That 46 upper basin spring Chinook salmon have made their way to the Upper Deschutes River Basin this year is good news. It’s not, however, time to declare victory for the fish that disappeared in the mid 20th century with the completion of Round Butte and Pelton dams in Jefferson County.
The decline of anadromous (born in freshwater, matured in saltwater and returned to freshwater to spawn) fish began as far back as the late 1800s, according to a 1996 article in The Bulletin. That’s when commercial fishermen spread nets across most of the mouth of the Deschutes for the first time.
The fish disappeared from the upper river when the two dams were built on the river in Jefferson County in the 1950s and ’60s, though efforts continued to try to save them.
Now, a joint effort by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Portland General Electric to restore the fish appears to be taking hold. So far this year, more upper basin spring Chinook have returned than in the past.
This year’s numbers are the good news, and it’s certainly worth celebrating. At the same time, however, there’s plenty of work still to be done, as those involved with the restoration effort know all too well.
They know they still face an uphill battle. The salmon have been gone for decades, and declining for decades before that. Efforts to improve their upper river habitat and to make the trip to that habitat safer and more successful are still young — the first Chinook made the trip successfully in 2012 — and it’s hard to predict how successful ongoing returns will be.
For the moment, however, salmon lovers can cheer what’s happened so far, knowing the project is still very much a work in progress.
Editor’s note: This editorial has been corrected because it incorrectly described the number of returning fish.