Biologists are ‘cautiously optimistic’ about year’s big returns of fall chinook to the Hood River

A salmon in the Hood River just outside of downtown.

Photo by Adam Lapierre.
A salmon in the Hood River just outside of downtown.

This year, fall chinook have returned to the Columbia River in numbers that astound sportsmen and fish biologists alike.

According to the fish counter at Bonneville Dam, 952,878 adult fall chinook have passed over the dam this year, well above last year’s total of 350,065. The 2013 tally has also walloped the 10-year average for adult fall chinook at Bonneville Dam, listed at 388,693.

Those walking on the pedestrian bridge down by the mouth of the Hood River in recent weeks have been treated to the incredible sight of legions of fall chinook wriggling in the water to spawn, and soon after, die.

The sight of the squirming salmon brings great joy to Rod French, district fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in The Dalles who monitors the chinook, which are listed as threatened.

“We’re ecstatic about it,” he said of the fall chinook run. “We’ve had some phenomenal returns.”

French said the tributaries of the Columbia have been “teeming with fall chinook,” and noted the counts on the Deschutes River were “excellent” and exhibited a high population of wild fish as opposed to hatchery fish.

On the Hood River, it’s harder to tell just how well the run has gone. French said ODFW doesn’t have any traps on the Hood for counting fall chinook, so the number of returns is unknown. ODFW used to count fish that went over Powerdale Dam, which was located approximately 4.5 miles up the Hood, but the dam was removed in 2010.

Moreover, French noted the fall chinook present in the Hood “could be a high percentage of hatchery fish,” due to the proximity of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery across the Columbia in Underwood. He explained those hatchery fish have had a tendency to “stray” into the Hood and that hatchery fish are less fit and less resistant to disease than wild fish.

However, French said the run did look impressive on the Hood.

“Just in my observations in my 20 years, I haven’t seen them in this density,” he said of the fall chinook.

French explained that this year’s prodigious run of fall chinook could be for a variety of reasons. According to French, more water has been allowed to spill over Bonneville Dam this year, meaning fewer chinook have to swim through the dam’s turbines, ensuring a greater chance of survival. He added that good ocean conditions have also likely contributed to the sharp increase in numbers.

Whatever the case may be, French said this year’s run makes him “cautiously optimistic” about the future of the species, but added that the “recovery is far from over.”

“It’s one year,” he said. “We want to see it for many years.”

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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