The Slow Grind for Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
by Stan Petrowski
Most of you will recall that Umpqua Watersheds has partnered with the Native Fish Society and the Center for Biological Diversity to submit a petition for the listing of Oregon’s Spring Chinook under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The process is a long and arduous one; requiring many months of preparation. Before submitting the petition, our collaborative had to meet specific procedural criteria. Notifications to various State and Federal agencies, Tribal governments and political offices was only one phase of the submission process. Upon receiving the petition, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) requires a 90 day review of the petition itself in an effort to determine if further consideration is to follow.
As a result of your concern for our spring Chinook, Umpqua Watersheds is pleased to announce that our hard work and due diligence has moved potential and actual protections for this species a little closer to the needed listing. NMFS found that listing Oregon spring chinook as threatened or endangered may be warranted, based on threats from logging, overfishing and low streamflow and they will initiate a scientific status review and take public comment before making a final decision on whether they warrant protection under the ESA. Such a decision by the agency is never taken lightly. It is a major hurdle to get past this initial assessment and progress to the status review.
On our part, the process is too slow. Drought and degraded habitat is taking a serious toll on this once abundant and now rare keystone species. Nevertheless we must play by the rules and follow procedural timelines. NMFS will soon announce a comment period that allows for all stakeholders to give their input. We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) released its annual fishing regulations for this year. We were very concerned that in spite of low return numbers for Spring Chinook, the new regulations were going to allow each angler to catch 10 wild Spring Chinook this year (two per day), five from the main stem of the Umpqua river and 5 from the North Fork of the Umpqua river. Had the regulations remained as they were published it could have been a tragic loss to our ecosystems. I received a call from ODFW soon after the regulations were sent out and was informed that the agency had reconsidered. There will be no retention of wild Spring Chinook from the main stem of the Umpqua river this year!! Mind you, there will still be losses. Poaching is a serious problem. Another issue is related to “catch and release” mortality. Up to 10% of the fish caught and released will die as a result of stress or physical injury. On top of that, the printed and released regulations do not show the change of regulations. The limit of catch on the main stem is long overdue. We’re grateful for the agency’s decision.
We attended the annual ODFW Beaver Work Group meeting a couple of weeks ago. It’s fantastic that Oregon is awakening to the importance of the State animal. Two presentations given by the City of Portland and the City of Gresham illustrating their forward thinking response to beaver ecosystems and urban infrastructure was nothing short of amazing. New discoveries are being made, frequently shedding light on the benefits of beaver on water supplies. The City of Portland is partnering with the Portland Zoo and the BLM to construct a beaver holding facility when the impact of beaver on infrastructure cannot be resolved. The facility is located at the zoo and will be used to quarantine beaver during the process of relocation.
The City of Gresham spent 2.5 million dollars to build a storm water facility that treats industrial run off. To their amazement the facility didn’t function properly until beaver moved in and reconfigured runoff flows by creating dams and a lodge! A 14 year test result showed that 7 years without beaver didn’t filter the water at all. Pollutants going in and going out were about the same. Following that the genius of beaver as ecosystem engineers was allowed to reconfigure the channeled swale. The result was chemical pollutants such as pesticides and heavy metals were completely removed from the facility’s outlet. Beaver forced the storm water to be filtered through the swale. Nothing short of amazing.
Umpqua Watersheds, in cooperation with a newly formed State wide coalition of beaver advocates, is planning on establishing a beaver task force. As the current leader of the Umpqua Basin Beaver Working Group, we hope to train and perhaps officially certify a group of individuals from the Umpqua watersheds region to respond to emergency calls related to purported beaver damage. Our ultimate goal with this team will be to educate landowners on ways to interface with beaver and as a last result actually relocate beaver to avoid lethal management. If you or someone you know is interested in participating in such training please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you can’t actively participate in the response team project, please consider donating funds to the Umpqua Watersheds’ Restoration Committee. We will use your donation to equip volunteers with training and equipment to avoid the killing of beaver and to assist challenged landowners to adapt to nature’s interventions. Make your donation noted for the restoration committee specifically.