The Upper South Umpqua Spring Chinook by Stan Petrowski
The month of August has been a banner month for the harassed remnant of Spring Chinook on the upper South Umpqua river. As most of you know, this unique fish run is hanging on by a biological thread to survive. Although the USFS has invested millions of restoration dollars on the upper segment of the river these unique sea going salmon only have 120 individuals retuning on average. This run was once considered a critical life sustaining food source for the Umpqua Native Americans.
Record heat of summer has stressed the salmon. Low flows and higher water temperatures are detrimental to native NW fish species. Add to that the extensive fire fighting traffic and chemical-laden air from fire fighting. The probability of survival under these recurring conditions will adversely impact this fragile and rare population of salmon.
It’s not all gloom and doom though. Our collaborative effort to support habitat restoration to preserve these fish has had some great success. Umpqua Watersheds has supported a collaborative partnership between SURCP.org and the USFS to replace the Emerson Creek bridge. This bridge was a perennial problem on a couple of fronts. It was built as a mid span bridge that accumulated large quantities of large wood each year. The agency would have to send an excavator many miles up river to remove woody debris that had jammed up on the mid span threatening to take out the bridge. More importantly, the bridge was built in a era when wooden bridges were soaked in caustic chemicals to preserve them. This bridge was especially endowed with a saturation of this toxic creosote waste. Each summer large amounts of the tarry substance would leak out of the bridge into the river. As of August, the old bridge has been removed and a new concrete structure full spanning bridge was placed further up river to accommodate traffic. The unnatural impediment has been removed. The cost of the project was over one million dollars and well worth it.
Another fantastic plus was the publication of a scientific paper illustrating what we already knew. The Spring and Falls Chinook, Summer and Winter Steelhead are genetically distinct. See: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/8/e1603198.full Important because NOAA Fisheries tends to lump fish species into large ESUs (Evolutionarily Significant Units) and not according to individual fish runs. Perhaps this will bring a little more pressure on the agency to regard individual fish runs rather large biological zones. The Lower Oregon and Northern California Spring Chinook are protected under the Endangered Species Act. We need to make sure the Oregon Coastal Spring Chinook are considered to have this protected status also. Otherwise we stand to loose our precious remnant of Spring Chinook.
We managed to push for restrictions on fishing the South Umpqua Springers successfully. They must still pass the gauntlet of the main stem of the river to find refuge on the South Fork. ODFW allows these fish to be vulnerable by letting them be caught while they head up river from the ocean. The only reason this is allowed is because the Oregon Coastal ESU seems to have a “viable” population of Springers. This has got to change. Let’s fight to protect this unique fish family.