Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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#11 In the van,
Tribal Resource Specialist Don Gentry
Barb Hall: In 2001, we were up there, and that’s the…
Don Gentry: There is lay low spring right there.
Barb: I know, but I can’t remember the name of the river that goes through the ranch.
Another woman: They stay up there.
Don: No, they migrate back and forth. There are some…
Barb: I thought they couldn’t get through the dam.
Don: Oh they can. Now see, that’s one of the misperceptions about the whole thing is… I think folks thought that that was a real significant… I mean it’s not that it isn’t a problem, you know.
Barb: Well, now this was in the middle of the summer. They only go upstream to spawn in the spring, right?
Don: Well, if they’re the large-scale suckers, they’ll be the resident river fish.
Barb: Well, I don’t know if they were long scale of the lost river.
Don: Yeah, the large-scale are the ones that aren’t in danger. The reason why is they do have river populations, and they’re kind of distributed throughout the basis.
Barb: Okay. These could have been long scale instead.
Don: …and depending on the time of the season, you know, the Lost Rivers will migrate clear up as far as Beatty. They put radio tags on them and got them right there near Charlie Mountain, where Bill was talking about, at the spring at the old Weyerhaeuser Sycan shop there. So, they’ve monitored Lost Rivers going clear up that far, so it takes a while for them to migrate back down through the system, so depending on when you’re talking about too… If there were a large number of them, in like the midsummer, I would suspect that they’re large-scale.
Barb: Well, in 2001 I didn’t even know what a sucker looked like.
Bob Flowers: Cuz, you’re the same age I am, from your memory, to what extent was the sucker fishery utilized by the tribes in that time?
Don: It was dropped down quite a bit, you know, even since I moved back. From ’69 to ’86, it had dropped down quite a bit.
Bob: Yea, but what did they use them for?
Don: We ate them!! I used to take them to my to my wife’s grandmother… …ate the eggs.
Bob: But, it was firstly, within the tribes, consumed, right?
Don: Oh yeah! It wasn’t sold on the markets. Ah, no, well actually some of the tribal members, when they were kids, my dad used to catch them and sell them to non-tribal members and tribal alike through the community for…
Bob: Fertilizer, I know they used to do that.
Don: No, he sold them for just a few cents, quarter, two bits, you know, because people ate them. They lived on them. They ate them. My dad grew up on the river. He was a fisherman on the river. He lived down below the rapids there, and they caught and ate suckers all his life. They used to split them and dry them right at his place. When I moved back here in ’69, tribal members were down there at the dam, catching them and eating them right on the river.
Bob: At the Chiloquin dam?
Don: At the Chiloquin dam.
Bob: You see, ah from the late ‘60s up to a lot of the ‘70s, I lived down on the river. That mullet fishing was awesome. But, we never saw any tribes at all. The fact is it was kind of a non-thing is that there were none. Your saying that all of the tribal fishing was done up at the Chiloquin dam?
Don: No, it wasn’t all done there. There were people there. I mean tribal members were up at the dam, at the rapids, down at what they call the Sportsman’s Access Park now.
Barb: Yeah, but how about at Olene there on the Lost River?
Bob: Oh that was all pretty much done by then.
Don: It subsided.
Bob: But as a rule, it was almost all consumed within the tribe, outside of maybe a few hundred fish? Would that be fair?
Don: Well, I don’t know about that. I don’t know the numbers.
Barb: There was quite a big sports fishery.
Bob: Oh, it was huge. You can’t believe how huge it was.
Barb: Right, so you’ve got to think that there were quite a few that were caught that way.
Bob: No, we’re just trying to figure out how many suckers… …if the tribe was utilizing them as a main food source.
Don: You know, as far as the amount, I can just say, I mean, I ate them, I mean, as far as the amount, how it compared to…
Bob: Do you figure every tribal member ate them at that time?
Don: Well, there’s a lot, but I can’t say every tribal member ate… I mean, Termination had an effect on things too where people had money and stuff.
Bob: They changed their food types. That’s what I mean.
Don: But it’s still, I guess, one of the things…
Bob: I mean I never felt it was right that they cut the tribal use of the suckerfish off. I never thought it was justified to the point, especially when it was such a huge mullet fishery, sucker fishery, however you want to refer to it, to that point, and then all of a sudden they shut it all off completely.
Don: Well, actually, the tribes shut themselves off in 1986 before the fish were listed because of elders on the Klamath Indian Game Commission, who were really aware that the numbers were dwindling. I even saw it in my lifetime, you know, between 1969 when I came back, until when they were shut off in the early ‘80s, you know, I saw the numbers really dwindle.
