Thursday, April 30, 2009

A recipe for disaster

How to destroy a fishery.

  1. Cut down trees using clear-cutting techniques. Do no soil stabilization.
  2. Place a dam on the river with little or no fish passage opportunities.
  3. Build homes and Mc mansions in the riparian habitat.
  4. Answer angler's concerns about dwindling supplies of andronomous fish by opening a fish hatchery and dumping pellet heads in to replace the wild fish.
  5. Let the hatchery fish spawn with the wild fish, thus diluting millions of years of genetic evolution.
Game over.

This is what California, Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia have been doing for the last hundred years.

Einstein defined insanity as the act of "Doing the same thing again and again, but expecting different results."

If this is accurate then some people in Oregon are insane. After all, in 2009, applying 19th century thinking to our environment can only lead to disaster.

From CF Burkheimer Fly Rods comes this little gem.

Proposed Dam on the Siletz River

Posted on April 30, 2009

The Siletz River drains the rainiest part of the Oregon Coast Range, traveling a tortuous path through steep forestlands to the Pacific Ocean. The Siletz isn’t a large or famous destination river, but it is a unique gem, and supports more species of anadromous fish than any other river in the entire state of Oregon. Spring and fall chinook, fall coho, summer and winter steelhead, chum salmon, and sea run cutthroat are all native to the Siletz basin. Lamprey too! Siletz summer steelhead are particularly unique, being the only native summer race of steelhead in the entire Oregon Coast Range, with a few hundred wild fish returning annually to spawning grounds in the upper basin. All of these fish species manage to survive despite intense past and present logging in the basin, continued introductions of hatchery fish, and documented cases of poaching each year. What could make matters worse?

A dam.

Political forces in Polk County are currently evaluating the feasibility of damming the Siletz River. The proposed dam on the South Fork Siletz River would be 100’ tall and create a reservoir 5 miles long and 3 miles wide. A total of 20 usable river miles of mainstem and tributary habitats would be blocked. The best and preferred chinook spawning habitat in the South Fork Siletz would be directly inundated by the dam. The remaining stream reaches in headwater tributaries above the reservoir would become isolated from one another, confounding the seasonal migration of juvenile fish among various tributaries essential for their survival. The lake itself would become a gauntlet of invasive stillwater bass, bullfrogs, and other species that always seem to benefit at the expense of native salmonids. In an unprecedented era of dam removal, why on Earth would Polk County propose now to dam the most diverse anadromous river in Oregon?

Follow the money. The headwaters of the Siletz River lie within Polk County, which in recent years has seen increased development as a bedroom community for the Oregon State Capital. Growth requires water, and continued growth will strain existing Polk County water supplies, jeopardizing further development and cash influx. Polk County borders the mighty Willamette River, which provides an abundant and perfectly usable source of drinking water, with communities both immediately upstream (Corvallis) and downstream (Wilsonville) treating Willamette River water to excellent drinking quality. Polk County has an open option to purchase additional Willamette River water rights from the nearby city of Adair, but hasn’t done much to explore this option. With Willamette water so close and readily available, what makes damming a remote coastal river so appealing?

Follow the money, again. Historically, the creation of large reservoirs in remote areas in Oregon and elsewhere has promoted development and recreational tourism. Landowners along the Siletz River could stand to gain handsomely from a new dam and reservoir. Riverside lands formerly owned by Boise Cascade and now deemed unproductive timberlands were purchased in recent years by Forest Capital Partners, a land holding company with a long history of making lucrative land deals in forestlands. Their clients are wealthy investors, not family loggers in Oregon. Perhaps coincidentally, the Polk County commissioner who has been spearheading the dam evaluation effort has a background in real estate, heavy construction, and construction engineering. That’s one dam coincidence after another.

Contact Commissioner Mike Propes and the other Polk County Commissioners, and let them know what you think of damming the most diverse anadromous salmonid river in Oregon.

Mike Propes: &

Tom Ritchey:

Ron Dodge:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A run full of steelhead

On the Dec Hogan spey casting video, he memorably says of a piece of water on British Columbia's Dean river "Well, it looks like we walked into a run full of steelhead."

Once in a long while this can happen. Everything must be correct; water temperature, flow rate, clarity, and of course ... steelhead have to be in the river.

I have taken two fish from a run before, and once hooked three, but never four or more in a single pass through a run... until now.

After the last rain I caught the river at high flow but clear and falling, and had a heck of a half hour. The first fish felt like the bottom. I raised the rod, felt a slight pulsing, and set the hook. The fish tore off down river and buried the fly line and running line in the water as it went into the backing. Then it jumped up river. I always love that when you are momentarily of out of control.

