Steelhead smolt are released into Whychus Creek. Photo: Ryder Redfield.

Salmon and Steelhead Reintroduction Update

Apr 22, 2019 by Jana Hemphill
New facility at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve will hopefully help improve salmon and steelhead returns to the upper Deschutes River region.

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The Land Trust has been a long-term partner in the historic reintroduction of salmon and steelhead to the upper Deschutes River region. Our work over the years has helped conserve the lands and waters that these native fish need to successfully return to places like Whychus Creek, the Metolius River, and Lake Creek. Needless to say, reintroducing salmon and steelhead to a region where they have been missing for more than 50 years has been a very big challenge. Dams, changing ocean and stream conditions, and climate change are all making it even more challenging.

To help improve the number of returning salmon and steelhead, our reintroduction partners have been experimenting with a variety of adjustments. This includes changing the time of the day that the dams deliver peak power--switching to night-time power generation has more than doubled the number of fish collected and passed through the system. They have also changed the location and timing for releasing downstream migrating fish to reduce the predictability for predators, again, doubling the number of juvenile fish that get through the system.

A fish acclimation tank at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Photo: Land Trust.
A fish acclimation tank at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Photo: Land Trust.
Now, our partners are beginning to phase out the release of small, very young salmon and steelhead fry. You've likely heard the Land Trust talk about these releases of tiny little fish called fry because many of these releases over the years have happened at our Preserves. This year, however, reintroduction partners will be exclusively releasing year-old smolt with the hope that the larger, older fish will be more successful in their journey to the Pacific and then back to places like Whychus Creek.

To support the switch to smolt releases, the Land Trust is now hosting a large acclimation tank at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve to allow the smolt to imprint on the waters of Whychus Creek. Smolt will be kept in the tank with creek water pumped through it for a couple of weeks. Then, they will be released into Whychus Creek and, hopefully, begin their successful journey down the creek to the Deschutes River, to the Columbia River, and ultimately, to the Pacific Ocean. A similar tank is planned for installation next year at the Land Trust’s Ochoco Preserve on the Crooked River. Stay tuned for details on how this new project unfolds!

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