By Alix Soliman, Operations Manager
September 17, 2020
W ildfires are tearing through the western United States, incinerating public lands, wildlife habitat, and towns in their path. Over 1.7 million acres have burned in Oregon and Washington alone, and while rain is expected to bring some relief over the coming days, the fires have already destroyed critical infrastructure supporting our salmon and steelhead populations.
Several Oregon fish hatcheries are in areas that were burned or evacuated. The Rock Creek Hatchery on the North Umpqua River sustained the most severe damage. The Klamath and Leaburg hatcheries also sustained significant damage, while the Minto and Marion Forks hatcheries were spared. The Clackamas and Salmon River hatcheries are under level three evacuation but have not yet been touched by the flames. Our own Letz Creek hatchery is not under evacuation orders and volunteers of the Emerald Empire chapter will be fin clipping this weekend as scheduled.
Almost every building at the Rock Creek hatchery was destroyed or severely damaged by the Archie Creek Fire. Unfortunately, they estimate that 400,000 juvenile fish were lost. Yesterday, ODFW staff were able to move approximately 700 adult spring Chinook and summer steelhead to Cole Rivers Hatchery. The stress of rapid transport on the fish saved will likely result in additional mortalities.
The Klamath Hatchery lost several buildings to the Two Four Two Fire, and power, water, and sewer systems were compromised. Approximately 50,000 triploid brown trout perished.
Fortunately, A swift response at the Leaburg Hatchery following a 2 a.m. evacuation of staff on September 8th due to the Holiday Farm Fire led to the release of about 1.16 million spring Chinook, summer steelhead, and rainbow trout into the McKenzie River. A majority of the fish are expected to survive, however, 5-10% were not evacuated from the hatchery before the roll gates were opened and the hatchery was dewatered. Infrastructure at the facility was mostly spared.
“As the state sees more stability and abatement of active fires, we will determine over the next week or two the extent of the fish loss and damage,” said ODFW Deputy Director Shannon Hurn. “Then, it will be time for long-term planning for repairing, replacing and funding the recovery of our infrastructure.”
Northwest Steelheaders has long supported ODFW hatchery operations. We are tracking this issue closely and we will keep you updated with developments. “Both fishing opportunity and hatchery funding have declined in recent years, and the devastation from these fires creates an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. Now, more than ever, the angling community needs to come together to ensure fishing opportunities for future generations,” said Executive Director Chris Hager. “We are committed to helping ODFW get Oregon’s hatcheries back up and running.”
We are grateful to the firefighters, ODFW staff, and volunteers who are working tirelessly on the front lines to protect our communities and fisheries.