Animal Conservation

Klamath Spring Chinook receives new state protections



A decades-long effort to protect the Chinook Spring took a big step forward last week when the California Fish and Game Commission unanimously approved listing the fish as threatened under state law on endangered species.

The June 16 decision was applauded by the Karuk Tribe and the Salmon River Restoration Council, who jointly filed a petition to register the Upper Klamath-Trinity River Spring Chinook with the commission in August 2018, supported by many new research that has shown so-called “springers” are genetically distinct from their fall counterparts.

“We are delighted that the panel has recognized the unique characteristics, cultural significance and real peril of the Klamath River Spring Chinook,” said Karuna Greenberg, Director of the Salmon River Restoration Council (SRRC). “Local tribes and activists have worked tirelessly for decades to preserve this iconic fish, and now we have a better chance of achieving that goal. ”

A cache of Spring Chinook bones – some 5,000 years old – played an important role in the research that contributed to the listing, left inside the Upper Klamath Basin caves used by the tribal fishermen for untold generations.

(Learn more about how the discovery of ancient DNA and new technology is helping to rewrite Spring Chinook’s life story in the Newspaper story, “One fish, two fish” from August 16, 2017).

The results, as Karuk chairman Russell ‘Buster’ Attebery noted in a press release on the commission’s springers list, collaborated only with the Native American tribes that live in the Klamath Basin for millennia have always known.

“These fish have different names, are used in different ceremonies, they even taste different. I’m happy to see western science finally catching up with traditional ecological knowledge,” Attebery said.

Another important step in saving the fish, which once numbered in the hundreds of thousands but are now on the verge of extinction, will be the removal of the four dams on the Klamath River, which will allow the spring climb to return to the cool, upper basin pools of their historic range for the first time in a century.

The project, the largest of its kind in U.S. history, is set to begin in 2023 after also taking a major milestone last week, with the Federal Energy Regulatory approving the transfer of the hydroelectric license from PacifiCorp to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation nonprofit. and the states of Oregon and California.

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And, for the springers, the withdrawal cannot come quickly enough.

Surveys in recent years have “only counted a few hundred individuals in the Salmon River, which is home to the last viable wild run of these fish in the Klamath Basin,” the press release said.

“We thank the Commissioners for listening to the concerns and traditional knowledge of the tribe in their decision to accept our petition. California is on the right track when it comes to working with tribes, ”said Troy Hockaday, traditional dip net fisherman and board member.

Read the June 17 press release from the Karuk Tribe and Salmon River Restoration Council below:

Sacramento, California – Today the California Fish and Game Commission unanimously decided to add Upper Klamath Trinity Spring Chinook to the list of endangered species in California.

“We are delighted that the Commission has recognized the unique characteristics, cultural significance and real peril of the Klamath River Spring Chinook,” said Karuna Greenberg, Director of the Salmon River Restoration Council (SRRC). “Local tribes and activists have worked tirelessly for decades to preserve this iconic fish, and now we have a better chance of achieving that goal. ”

The Karuk Tribe and the SRRC jointly filed a petition to register the Spring Chinook with the Commission in August 2018. The petition is based on the discovery of the genetic sequence that defines the Spring Chinook as distinct from the more abundant Fall Chinook.

This data was published in 2017 by Professor Michael Miller of UC Davis and his colleagues. Adding Chinook Salmon to HQ’s Endangered Species List will allow agencies to prioritize restoration funding and ensure that any project within the range of the fish should avoid negative impacts. on the population.

Spring chinook enter rivers in the spring when snowmelt swells rivers, allowing fish to move into the upper parts of a watershed. Then they must reside in areas of cold water all summer until they spawn and die in the fall. Fall Chinook salmon migrate to rivers in the fall where they spawn and die relatively soon after entering freshwater.

“Having two life strategies allows the Chinook to take advantage of the entire watershed instead of being limited to the upper or lower reaches,” says Toz Soto, Senior Fisheries Biologist for the Karuk Tribe. “This behavioral diversity increases the chances of long-term survival for the entire population.”

However, until Miller released his findings, the conventional wisdom of fisheries managers was that fall and spring chinook salmon were the same animal despite the differences in behavior. It was only when new scientific instruments and methods were developed that scientists were able to find the small but very significant changes in the DNA sequence that cause the two fish to have fundamentally different life histories.

The Karuk and other tribes who have relied on the Spring Chinook for their livelihood for millennia already knew that the two fish were not the same animal.

“These fish have different names, are used in different ceremonies, they even taste different. I’m happy to see that western science is finally catching up with traditional ecological knowledge, ”said Karuk President Russell ‘Buster’ Attebery.

The chinook salmon population that travels up the Klamath River in the spring once numbered in the hundreds of thousands. In recent years, investigators from the Salmon River Cooperative Spring Chinook and Summer Steelhead Population Snorkel Survey have counted only a few hundred individuals in the Salmon River, which is home to the last viable wild run of these fish in the Basin. Klamath.

“We thank the Commissioners for listening to the concerns and traditional knowledge of the tribe in their decision to accept our petition. California is on the right track when it comes to working with tribes, ”said Troy Hockaday, traditional dip-net fisherman and Karuk board member.

Spring Chinook supporters have currently circled January 2023 on their calendars. This is when the removal of the four lower dams from the Klamath River is expected to begin under a landmark agreement between dam owner PacifiCorp, California, Oregon, tribes, and conservation groups. The project would be the largest salmon restoration project in U.S. history. For Spring Chinook and the Karuk Tribe, this can’t happen soon enough. The National Marine Fisheries Service is currently reviewing a similar petition from Karuk and SRRC to register on the federal ESA.



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