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Siskiyou County Water Users comment on 'Gene research upends Klamath-Trinity Chinook history; ‘Run time gene’ rewrites narrative of spring vs fall runs'

EUREKA, Calif. — Recent research has identified a genetic variation in Klamath-Trinity spring-run Chinook salmon which is upending prevailing scientific narratives about the fish.

Scientists are calling it the “run time gene,” as it appears to be the factor which controls whether the salmon will migrate in the spring, or fall. The research, spearheaded by Daniel Prince and Michael Miller of UC Davis, is being utilized by the Karuk Tribe and the Salmon River Restoration Council in a renewed effort to list the spring Chinook salmon under the state’s Endangered Species Act. Craig Tucker, a natural resources consultant for the Karuk Tribe, said the finding may positively impact the chances for success.

Spring Chinook migrate early in the year, meaning they require habitats with cold water to spend the summer layover period until spawning season in the fall. This has made them particularly vulnerable to the dams on the Klamath River, which have severely reduced suitable areas for the spring Chinook. There are only two main areas where spring Chinook can be found, Tucker said.

“Spring Chinook used to number in the hundreds of thousands every year,” he said. “Today, it’s in the hundreds of fish — we actually count them by hand.”

Previous attempts

Despite dwindling numbers, previous attempts to list the spring Chinook under the state’s ESA have been denied in part due to the genetic similarities of fall and spring Chinook.

“Miller’s work is rewriting what we know about evolutionary history of salmon,” Tucker said. “The prevailing view was that a subset of fall run salmon formed the spring run trait, which suggested that if you killed the spring run salmon, they would eventually reproduce from the fall run.”

In essence, the fall run of Chinook salmon were viewed as a fallback if the spring run population were to disappear because it was believed that spring Chinook evolved from fall Chinook in every river, said Tasha Thompson, one of the researchers involved in the findings.

“The divergence is obviously ancient,” Thompson said. “Finding the spring run gene arose from a single evolutionary event means that if (spring Chinook) are lost, we can’t expect them to just evolve (from the fall run Chinook).”

Common knowledge

The idea that the spring Chinook is distinctly different from its fall run counterpart may be catching on in the world of western science, but it’s nothing new to the Karuk Tribe. In a recent article published by Science Magazine, Leaf Hillman, who is described as “a ceremonial leader of California’s Karuk Tribe,” said the recent revelation has long been common knowledge.

“This is what we’ve always known,” he said, “that the spring Chinook is not the same animal as the fall Chinook.”

Karuna Greenberg, restoration director at the Salmon River Restoration Council, said previous management efforts have failed to benefit spring Chinook, stating that the danger of permanent loss of the spring Chinook is a real threat.

“There are lots of reasons why spring Chinook need to get the protection, and funding (for restoration work) that listing would allow,” she said. “I’m really happy to be a part of this … SRRC was really formed around spring Chinook.”

The California Fish and Game Commission will hold a hearing on Feb. 6 in Sacramento to discuss the petition to list spring Chinook under the ESA.

“It’s critical to act now and save this important fish,” Greenburg said. “We’re trying to do everything we can.”

President Richard Marshall

The response would be that until the results can be verified by another biological team it is just another opinion research report.   The words used by the study authors are couched in words that indicate they think they have found the “timing” gene. So even they aren’t sure. 

However even if they are correct it doesn’t change the issue re dam removal as the Salmon still can’t jump the natural impediments in the Klamath.  Also because the Spring Salmon are according to the study more susceptible to water temperature ie they need cold water it doesn’t make sense they would go to the shallower warmer waters of the Klamath lake.  It makes more sense that they would populate the colder waters in the Salmon and Klamath that are in the mountainous areas where the  colder water is located and below the Dams.

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Comment by

The article I had read in 'favor' of the study also carried the implication that the author was motivated from the beginning to find such a 'distinction'.  It also read that the weakly inferred differences were far less certain in association or effect to 'run timing' than the environmentalists and Tribes for whom it appeared designed  have later portrayed for supporting an endangered listing, which they were enthusiastically poised to sue for.  It's neither here nor there, but ironic how Lief Hillman, who's greatest accomplishments were as a convicted meth drug mule, spousal abuser, and pot grower, is now the 'Tribal leader' expert in spiritual and tribal historic 'knowledge' of physically identical and overlapping salmon run 'fall' and 'spring' difference , However, I also agree with Richard that, true or not, the study also acknowledges that virtually all spring runs and salmon assessed were related to the Trinity, not the mid Klamath, though the Tribal articles try using the single study opinion to tie them together to the dams removal for obvious reasons. 
In my ignorance, I have felt for a some time that a genetic 'revelation' will one day be recognized that, throughout the millennia, surviving species had to have genetically adapted and evolved to accommodate countless ever changing environmental conditions and extremes.  The older the species, the greater the encountered variables and adaptations they had to genetically accommodate.  Those 'legacy' genes remain within that genetic structure should those conditions reappear, generationally reactivating expression of those dormant genes when needed and increasing future odds of survival compared to the happenstance of random genetic mutation. If that is so, the implication is that all regional salmon likely have those genes, but only the ones 'sampled' currently have those genes expressed.  If true, the article's original assumption of later salmon adaptability to accommodate increased available habitat would still be true.


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