Wildfishasaurus Taking Its Talents to South Beach

January 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

Dear Dedicated Reader(s):

We at Wildfishasaurus have decided what the world needs NOT is yet another poorly maintained fish and fishing blog clogging up digestion in the wildfishosphere, which is exactly what we’d become after our brief beta test. We’re taking a hiatus, taking our talents to South Beach to join the Miami Heat, and leaving the work in more capable hands like those holding up the Oregon Fly Fishing Blog, The Osprey, TU Oregon, and for ladies-only action, Rogue Angels. Watch for occasional contributions on these or other fine, well-maintained, informative and professional-looking sites in the near future.

Meanwhile, let’s all keep on keepin’ on puttin’ the FUN back in FUNCTIONAL AQUATIC ECOSYSTEMS SUPPORTING NATIVE AND WILD TROUT AND SALMON POPULATIONS IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST, PEOPLE!

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Ex-Stream Makeover: Klootchy Creek Edition

November 12, 2010 § 1 Comment

It’s “Klootchy,” not “Coochie,” so you full-time Charo Googlers need not read any further. Sorry.

Coochie Coochie and Captain Merrill Stubing

Klootchy Creek is a sweet not-so-little spawning tributary of the Necanicum River on Oregon’s North Coast. Anyone who’s driven US 26 between Portland and Seaside or Cannon Beach probably knows it from the signs promoting “North America’s Largest Sitka Spruce” or whatever it was. After the 2007 storms, it’s a big-ass stump. An impressive stump nonetheless.

 

Klootchy Creek corridor above the last of nine culverts at summer flows

You’ll find no shortage of stumps around the Klootchy Creek subwatershed. Large swaths of it were logged by Weyerhaeuser over the decades. Riparian corridors remain pretty intact, some restoration work was done in more recent years, and on the continuum of coastal streams and historical logging degradation, Klootchy Creek is in pretty decent shape. One area of particular focus was a mile of the lower watershed where there were an old Weyerhaeuser logging road crossed Klootchy Creek and its feeder streams 9 times, with fish-blocking culverts ranging from 36 inches to 8 feet in diameter and most around 60 feet long.

Young, small fish can't get up this drop to the rearing habitat above in low flows like those shown. In fall, winter and spring flows this will look like an 8-ft-wide waterpick when adult fish need to get upstream to spawn.

While a concentration of barriers is normally enough to catch our eye, what lies above this particular makes it even more enticing. At least 8 miles of high-quality spawning and rearing habitat for wild coho, winter steelhead, cutthroat and lamprey was not being utilized upstream. Problem was, replacing all those bad culverts was going to be hugely expensive, especially because at least two of them would need to be bridges.

Weyerhaeuser sold its timber holdings in the Necanicum – about 90 percent of the watershed, including Klootchy Creek – to Campbell Group LLC in 2009. Trout Unlimited has had a very productive restoration relationship with Campbell Group in from Northern California for years as part of its North Coast Coho Project, so it only made sense for TU and Campbell to explore duplicating that relationship in Oregon. That mile of logging road and those 9 culverts along Klootchy Creek quickly became a topic of discussion. Within a very short time, there was a plan: Campbell would move the road away from the creek corridor, allowing TU to come in and permanently yank out all 9 culverts and decommission the entire section of road. With a funding raised from NOAA and technical assistance from ODFW Tillamook biologists, in September we got to work. In-stream work on the Oregon Coast is limited to the period between July 15 and Sept. 15 when flows are low and the fewest fish will be disturbed.

Double-fisted decommissioning limits work time in-stream and impact on fish

In less than two weeks all 9 culverts were gone with streams flowing freely where they once stood, wood placed in-stream, and a mile of road was decommissioned. For the first time in decades, the mainstem Necanicum River and its anadromous fish were fully connected to the critical spawning and rearing habitats Klootchy Creek offers. Campbell Group engineers and ODFW biologists on-scene said it was the smoothest operation they had ever seen. That’s one of the blessings of restoration in timber country – a ready workforce with operators, know-how and equipment capable of getting around in these kinds of environments efficiently and skillfully. Some might call it irony – I’d call it opportunity.

BEFORE: Your basic garden-variety stream-killing pinchpoint: this 8-foot culvert – shown at the upstream end – is maybe an 8th of the natural stream width. The downstream end – pictured higher in this post above – will be a firehose with the fall rains. Tough sledding for upstream-migrating fish.

The same site on November 10, 2010:

AFTER: Nothing quite like a stream finding its own way again after struggling for a few decades. Native vegetation will quickly fill slopes back in, stabilizing banks and shading stream. When freed to do so, functioning hydrology creates fish habitat better than any artificial fixes in our arsenal, and works much more cheaply.