Bob: I seen the sizes seemed to be small, as I recall.
Don Well, back in the early ’80, when there was a lot of concern about the fish before they were endangered, we actually did a creel census to see how many people were fishing and stuff. That is how some of the numbers were generated that were in some of the slides, and I started handling the fish. We started looking at the fish in the ladders and doing some tagging and recapture. We wanted to see how many of the fish were coming back the next year spawning, and because we had a concern about it, we started to collect some data and information. At that time, nobody else was. The State of Oregon, even though they had a fishery for it, they really didn’t know the impact of their harvesting on the fish. Nobody really knew completely what the problems were. So, we started to do some population work at the dams. We did some pretty extensive electrofishing and tagging and doing capture and recaptures and monitoring the fish that passed through the dams. We’d actually block off the ladder and net the fish out and determine the species and weight them, measure them, tag them, all those things, and those times, that was not too long after I came to work for the tribe in the early mid-80s, the fish that we were seeing were all old. The average age of the fish at that time was 20+ years old.
Bob: What was the average size, do you recall?
Don: A lot of them, I can’t remember the size, but they were big, I mean, they were pretty big fish, but being all old, a lot of them were partially blind or completely blind. All lot of them had the snag scars from the treble hooks, a lot of them had (45) marks. You could tell the females were really old because their (46) was just pretty worn away, and that was a lot of the concern about the fish, not only were people noticing the numbers going down, but they were seeing all old fish, which kind of gives you an idea that recruitment back into the population wasn’t happening. What would happen if you got a bunch of old fish and never got any young ones back into the population; that could be pretty drastic overnight. That was a lot of the concern, and a lot of the concern still today is not only just the sheer number of fish, but recruitment into the population. It has to be successful, and it sounds like they noted some recruitment back into the population in ’91 by monitoring and seen some back in there, but prior to that time, we didn’t see anything but old fish in the ladders, the ladders at the Chiloquin dam.
Bob: I’m fairly familiar with the studies after the fact.
Horsley: Do you have fish counts then from that ladder at the Chiloquin dam, a record of those fish counts?
Don: Fish counts? I’m sure that they’re on record. I know that was the information that was used when they were considering possibly listing the fish. But see, the State of Oregon kind of started taking that over too, and then the US Fish and Wildlife got involved, and then everybody was working together, tagging and collecting, and trying to determine the populations of the fish.
woman: I went on a tour of the Chiloquin dam with the Bureau, and they said that the Fish and Wildlife figured it was 95% of the habitat was blocked from the Chiloquin dam, and then I noticed that they all voted unanimously that that was a big problem. I am wondering why you feel like it is not big problem?
Don: Well, one of the guys from the Fish and Wildlife that’s there, Mark Mutner, we were there monitoring the fish going through the ladders before. I think the confusion is is there was an early report when there was a fish trap that was put up at the top of the ladder and not realizing that the fish would be shy of that trap… They would not go into that trap. It just didn’t seem natural for them to go into that trap, so some of the reports were that they weren’t monitoring the fish going into that trap up at the ladder, so I think that was part of the confusion that there was no fish passage above the Chiloquin dam. Well every year, I mean, and even during those years, we were catching the fish even in the upper parts of the ladders, and I’ve got a picture of Elwood when he was a lot thinner, up there when we were actually measuring and tagging those fish, back in the early ‘80s clear up in the top ladders; they were getting through, and after we tagged and marked the fish, we actually put them up above the dam to make sure, since we felt we were stressing them and handling them and so forth, and they monitored the fish moving through the ladders with radio tags. They put radio tags on the fish. All that data is available and information. They monitored them clear up into Kirk springs.
woman: So, it’s weird, because I asked Mr. Karden, and he said that they’re not counting the fish. They don’t have even a count of the fish, and it sounds like…
Don Well, see if you think about a … They’re trying to… You try to do the best you can as far as population estimates.
woman: But I mean, he said they haven’t even funded counting how many fish are being blocked or how many they think could go through, or if there is…
Don: Yeah, but I don’t think there is an actual fish counter. I do know that once a week they would come into the ladders. They would tag the fish. They would monitor them. They were doing that; they still do that. As far as getting reliable population estimates from that, maybe that is where he might be balking, because you’re not counting exactly all the fish.
woman: But you are counting them.
