Curry County commissioners voted 2-1 Wednesday — Sue Gold voting against — to hand deliver a letter to the Jackson County commissioners explaining their vote of no confidence in the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding their alleged part in the declining number of spring Chinook salmon in the Rogue River.
The decision came two weeks after Steve Beyerlin of Gold Beach outlined to Curry commissioners how spring Chinook returns have dropped precipitously since the Lost Creek, Applegate and Elk Creek dams were built in Jackson County.
Only Lost Creek still stands and it is the responsibility of the two agencies to ensure it doesn’t adversely affect fish populations downstream.
Beyerlin said Cole Rivers Hatchery was built by the Corps in 1973 to mitigate for spawning and rearing areas blocked by the construction of the dams. He also said the two agencies in charge of ensuring a successful fishery have failed to do so.
Beyerlin suggested knowledge about those regulations might have become lost in the decades since the hatchery and Lost Creek Dam were built. Federal regulations required that inundation of the river below the dam causes no damage to Chinook populations but that numbers have plummeted and the agencies have done nothing to address it.
“This is a question of the failure of the Corps contracts signed when they built that dam,” said Commissioner Chris Paasch. “The Corps is all of a sudden noticing problems with that and sending a team there this week?”
Steven Mazur, an ODFW fisheries biologist in Gold Beach, said a recent plan addresses some of those concerns, notably the dates and times hatchery fish are released so they can thrive.
“The hatchery returns are definitely down,” Mazur said of the hatchery on the Upper Rogue River. “The ODFW tried to address these issues with a plan they just completed. It spelled out the actions that have been taken in the past five years and the actions it will take. The information is out there; don’t think it’s hidden by any means.”
Paasch noted communities along the river, including Gold Beach, have lost millions of dollars in revenue because of the failure of spring Chinook salmon to return to spawn.
“There’s got to be some responsibility taken by some group to explain why they didn’t adhere to the contracts they signed and the losses we’ve had because of those failures,” he said. “It’s gone year after year without being addressed. I don’t want to say it was swept under the rug, but they know they’re not producing the number back to the hatchery that they’re supposed to. I’m not saying get our gloves and get into a fist fight, but Beyerlin’s numbers were pretty solid.”
He said he believes a letter of no confidence might prompt the agencies to address the shortcomings.
Commissioner Court Boice agreed, saying those at the local level should have a say in federal matters that affect them, as well.
Paasch did commend the ODFW but said a lot of damage has been done and that “some sort of compensation” to those affected might be due.
Mazur said he believes some concerns outlined in Beyerlin’s report might merely be misunderstandings. He said improvements have been seen since the Savage Rapids and Gold Ray dams were removed.
“The fall Chinook run is huge,” Mazur esaid of Lower Rogue harvests. “The summer steelhead is fabulous. I don’t think you want to say the whole Rogue watershed is having a bad run. I don’t think you want to say the sky is falling on Rogue fisheries.”