Thursday, December 23, 2010

Highlights from this past year!

It's that time of the year. Report writing. So we all needed a break from that and thought we’d take the opportunity to share with you some of our highlights from this past year.

Donna was lucky enough to see Western Pearlshell mussels releasing conglutinates.

Jen recently published her first manuscript in River Research and Applications which describes how Bonneville Dam tailwater elevation and seasonal precipitation influence chum salmon spawning activities in tributaries below Bonneville Dam.

Rod shared this: "While I was doing redd surveys this year on the White Salmon River in Washington, I saw what I thought was the biggest tule fall Chinook salmon I've ever seen spawning there. She was deep in a pool and I could only make out her tail, which was white from digging a redd in cobble to put her eggs in. It was a massive tail and I saw the tail dig sideways in the gravel, and could roughly make out her dark silhouette when she was sideways. Several fish attempted to swim into her area of that deep pool and then would bolt away as she chased them off. Easily the highlight of my year."

TAW had 5 highlights including:
-larval pacific lamprey surviving in saline conditions
-observing western pearlshell mussel conglutinates around the fifth of may
-bull trout critical habitat designation being completed
-coauthoring a manuscript that showed how regulating tailwater elevation at Bonneville dam influences chum salmon spawning in tributaries and
-getting a PIT tag antenna in NE Oregon to operate exclusively on solar energy.

Paul got this screw trap out of a NE Oregon stream unscathed:

Don and his crew completed the final report for 5 years worth of research to determine whether Bull Trout from the Walla Walla Basin venture out into the mainstem Columbia River. They do.

Shawna learned how to surgically implant radio tags in bull trout using electronarcosis:

Jeff investigated the salinity tolerance of Pacific lamprey ammocoetes.

Christina completed a first draft of the Pacific Lamprey conservation plan.

Ruby went to see Condit Dam,scheduled to be removed next year, with Howard and his daughter.

Mari's highlight of the year was enjoying the camaraderie at the office retreat.

Maureen PIT tagged a total of 3000 juvenile wild steelhead in Eagle and North Fork Eagle Creeks.

Courtney's highlights included:
- tagging mussels with Donna on a warm summers day
- hiking up the SF Walla Walla River trail to the Bear Creek PIT site and watching rattlesnakes scurry as they got closer, and
- jet boating up the lower Walla Walla River.
In that order.

Henry completed a simulation for Pacific Fishery Management Council that showed that fishing both mark-selective and non-selective fisheries in the same time period and management area would result in an underestimation of unmarked impacts in the non-selective fishery.

In seach of bull trout and deploying temperature loggers Brook, Shawna, and Nichole left the town of Imnaha and ventured 24 miles on a gravel road and stumbled across Hat Point, the high point on the Oregon rim of Hell’s Canyon with the best view of of Hell’s Canyon and the Seven Devils in Eastern Oregon.

David coordinated with other offices and completed the mapping portion of the 2010 Bull Trout Final Critical Habitat.

Trevor will always have fond memories of E-fishing winter steelhead in Eagle creek with Bill, Brian, Sheila, Maureen and the crew for all the double rainbows, sick sticks, trucker talk, big fish screams, laughter, and good times.

In 2010, Marci was able to be a part of moving a bull trout recovery action forward in helping to develop the Clackamas bull trout reintroduction program. Oh - and she also got to get her boots wet occasionally by helping out with Pacific lamprey, coho and coastal cutthroat trout surveys. She simultaneously managed to 1) avoid full body stream immersion, and 2) not get eaten by the insanely large spiders that dominated the forest insect fauna this year. Yahoo!!!

Larry’s highlight was finally getting all of the fish back from the taxidermist and up on the walls.

Bill really enjoyed working with students on Eagle Creek.

Amy's programs helped remove 19 barriers to upstream salmon movements, improved over 14 miles of instream and riparian habitats, and restored 80 acres of tidal wetland. 2010 was a great year in restoration for Oregon's north coast.