Don: Yeah, you’re counting and recording the number of the fish. I know that information is available. If you are talking population estimates of the fish in the Basin, there are a lot of problems.
woman No, at the dam. That is what I was asking him, and he just said they haven’t funded them. They didn’t even know if they would be funded this coming year on counting them, which we thought was weird, after all these millions of dollars, that they are not even counting them. I don’t know…
Don:: The USGS folks have been doing that, Rich Shivley's people have been doing that every year, so maybe the US Fish and Wildlife applied for a grant or funding to count, and they didn’t get the money to do it, but the USGS has been doing it. In terms of populations, there are a lot of problems trying to do estimates of populations. We noticed that right from the very start, when we were trying to monitor the populations, you know, not every fish comes back every year. So, if you were to do a capture-recapture estimate by tagging fish, releasing them, and then recapturing them… There is actually a formula and from the recaptures you can kind of figure out an estimate. Well, there are problems with that, I mean, if the fish don’t come back every year, and …
Don: Well, that is one of the things that we said if there is a decision to retain the ladders, that we need to have some good fish counters in there, because it is a good source of data and information. But, one of the main concerns is the habitat upstream. If things are so degraded up stream, I mean, you might pull the dam out and whatever…But, I mean, how much are you really going to improve the population of the fish. There are a lot of problems with the quality of the habitat upstream.
Horsley: It seems to me like it would be better to improve the passage to there...
Don: Yeah. Well, we know places like Whiskey Creek… There is a tribal family that we have been working for on a restoration project, 2 tribal members and a non-tribal member, on one part of that Whiskey Creek. The suckers used to come up there by the hundreds and spawn, just right on the family property. They could walk out their back door. Their property was actually sitting in an old village site, their home is. They would see those fish there every year. We know there are places they would spawn that they haven’t been coming back to for one reason or another.
Horsley:: With or without the Chiloquin dam?
Don Yeah, with or without the Chiloquin dam. I was talking to Del Smith, Jr. He might be about 3 years older than me, but he talks about… This is well after the Chiloquin dam, you know. This was within the last 20 years; he talked about all the suckers that used to be in there and are no longer coming back into that particular area. I was pretty pleased to see myself… I do a lot of trout fishing. That one picture of the young boy holding the trout is my grandson. We happened to catch those trout this year. When I was catching trout… A lot of times, the trout would come in and try to suck up those sucker eggs, and some of the places where I have been fishing and really haven’t snagged suckers very often, this last spring, I snagged several Lost River Suckers and landed them, and they were pretty young ones, and I suspect from the population, the little bit of recruitment we had in the early ‘90s in there; I found some younger ones in really good shape. But, I can say that I just remember when I was fishing down there, all of the suckers that would just be jumping all over the place when I was trout fishing. You just don’t see that like you used to.
Bob: Yeah, they roll…
Don: So, I’m not a biologist… Larry would be the best to talk to, but I know they are looking at more than just the sheer number of fish. They are looking at age classes, and consistent recruitment, and those issues are pretty important.
Bob: What do you feel the tie in would be when they keep wanting to open all these, per se, wet lands, habitat, whatever on the edge of the lake, and the studies haven’t really been conclusive that … A real, I would say, breeding ground for the predator fish that have been introduced sucker fry what are the chances of just advocating breach create all those extra open ground could be a deterrent because of the predator fish that would be moved into there?
Don Well, actually part of the reason why they came up with the lake elevations they did, wasn’t so much… I mean it is a part of it, a concern about maintaining water quality and dilute nutrients in the lake… But, one of the concerns was to keep the water into the marsh and wetland vegetation down there because they need that to escape from these predators that you are talking about. They’re were studies…
Bob: The crappie, the perch, and …
Don: There are fathead minnows. Well, there are chubs and yellow perch and all these other species that aren’t native to the area, but it’s critical for them to have hiding cover. In other words, have water into the vegetation, so they can escape those predators. They did some research in a lab, and they also went out in the field and monitored the importance of that cover, that vegetation, the tules and the rushes and the cattails.
Barb: You’re saying that the US Fish and Wildlife did these studies or the tribe?
Don: Our biologist did these studies in the lab. He went out in the field to replicate some, and now they are doing more. The USGS is doing more of those kinds of studies down there, monitoring where the fish are, and…
Barb: Yeah, they are always out in the river, the lake.
Don: Yeah, so those delta-marsh wetlands… I mean, right now at the lower Williamson River, which used to be a marsh, wetland, delta type area, rearing habitat area is primarily just a straightened out channel, and depending on the lake elevation, a lot of the vegetation around there may not be wetted. So, they used to have this rearing area down there, and they are trying to determine how important it might be to restore that back to a marshland, a delta-type system down there. The Nature Conservancy has tried to reclaim a part of that river marshland, you know, they tore down a dike and re-flooded it, but it’s not… They are seeing some fish that are using that, but the conditions are… It’s not really the same as what it once was. You have part of the water in there for part of the year, real high water flows and those kind of things, but there’s some real concern about trying to turn some of those ag lands back into marshlands because of the recedance. It is not a simple matter of just pulling out the dike and re-flooding it and marshland comes back… It’s going to just be basically open water in a lot of those places, which…
Barb: And the weight of the water is going to make, oh God, what do they call it?
