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Dam Good News: More Barriers are Coming Down and Rivers Stand to Benefit

Plus another tragic loss, a new dam, a Yellowstone River closure, bonefish research, mangrove restoration, and more in Fly Fisherman's News Briefs for June 26, 2024.

Dam Good News: More Barriers are Coming Down and Rivers Stand to Benefit
The removal of Kellogg Dam in Oregon's Willamette River drainage will open up 17 miles of stream and bring about the restoration of 15 acres of floodplain habitat that will ultimately benefit runs of salmon and steelhead. (Photo courtesy of Jodie Robinson/NOAA)

The summer solstice has arrived in recent days along with June’s famed strawberry full moon. And while the Northern Rockies got a fairly hefty snowfall recently, big swaths of the U.S. are baking in the early summer heat as runoff winds down, water temps warm, and some of the year’s top hatches take place.

As you reach for the sunscreen and polarized shades, here's the latest edition of Fly Fisherman News Briefs:

NOAA Partners with American Rivers for Kellogg Dam Removal

In a $15 million award to American Rivers, a multi-faceted project that will bring about removal of Oregon's Kellogg Dam, open up 17 miles of stream; and bring about the restoration of 15 acres of floodplain habitat that will ultimately benefit runs of salmon and steelhead, is on its way to becoming a reality according to a NOAA news release.

Specifically, NOAA officials note that the dam removal work at the mouth of Kellogg Creek, a tributary of Oregon's Lower Willamette River—a major tributary of the Columbia River—will help threatened Upper Willamette River Chinook salmon and steelhead populations, Lower Columbia River coho, and Pacific lamprey thanks to the restored access to upstream spawning and rearing habitat.

“The dam was built in 1858—the same year Abraham Lincoln was running for the Senate—and ceased to operate 40 years later,” says Megan Hilgart, Marine Habitat Resource Specialist for the NOAA Restoration Center, in a news release. “It’s basically been limiting fish passage and backing up stagnant water for 125 years. There are traces of Chinook and coho salmon upstream, but nothing compared to how many should be there.”

Those population traces come through a poorly functioning fish ladder on the dam, something that salmon and steelhead struggle to get by. The shallow 15-acre impoundment behind the dam, known locally as Kellogg Lake, doesn't help either as it has been filled by sediment over the decades and creates high temperature stress on salmon that enter the lake, altering their behavior and changing metabolism levels.

Taking the dam out will allow adult salmon to get to upstream spawning habitat, decrease water temperature issues, and restore the natural hydrologic process and sediment transfer. Project officials note that it will also allow for the replacement of the 90-year old Kellogg Creek Bridge, which will be replaced by a pedestrian underpass that will connect to the Lower Willamette River waterfront.

"This project has so many benefits: cultural, community quality of life, and environmental,” said April McEwen, Kellogg Project Manager and American Rivers’ Northwest Dam Removal Program Director. “It will restore connectivity between diverse habitats for people and wildlife, increase community resiliency by transforming a pond full of sediment and trash to a highly functional river ecosystem with keystone species, and build sustainable infrastructure that can withstand the threats forecasted with climate change.”

According to NOAA, the project—which will be co-led by the Oregon Department of Transportation, the North Clackamas Watersheds Council, and the City of Milwaukie—will have other benefits that include a sub-grant to "...directly integrate perspectives from traditionally underserved community members into the project development process. Students from the nearby Milwaukie High School will participate in monitoring research projects related to the restoration work and learn workforce development skills they could use in environmental jobs."

That helps the work become a true win-win project for the local region.

“Giving back to the community and providing young people with opportunities through the projects I manage is personally important to me,” said McEwen, whom the news release indicates grew up in a poor rural area and secured her first “real job” as a teenager working as a river guide. “It only takes a little bit of extra care to create a big impact for the youth workforce. Local partners like the North Clackamas Watersheds Council have been critical for engaging in-depth with community organizations, facilitating citizen science, and creating real-world learning and laboratory opportunities with the Milwaukie high and middle schools.”

