Preparing for a journey to the ocean
On a crisp and sunny afternoon, a team of fish biologists released approximately 10,000 spring Chinook salmon into Ochoco Creek, just off of Madras Highway.
Portland General Electric, in cooperation with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Deschutes Land Trust, placed the juvenile salmon into acclimation pens, or "live cars" on Wednesday, March 17 at Land Trust's Ochoco Preserve in Prineville.
"We have been allocating salmon and steelhead. This year, it is just going to be spring Chinook salmon juveniles in these live cars (or cages) for a number of years," noted Deschutes Land Trust Restoration Specialist Jason Grant.
Acclimation is when they put young fish that are getting ready to go out to the ocean to spawn, into a water body -- and putting them in an area they want them to imprint. The idea is that they will come back to that home or general area when they spawn as adults.
"This acclimation period is in that critical period when fish really imprint on the waterway that they are in, and it is right before they migrate to the ocean," elaborated Grant.
The purpose of doing the acclimation in the location of Ochoco Creek is directly related to the acquisition of the Land Trust in 2017. It includes 185 acres, including one mile of the Crooked River, one-half-mile of Ochoco Creek, and one-half-mile on McKay Creek. The half mile of Ochoco and McKay Creek includes the lower half mile.
Grant indicated that the property includes land that is in farm production. Currently, there are farmers leasing the property for farm production, but after 2021, it will cease to have farming activity on the land.
"The purchase of the property has allowed us to look at what we can do from a fish and wildlife restoration perspective, and the property will no longer be farmed by 2022," he stated.
Grant added that the plans in the future are to have conditions conductive to acclimating salmon and steelhead in McKay Creek, but it is currently not conductive right now.
"As we move forward, part of the restoration moving forward is to have acclimation in McKay Creek."
The process of releasing the salmon in Ochoco Creek involves a truck with an enclosed tank with the juvenile salmon inside. 10,000 fish (four-to-five inches in length) are then taken by net to holding cages in Ochoco Creek, just off of Madras Highway. A team of fish biologists remove the fish by net to waiting technicians in the water by the cages, who then carefully place them inside the cages.
"They are put in those cages for the proper number of days so they can imprint on that water, and when the time comes, they are released," Grant said.
When the juvenile salmon are put into the cages, they are ready to migrate. As soon as the door is opened, they begin their journey down the river. They will first migrate to the Crooked River, then the Deschutes River, ending up in the Columbia River and to the Pacific Ocean.
In previous years, the Deschutes Land Trust has also released steelhead, in addition to the Chinook salmon. This year, there will only be Chinook salmon released in Ochoco Preserve.
Future restoration plans for the current property is taking place right now. A collaborative conceptual restoration process for the entire property took place in 2020. Final restoration design will be completed with an engineering firm and project partners. Project partners include City of Prineville, Crook County Parks and Recreation, Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Portland General Electric, United States Forest Service, United States Fish and Wildlife, The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Ochoco Irrigation District, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and Oregon Water Resources Department.
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