I hope you all enjoyed our highlights. 2010 was a great year at the CRFPO! With that, I bid you farewell until next year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Four Years at the CRFPO

It all started about four years ago when I first found myself standing in waist deep water inside a cold and dark room. As I checked my surroundings, my senses were overwhelmed by the thick, damp, and cool air. The strong smell of heavy moss that characterizes many streams in the Pacific Northwest filled my nostrils with every breath. This room had the feel of a place that people rarely entered, and those that did come here, didn’t stay for long.

Prior to my entrance, the water in the room was still, now it rippled and boiled, for my presence had stirred many beasts under the surface. The powerful animals were becoming nervous, and they began to express their will to survive regardless of my intentions. Echoing sound waves from nearby rapids pulsated off the concrete walls and continuously reminded me that I was way out of my element. I struggled for balance on the slick flooring nervously looking up at my coworkers above to ensure I hadn’t been abandoned. I continued on and apprehensively scooted my feet towards the grey ghostly shapes as they had now congregated in numbers near the corner of the room. My mind subconsciously flashed to a Star Wars scene where Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were faced with a mysterious aquatic animal (a hungry dianoga) in the waters of the Death Star’s trash compactor. As I closed the distance on the group, they grew increasingly nervous probably realizing I had no intent of halting my forward progress. My anticipation grew as I knew with just one more step I would be within netting range, and prove my merit to my coworkers watching from above. Just as I was visualizing how I would expertly step and swipe up my prey like a hungry osprey, the group broke ranks like NFL linebackers and burst from their huddle in a violent tail walk assault across the surface of the water towards me with speeds that seemed to approach time travel. Instantly drenched with water and defeat, I made a defensive and empty swipe in a convulsive manner that had very little in resemblance to a raptor’s successful quest for prey.

My attempt at self-protection also failed as a heavy-shouldered 15 pound Eagle Creek steelhead had just rammed into my leg knocking me off balance and nearly upending me. With a bruised shin and ego, I regained my balance, smiled, and absorbed the echoing laughter that bounced off the ladder walls as my coworkers above expressed copious amounts of joy in knowing the new guy had just been beat into the gang. Steelhead 1, Trevor 0, and that is how the score began as I awkwardly wandered around the fish ladder proceeding to help capture, bio-sample, tag, and release every one of the dozen adult steelhead remaining in the trap. I knew from that day on that this new job as a Fish Biologist with the Columbia River Fisheries Program Office was going to be challenging, exciting, rewarding, and right up my alley.

Fast forward four years after my first field day, and I am now packing up my office and taking my experiences with me as I began a new permanent job with NOAA Fisheries hydropower division. Looking back after four years, I realize that I have become comfortable inside fish ladders, hatchery raceways, and streams while working on countless projects doing things that I could previously only dream of. The projects I have worked on at this office have not only been fun and exciting, but more importantly I feel they helped contribute to the continued benefit of both fish and fisheries.

Whether I was sliding around in murky fish ladders, capturing and tagging fish, building PIT tag antennas, writing reports, or conducting numerous other tasks, I gained skills at this office that will no doubt be invaluable as I continue on my career path. There is now doubt in my mind that many aspects of working here will be missed. However, what I will miss the most as I leave this office isn’t the excitement of the field work or the rewarding challenges, it won’t be the roomy office with a door and the short commute, it won’t even be the slimy fish hands and numb fingers. What I will miss the most without a doubt will be the friends and coworkers who have shared this experience with me and contributed so much to the comradery that make this office a truly great place to work.

So with that I will pack up my gear and take a turn down the road of life, and hopefully bump into you all in future travels. Thank you all for the wonderful experience and I hope you all the best.

Submitted by Trevor Conder

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Northeast Oregon in Winter

We are traveling to the Wallowa National Forest to maintain our PIT tag antennas. This requires a visit to our site, make sure the power is running, and download our information. PIT tags were implanted in bulltrout in the summer months to gain an understanding of their abundance and distribution. When they swim past our antennas, their unique code is recorded with a date and time stamp. This information gives us an understanding of their movements throughout the year.