Conservation having a relationship with timber on private land is a topic deserving its own post. Probably several, especially in light of what’s taking place right next door on public land in the Tillamook/Clatsop State Forest. In the case of the Necanicum watershed and the Campbell Group – and certainly in Northern California over the last decade-plus –  we are seeing a company with a sincere interest in far better stewardship and fish habitat than its predecessors, willing to back that interest with action, its funds, and its land holdings, all the while being up front about what it needs to keep a business viable.

The bottom line is that work is getting done, habitat is being restored, and wild fish are responding. If this constitutes greenwashing, what everyone says may in fact be true and I really should shower more often. Coochie Coochie.

Charo says keep it wild

Class Dismissed on the McKenzie

October 20, 2010 § 2 Comments

It’s easy to let a debate about hatchery versus wild fish like the one going on now on Oregon’s McKenzie River devolve into a good ol’ fashioned class warfare pissing match. Lord knows that as an effete fly guy I’ve lobbed my share of verbal Venti soy lattes over the years, and felt the sting of more than a few redneck jabs too. Which is not to say it can’t be cathartic: Once two sides reach an impasse like this one usually brings, it can be very satisfying to backslide into venomous – while quite often humorous – generalizations about the other side.  But most of us realize that fly fishermen don’t actually lisp lasciviously when they’re debating the virtues of tweed over khaki or pleated versus non for one’s apres-fish lodge slacks,  just as most of us know that the bait-slinger’s famous last words probably weren’t “THE HELL I CAIN’T!”  or “HOLD MAH BEUR AND WATCH THEEUS.” Still, it feels good to go there when nothing else is working. But it rarely if ever gets us closer to any answers.

However.

Someone said once the real problem with stereotypes is that they’re often based at least in some part in truth. As for the charge that fly fishermen often roll up to the river in their sissy-ass shiny hybrid SUVs packing untold thousands of dollars worth of feathery flies, whispy rods and whiny reels to protect their tender tippets,  I, for one, plead guilty – by reason of insanity, of course. If I saw us coming, I’d probably hate us too, but we can’t help it. When it comes to feeding our fishing Jones, one could say there’s damn-near no end to the amount of discretionary income I, and most of the people I know, will pump into the local economies of the places we go to fish. I wish I spent less. I’ve tried to stop, but I can’t, and it’s not my fault. I have a disease.  I got it from my Dad. Now THAT dude could drop cash on gear . . .

This characterization is particularly true when it comes to wild fish. I have said – and I believe – that there is generally no limit to the number of miles I’m willing to travel or insane capital expenditure I’m willing to find a way to fork out for the chance  – just the chance – to hook a wild steelhead in its home river. It’s similar, just not quite as manic, with wild resident trout and salmon: I’ll travel vast distances, stay in motels, patronize endless greasy spoons and local flyshops, tie new flies using exotic materials from my local shop, purchase out-of-state licenses, maybe even hire a guide, etc., to fish over wild fish. Yet I’ll scarcely lift my extended right pinky to fish for hatchery trout. Elitist? You bet. Wild fish provide me with a vastly different, and in my angling orientation preferable, experience.

McKenzie River native redside (courtesy McKenzie River Native Trout Coalition)

The McKenzie and its trout fishery is at a precipice: through management decisions, the McKenzie will become either home to a destination wild redside population – and a premiere one at that – or it will remain a mixed bag of put-and-take hatchery rainbows with a latent wild redside population struggling to persist in the background noise. One thing is for certain, and even fishery managers acknowledge this: it will never be the former while managed for the latter. The hatchery trout program as it is currently run exists at the cost of a healthy, self-sustaining wild trout population. It IS the limiting factor, and one of the few if any such scenarios left in moving water in Oregon; most of our hatchery trout production now exists in ponds and lakes, where its impact on wild trout is less and the recreational enjoyment by kids, less mobile anglers, trout fry fans and others remains unchanged.

McKenzie River hatchery rainbow trout (courtesy MRNTC)

Given the unlimited potential the the McKenzie’s wild trout population paired with what we know about elitist fly anglers and our pathological tendencies for hemorrhaging Benjamins into local economies in our pursuit of wild fish, the main argument we hear in favor of maintaining the hatchery trout status quo there – the economic boost the area and the agency gets from the fans of the hatchery trout fishery – gets all the more wobbly.

Jenga!

Ask the business owners of other places on rivers once managed for hatchery trout fisheries that became wild trout management zones, places that also faced the same tipping point that now faces the McKenzie how they feel about the change from a bottom-line perspective, places like Camp Sherman, Ennis or Maupin, to name a few.

