Umpqua Watersheds Blog

Restoration

Chinook Salmon

Published September 24th, 2019 in Restoration

Restoration Committee…Stanley Petrowski

The Tragedy of Oregon Spring Chinook

 

I’ve used this medium to update our membership on the sadly declining numbers of Spring Chinook returning the Umpqua Basin and coastal Oregon in general. Did you know that there are only two viable wild Spring Chinook runs in the entire Oregon coastal ESU (Environmentally Significant Unit)? It’s true. And the Umpqua River basin hosts them on the North and South River forks. From data gathered during the last 50 years, it has been concluded that the south fork run is no longer viable. An annual average of 176 salmon have been returning to the ancient natal spawning grounds on the upper end of the river system. It is alarming that only 28 fish returned last year and the official count for this year is 56. These numbers are much lower than the already tragic low numbers recorded over the last half century. It pains me to even consider it.

NOAA/NMFS Folly of Species

I know many reliable agency folks working within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service. I doubt very much that we can realistically appraise the intense political pressure these folks are consistently under to deal with the many marine species going extinct and the political pressure not to list them as a threatened species. In addition, they are seriously limited both fiscally and staff wise to address these problems appropriately. We, the citizenry, are responsible to encourage Congress to provide them with resources needed. How about we reduce the oil and agricultural subsidies to do that?

Nevertheless, we are strapped with what we have. It has caused serious shortfalls and political shenanigans within the agency. One related to the issue at hand involves NMFS managing salmon species on a large ESU scale instead of the scale that nature has outlined. What I mean by that is that anadromous salmon return to their birth stream, not on the scale of say a coastal region. These fish take on different characteristics associated with the unique geography and ecology of the watershed that they spawn in.

To make matters worse, the Chinook Salmon are lumped together as a single species. I know. I know. You’ve heard me ranting about this before. It bears repeating. We are losing our entire coastal Spring Chinook run because the agency is resisting the clear scientific documentation that shows beyond doubt that Spring and Fall Chinook are not the same fish. Not only is their life history very different. Not only is there body confirmation different (Springers are much fatter and often larger than Fall Chinook), but the UC Davis studies from Mike Miller’s Salmon Genetics labs clearly shows a different genetic mutation that separates the Springs from the Fall run. This mutation took place once in geologic time. If we lose the two wild runs of the Oregon coast they will most likely never be replaced. Other watersheds along the coast that boasted Spring Chinook runs are currently extirpated. They are gone. Once mighty fish runs dwindled down to nothing and then blink off the radar screen.

I know that ODFW is culpable in all of this also. They are under the same socio-political pressure.

Umpqua Watersheds to the Rescue

Dear citizen and lover of the natural world. This tragic drama is transpiring right here in the Umpqua basin river system. When was the last time you ever queried to discover who are the decision makers that have brought us to this place in time? Are you aware of the lengthy process that it takes to change policy and action in your watersheds? Do you know that your attention on such matters sheds light and is a significant influence on what gets done and when? Umpqua Watersheds has taken this very loss of a keystone species very seriously. We consider it an honor to have partnered with the Native Fish Society and the Center for Biological Diversity to petition the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Oregon Coastal Spring Chinook as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

When speaking with advisors and people in the know, we were asked if it was appropriate in the current political climate to advance this petition. We had no alternative. The fish are disappearing before our eyes. The natural world isn’t waiting for political climates to change. It is dying now. By the time you read this, the petition will have been submitted or very close to being submitted within days.

Preparation for this petition took over two years. An unbelievable amount of time and resources were utilized by the project partners. Please consider contributing to the Umpqua Watersheds general fund to help us defray some of the costs. Mention that this is in relation to the Spring Chinook campaign. Your contribution is tax deductible. The work invested in this project assigned to Umpqua Watersheds was done under the auspices of your UW Board of Directors volunteers. It’s what we do. Nevertheless the organization needs your fiscal support to continue this critically important tasks. You know that is how the system works and your contributions of any size make a significant difference. Of the tens of millions of dollars spent annually on restoration projects UW receives nothing. You are the life line for our project watchdog efforts. Thank you.