Sometimes it is very cold but it is always beautiful. Last December I recorded a temperature of -11ºF! We use MAX to drive to our remote sites and snowshoe in the rest of the way. Snow is on the ground from November to June and has been as deep as 6 feet at times! Under all that snow and ice, bulltrout are there waiting for the thaw.

Submitted by Brook Silver

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Certified Fisheries Professional

About six months ago, while I was in between projects, I decided to finally submit my application to the American Fisheries Society for certification as a fisheries professional. Why did I do this? I have worked in the fisheries profession for about 25 years now and have been a member of the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society for much of that time. Being part of the American Fisheries Society has been an important part of my professional development, from attending meetings and hearing from other professionals, presenting my first poster and paper, writing for publication in AFS symposiums and journals, to helping with organization of conferences and workshops. I have also chaired the Chapter’s Fish Culture Committee which led to me serving as President elect, President, and Past-President of the Chapter. Doing these activities and helping others do the same is very rewarding and is great for providing inspiration on development of fisheries projects as well as development of self and others. At chapter, division and national meetings you gain a perspective from a local, regional, and international scope. You develop not only professional partnerships but lasting personal friendships as well. So applying for professional certification was another step in development, and I am happy to say, after all this time, that Douglas E. Olson is now recognized as a Certified Fisheries Professional through the American Fisheries Society. I encourage you to apply and be recognized. For more information on Professional Certification go to

Submitted by Doug Olson

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Restoring Tidal Marshes on Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuges

A few years ago, the Native Trout Program began collaborating with the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex ( to conduct some monitoring associated with tidal marsh restoration projects occurring on two of the refuges:
Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge ( and Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge ( The primary objective of these monitoring efforts is to describe the fish community and its distribution before and after restoration actions.

These tidal marshes are interesting systems, unlike anything I had worked on previously. They are located in areas where freshwater meets seawater, the estuary. Just about every stream that meets the ocean has an estuary. You may be familiar with some of the bigger, better known ones: Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, the lower Columbia River below Bonneville Dam. From a fish perspective, it is also where you will find an interesting mix of freshwater and marine species, depending on the time of year: juvenile salmon, trout, stickleback, sculpin, shiner perch, flatfish. Estuaries are extremely productive areas, providing lots of food for hungry growing fish, and tidal marshes are the safe havens of the estuary, providing cover for smaller fish and a nutrient source.

Many historic tidal marshes along the Oregon Coast are located behind dykes built in the early part of the last century, cross-stitched with irrigation/drainage canals, providing pasture land for livestock. Typically a system of tide gates regulates the exchange of water as the tide comes up and recedes, controlling flooding behind the tide gate ( Amazingly, fish will still swim through a three foot wide tide gate tube to get into a tidal marsh just to take advantage of the cover and food source. But, because there is limited exchange of water across the dyke, habitat quality is likely degraded and fish community diversity and distribution may be limited.

Natural resource agencies have recognized the value of tidal marshes to healthy fish populations, not to mention other wildlife, such as migratory birds. The Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex has recognized the value of actions reconnecting historic tidal marshes by removing tide gates and dykes, filling in irrigation ditches, reconstructing historic channels, and restoring tidal exchange. The Columbia River Fisheries Program Office has been fortunate to be a part of these restoration activities at Nestucca Bay NWR and Bandon Marsh NWR. We have collected fish community diversity and distribution information prior to restoration activities and immediately subsequent to those activities in the case of Nestucca Bay NWR. This information will serve as baseline information for long term monitoring that will track the anticipated benefit to the fish communities using these areas, thus scientifically validating these types of restoration projects from a fish perspective.

The restoration activities occurring at Bandon Marsh NWR are ongoing, with construction expected to be finished in summer 2011. If you would like to follow progress, you can do so at

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"The Pursuit of Excellence in Science Teaching"

This year, the annual Oregon Science Teacher Association conference was held at the high school in Colton, Oregon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hosted a booth at the event for the first time in an effort to promote the educational programs and materials available at our different refuges as well as from the CRFPO.