Pending Washington State Dam Removal Hailed

First looks don't always tell the entire story, and the picturesque Kwoneesum Dam and reservoir region above Washougal, Wash. is a prime example of that during its six decades of postcard inspiring views.

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In reality, though, the dam has brought about habitat destruction and native fish species loss more than good, a result now destined to change with removal of the dam by summer's end according to The Columbian newspaper site

In a recent ceremony celebrating the dam's removal in the remote area, the work of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and the Columbia Land Trust was honored by a group of tribal leaders, CLT representatives, local government officials, and Washington State Rep. Paul Harri (R-Vancouver).

“Welcome to our cathedral. It has changed quite a bit. Sort of like Notre Dame, it’s under repair,” said Tanna Engdahl, the tribe's spiritual leader, in the news story. “I call this a vanity lake, created for a very small segment of the population. Its use is long past its privilege date. Bringing it down will serve a greater community and a greater need in nature.”

The dam's removal, while complicated and time consuming, will necessitate several steps. First, all of the water in the reservoir will be pumped out and sent to other streams and creeks. Then, wildlife—including salmon—will have to be captured and held for relocation or reintroduction. After that, the silt and sediment build up at the bottom of the lakebed behind the dam will have to be removed prior to the elimination of all of the concrete utilized in the construction of the dam, spillway and water control structures.

"It’s going to be the fourth-largest dam removal in Washington state’s history,” said Pete Barber, the tribe's restoration ecologist, concerning the dam removal and dewatering effort.

With a complex regional history dating back to 1902 with the Yacolt Burn and the loss of all of the old-growth forests in the area, Barber says that loggers back then hoped to salvage old growth trees and used splash dams (temporary wooden dams) to raise water levels and provide an aquatic highway for the logs to be sent downstream. 

That was followed by construction of the dam in 1965 when the Camp Fire Girls organization reportedly created a recreational lake for summer camps. That continued until the late 1980s when the land was sold to a timber company.

“The dam … essentially blocked all of the transport of wood, sediment, the chemicals moving downstream that benefit bugs," Barber was quoted in the story written by Columbia staff writer Shari Phiel. "Essentially, they cut off the lifeblood of this lower watershed."

After the land went up for sale several years ago, work by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and the Columbia Land Trust seized an open window opportunity in 2020 with public and private sector fundraising leading to the purchase of the 1,300 acre site. 

Now comes the dewatering effort and dam removal, moves that will help restore 6.5 miles of vital stream habitat needed by coho salmon and winter and summer steelhead that will spawn and rear their young in that reclaimed habitat. 

With an anticipated $5 million dollar price tag, the dam's removal will restore Wildboy Creek. Since that creek flows into the Washougal River, Meg Rutledge of the Columbia Land Trust notes that all of this work will ultimately benefit the Columbia River and its own imperiled native fish stocks.

All Water Guides Family Suffers Tragic Loss

Alvin Dedeaux of Austin, Texas is one of the nation's top fly fishing guides, an immensely popular YouTube personality, a brand ambassador for such industry stalwarts as YETI and Howler Brothers, and head man of the All Water Guides service that puts clients on largemouth bass in the Colorado River, Guadalupe bass in the Texas Hill Country, rainbow trout in the Guadalupe River, and redfish and speckled trout on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Dedeaux and the All Water Guides extended family suffered an incalculable loss last week when Alvin's wife, Lenee, passed away after a battle with cancer.

"It is with sadness that we share the news of the passing of Lenée Dedeaux, who was recently diagnosed with liver cancer," wrote Leo Artalejo, organizer of a GoFundMe crowdfunding platform fundraising effort for the Dedeaux family. "Lenée was a devoted mother and wife to her family of five, a creative talent, a lifelong student and a business owner. Above all, she was the foundation of the Dedeaux family. Her love, strength, and organizational talent enabled her family members to pursue their own passions and adventures. She was loved by those fortunate to know her.

"Many of us have also been touched by Lenée's husband, Alvin. His extraordinary talent as a fishing guide is matched by his lighthearted laugh and the twinkle in his eye. You may remember him as the frontman of Bad Mutha Goose, or more recently through his generous sharing of fishing knowledge on social media. Together, Alvin and Lenée owned and operated All Water Guides. As the operations manager, Lenée was the driving force that allowed Alvin to excel as a world-class guide. Now, Alvin and his family need our support as they navigate the realities of Lenée's passing.”

