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 Coos Bay World By Carl Mickelson 6/17/06

Timber companies get thanks from STEP
Over $1 million in Chinook habitat available

Salmon were clearly on the brain Tuesday around lunchtime at The Mill

Images of salmon adorned banners and plaques. A few brawny fish tales were
spun at table after table. In a show of self-sacrifice, the  mighty salmon —
smothered in a creamy white sauce — also adorned the plates of those

While the fish appeared to be the focus Tuesday, the star attraction was the
area’s timber giants, who, in the last year, joined forces, and funds, to
help the Salmon Trout Enhancement Program, a publicly sponsored volunteer
program instrumental in promoting local fisheries.

About 60 representatives of the timber industry were on hand to receive a
hearty thank you from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and leaders
of the Southwest Oregon Chapter of the Association of Northwest Salmon and

The two organizations paid tribute to the companies that donated nearly
$300,000 in the last year for the purchase of about 40 acres of land for a
new fish hatchery at Morgan Creek.

“We can hold this example up to the entire state and be really proud of it,”
said Dennis Richey, a leader of the Oregon Anglers political action
committee who spoke briefly during the presentation.

Had the companies — including Menasha, Roseburg Forest Products,
Weyerhaeuser Co. and about 15 others — not donated the funds, the existing
Morgan Creek hatchery would have likely gone the way of the dodo bird.
The lease for the site of the existing hatchery is due to expire in 2011,
and the owner was only interested in selling the property, not renewing a
lease. The three major companies donated nearly half the money to secure the

“We thought it would take five years to pay off the $300,000 loan,” said
ODFW’s Tom Rumreich,  who has helped guide STEP locally for about 25 years.
But when the promissory note was burned up by timber company representatives
after their meal — it was clear that ODFW and the Steelheaders were no
longer on the hook for that financial burden.

“We can’t thank you enough,” said Rumreich.

What the new Morgan Creek hatchery will look like is still in the conceptual
phase, Rumreich said. The goal is to build a new diversion dam and a
classroom and have it closely mimic the operations at the Millicoma
Interpretive Center.

“We have a lot of future fish eaters and a lot of future fisherpersons that
are going to benefit from this wonderful thing,” said John Ward, the
president of the Steelheaders.

The Steelheaders will now turn their attention to raising money to construct
the new facility — which will cost an estimated $200,000, Rumreich said.
The property is now being held by a newly formed nonprofit group, the Coos
County STEP Commission, which will hold it in a trust, Ward said.
Local hatchery projects have come a long way in the last 25 years, Rumreich

When STEP efforts began locally in the 1980s they were supported by raffle
ticket sales and the first hatcheries were patched together by sandbags in
ditches and farmer’s fields, a far cry from the present day buildings and
more sophisticated raceways and trap systems.

In the early years,  getting any adult fish to spawn was a chore, Rumreich
said, jesting that STEP volunteers wanted to break out the “sparkling cider”
when as little as one fish returned.

No fish spawned at a hatchery near the South Slough during the first season,
he said, and harvests from sportfishermen also were spotty. In 1982, around
200 Chinook were caught annually from the Coos Bay estuary.

But thanks largely in part to the efforts of STEP, Rumreich said, the local
fishery has exploded. The peak return rate came in 2004 at Morgan Creek when
16,801 fish returned.

And, today, around 6,000 fish are caught by sportfishers annually.
Rumreich said the hatcheries have greatly expanded fishing opportunities
throughout the Coos Bay estuary and that sportfishing has contributed an
estimated $1.2 million to the local economy.

Ward said the hatcheries benefit not just fishermen, but boat dealers,
tackle shops, motel owners and a variety of other local businesses. The
increased interest in fishing over the last decade is evident by the rise in
the number of boats seen in the bay and up the river every year.

“We’re almost playing bumper boats out in front of Sause Bros.,” he said.
The interest in what goes on at the hatcheries also hasn’t waned, either.
Ever since the hatcheries were developed, the curious have inquired about
tours and ways to volunteer.

Tens of thousands of classroom students from kindergarten- to high
school-age have filed through, clipping fins and helping spawn fish. In May,
12 school groups visited the Millicoma Interpretive Center. The hatchery
sees more than 1,000 school children work its facility each season — some
later joining STEP themselves.

While the recent donations have put the spotlight on the timber companies,
many of them have supported STEP all along the way.

“We wouldn’t be here without the timber companies,” Ward said. “We have a
burden now. You have done so much for us and I can make you a promise from
the Steelheaders. We are going to live up to this burden and operate Morgan
Creek hatchery as something that all of us can be proud of for years to
come, and pass it on to our children and grandchildren and this community.”



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