Dan Ethridge, the Denman Wildlife Area assistant manager, checks the stop-boards he rebuilt within an earthen dam after vandals apparently removed them last weekend, draining the pond. - Jim Craven

Back in the flow

A 4-acre pond in the Denman Wildlife Area was close to full of water again Tuesday, three days after vandals pulled headboards out of a culvert, draining its waters and flushing out its fish.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists searched throughout the area downstream of the pond east of the wildlife area offices, but could find no sign of the missing headboards.

They were not rotten, so a natural failure appears impossible, said Mark Vargas, an ODFW biologist stationed at the wildlife area.

"They're just gone," Vargas said. "It appears to be vandalism."

No threats had been made against the ponds, and this was the first time a pond had been targeted in a string of recent vandalism there, said Dan Ethridge, the wildlife area's assistant manager. The sheriff's department was called to investigate, Ethridge said.

Within the past two weeks, vandals have struck other parts of the wildlife area, Ethridge said.

Someone spray-painted "LA-13" — an apparent gang reference — on a bench built by a Boy Scout and placed along Whetstone Pond, the larger pond north of the ODFW office, Ethridge said.

Similarly, someone spray-painted other graffiti on a wildlife area outbuilding, Ethridge said. A check station used by fall pheasant hunters was also vandalized, with the words "Brat Pack" and disparaging comments about hunters left there, Ethridge said.

Also, lock was cut last week on a gate restricting access at the wildlife areas's Modoc Unit, but that happens about three times a year, Ethridge said.

In this most recent case, vandals targeted a concrete culvert sunk into the berm that creates the pond south of the wildlife area headquarters along East Gregory Road.

Six boards stacked vertically in the culvert raise the lake's level to about 4 feet while allowing some spillage into the downstream creek.

Ethridge said it appears someone or a group came in early Saturday and pulled the top five boards, allowing water and fish to flush away. Some fish died before reaching a downstream pond.

By late afternoon, the lake was down to mud. Carp wallowed and Canada geese plopped in the muck they mistook for a healthy wetland, Ethridge said.

Ethridge rebuilt the stop-boards late Saturday and inflow quickly filled the pond to where it was 90 percent full Tuesday, he said.

A few carp, largemouth bass, bluegill, brown bullheads and other species survived in the muck, and those fish will be left to repopulate the pond, Ethridge said.

"I think it's going to come back on its own, so I don't think it was a total loss," Ethridge said.

Agency biologists Tuesday were mulling whether to catch tiny largemouth bass in Hyatt Lake — where they were illegally introduced several years ago — and release them in the pond that is popular among area residents.

Despite the vandalism, there were no plans to restrict access.

TouVelle Road on both sides of the Rogue River has access restricted by metal gates with locks, but the ODFW issues keys to anyone who offers a one-time listing of name, vehicle type and license plate.

Since the program began in 1997, the wildlife area has issued 6,932 keys.

The various ponds on the wildlife area are open to angling year-round, with largemouth bass, bluegill and brown bullhead the most common species caught there. No rainbow trout are stocked in any of these ponds, which normally become too shallow and warm in the summer for trout to survive.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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