Several hundred people and a few fly fishing companies have contributed notably to this fundraising effort as of this writing. Alvin addressed his deep, personal loss over the weekend and acknowledged that despite AWG becoming one of the Lone Star State’s best with several different fly fishing guides operating within the Hill Country region, he isn’t quite sure what the future looks like for himself and his three daughters Mila, Sadie, and Ruby.

If you'd like to help the Dedeaux family during their time of heartbreaking loss, you can do so at the GoFundMe page noted above. 

Emergency Closure on Portion of Yellowstone River

A man fishing at the former Carbella Bridge on the Yellowstone River.
The combination of high water and heavy construction has led to Montana FWP to declare the Yellowstone River closed between the Joe Brown Fishing Access Site and the Carbella BLM Boat Ramp. (Josh Bergan photo)

The combination of high water and heavy construction has led to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department (FWP) to declare the Yellowstone River closed for the time being in terms of any floating recreation between the Joe Brown Fishing Access Site and the Carbella BLM Boat Ramp in Park County.

According to the closure order, done under the authority given to FWP, the closure will continue from the time of its implementation on May 22, 2024, and continue on "...until the heavy construction activity occurring over the waterway is completed and the department determines that the river segment is again safe for floating recreation activities."

FWP indicates that this rule does not implement a closure of either the Joe Brown Fishing Access Site or the Carbella BLM site, but only limits access for floating recreation between the two locations referenced above.

Wyoming’s Proposed West Fork Dam Size Now in Flux

The proposed West Fork Dam, a controversial effort in the Medicine Bow National Forest found in Wyoming's Carbon County, is now in flux according to a report by WyoFile.

Currently a planned 264-foot high concrete structure, the size of the dam is now being debated as federal environmental analysts wrestle with the project's economic cost as well as its effects on conservation. 

The effects of the dam as currently planned would flood 130 acres and would hold back 10,000-acre-feet of water on a headwaters tributary of the Colorado River Basin, an imperiled river system that supports 40 million people even though drought and climate change makes that more difficult with the passage of time.

And while the dam's reservoir would reportedly hold enough water to supply 20,000 households, WyoFile reports that according to state and federal documents, that water "...would be used principally to benefit a few dozen irrigators."

With proposed releases flowing down Battle Creek to irrigators in Wyoming and Colorado, the plan is under much public scrutiny and is creating plenty of controversy about benefits, impacts, and such. According to the WyoFile report, the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service’s recent analysis and study of the project shows that some parts of it are uneconomical.

While some alternatives are being considered, Shawn Follum, an engineer with the NRCS says some of those possibilities being looked at from the environmental impact statement aren't economically viable and offer no net benefit to the government.

Meaning that with the dam's proposed size and water release usage plans is now in flux, meaning that change could be in the wind in the weeks and months ahead.

“There’s a possibility of maybe changing the scope of that dam a little bit as we’re going through some of the economics," said Follum.

Pandion to Make Meko Film 100% Carbon Neutral

A full length documentary film hitting the fly fishing film festival circuit might not be all that unique these days, even if the subject matter—in this case, Bahamian fly fishing guide Omeko "Meko" Glinton and his lifelong dream of owning and operating his own lodge—is in fact, a unique story.

A Bahamian guide wading ankle deep with a client who is stripping fly line.
A mangrove habitat restoration project is aimed at supporting the northern Bahamas' flats fishery and has a goal of mass mangrove replanting after Dorian in September 2019–the worst natural disaster in Bahamian history.

What makes the film Meko and its production even more unique than the story, however, is a partnership between director Harrison Buck, his production studio Pandion Creative, and Bonefish & Tarpon Trust

Some seven years in the making, the film explores how Glinton's world was turned upside down in the fly fishing for bonefish capitol of the world when destructive Hurricane Dorian ravaged the Bahama's Outer Islands. It also explores the recovery work after the Category Five storm, an effort aimed at helping restore this fly fishing paradise dotted by some of the world's best bonefish flats.

