Coho salmon road trip

Improving side-channel river habitat, curbing urban influences on water quality and getting more beaver dams are all identified as steps to help wild coho salmon reverse their trend toward extinction in the upper Rogue River Basin and elsewhere in the region.

Improved suction-dredge mining practices that would disturb fewer juvenile coho and removal of culverts that pose barriers to salmon migration also are identified as part of a long-term strategy to get wild coho off the threatened species rolls throughout their range in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Those are some of the local highlights in the draft recovery plan for the region's wild coho listed as threatened 18 years ago. The plan represents federal fish managers' attempt to create a prioritized and coordinated road map to wild coho survival and viability as required under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Now, NOAA-Fisheries is taking its plan on the road in a series of public open-house meetings to explain parts of the plan and invite willing landowners to help recovery efforts.

Those include a meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17, at the Jackson County Roads and Parks Department, 7520 Table Rock Road, off Mosquito Lane, Central Point.

In this second of six community meetings, NOAA-Fisheries officials will give a presentation about wild coho here and invite participants to share information about their watersheds, and learn about potential site-specific habitat restoration opportunities locally.

"We want to engage the community in how to implement this plan together," said Julie Weeder, NOAA-Fisheries' recovery coordinator for the region. "It's a community plan developed for these communities with coho salmon to bring them back to where they don't need Endangered Species Act protection anymore."

The plan identifies more than $3.6 billion worth of projects and studies over a 25-year period meant to get wild coho delisted in the river basins of Southern Oregon and Northern California, but it comes with no money to implement these projects.

Overall, the plan identifies and prioritizes nearly 2,000 actions, mostly on public lands, that can help wild coho rebound. It also identifies various "conservation partners" to help in coho habitat restoration, which not only will boost local economies but improve the overall health of watersheds.

This all-volunteer approach on private lands would instead focus recovery efforts by everyone from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and independent entities, such as conservation groups and watershed councils.

The plan was finalized last fall. Its draft was published in 2012.

Although the lengthy plan addresses 39 coho populations in all the basins and sub-basins where coho are found, from the Elk River near Port Orford south to the Mattole River south of Eureka, Calif., it does devote considerable attention to the upper Rogue.

The plan states that upper Rogue wild coho are a core population that faces a moderate risk of extinction, with rearing habitat for juvenile coho as the biggest single obstacle for recovery in the upper Rogue.

Coho need cool, clean water outside of streams' main channels to survive and thrive during their 14 months rearing in fresh water before they migrate to the ocean, the plan states.

The biggest threats to coho are heavy road densities near streams, agricultural practices, urbanization of former coho habitat, plus dams and diversions, according to the plan.

However, the upper Rogue region is considered "functionally independent" because of its size, and improving wild coho production here could also help seed other nearby habitats through straying, the draft states.

Improving rearing habitat can be as simple as increasing the numbers of beavers, whose construction efforts have proven to create excellent rearing habitat, according to the plan. They can also be as expensive as the multimillion-dollar WISE project meant to make irrigation water delivery more efficient in the Bear Creek and Little Butte Creek basins, while adding more water to coho streams suffering from a lack of water in the fall.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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