By Merry Ann Moore, executive committee member of our Juniper (Bend area) Group
Several dozen Central Oregonians interested in local native fish reintroduction and related land conservation recently heard from representatives of The Deschutes Collaborative about efforts to bring salmon and steelhead back last week (November 8). The Collaborative, four Central Oregon organizations working together to protect land and restore rivers for anadromous fish, noted that the multi-million dollar fish tower erected in Lake Billy Chinook is working to help these fish on their migration to the ocean. The first steelhead and salmon, released as fry in the last three years in Whychus and the Metolius, are returning successfully as adults.
“Those that are making it back are the Michael Jordans of fish,” noted Scott McCaulou of the Deschutes River Conservancy, alluding to the daunting barriers they’ve overcome to follow their ancient instinct to return to home waters to spawn. The barriers to reestablishing sustainable wild stocks of salmon and steelhead in theDeschutes, Metolius, Crooked and Whychus Creek include dams, unscreened irrigation diversions, insufficient flow levels, development on floodplains, degraded habitat and water temperatures that are too warm.
But several very large-scale Collaborative conservation projects demonstrate that there is progress, and it’s not too late to restore and maintain the watershed conditions necessary for successful salmon and steelhead reintroduction. Such efforts include improvements on the Crooked River Central dam, new screens on Whychus that keep fish in the main channel and out of irrigation canals, acquisition of Rimrock Ranch and WhychusCanyonlands to preserve riparian areas, and ongoing work at Camp Polk Meadow in Sisters. Upcoming: implementation of the North Unit Irrigation District water supply initiative, which DRC describes as one of the most ambitious conservation efforts ever inOregon. The project’s goal is to eventually eliminate the pumping of water from theCrookedRiver for agriculture. It aims to improve river flows while assuring adequate water for the 60,000 acres of productive farmland inJeffersonCounty, and will include piping of canals to reduce water lost to evaporation and seepage.
Zak Boone of the Deschutes Land Trust reported on the long-term vision for trails along Whychus Creek, potentially running from Sisters downstream through the Land Trust’s “steelhead stronghold” through Camp Polk Meadow to Rimrock Ranch, and potentially on to the confluence with theDeschutesRiver. If a Land Trust proposal to purchase and create a community forest east of Sisters–theSkylineForest—comes to fruition, this potential trail system could one day extend all the way toBend.
After the slideshow, Juniper Group Ex Com member Dave Stowe recalled his grandmother telling stories of catching steelhead in Sisters proper. It’s inspiring to think that sometime in the next three to five years, Sisters residents could again see adult steelhead swimming in Whychus Creek downtown.