In telling the story of Meko, and the recovery that is ongoing, Buck reportedly became curious about how his production team's carbon footprint could be mitigated. 

"Science and conservation are at the heart of our mission and to be able to circle back and make our production carbon neutral was huge for us," said Buck in a news release. "The fact that we were able to do so with a partner like BTT was a fantastic fit. It would have been really easy to find a company that would offset our carbon footprint but in a non-relevant setting to our team and production. To be able to plant mangroves on Grand Bahama, the island where we made most of our impact, was ideal.”

Jim McDuffie, BTT's president and CEO, agreed.

"Generations of conservationists have long sought to leave only footprints in wild places, but today we must also be mindful of our carbon footprints," said McDuffie. "We appreciate the commitment made by Harrison Buck and Pandion Creative to do just that with their financial support to BTT's mangrove restoration project in The Bahamas." 

If this unique story—which is told with help from Oakwood—seems to have multiple layers, that’s entirely correct.

“We have all along been trying to make a film that is far away from the industry standard of being fish-landing-focused," said Buck. "We have a story about a man, his family and legacy and all that their community has gone through. There is a little bit of something for everyone to resonate with on a human level.”

Incidentally, that mangrove habitat restoration work referenced above is aimed at supporting the northern Bahamas' flats fishery and has an ambitious goal of mass mangrove replanting after Dorian’s unwelcome arrival in September 2019, a storm that proved to be the worst natural disaster in Bahamian history. 

In addition to the loss of life and infrastructure, the island nation also suffered a terrible loss of mangroves, something that serves as a buffer against storms and their deadly surge, helping to prevent coastal erosion, and providing critical habitat for bonefish and many other fish and marine species. 

To date, the multi-year mangrove restoration work has seen a total of 70,000 mangroves planted by BTT and others. Using donations, working through various partnerships, and utilizing the work of students, fishing guides, and volunteers, the ultimate goal of the Bahamas Mangrove Restoration Project is to plant as many as 1 million mangroves.

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust Advance Bonefish Spawning Research in Florida Keys

Building on previous work in the Upper Florida Keys, biologists with Bonefish & Tarpon Trust recently made a first of its kind discovering in the most southern reaches of Florida’s saltwater paradise.

That discovery came about during the 2023-24 bonefish spawning season, a season where BTT scientists documented a suspected pre-spawning aggregation (PSA) site near Key West, Fla. 

That discovery built on the organization's previous work in the Upper Keys, work that documented a bonefish PSA there in 2023. In both instances, the first of its kind discoveries in Florida waters are hopeful signs that the species continues to recover there after a decades long slide in the wrong direction.

Two guys measuring a bonefish in a round blue net.
Two recent bonefish pre-spawning aggregation site discoveries in Florida waters are hopeful signs that the species continues to recover there after a decades long slide in the wrong direction. (Photo courtesy of Ian Wilson)

“Finding these nearshore areas where bonefish school by the thousands before migrating offshore to spawn in deep water is essential for their conservation,” said Jim McDuffie, BTT President and CEO, in a news release. “As our science team continues to identify these sites, we will work with our state and federal partners to ensure that they are protected, ensuring a healthy future for one of Florida’s most iconic fish species.”

The conservation organization notes that during the course of the 2023-2024 bonefish spawning season (from October to April), a total of 44 bonefish were tagged with acoustic transmitters through the efforts of BTT Florida Keys Initiative Director Dr. Ross Boucek and his team. That work  took place from the Marquesas to Sawyer Key and came about with the help of Florida Keys fishing guides. 

BTT also notes that its scientists deployed another 37 acoustic receivers on the reef tract, something that will allow them to monitor and record bonefish spawning movements in the region.

“We documented seven spawning events during the 2023-2024 spawning season,” Boucek said. “Four bonefish tagged with archival depth measuring tags spawned during these events; three of the four fish recorded maximum depths of 332 feet, 310 feet, 302 feet. The fourth fish recorded a maximum depth of 180 feet on its first possible spawning or false spawning attempt. The recorded spawning depth of approximately 300 feet is consistent between the Upper Key spawning site and the suspected spawning site near Key West, and with recorded spawning events in The Bahamas.”

