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NW Fishletter #374, October 2, 2017

[5] Fire in Columbia River Gorge Threatens Juvenile Salmon

As flames got ever closer to Cascade Locks--a small town along the Columbia River about 40 miles east of Portland--26 employees of three Oregon hatcheries were evacuated and more than 600,000 juvenile fish released early.

The Eagle Creek fire forced the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to take emergency actions on Sept. 6 at Bonneville, Oxbow and Cascade hatcheries. The three facilities rear about six million juvenile fish.

Released as much as six months ahead of schedule, the mostly coho and Chinook salmon would have died had they remained in the hatchery, where water quality deteriorated as debris from the fire plugged intake pipes.

Farther upstream, truck transport of juvenile fish collected at two lower Snake River dams was cancelled after both Interstate 84 on the Oregon side and State Road 14 on the Washington side were closed because of fire danger.

The juvenile fish, normally loaded into trucks at Lower Monumental and Little Goose dams for release below Bonneville Dam, were instead allowed to migrate through the hydro projects' juvenile bypass systems, according to Eric Hockersmith, transportation coordinator for the Walla Walla District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Hockersmith's Sept. 5 memo to the Technical Management Team said that when S.R. 14 was closed to traffic other than passenger vehicles, several trucks already loaded with fish had to release their juvenile salmon at the nearest boat ramps.

Collection and truck transportation will resume once reliable access to the downstream release site at Bonneville Dam or the alternative Dodson Boat Ramp is restored.

Back at the hatcheries, firefighters foamed buildings to prevent them from catching fire, a Sept. 5 news statement from ODFW said.

The firefighters, who are using the three hatcheries as staging areas, also cut a firebreak and lit a back fire above Cascade Hatchery to keep the flames from reaching the facility.

ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy told NW Fishletter that no hatchery structures were lost and the remaining fish were healthy. But as of Sept. 7, staff still weren't able to examine the clogged water intake at Bonneville Hatchery, she said.

Then in mid-September, ODFW had to truck nearly two million juvenile fish from Cascade Hatchery to facilities around the region in anticipation of rain and mudslides that again threatened to plug the hatchery's water intake system.

According to an ODFW news statement, the agency moved about 500,000 Umatilla River coho and 500,000 Lostine River coho to the Leaburg Hatchery, where they will be reared until spring when they will be trucked to the Umatillia and Lostine rivers.

About 350,000 Yakama coho were transported to Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, while another 300,000 went to Willard National Fish Hatchery. Some 130,000 spring Chinook were hauled to Sandy Fish Hatchery.

The juvenile salmon were transferred in trucks that have oxygen supplies to help lower stress in the fish and keep them healthy, the fish agency said.

The Eagle Creek fire started Sept. 2 and is now about 50 percent contained. -L. B.

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