City of Molalla, Schmidt family help preserve local native fish
Climate change brings new problems to the world every day, but a number of people within this small area are working to make it less effective on native populations. Even before climate change was discussed, there were problems for fish in the main channel of the Molalla River in the hotter summer months.
In the past, the Molalla River was treated as a timber mine, which created a surfeit of problems. Some of these were created from farm-raised non-native fish and some were caused by trees, gravel mining, water quality problems, agricultural problems from herbicides and pesticides and sewage discharges. All those combined with a lower quantity of water in July and August to hamper native fish populations.
The native fish include Coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead or rainbow trout that also are known as redds. These fish spawn in the spring, but can die in the late months of summer because the river water temperatures grow too high and threaten the fish.
Enter a project conducted by Tom Derry and Terre Rogers. The two members of the Native Fish Society took on a project paid partially by the city of Molalla and partially from the Schmidt family donating land and trees and worked to secure a side channel, which is shaded and receives subterranean water from that's much cooler than the main channel's water.
They use these side channels to ensure the young fish are able to stay cool and not get cooked in the hotter main channel river water, said Derry. The side channels typically are shaded by trees and the water comes up from the ground cooler and stays cooler, he added. There are 17 side channels on the lower Molalla River.
"There already was an entrance to this particular side channel," said Rogers. "Right before that entrance is a gravel channel with a pool of warm water that acts like a funnel. They built a log barrier to reduce and control the flow like a funnel," he continued, which allows the side channel to stay cool while the river heats up.
The particular side channel they worked on ran between Shady Dell on the East side and Highway 211. The fish leave that channel when the weather cools off and may swim into the Columbia where they spend time moving into the ocean, grow big and come back as adults to the side channels to spawn.
"This is a really important and successful project," said Derry. "We will be monitoring the side channel for the next 10 years."
"When we make the habitat good for fish it makes it good for all of us," Rogers added.
The money that the city of Molalla paid was due to litigation and had to be used for this or a similar project. The city chose to work with the Native Fish Society. A similar project was created and worked out for a project on the Salmon River.
However, "we likely won't see any activity until we get high water until fall or even winter," said Rogers.
Then in April and May Derry will survey for salmon and Rainbow trout.
The Native Fish Society is part of the River Steward program that has 76 river stewards safeguarding 4,000 river miles and 100,000 square miles of watersheds in four states. Its website explains that its program exists to empower, inspire and grow a region-wide network of local grassroots advocates dedicated to science based solutions for Northwest waters and wild, native fish.
These stewards watch 40 watersheds throughout Oregon that include Bear Creek and the Molalla River.
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