According to BTT, previous work in both Florida and the Bahamas shows that bonefish reproduce by migrating 70 miles or more from their home ranges to these nearshore PSA sites, a migration that happens during full and new moon cycles. They reportedly prepare to spawn by porpoising at the surface and gulping air to fill their swim bladders.

At night, they swim offshore and dive hundreds of feet according to BTT, prior to surging back to the surface. BTT officials believe that this sudden change in pressure as they ascend through the water column allows them to make their swim bladders expand and release their eggs and sperm. After fertilization, BTT says that the eggs hatch in about 24 hours and the larvae drifts in ocean currents for a time frame ranging from 41 to 71 days before they settle onto sand or mud bottoms in shallow bays. That final resting spot is where they develop into juvenile bonefish.

Using an infrastructure loan of $80,000 to acquire necessary tracking equipment, the organization’s goal is to further document the areas used by spawning bonefish along with determining whether or not they preferentially use living coral habitats.

“Our long-term goals are to conserve the reproductive cycle of our growing bonefish in the Florida Keys,” said Dr. Boucek in the news release. “We still need to know where spawning occurs across the Keys, what threats like habitat loss those spawning fish might face, where their larvae go, and the habitats the juveniles need to ensure that our new population of bonefish can reach their full potential.”

Michigan DNR Euthanizes Diseased Atlantic Salmon

It's a bit of a good news, bad news scenario here with the recent announcement that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources had to euthanize a little more than 31,000 Atlantic salmon that were sick with bacterial kidney disease (BKD).

BKD is a bacterial disease that is known to cause mortality in both trout and salmon according to the Michigan DNR news release. It is lethal enough that it is thought to be the primary culprit behind declines in the Great Lakes Chinook salmon population back in the mid-1980s.

According to state officials, in early April, routine prestocking inspection work of fish being reared at the Harrietta State Fish Hatchery in Wexford County found that the disease was present. Staff at the Michigan State University Aquatic Animal Health Lab reportedly noted signs of active disease and confirmed the presence of Renibacterium salmoninarum, the bacterium that causes BKD. Following that, a prescribed 28-day antibiotic treatment was completed on the 31,000 salmon, but the treatment wasn't fully effective in getting rid of the infection as subsequent analysis showed.

“The bacteria that causes bacterial kidney disease is listed as a Level 1 restricted pathogen in the Model Program for Fish Health Management in the Great Lakes,” said DNR Fisheries Division Assistant Chief Ed Eisch. “Fish that are positive for Level 1 restricted pathogens can be stocked where the pathogen is already known to exist, but only if they are free of signs of disease. This lot of fish still shows signs of active BKD so they cannot be stocked.” 

That continued disease presence noted above eventually led to the decision to euthanize the affected salmon.

“These fish were sick enough that a significant portion of the fish were not feeding well,” said Aaron Switzer, DNR Fish Production Manager. “That means that the antibiotic, which was mixed in with their feed, was not being eaten at the rate necessary to eliminate the pathogen.”

If that's the bad news, then the good news is that DNR officials note there are other Atlantic salmon stockings in the state since the Harrietta hatchery facility isn't the only one that rears the species for stocking into Michigan waters. The Platte River State Fish Hatchery west of Traverse City, Mich. also rears Atlantic salmon, and its efforts have provided 15,883 salmon to Torch Lake; 25,000 salmon to the Au Sable River; 25,000 salmon to Thunder Bay River in Alpena; 40,000 salmon in Lake Huron's Lexington Harbor; and some 27,000 salmon to the St. Mary's River at Sault Ste. Marie. 

"Having to make the decision to dispose of these diseased fish hurt, but it was clearly the right thing to do,” said Eisch. “The Atlantic salmon fishery is highly valued, but first and foremost, we have a public trust responsibility to protect the aquatic resources of the state of Michigan. Stocking fish known to be actively suffering a disease outbreak would be counter to that.”


Lynn Burkhead is a Senior Digital Editor with Outdoor Sportsman Group. 




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