And as long as we’re debating economics, what’s the spreadsheet say about the cost of running a taxpayer-funded hatchery program versus just providing wild stocks with the ecological equivalent of a cheap bottle of red wine, a cozy fire and a bearskin rug, and letting them handle the “production” side for free? The McKenzie already has all of that; it’s the hatchery trout continually spoiling the moment that’s a large part of the problem.

For me, the bottom line is that fish are still far superior at making fish than we are, and the proof is in the product. It’s not even close, and I’ll pay a mighty premium for it six ways to Sunday. And until such time as we pollute beyond all repair the wild trout and salmon gene pool with genetically engineered Frankenfish, escaped poo-plumped Atlantic salmon and torrents of hatchery fish over wild fish, and we drain, dredge, dam and defile all their remaining rivers, I will proudly pay out the nose to fish what we have left of the wild stocks that can handle it, and I’ll work locally to recover and restore those we’ve lost (don’t look now but there’s a pocket economy there too folks), in hopes that I can someday fish them too.

It’s time to stop ignoring the elephant in the room in debating where, when, how, why, and how many in questions of hatchery trout interacting with wild trout populations. The economic value of wild fish and the fisheries that cultivate them is real, enormous and largely unaccounted for.

Drop a Log for Salmon

October 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

WARNING – GRAPHIC CONTENT ADVISORY. The following post contains material that may be disturbing to some viewers, and includes the following:

L – Loggers

C – Chainsaws

S – Suspenders

I’m as quick as the next guy to to strap a tear-gas filtering, identity-concealing black bandanna across my face and hit the streets to take a swing at a police horse at the first sound of  a chainsaw in the woods. But recently I’ve begun to wonder if maybe there are more constructive ways to navigate the traditional coastal logger-coastal conservationist lovefest than blaming each other for everything bad in the world until we’re all dead. Just maybe, every once in awhile, in between rounds say, we can pause and devise little ways to work together.

After all, trees falling in the river is something we fish-huggers love, so much so that we’ve come to embrace the once-maligned American beaver for its obsessive oral efficiency at dropping trees in streams. Beaver-derived in-stream wood creates invaluable habitat and reconnects floodplains at an amazing clip and at very competitive hourly rates, even for rodents . God I love those furry little buggers. Turns out, an out-of-work logger with a Stihl, some chain oil and a can of gas does a pretty snappy job of that too. Truth be told, a  skilled logger is a thinly disguised, well-oiled latent restoration machine in highwaters and a hard hat; you just aren’t likely to get him to admit it in mixed company.

This stretch of an upper reach of a North Coast salmon, steelhead and cutt stream looks okay, but could be better.

Here’s what you do. During late summer/early fall and low flow conditions, grab an experienced stream ecologist, a lunch, a camera, and a logger, and head for the woods. Oh, and before you go, make sure you have the necessary permits, fire season equipment and permissions. Have your stream ecologist identify areas of the stream that could use some structure, see if there’s a stand of alders nearby that, if they fell a certain way, might provide it, and get to work. A good saw man can drop a tree within inches of an intended target, and can do so with wicked efficiency. On this day my main man Doug and his one-man crew constructed about 30 log jams in a matter of hours.

And voila: we got wood. These alders, dropped expertly right in place by our faller fellow, will push flows during higher water over the cobble bar to the right, and provide much more diverse habitat for young fish. They'll also trap salmon carcasses and decay themselves, providing a smorgasbord of nourishment for bugs and fish. A typical alder once dropped in a stream will take about 5-7 years to decay.

Who knows when the timber v. fish smackdown on the Oregon Coast and so many other areas will find a way to cease fire. It’s one of those entrenched societal, generational transitions that will have to play out over time and a fair number of casualties on all sides. It just is what it is, and like making mountains, it takes time for those plates to shift. But in the meantime, when the two sides can find little ways to get some work done together, maybe it speeds that tectonic process along just a bit.

Anonymous Axe Man/Fish Conservation Hero astride his handiwork on Oregon's North Coast

 

 

Hipsters and Haircuts: the 5th and 6th ‘Hs’ of Wild Fish Conservation

October 7, 2010 § 1 Comment

Often when professional fish-huggers drone on and on (and on) about something we think you should care about, we do so in terms of “the Four Hs” of conservation: Habitat, Hydropower, Hatcheries and Harvest.  Just go with it; it helps grease our linear approaches to problem-solving.  Thanks to Bishops rock n’ roll Barbershops of Portland, however, this creaky old configuration is getting some new spice: add Hipsters and their hokey Haircuts to the mix.

