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A project nears completion that will help juvenile fish looking to escape high summer water temperatures

Don't be shocked, but there's a fish population growing in the Molalla River and the Native Fish Society hopes to perpetuate that good news.

An interesting discovery in 2006 provided the impetus to give the very young fish in the Molalla River a better chance of survival.

"In 2006, we did a rapid bio assessment on the Molalla River, diving on every fifth pool along the river," explained Tom Derry, of the Native Fish Society. "We found 17 side channels that were de-linked from the main river that contained a huge population of juvenile fish. So, we prioritized these side channels with the main goal of not allowing the main river to get into the channels during the summer months."

COURTESY PHOTO TOM DERRY - Work on the side channel project above Freyer Park is just about finished, offering juvenile fish a place to seek cooler water and, ultimately, increase their chances of survival on the Molalla River.

The goal is to keep the side channel waters cooler than the main body of the Molalla River, which can reach up to 75 degrees in the summer months. That kind of water temperature is lethal to the young fish, who seek the side channels to find cooler water. Unfortunately, the main stem waters can invade those channels and kill the young fish.

"What we are doing it putting logs into the entrance of these side channels and we are just finishing up the one we consider the most important on the main stem – just above Feyrer Park," said Derry, who noted there are thousands of juvenile fish in these side channels. "The fish will just spend the summer in these side channels and just hunker down there for about seven weeks and then head back out to the main stem when the temperatures cool the water.

"We always thought the warm water of the Molalla River was the limiting factor for fish," he added. "We discovered these side channels by mistake and realized they were our ticket to recovery."

And things are recovering nicely for the fish population in the Molalla. And while the Native Fish Society and its friends have managed to complete work on two of the 17 channels thus far, the goal is to help create survivable environments for fish along all of them.

COURTESY PHOTO TOM DERRY - Work on the Molalla River side channel nears completion.

Fish have made a nice comeback on the Molalla River. In 1997, when they ended the winter steelhead hatchery program, biologists claimed the run was down to 150 fish, said Derry. Now, thanks to work done on many fronts, the Molalla River boasts spring chinook, wild winter steelhead, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and coho salmon. Ensuring the juveniles in each species have cool water to rest in during the hot summer months is key to having the fish populations continue to grow.

And the side channel project is all about sustaining the populations.

"We've put in about 80 logs on this one," said Derry. "It's a huge project, actually. We have so many great partners on this project."

Log donations saved the project about $27,000 and funding from Molalla River Watch and Molalla River Alliance, as well as others, helped get the project rolling.

"The fish are coming back," said Derry. "There are more fish every year, but of course that depends on other factors, but we feel that in this river, the fish are recovering. It's a very unique river for the west side of the Cascades."

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