This event usually draws around 400 teachers from all over Oregon so we knew we would have a good chance of reaching many of them. Exhibitors such as us were told to expect at least 100 teachers at any time in the exhibition hall and even more during lunch. Well, that is exactly what happened.
Aside from showcasing our programs, loads of 'goodies' such as bookmarks, posters, pins, pencils, and pens were available for the teachers. And just to make it easier for the our visitors to remember us, a concise leaflet featuring these programs and other materials was given to each teacher for future reference and contact information. With such a captive audience of science teachers, this event proved to be a worthwhile experience in outreach and education.

Submitted by Donna Allard

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Project Based Learning

Back in April of this year, I blogged a bit about a program called Cascade Stream Watch. In that program, after an initial introduction to aquatic ecology in the classroom, students spend a day in the field studying watersheds, macroinvertebrates, and fish.

Another one of Wolftree's programs is called Project Based Learning. The students in this program are visited many times to acquaint them with their particular project, whether it be flying squirrels or beavers. They also get to go into the field to do their studies more than once. Last year I was lucky enough to spend three field days with the same group of kids from BizTech as they carried out their project. It was great to spend time with the same students as well as to see them become more proficient at collecting their data.

This year, I once again had the opportunity to mentor high school students from BizTech. Teacher Amy Lindahl's classes are working with the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, investigating the occurrence of the freshwater mussel, Margaritifera falcata, in Johnson Creek. The mussel is known to occur in the upper reaches of the creek, but it's full distribution in the watershed is unknown.

The students chose 3 locations representing the upper, middle, and lower watershed to carry out their study. Aside from looking for mussels, students collected and studied the macroinvertebrate population, collected water quality data and habitat variables, and calculated stream discharge at the three locations.

Although live western pearlshells were found at the upper site, the students found only the remains of the pearlshell(shells) at the middle site. They did however find evidence of the floater, Anodonta Clade 1 at both the middle and lower site. The non-native Asian clam was also abundant at both of these sites.

Now that the field work is finished, the students will begin their data analysis. This spring, they will present their findings at the Student Summit at Timberline Lodge. It will be quite interesting to hear what they have learned. And the best part about this project is that the data will be used by the watershed council as they continue their investigation into the occurrence of freshwater mussels in Johnson Creek.

Submitted by Donna Allard

Connecting Children with Nature

For the third year, the CRFPO was able to provide a field trip for students from Heritage High School through the "Connecting People with Nature" small grant fund. This year we traveled to Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge to get outside. We collected some aquatic insects and water samples from Gibbons Creek to assess the water quality. Lots of insects were collected and identified including stoneflies, mayflies, and caddisflies. The students determined from the large diversity of insects and high levels of dissolved oxygen, that the stream was fairly healthy. While collecting insects, a coho fry and red-legged frog were also scooped up, further indicating a stream that supports salmon and amphibians.

After a bit of data collection, the entire group embarked on a discovery hike down the trail to the Columbia River. We talked about wetlands, found insects and more frogs along the way. Trees and other vegetation were identified through use of field guides. The students hypothesized about what might be living in or using some of the many wetland areas we crossed.

All in all, it was a great day. The students were engaged the whole time and very sad when their field day was nearing to an end. And so was I. I encouraged them all to bring their families back down to the refuge anytime for another hike and I bet some of them will.

Submitted by Donna Allard

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

2010 CRFPO Retreat

The Columbia River Fisheries Program Office recently completed an off-site, two-day retreat. The retreat focus was on breaking down team barriers and improving our inter-office communication and collaboration. We also thought about climate change and identified office activities and projects to help address that huge problem looming in front of us. A number of great ideas and solutions were generated. But the retreat was much more than that.

On the morning of second day it became clear to me. I knew the office environment was pretty darn good already, heck I’ve been in the office now approaching 20 years, but I recognized that the office was evolving into something approaching phenomenal. What was phenomenal was seeing staff mix together into groups they do not regularly work with and coming up with creative ideas and solutions to problems. What was phenomenal was seeing and hearing from staff who do not normally speak up and at times speaking quite eloquently. What was phenomenal was hearing ideas and solutions from younger staff. I already knew that these folks were smart, but I also recognized that they will carry on our natural resource mission much further than what I thought was possible.