Known more for its tattooed scissor-handers, clever branding and affordable, quality coifs, Bishops has taken a stand against the massive and massively wrong “Pebble” copper and gold mine being pushed for the headwaters of global wild salmon and trout factory of Bristol Bay, in southwest AK.  Starting in October, anti-Pebble Mine graphics began popping up inconspicuously in Bishops weekly print ads in the Willamette Week and Portland Mercury and in styling stations across their nine Portland locations.

Also known as The World’s Worst Idea Ever, the Pebble Mine would end up being the world’s largest open-pit copper and gold mine, complete with handfuls of giant new dams holding back massive lakes of toxic soup right on top of a major seismic fault line. And all the proceeds will line the pockets of the shareholders of the foreign corporations – British and Canadian – behind the mine. Aside from some temporary jobs, a big hole in the ground and the bill when the whole thing goes sideways, none of the mine’s profits stay in Alaska. But what does that have to do with fauxhawks, skinny jeans and ill-advised patchy hipster beards in Portland, Oregon, you ask?

Turns out Bishops and its founder Leo Rivera do more than prowl Stumptown locations looking for fixie jockeys to knock over and shake down for their hard-earned PBR coinage. For one, behind its hard-edged and gritty exteriors, Bishops is quietly a leader in local philanthropy for a wide range good causes; they just don’t talk about it much. For another, Rivera loves to flyfish. A trip to Bristol Bay recently and conversations with the locals who have the most to lose if the Pebble Mine goes forward caught Rivera’s eye. The giant trout he caught and the lumbering brown bear sows who mistook the large, broad-backed and browned Filipino for a long-lost and hairless cub likely also had something to do with it.

 

Bishops Barbershops Boss Man Leo "Chickin' Wang" Rivera with a chunky Naknek River rainbow trout

 

So what to make of this strange courtship potentially pairing 20-something, synthetic fiber-worshiping urbanites with a crunchy conservation cause in a place the vast majority of them will never see? Can an inked, happily marginalized and allegedly politically inert constituency actually add something to a national environmental debate? Can they care? Could adding a new voice to a tired old tune like “enviros vs extractors” actually help lead to some different results?

Where it all leads nobody knows. But word to the wise: Don’t sleep on the hipster, especially when 50,000 or so of them plop their skinny-jeaned arses into Bishops barber chairs every month. Anyone out there sleep on the Schwinn Varsity, the child-sized Cheerios t-shirt, mustache wax, or the 1974 Honda CB50?

Umm hmm. Thought so. You’re in trouble, Pebble Mine. Viva Bristol Bay.

Anadromous Youth Suspected in Rash of Fish Barrier Disappearances on North Oregon Coast

October 6, 2010 § 1 Comment

Officials are at a loss to explain a sudden spate of disappearing fish migration barriers in streams along Oregon’s North Coast in recent weeks. As many as a dozen – maybe more – culverts, many undersized, perched or rotting, have gone missing just in the months of August and September in the Necanicum River watershed alone. One large triple-pipe concrete culvert complex at the confluence of Circle Creek and the Necanicum River mainstem used by golfer and mower traffic went missing in mid-August, only to have a shiny new bridge show up in its place. Others, including a string of nine culverts spanning a mile of logging road along Klootchy Creek, simply vanished, allowing the stream to run unbridled through the road prism. Already there are reports of streams resuming more natural flow patterns and hydrological function as a result.

 

This 8-foot by 60-foot culvert on the mainstem of Klootchy Creek in the Necanicum River drainage is just one of an estimated 10 fish barriers that have gone missing since August

 

While police have no suspects, many locals have reported seeing young, healthy, and upstream-wardly mobile salmonid fish -coho, winter steelhead, chinook and coastal cutthroat,  some not even a year old – frequenting areas of the watershed in which they have not been seen in decades, raising suspicions that there could be a connection.  As many as 8 stream miles have been opened up to fish access just as a result of the recent missing barriers, causing hordes of the young “wilding” fish to run roughshod over them, eating, foraging, avoiding predators and growing stronger.

 

Surveillance cameras recently captured this image of a juvenile wild coho vandal foraging in an off-channel rearing area on the Necanicum River blocked since the 1940s. The suspect is described as approximately 3 inches in length, with a spotty complexion and forked tail. Anyone with information on this individual is asked to contact the Trout Unlimited office in Portland.

 

A North Coast Stream Barrier Task Force has been set up to monitor the vandalism through the offices of Trout Unlimited in Portland in cooperation with the local Tualatin Valley Chapter and its many wonderful partners.  Any person or persons interested in volunteering can contact Alan Moore (amoore@tu.org) for more information.