The second fish hit hard on the swing, boiled and thrashed, and the hook pulled out. The very next cast in the same place WHAM! fish on! A different fish. I fumbled around trying to land the fish in the deep boulder-strewn waters, took a quick photo, and released it. Well, it looked like I had walked into a run full of steelhead!

After progressing about 75 feet further down the run, I got hit hard in the swing again. The steelhead gave a couple of quick head shakes telling me it probably was a small hen, and then took off downstream. I raised the rod and just let the hen take out all the line she needed. 150+ feet of backing, 120 feet of running line, and the fly line raced through the water in one long run while the hardy salmon # 2 wailed in protest. Then it was time to follow the fish and endlessly wind back in all the line stretching to the fish.

These fish were not there the day before, they had just moved in. They were not really bright, but feisty in the extreme. One may have been a drop back. The rain definitely moved the fish around a bit.

If you ask me where I caught them, I will say... right in the corner of the mouth!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Lipscomb memorial hydroelectric boondoggle dam

The hydo-power pink elephant

The latest on the Estabrook dam issue. Milwaukee County Supervisor Lipscomb introduced a proposal to repair the stoplog structure on the spillway section of the dam, which was passed unanimously by the PEE committee and now moves on to the entire county board. The aim is that the stoplog repair will allow the filling of the impoundment behind the dam thus providing the desired water level for boating. The WDNR has stated that the dam needs much more attention and repair than simply replacing the missing stoplog structures. They will likely issue an order to prevent filling of the impoundment unless all ordered repairs are completed.

The supervisors will also vote on whether to put out an RFP for debris removal.

The other amendment attached to the $5,000.00 stoplog repair calls for a study of the potential of the dam being modified or replaced to generate hydroelectric power.

Who can spot the pink elephant?

The Milwaukee River is a spate river defined by a spring flow at its headwaters, and a huge watershed that drains 882 square miles in 6 counties. It is dominated by rainfall and snowmelt runoff. It fluctuates wildly between 100 cfs (cubic feet per second) in low summer flows, to over 9,000 cfs in flood events. Its flow often increases by ten to twenty times after a significant rainfall.

Rivers of this character are poor candidates for hydroelectric generation. The wildly fluctuating flows would leave the generator dry at low flow, and overwhelm it after rainfall. The way man has historically tried to tame rivers of this sort is to build an impoundment behind the dam to build up the supply of water so that more constant flow can be maintained. The impoundments are not small such as the 100 acre Estabrook impoundment, but must be larger and deeper in order to be cost effective. The impoundment would most likely have to be increased in size, possibly necessitating the relocation of those very residents calling for the dam’s preservation.

In addition, a larger deeper impoundment is going backwards in environmental terms. Any hydroelectric generation would have to pass strict federal standards, and undergo environmental impact studies, which it never would.

I think a study is actually a good idea if conducted properly. It would lay to rest any debate concerning feasibility of hydroelectric generation for good.

Mr. Lipscomb is grasping at any straw he can to get his way in this very personal fight for him. His Maternal grandfather operated the dam for a period.

What’s next… painting the dam green in order to pass it off as a boon to the environment?
A fresh coat of paint and a sign stating "Estabrook Eco-dam" should solve all the issues...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hepped up on goofballs

Something strange happened last week... which is why I have been lax on the writing front. I have been in the river every day chasing phantoms. The normally dour spring steelhead that usually give a short run and a half hearted jump suddenly and without warning were replaced by steelhead from a Lani Waller video. I got a call last Friday when I was not fishing due to shoulder pain ( darn wind) that something was up. Dave P. got into a half dozen fish in a single run that Rob E. and I had fished the evening before and received nary a pull. The fish that Dave hooked were like 'Morice river crazys', and went leaping down the river. One fish jumped seven times!

Saturday morning we convened the full platoon strength of SCUM (steelhead catchers underground militia) and headed to the river for a full 13 hour day. It was like fishing British Columbia. When we arrived at the river in the morning something felt, smelled, and looked different. I told Joe S. that it seemed like I was on the Klickitat. Even the rocks looked different. The entire day Cory T., Joe S. Dave P, Brian K, and I got into fish. The tales are too numerous to tell. Cory got top billing. Joe S. kept pulling bright fish out of the same pool each time through. Every fish was brighter than the last. I got hit by the devil fish; a hen larger than we have seen this spring which ripped out the loop of line, and was instantly airborne and tail walking. She jumped over the largest boulder in the river. I was in total shock. We landed her and pictures were taken which when I receive them will be posted here. In all my years chasing steelhead in the Midwest and PNW this fish was among the hottest. It was completely out of control.