We still have a lot of work to do to implement our creative ideas from the retreat, but overall I would say it was quite successful. A number of factors led to that success, those being the off-site location, the neutral/professional skilled facilitation, the openness of staff, the openness of the Project Leadership, and the preparation and on-site organization led by our administrative staff. Thank you.

Submitted by Doug Olson

Monday, October 4, 2010

Columbia River Watershed Festival

Each year, around this time, a watershed festival is held for students in Clark County. The CRFPO, Clark County, the city of Vancouver, Columbia Springs, and Clark PUD all contribute to making the event a success. We also depend on many other agencies and volunteers to present to the students or help in other ways. The festival is so popular with the teachers that it usually fills up within a week of opening registration. This year we hosted 30 classes of 4th graders during the two day event.

This year the students learned alot about watersheds, streams, and wetlands. Other presentations included a live demonstration with birds of prey, a water and energy conservation activity called the Energy Jeopardy game, and an exploration of decomposition and the role that small critters play in soil formation. All of the presentations involved hands on activities which is what makes this festival a fun place to learn. The weather was terrific and everyone had fun. I for one, cannot ask for anything more than that.
Submitted by Donna Allard

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Creatures of the Night

With the nights growing longer and Halloween just around the corner, the time seemed to perfect to have a family event called "Creatures of the Night". The CRFPO sponsored the free event.

Over 30 kids and their parents came to the program. During the evening, we learned about bats, owls, opossums, beavers, and raccoons. A presentation featuring Simon, the screech owl, was a hit for both young and old. We also dissected owl pellets, an activity that most of the people had never done before. The evening ended with a walk along the river. On the way, the bat detector I held gave off the sounds of a bat, although we did not see it. We were later rewarded with a great view of a few bats hunting through the wetlands. From the reviews, it seems that everyone enjoyed the program and would like to see more events like it.

Submitted by Donna Allard

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Visit to the Gorge

Last Friday, Amy, the educator for Columbia Springs, and I held the 3rd annual fish workshop called Healthy Water Habitats and Hatchery Tour. We met 12 teachers at Columbia Springs and carpooled up to Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery (NFH) where spawning activities were in full swing. We left a rainy Vancouver and arrived at the hatchery to find a warm, sunny day. After a brief introduction to the PIT (passive integrated transponder) tag detector station and a short visit to the fish ladder, the teachers suited up into raingear and had the chance to spawn some of the Tule fall chinook salmon. They got a first hand, up close look at the bustling activities that take place this time each fall. In addition to spawning activities, excess fish were being loaded into totes in preparation for a trip to the food bank.

Just before lunch, we headed up to Carson NFH. After lunch, I gave a short presentation on an education trunk I developed last year called "The Columbia River" trunk. It highlights some of my favorite species including coastal cutthroat trout, Pacific lamprey, and Western Pearlshell mussels. A last section raises awareness to the threats of aquatic nuisance species.

We reviewed some of the activities in the trunk and 'played' a short activity called "Water address". This activity allows students to identify plants and animals and their habitats by analyzing clues that describe water-related adaptations of aquatic and terrestrial organisms. At this point we were running out of time but not before we learned more about Carson NFH from the assistant manager, Thomas.All in all, the day was great, the teachers were an exceptional bunch, and the rain held off until the end of the day. Can't ask for more than that.

Posted by Donna Allard

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Time with the Lovely Lamprey

Working with the US Fish and Wildlife service has been one of the best experiences of my life thus far. In 21 years of existence I cannot say that I enjoyed working as much as I did here. I looked forward to every day and what it could possibly entail. Most days included trekking through dense woods with praying mantis probes for arms while simultaneously getting bitten by numerous amounts of mosquitos. Sweating through entire shirts was inevitable and wiping dirt off my face or picking tree parts out of my hair was pointless. But I would not have wanted it any other way. I got to see things that most people will never see in their lives. Gorgeous 100 ft. waterfalls that are in the middle of nowhere, breathtaking valleys six miles into a hike that you had to bushwhack to get to, bald eagles flying right over you, riding the white caps in the Columbia River Gorge and watching the sun come up, just for some examples. I felt lucky to have this opportunity every day and I could never replace the memories I have from this job. On top of all of that beauty I got to study one of the coolest, most interesting fish out there. Lamprey are so understudied and so misunderstood. I would feel honored if I were able to engage in future studies that help to create more public awareness about these creatures and help eradicate the negative connotation that is most commonly associated with them. This job has excited me into wanting my Master’s to focus on some aspect of lamprey and I can’t wait to do that.

