Round Butte Dam, Lake Billy Chinook:
by Brad Chalfant
Given the hundreds if not thousands of people who've worked for nearly two decades to see this day come, it was a decidedly small crowd that greeted the release of the first wild adult salmon into the upper Deschutes Basin in 47 years. Having spent yesterday walking a newly restored Camp Polk Meadow and today watching the heroic return of the region's most iconic species, it truly feels like we've come full circle.
For the six adult spring chinook it was probably just another step in an amazing odyssey that saw them released as inch long fry in streams like Lake Creek on the Metolius Preserve and Whychus Creek on Camp Polk Meadow Preserve, grow to six inch smolt at which point adolescent wanderlust launched them on a 2-3,000 mile journey down the Deschutes and Columbia rivers to the north Pacific and back as the full grown, powerful fish of fishermen's fantasies and native lore.
For the humans in attendance it was clearly a more profound moment. As PGE's Julie Keil remarked, the day was truly a milestone for her company, the people of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife and countless other public agencies. And as Julie pointed out, the day highlighted a remarkable partnership among community-based organizations like the Deschutes Land Trust, Deschutes River Conservancy (our homegrown water trust) and the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and Crooked River Watershed Council, each of which is working to restore and protect the critical habitat that these fabled fish will need.
As both Bobby Brunoe of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Amy Stuart of Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife pointed out, this day is of great spiritual and cultural significance and represents an effort that we undertake for our children and grandchildren. Much work remains and neither we, nor these very special salmon are truly home yet, but today we took a very large step forward.