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ODFW to Study Reintroduction of Salmon into Upper Klamath Basin

Columbia Basin Bulletin 4/18/08

Salmon disappeared from the upper Klamath River basin in Oregon almost 100 years ago when Copco Dam in California blocked fish passage upriver.

Today, however, with PacifiCorp's four large hydroelectric dams up for re-licensing and facing mandatory federal requirements to provide passage to migrating fish, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is proposing to reintroduce chinook salmon into Upper Klamath Lake and tributaries.

"With a new federal mandate for fish passage and the millions of dollars already spent on habitat restoration, we think it's reasonable and prudent to study the possibility of bringing salmon back to the basin," said Roger Smith, ODFW district biologist.

The upcoming fish passage complements the federal government's expenditure of over $171 million in recent years on fish habitat restoration projects within the basin, Smith added.

A proposal will be presented to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission at its May 9, 2008 meeting to amend the Klamath River Basin Fish Management Plan. The amendment calls for a cautious, science-based approach to the reintroduction of chinook salmon into Upper Klamath Lake and tributaries, according to Smith. Commission endorsement of the amendment of the 1997 Klamath Basin Management Plan will be voted on at its July meeting.

A copy of the draft plan is available at the ODFW web site www.dfw.state.or.us under Special Plans and Programs.

The department will hold public meetings on the plan amendment and proposed reintroduction in Central Point and Klamath Falls in late April. The Central Point meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 22 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the ODFW Central Point Office located at 1495 East Gregory Road, Central Point.

The Klamath Falls meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 23 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Oregon Institute of Technology, Mt. Shasta and Mt. Scott Rooms located on the second floor of the Student Union, 321 Campus Drive, Klamath Falls.

The first step in the proposal is for biologists to develop an Implementation Plan, consistent with the department's Native Fish Conservation Policy, to introduce chinook salmon at the upper end of the watershed, in Upper Klamath Lake and tributaries. Of primary interest will be selecting a broodstock that will be disease resistant and interact well with existing populations of redband trout.

"Salmon and trout in the upper Klamath basin spent the last 2 million years evolving together," Smith said. "It's only been in the last 91 years they have been apart. We're very excited about returning salmon and steelhead to the upper basin. Their return will enrich species diversity and will help restore culturally significant fisheries. Stronger salmon runs in the Klamath River basin will have coast wide implications for sport, tribal and commercial fisheries in Oregon and California."

Once passage is restored, the plan calls for monitoring natural re-colonization of salmon and steelhead in the Klamath River and tributaries once blocked by PacifiCorp's dams.

"We expect lower river salmon and steelhead populations will immediately begin to re-colonize areas of the river above PacifiCorp's dams once fish passage is provided," Smith said. Scientists will monitor how far up they go and in what numbers, he added.
The ODFW is charged with restoring natural fish populations under its Native Fish Conservation Policy.

"Reintroduction of salmon into the upper Klamath bBasin not only makes biological and economic sense, but it's the right thing to do to restore Oregon's cultural heritage," said Smith.

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