Don: The peat?
Barb: The peat is going to compress with the weight of the water on it.
Don: Well, see it’s … With agriculture practices, and there is a difference between like graze land and farmland, with the agriculture practices, it has used up a lot of that organic matter, so if you were to re-flood it, it would just be deeper. I’m not sure about the compression or whatever you’re talking about.
Barb: Ken Rybost explained how that works to you one day. I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know how to explain it like he did.
Don: So, there is a real concern about that, and there may be other advantages in terms of increasing storage, you know, maybe it might not be a wetland, but it might increase some storage by breaching some of these dikes, and you have closer to what we had at one time for storage.
Bob …into the evaporation issues so bad on storage, it’s almost, unless it's super short-term, earlier in the year. That kind of storage is very marginal.
Don: Um hum. And then, it sounds like if it is a marshland area and there is a lot of marsh vegetation there, there is less of evapo-transpiration than if it is open water, you know, from some of the studies, which kind of makes sense, if you block the wind from blowing freely across it, or you shade out some of the sun, you keep the temperatures down because of the vegetation, there is less evapo-transpiration…
Bob: I know there a lot of talk on both sides of that issue, and you know, I guess the jury is kind of out on that I think
Barb:: Well, even if there is a marshland and there is less evaporation than in storage, there is still a whole bunch of evaporation compared to ag land.
Bob: If an ag uses 1-1/2 to 2 feet, you know, to keep water on it a year, you are going to evaporate over 2 feet…
Horsley: Well, that study there south of Elko was over 5 feet.
Bob: So see, where is the gain? If you look at it merely from gallon acre-feet of water, ag would actually be a water savings, if you look at merely in that respect.
Man: Yeah, I’m not sure exactly how… I mean I don’t understand exactly what you are saying. If you’re talking about a piece of… I was thinking about storage in the part of the lake where… You’re saying that ag lands that have been "reclaimed" and are now farmed, are storing more water than a wetland or a marshland.
Woman: No, no. The ag lands that are still ag lands use a whole lot less water than a marsh or a wetland.
Don: … less water. But, you're saying the lands that are down in the lower part of the Basin…
Everyone talking at once.
Man: They take and they just breach the dikes and let the water run back out on his ranch, you know, to farm the ground, excuse me. It most likely would lose more water from evaporation if they just kept it off of farming.
Woman: Way more, yeah.
Don: I can understand that. What you are saying is to maintain a marshland, in a marshland or a wetland condition, compared to ag lands, there is less water use.
Bob: The ag would take less water than the marshland would.
Don: Yeah, I think I understand what you are saying there. What I was just reflecting from was like in the upper part of the lake, you know, there’s potential perhaps for storage in those areas that were once marshlands around the edges of Klamath Lake. So there’s potential storage there if those dikes were breeched.
Woman: Actually, when I went on the tour, when they were talking about that, they said that the pH is illegal to put in the lake. I mean, if they breach those, it’s just going to, not only the evaporation but …
Don: Oh, you’re talking about the phosphorus.
Woman: Yeah, the phosphorus would be illegal to put in, so there was a whole bunch of concern if they breach those.
Don: Yeah, what they were concerned about was if they breached it if the phosphorus that’s in the peat would be released into the system to the point it would exacerbate the problem. Actually, they are doing research on that to see if that may or may not be true. I mean there is a difference between phosphorus that is locked up versus phosphorus that could be available in the water column you know if you were to re-flood it, so I think they are actually trying to determine if that’s… The way I have heard it expressed, it’s more like concern. There is an issue about that. Before they start doing a lot of this, they need to make sure that they are not going to have a negative impact and increase phosphorus loading into the lake. That is more the way I’ve heard it described. Not so much a pH issue, but because there have been agriculture practices on a lot of this, there might be more concentrated phosphorus. We know in those peats that there is phosphorus locked up in there, and if you were to re-flood that would bring more phosphorus into the system. That is the concern. I think they are trying to figure that out. There are folks that are really concerned that it might create more of a problem.
Horsley: Now, the Sprague River is just right down here to our left.
Don: Yeah. It looks like we’ve got a burn going on over in there. This was the Squaw Flat fire right here. Oh wait a second… No, that was the Switchback Fire.
everybody out of the vans again for more talks
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