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KLAMATH FALLS FWO: Dam Removal, Other Milestones Part of Long-Term Plan to Recover EndangeredSuckers in Oregon's Upper Klamath Lake
California-Nevada Offices , July 2, 2008
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Steve Thompson was on hand to congratulate the Upper Klamath Basin community for taking a significant step that will provide immediate benefits to two endagnered fish. Helping with the initial phase of dam removal are(from left to right: Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, BOR Commissioner Robert Johnson, Klamath Tribes Chairman Joe Kirk, BOR Regional Director Donald Glaser, US FWS Regional Director Steve Thompson, and BIA Regional Director Stanley Speak. (USFWS photo)
Steve Thompson was on hand to congratulate the Upper Klamath Basin community for taking a significant step that will provide immediate benefits to two endagnered fish. Helping with the initial phase of dam removal are(from left to right: Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, BOR Commissioner Robert Johnson, Klamath Tribes Chairman Joe Kirk, BOR Regional Director Donald Glaser, US FWS Regional Director Steve Thompson, and BIA Regional Director Stanley Speak. (USFWS photo) - Photo Credit: n/a
An x-ray of a juvenile sucker. Biologists from the Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office use x-rays such as this one to determine the species of sucker. (USFWS photo)
An x-ray of a juvenile sucker. Biologists from the Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office use x-rays such as this one to determine the species of sucker. (USFWS photo) - Photo Credit: n/a

By Matt Baun, Klamath Falls FWO
Summer is always a tricky time for two endagnered suckers that live in Upper Klamath Lake because there tends to be loweer levels of dissolved oxygen in the lake.  But there has been quite a bit of good news this summer for the Lost River and shortnose suckers that should aid in their long term recovery. 

There have been several major milestones that have occurred in recent weeks that will go a long way toward helping these truly unique and culturally important fish – which serve as an important indicator for water quality and overall watershed health.   

Chiloquin Dam

There has been a bunch of good news so far this summer for the suckers of Upper Klamath Lake and its tributaries.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined the Klamath Tribes, Bureau of Reclamation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Oregon Congressman Greg Walden and a number of others at a ceremony on July 2 to kick off the removal of Chiloquin Dam.

Chiloquin Dam was built in 1914 on Sprague River, a tributary to Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon. It has provided locals with a reliable source of irrigation water but has also blocked vast amounts of habitat for the once abundant suckers of the Upper Basin.

“The removal of this dam will help Lost River and shortnose suckers gain access to nearly 80 miles of habitat in the Sprague River,” said FWS Regional Director Steve Thompson, who was on site for the ceremony, which included a special tribal song performed by members of the Klamath Tribes.

In 2002, Congress authorized legislation that directed the Interior Secretary to study the best option for fish passage on the Sprague, which included options to remove the dams or to improve the dam’s fish ladders.

The study addressed a number of options including dam removal and improving the outdated fish ladders on the dam. It evaluated all technically feasible fish passage options for endangered shortnose and Lost River suckers, including dam removal.

After all the studies were completed and after the evaluation of all technically feasible fish passage, it was decided that dam removal would be the best bet.   Irrigators continue to get water deliveries through a new state-of-the-art pumping system and will have unimpeded access to prime habitat.

Earth moving equipment will be brought in later this month to physically remove the dam and work on the removal is expected to continue throughout the summer. 

Sucker Recovery Team  Convenes

More good news for suckers came in June when the Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office hosted the first meeting of the sucker recovery team, which is composed of experts on both the suckers and the Upper Basin. The Service contracted with the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, Nevada, to work with these scientists and Upper Basin stakeholders to revise the plan.

The suckers were listed as endangered in 1988.  In 1993, a recovery plan for the species was developed but is in need of an update because there are significant amounts of new information and science that came to light since the original plan was written. 

“We have begun to incorporate this new information into a revised recovery plan that will serve as a roadmap that describes what needs to happen in order for these fish to be protected and lead the way to eventually down-listing or removing these species from the Endangered Species List,” said FWS biologist Mark Buettner, who is serving as the Service’s liaison to the recovery team.    

The goal of the recovery team is to identify and address key biological and environmental issues that are relevant to recovery, develop demographic and recovery criteria, and recommend a monitoring strategy to track progress towards achieving recovery.  The final plan will also estimate a timeframe for how long it will take to down-list or delist the suckers.

The process to develop the revised plan will be transparent.  The public, stakeholders, and scientists will be involved in the various meetings that are scheduled throughout the 2008 and 2009.  A final plan is expected in mid-2009. 

Williamson Delta Preserve

Because suckers are so long lived and because they don’t reproduce until they reach the age of nine, restoration success it takes a while to realize the fruits of habitat restoration work.  

However, this past June biologists with the Klamath Falls FWO caught a glimpse of the sucker world’s version of instant gratification. 

More than 50 years ago the Williamson Delta was converted from wetlands to cropland.  In the mid 1990s, some of these lands were purchased by The Nature Conservancy making large scale wetland restoration of the delta possible. 

In October 2007, TNC removed of a series of levees with financial and technical assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation and others.  This past May and June was the first occasion to see just if larval-stage suckers were using this section of the delta.

“There was a tremendous amount of wetland vegetation growing in the portion of the delta that was restored throughout the spring” said Matthew Barry, biologist with the Klamath Falls FWO.  “Larval suckers use the delta wetlands as habitat during this formative stage, and it was exciting to see a sizable population of suckers making use of this newly restored habitat.”  

In the fall, TNC is expected to restore an additional 2,700 acres of wetland when it removes additional levees on the section of the delta that is known as Goose Bay.

About the Fish

Lost River and shortnose suckers occur only in the Upper Klamath Basin. They live in lakes and reservoirs most of the year and migrate upstream in the spring to spawn. The Lost River sucker can reach 39 inches long and can live  as many as 45 years. The shortnose sucker can reach 20 inches in length and live as long as 33 years.

These fish are key indicators for water quality and overall watershed health.  Suckers have also played important roles in the Upper Basin ecosystem and cultural traditions and even served as an important food source for Native Americans, and later, for early pioneers who settled in the area.

The shortnose and Lost River suckers were listed as endangered species in 1988.  Since then, a lot of restoration work has occurred throughout the Upper Basin to restore habitat for suckers and improve water quality.  Sucker populations increased in the early 1990s, but between 1995 and 1997 suckers decreased significantly again due to a series of fish die-offs, indicating that the population remains at risk.


Contact Info: Matt Baun, 530-842-5763, matt_baun@fws.gov



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