Before being hired in May of 2009, I had never heard of lamprey. I’m not going to lie, at first I was a little bummed that I wasn’t going to be working with salmon or some other type of more “fish-like” fish. I grew up fishing and hiking so I had fallen in love with the image of what is more commonly linked to the word ‘fish’. But I immediately learned to love lamprey and my love has only grown over the last two summers. I worked with Pacific lamprey (Entosphenus tridentatus) and Western brook lamprey (Lampetra richardsoni). Pacifics are generally grayer in color with a lighter caudal ridge and a darker fin (a fade) while Western brooks are generally more olive colored with a dark caudal ridge and a clearer or speckled fin. The westerns also usually have a yellow stripe that runs from their anus to the tip of their caudal ridge. It amazes me that they are blind for the larger part of their life and have managed to exist since before dinosaurs were around. They live in the sediment in creeks and rivers during their ammoceote phase (5-7 years) filtering out nutrients from the water. Ammoceotes are the life stage that I mostly was working with but I would see the occasional transformer or adult. Pacifics are an anadromous fish. They transform into macropthalmia (macs) and out-migrate to the ocean where they feed off of the blood of other fishes. Western brook lamprey transform and stay in freshwater to spawn and die. These fish have been able to withstand and adjust to catastrophic world events that wiped out everything else and yet humans have presumably managed to make enough of an impact to cause a huge decline in the numbers of lamprey migrating back from the oceans to spawn. We have been around for a miniscule fraction of the time that lamprey have existed but have impacted them as though we were working to kill them off all along. There is a lot of good work being done to create better Pacific lamprey passage through dams and decrease mortalities of both out migrating macs and adults coming back to spawn but population counts have shown a steady decline in numbers, especially more recently. I am anxious to see what is done in the near future to improve their situation and hope to be involved in some way.

Lamprey have grabbed my heart and I am so interested and excited to study them more. I love my team (LAMPREY ROYAL!!) and thank you so much for teaching me and making this experience what it was. I have grown as a student and a person by being part of the STEP (Student Temporary Employment Program) and I have gained knowledge that could never be taught in a classroom.

Submitted by Michaela Satter

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Search for a “Fish-Friendly” Tide Gate

I never thought that I’d learn so much about tide gates. I’m a biologist, so I know about fish identification, important measures of fish habitat, and how to catch fish in a scientific context. But why would I need to know anything about tide gates? Well, tide gates can have a big impact on the quality of habitat and the ability of fish to enter and exit these habitats. Tide gates along with levees (or “dikes”) are used in tidal areas of the Columbia River and other coastal rivers to help keep water out of the natural floodplain of the river. Tide gates let water out when the tide is receding and block water from entering as the tide comes back in. The floodplain can then be used for cropland, grazing or other development without the threat of seasonal or daily flooding.

Old-style, top-hinge, steel tide gates are difficult for fish to get past and don’t allow any exchange of water.

The Columbia River has experienced over 100 years of flood control. Through changes in river flow from dam regulation and the installation of levees and tide gates, the amount of shallow water habitat in the Columbia River has been greatly reduced. It’s estimated that over 60% of historical tidal freshwater areas of the lower Columbia River has been lost. Much of this lost habitat is behind levees and tide gates. These areas were where young salmon grew and hid from predators before heading to the ocean. Now, these young salmon have difficulty accessing feeding areas behind the tide gates and much of the habitat behind the gates is of poor quality. The low quality of the habitat is mostly due to the lack of water exchange between the river and the slough habitat behind the gates. This can cause higher water temperatures than salmon can tolerate. These higher temperatures can also be good for non-native fish species, like largemouth bass, that will prey on young salmon.