We retired afterwards to Chinese food and sleep. Exhausted from fighting fish that should not exist, we spent several hours the next evening trying to figure out what had happened, for by Sunday, the fish were gone.
Joe S. Dave P. and I figured it out. None of the fish had fin clips, and they fought, behaved, and looked like skamania. They were chrome bright and no where near spawning. Then I hooked and landed and photographed this hen as proof. It had jumped seven times in succession. They were skamania. Running in the spring when the water was the perfect height and temperature, instead of in summer when they are supposed to run, their presence gave us steelhead valhalla for a short time. These fish were hepped up on goofballs. In 2007 the DNR planted smolts and fingerlings that never were fin clipped. The skamania program has now been discontinued. These fish were perhaps the last skamania steelhead this river would ever see. What a way to go out!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The gathering of the gravel rapers.

The gathering of the gravel rapers.

Ah spring, when thoughts turn to love, the birds begin to sing, the sun to shine again, and the dreaded gravel raping tradition comes to our tributaries.

What is gravel raping you ask?

Well… you asked. Don’t blame me if you get angry or disgusted.

Gravel raping is the act of ‘Fly Fishing’ for spawning steelhead. These fish are building gravel nests in the river, often in shallows, are engaged in the act of procreation, and thus provide easy targets. The ‘angler’ stands next to the spawning pair of fish and repeatedly flops glo-bugs at them until the fish actually eat the thing, they line the fish by passing the tippit through the fishes mouth thus hooking it on the wrong side, or just plain foul hook the fish. Then they botch the catch and release, use a net to smash the fish into the gravel, and fall in the river. It is about as ethical and graceful as it sounds.

As they walk the bank looking for gravel redds they mouth the words “Have you seen any fish?” much like the zombies in the movies endlessly call for “Brains!”

The gravel rapers refuse to believe that any steelhead can be caught unless you see them first. They have no faith in the swung fly, and since they fish this way every year, catch (snag) fish, they never progress or learn any further skills such as READING WATER. They wade in circles, never fish actual runs, and are unpredictable. They are like the players in an electric football game. They wander in aimless directions, one goes to the left one to the right, one spins in circles, while the fourth one falls down.

As the legions of gravel rapers congregate to the river, they all look like carbon copies of each other, sporting the ‘Orvis look’. They sport thousands of dollars of gear, and a good cigar as they make a mockery of everything sporting and traditional in fly fishing.

Yours truly passed up five gravel rapers fishing to the shore in a foot of water, and stepped into a nice deep and fast run. Second cast in my small gonatid squid tube got hammered by a hen in the center of the run hard in the swing. As my reel began to wail, the nearest two gravel rapers looked up in wonder as if to say “I wonder what that guy is doing…?” “He seems to be catching fish.” Then they went back to flailing the gravel. One guy foul hooked a fish, got his hands and line all tangled and lost it, and another guy got stuck on the bottom. The third guy hooked himself and fell in.

Gravel raping in this authors opinion is the worst travesty visited upon the fly fishing community… but it sure can be entertaining to watch.

Thank heavens these are not wild fish. Then it would not be funny.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

American Rivers declares the lower Snake river as one of America's most endangered rivers

From American Rivers...

Lower Snake River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers

Time is ripe for solutions for salmon, energy, communities


Amy Kober, American Rivers, (206) 213-0330 x23
Natalie Brandon, Save Our Wild Salmon, (206) 286-4455 x102
Paul Fish, Mountain Gear, (509) 242-4545

April 7, 2009

Washington — Four dams on the lower Snake River are driving salmon to the brink of extinction while preventing the Northwest from embracing 21st century energy and transportation opportunities. This threat landed the lower Snake in the number three spot in America’s Most Endangered Rivers: 2009 edition.

American Rivers and its partners called on the Obama administration and the Northwest congressional delegation to convene negotiations to forge a river restoration plan that will work for communities and salmon in light of the threats posed by the dams and global warming. Removing the four dams and restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River will not only revive salmon runs and a multi-million dollar fishery, it will eliminate a growing flood threat in Lewiston, Idaho and create an opportunity to modernize the region’s transportation and energy systems.

“The fate of the lower Snake River and its communities hangs in the balance,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “There is a tremendous opportunity for the Obama administration and Northwest congressional leaders to lead the charge on a river restoration plan that works for salmon, communities and the region’s economy.”

