can point to something else and claim the problem is not theirs. In fact, all of these threats are impacting the fish and all must be addressed to recover a healthy wild population.
Instead of pointing fingers, everyone must do their part to bring back the summer steelhead. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management must realign their management focus on reversing the degradation of decades of timber production and the associated road building. The roads cause erosion problems by channeling silty runoff. Valley bottom roads interrupt the movement of large wood to the streams and prevent the natural meandering of streams that generate critical side channel habitat. Roads also interrupt groundwater flow through compaction of the prevalent shallow soils, forcing groundwater to the surface. This robs the streams of the cool water that sustains the low summer flows. The even aged plantations that replaced the old, complex forests during the clear-cutting era must be thinned. Recent research has demonstrated that these young, overstocked plantations transpire much more water than the historic forests, again robbing the streams of the cold groundwater supply. The streamflow record of Steamboat Creek shows a steady decline in low summer flow levels over the past twenty plus years, this must be reversed for the Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Sanctuary to succeed.
Congress must appropriate dedicated funding for the Forest Service and BLM to do this work. Too often non-commercial thinning projects and road decommissioning are dropped from lack of resources. Congress must also dedicate permanent resources to monitoring of the fish populations, habitat conditions, and environmental and water quality. You cannot manage what you do not measure. Today, one of the most significant monitoring project in the basin — annual juvenile snorkel surveys of Canton and Steamboat Creeks — is funded and directed by private individuals and organizations. This should be the responsibility of the land managers.
The Oregon Department of Forestry must also rethink its priorities. Riparian protection rules should not be based on levels that do no more harm, instead they need to be based on restoring the great harm done in the past. They must also embrace the value of forests to mitigate climate change as well as promote adaption strategies to the inevitable impacts of climate change.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has made some commendable tough decisions to protect the collapsing wild run of summer steelhead by closing the river to fishing. Earlier they instituted emergency bubble closures and hoot-owl regulations due to low, warm water. These were needed but were too little, too late. The emergency regulation process needs to be streamlined. The surviving steelhead in the Steamboat watershed passed through the lower river in May and June. Water temperature issues already existed but the emergency regulations did not go into effect until July and August. With climate change impacts and collapsing runs ODFW needs a mindset sift, regulations should be nominally very conservative and only liberalized when monitoring indicates a healthy run. This requires better monitoring and science based escapement goals aimed at rebuilding the fish runs.
ODFW must also give up on hatchery plants where wild runs exist. The negative genetic influence on hatchery fish of wild fish is well documented. The wild fish show much greater resilience to climate change than hatchery fish, promoting wild runs is the only path forward for salmon and steelhead to prosper in Oregon.State and local leaders must do their part as well setting ambitious climate change mitigation goals and advocating for our iconic salmon and steelhead runs, things that make Oregon Oregon. Douglas County and the local cities promote the area as a Mecca for river recreation and outstanding fishing, they need to do their part to protect and restore the resource.
Each of us must do our part as well. As anglers we must care more for the fish than the catching of the fish. Hike along the river more, fish a bit less. When you hook a fish, celebrate and quit for the day. Restrict yourself to more challenging, less effective methods: skated flies, upstream dries, relearn the joys of single hand rods. Bring out your inner Lee Spencer and cut the points from your hooks — be satisfied with the boil or grab. We must also all do our part to mitigate climate change: drive less, walk more, make your next vehicle electric, and promote climate change mitigation with your friends, neighbors, and elected leaders. Vote for strong climate change mitigation as if your life depending on it — the life you know does.