Chinook Salmon

Fortunately, restoration is taking place in parts of the Columbia River Estuary to recover some of this lost habitat. These restoration projects can take many forms. Sometimes it is possible to remove a levee or tide gate and allow the river to spill into its historic floodplain. Other times, flood protection must be maintained, so the options available for land managers are more limited. In these situations, new tide gate designs are being tested to determine if they allow better fish passage and water flow between the river and flood plain.

Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1972 for the protection and management of the endangered Columbian White-Tailed Deer. Land managed by the refuge includes uplands, riparian area (land along the water), wetlands and sloughs. Restoration to improve aquatic habitats, including the replacement of older tide gates with newly designed tide gates, has been occurring since 2007. Because the primary purpose of the Refuge is to protect White-Tailed Deer, removing levees to allow natural flooding of the refuge is not an option. Instead tide gates designed to allow improved fish passage and tidal water exchange have been installed with the hope that the aquatic habitat behind the levees improve and that fish have an easier time passing the gates.

My job is to determine if these new tide gates have improved fish passage (movement through the gate) and the aquatic habitat behind the gate. One way that we do this is to capture fish that enter through the new tide gates and compare the numbers and types to those that we caught when the old tide gates were in place. We also compare the numbers and species of fish captured to sloughs without tide gates to see how closely the sloughs with the new tide gates resemble sloughs without any tide gate at all. We also look at how temperature and other things to determine if the quality of the habitat has been improved by the new tide gates. In addition to all this, we also attempt to determine how long fish stay in these areas and how fast they grow.

Trapping fish entering through new tide gate.

Biologists collecting fish with a beach seine.

We will be collecting information on fish and these habitats through the spring of 2012. At that point we expect to have a pretty good idea of whether there is an improvement in fish access and habitat quality and, if so, how much of an improvement. If results are good, these types of tide gates will likely be used in other restoration projects where some level of flood control is needed but improvement for fish is desired.

Newer-style tide gates are designed to improve fish access and exchange of water.
Submitted by Jeff Johnson

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tryon Creek Restoration Efforts

Yesterday, I went for a walk in the park. That’s right, Tryon Creek State Park. Jen and I were conducting the biweekly spawning ground survey in Tryon Creek. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the creek, it is a relatively undisturbed urban watershed. Most of it lies within the boundaries of the state park in southwest Portland. Historically, the creek probably supported abundant populations of anadromous fish. Now it seems that most of those fish populations may be depressed. One of the reasons for this may be a culvert running under Highway 43 which was constructed in the late 1920s. The design most likely blocked lamprey migration and was not ideal for salmonid passage, either. The baffles within the 400 foot long culvert were not fish friendly and the drop at the outlet of the culvert was too high for fish to negotiate at times.

Back in 2003, the City of Lake Oswego secured a Metro Greenspaces grant to analyze the best alternative for replacement or removal of the culvert under Highway 43. Soon the Oregon Department of Transportation came up with some more money. Lots of other partners became involved as well.

In 2006, our office began a project to monitor the effectiveness of restoration actions. We began by determining the existing habitat conditions and the presence, absence, and distribution of lampreys and salmonids, both above and below the culvert. Larval lamprey of two species were captured below the culvert, but none above. Cutthroat trout, steelhead/rainbow trout, coho, and Chinook salmon were found both above and below the culvert.

Culvert Baffles - Before and After

In 2008, the baffles in the culvert were replaced and the drop at the outlet of the culvert was reduced with a series of natural step pools. Restoration efforts are ongoing in the portion of creek below the culvert to improve fish passage. We continue to monitor the presence of fish in Tryon Creek to determine the success of the restoration effort to improve fish passage through the culvert.

Fish Passage into Culvert - Before and After

In 2009, no lampreys were found in any section of Tryon Creek. The same species of salmonids were found both above and below the culvert. Cutthroat trout spawning activity was observed above the Highway 43 culvert as well. Still, it is too early to determine the effectiveness of the restoration work.

We will continue to sample Tryon Creek to further our understanding of all fish species within the system. Monitoring will provide further evidence for the level of success of the improvements made to the culvert and to the creek below the culvert as well as the efficiency of passage through the culvert by lampreys and salmonid species.

For more information, read the latest report.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Oregon Chub - A Little Fish on the Road to Recovery

The Oregon chub is a small minnow found only in the Willamette River basin in western Oregon. Adults are typically less than 3.5 inches in length. They live in habitats such as beaver ponds, side channels, and flooded marshes, with little or no water flow, silty bottoms, and aquatic vegetation for cover for hiding and spawning. Historically the Willamette River had many side channels, oxbows, and overflow ponds that provided ample habitat for the chub. Periodic flooding of the Willamette also created new habitat and transported the chub into these areas to create new, or help sustain existing populations.

There are many reasons for the severe decline of Oregon chub populations. Construction of dams and flood control projects changed the Willamette River significantly, preventing the formation of new habitats and the natural dispersal of the species. Other factors responsible for the chub’s decline include: habitat alteration such as channelization and bank hardening, the introduction of non-native fish and amphibians, herbicide and pesticide runoff from farms and roadways, and diversions.

The Oregon chub was first listed as endangered in 1993. In 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a recovery plan for the chub. The goal of the plan was to reverse the decline of the Oregon chub by protecting existing wild populations, re-introducing chub into suitable habitat throughout its historical range, and increasing public awareness and involvement. The criteria set forth in the plan for downlisting the species to “threatened” was to establish and manage 10 population of at least 500 adult fish. All of these populations had to exhibit a stable or increasing trend for 5 years as well.

Along with the efforts of other agencies, active programs have been put in place to protect Oregon chub habitat. Critical habitat was designated in March of this year. The species’ status has improved recently. On April 23, 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed the Endangered Species Act classification of the Oregon chub from endangered to threatened.

To learn more about critical habitat, visit

To learn more about the Endangered Species Act, visit

Submitted by Donna Allard.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Habitat improvements in the wake of a dam removal

Last month I got outside and saw first-hand how stream habitat can begin to change following the removal of a dam. Hemlock dam, built in 1937 on Trout Creek in the Wind River watershed, was initially constructed to provide power and water to the Civilian Conservation Corps and Forest Service. Trout Creek provides critical habitat for Lower Columbia River steelhead, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but the dam (even with a fish ladder) effectively blocked fish passage to spawning grounds and degraded habitat for fish downstream by increasing water temperatures in the creek.

Hemlock Dam, 2006 (photo by USFS)

In the 1990's, several federal and partner agencies decided that the creek should be restored and the dam removed to benefit the steelhead and other native fish in the community. The Fish Passage Program under the Fish and Wildlife Service contributed approximately $250,000 along with funds from partners totaling $2.1 million, and in the summer of 2009, action finally took place: the pump house was removed, the creek was diverted, Hemlock dam was dismantled, the creek channel was reconstructed, invasive weeds were removed, and riparian habitat was enhanced with native shrubs and trees.

Today, one year later, you can see the benefits of the dam removal project. Most notably, Hemlock Lake is no longer there! In its place is a meandering creek channel, with small trees planted on the banks that were previously under water. It will take time for the trees and brush to fill in, but in the meantime, the restored section of Trout Creek has likely been recolonized with lotic aquatic insects for fish to eat, sediment that had built up behind the dam over the years has been removed, and temperatures are no longer near the lethal limit for fish. Additionally, removing this barrier has opened upstream habitat for spawning and migrating steelhead.

Hemlock Lake, 2006 (photo by USFS)

The same view as above in June 2010, only it's now Trout Creek instead of Hemlock Lake! (photo by Donna Allard, USFWS)

With this improvement to Trout Creek, I'm looking forward to seeing how the habitat changes in the project area in the years to come. Be sure to take a look at the Forest Service's website about the project - it even has a video of an adult steelhead that moved up through the project area just hours after flow was restored through the creek bed! The video also shows a tractor moving large woody debris into the floodplain of the stream to enhance fish habitat...word gets out fast among the fish, it appears!