For years, the Save Our Wild Salmon coalition has been working with commercial and sport fishing groups, clean energy and taxpayer advocates, businesses and conservationists to create an effective solution to the Columbia-Snake salmon crisis that will work for the entire region.

“Taking out the four lower Snake River dams and giving an endangered river a much-needed chance to recover is smart business” said Paul Fish, CEO of Mountain Gear, an outdoor retail company based in Spokane, Wash. “A restored Snake River would mean abundant salmon, more outdoor recreation and fishing opportunities, and more jobs for the Northwest. Let’s restore this river so it works for people and for salmon and transform an endangered Snake River into a working Snake River.”

The four U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams and 140 miles of slackwater reservoirs block salmon and steelhead from reaching the largest and best protected high-elevation spawning and rearing habitat left in the Lower 48. Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams create a hostile gauntlet of deadly turbines and warm, stagnant reservoirs full of hungry predators that have caused dramatic declines in the Snake River’s salmon runs.

Every year, those dams kill as many as 90 percent of juvenile salmon and steelhead that migrate downstream to the ocean. Today, all of the river’s salmon runs are either threatened with extinction or already extinct.

“Global warming is already affecting runoff patterns in the Columbia Basin,” said Patty Glick, Senior Global Warming Specialist, National Wildlife Federation. “If the four lower Snake River dams remain in place, higher water temperatures and lower flows will push the region’s remaining salmon and steelhead runs closer to extinction.”

American Rivers and its partners are calling for the four dams to be removed in order to restore a healthy, free-flowing lower Snake River. Scientists estimate that the Snake River Basin above the four dams possesses roughly 70 percent of the salmon and steelhead restoration potential in the entire Columbia basin. This includes extensive high-elevation salmon spawning and rearing habitat in central Idaho, northeast Oregon, and southeast Washington that is likely to remain productive even in the face of a changing climate.

Restoring the lower Snake River and its salmon and steelhead would boost the regional economy by hundreds of millions thanks to the income it would generate for commercial fishing up and down the Pacific Coast, increased recreational fishing from Astoria, Oregon to Stanley, Idaho, and new boating, camping, hiking, and hunting opportunities along the scenic lower Snake River. If the four lower Snake River dams are removed to restore a free-flowing river, it would be the largest river restoration project ever undertaken.

Dam removal would also eliminate a growing flood risk in the town of Lewiston, Idaho. Sediment is accumulating behind Lower Granite Dam, the uppermost dam on the lower Snake River, which has raised the river level and reduced the margin of safety provided by Lewiston’s levees. There is too much sediment behind the dam to remove in a cost-effective and environmentally protective manner. Ultimately, taxpayers must either pay up to $87 million to raise Lewiston’s levees — and raise the roads and highways built just over the levees — or remove the dam that has created the flood risk.

The benefits the dams now provide can be replaced by other means, such as energy conservation and increased wind power capacity, while still allowing the Northwest to have affordable, carbon-free energy. As explained in a March 2009 Northwest Energy Coalition report, Bright Future: How to keep the Northwest's lights on, jobs growing, goods moving and salmon swimming in the era of climate change, the region has sufficient renewable energy and energy efficiency potential to cost-effectively replace the four dams’ energy at the same time as it meets the much larger challenge of reducing regional global warming emissions.

The freight transportation benefits of the dams are also replaceable. Because a significant proportion of Northwest wheat farmers rely on Snake River barges to get their grain to market, dam removal will necessitate targeted upgrades to southeastern Washington’s rail, highway and Columbia River barge systems.

After decades of court battle, the need for multi-stakeholder negotiations on a river and salmon restoration plan is crucial. This spring, federal district court Judge James A. Redden will rule on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service’s 2008 biological opinion for Columbia and Snake River salmon. That plan, developed under the Bush administration, continued the federal government’s long-running attempt to fashion a salmon protection plan around status quo river and dam operations rather than adjusting operations to meet the needs of imperiled salmon.

About America’s Most Endangered Rivers

Each year, American Rivers solicits nominations from thousands of river groups, environmental organizations, outdoor clubs, local governments, and taxpayer watchdogs for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report. The report highlights the rivers facing the most uncertain futures rather than those suffering from the worst chronic problems. The report presents alternatives to proposals that would damage rivers, identifies those who make the crucial decisions, and points out opportunities for the public to take action on behalf of each listed river.

American Rivers President Rebecca Wodder and Washington Conservation Director Michael Garrity (Seattle, WA) are available for interviews, both pre and post embargo. Please contact Amy Kober, 206-213-0330 x23 for booking.

Reporters wishing to direct readers to the report online may use the following link: