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Featured Stories of the Complex


Our four sites have great stories to tell!

  1. Entiat National Fish Hatchery
  2. Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery
  3. Mid-Columbia Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office
  4. Winthrop National Fish Hatchery

  5. Our whole Complex is involved in many projects together. Read more about one of them...

    We've been in business for 75 years!

  • Leavenworth Fisheries Complex: A Focus Fixed on Fish for 75 Years


    Leavenworth Fisheries Complex is celebrating over 75 years of service. The history of the Complex is linked to the history of Grand Coulee Dam.

    Construction of Grand Coulee Dam provided irrigation water to two million acres of farmland in Washington State, but at a tremendous cost: the upper river is completely blocked to the movement of fish. Four hatcheries were planned to mitigate for that impact under the Grand Coulee Fish Maintenance Project (GCFMP), and construction was completed on the first one at Leavenworth in 1940, at Entiat in 1941, and at Winthrop in 1942. Chief Joseph Hatchery, managed by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville, was completed in 2013.

    Salmon and steelhead in these hatcheries are raised for release into the Wenatchee, Entiat, Methow, and Okanogan rivers, boosting wild populations or re-introducing new ones. Monitoring, started in 1939, is part of the work to evaluate the impacts and effectiveness of mitigation. The Mid-Columbia Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office (MCFWCO) joined the Complex in 1978 to continue carrying out the monitoring and evaluation.

    Grand Coulee Dam was not the first thing to impact fish in the Columbia River Basin. Power dams, mill dams, unscreened irrigation canals, and heavy water use had decimated salmon runs by 1939. Under the GCFMP, salmon and steelhead were trapped at Rock Island Dam from 1939-1943 and transplanted to bring back natural populations. Spring and summer Chinook salmon and steelhead were placed in the Wenatchee and Entiat rivers and in Nason Creek. Sockeye salmon were moved to Lake Wenatchee and Lake Osoyoos.

    Siting and building the hatcheries was based on where good water was available. At Leavenworth, for example, crews forged a trail up into the nearby mountains, creating a route that would later become a popular access to what is today the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The trail led to Snow and Nada lakes, which were dammed to trap snowmelt in summer. Engineers from the Bureau of Reclamation blasted through 2,500 feet of solid granite, forming a tunnel to draw water from the lakes through a valve. To this day, that alpine water still feeds into Icicle Creek when hatchery workers open the valve in summer, bringing critical cool water to fish habitat and hatchery salmon.

    Spawning ground surveys began in 1939 to see if reintroductions were working. These surveys continue today throughout all potential spawning habitat. Hatchery impact was measured beginning in 1940 by checking fish origins, and also continues now. The MCFWCO’s Hatchery Evaluation Program works closely with Complex hatcheries, providing data that help managers hone their methods, meet program goals, and avoid harm to native fish populations.

    Three quarters of a century have passed, and the success of the GCFMP can be measured by the runs of salmon still returning and the dedicated efforts of Complex staff and their many partners.

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  • Entiat NFH: Weedy Desert Transformed to Educational Oasis


    Much of Entiat National Fish Hatchery's 37 acres was once "a knapweed desert," said manager Craig Chisam. Now, a young forest, a growing wet habitat, and a kid's fishing pond have transformed the site. Local students reap benefits from the changes.

    With an eye to recharging an on-site well, improving wildlife habitat, and creating positive opportunities for children, a kid’s fishing pond and other projects have altered hatchery grounds. Rainbow trout survive well in the pond, supplied with water that has already passed several times through the raceways where summer Chinook salmon are raised.

    To receive wastewater from the trout pond, volunteers dug a catch basin down the hill. “We thought it would be mostly dry,” Craig said, explaining that a mix of trees and riparian plants like red osier dogwood were planted around the basin. But the water spread as the site sealed itself, becoming wet enough for beavers and muskrats to move in.

    Around the fishing pond, young pines and other native trees were planted and are growing rapidly. Each year, new wildlife moves in to the site, from tree frogs and bull snakes to red-winged blackbirds.

    In 2013, the hatchery hosted a Kids Fishing Day, and almost a thousand people arrived to fish for the large rainbow trout. Overwhelmed, the small staff decided they needed to find a more manageable way to promote fishing for children. They partnered with the Entiat School District to bring students in grades 1 through 8 to the site for an annual field trip. Each grade has its own day. Three stations are set up: archery, ecology, and fishing. Students are taught how to angle and may keep two trout, which the staff clean and put on ice for them to carry home. Craig, a nationally certified archery instructor, teaches them to use a compound bow safely. And the catch basin, now an evolving wet habitat, has become an outdoor classroom to learn about aquatic insects and water-dependent ecosystems.

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  • Leavenworth NFH: A Promise Kept for 75 Years

    1947LNFH2015 was the 75th anniversary of the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery! The hatchery was authorized in 1937 and built from 1939-1940. It was at that time the largest salmon hatchery in the world!

    Entiat and Winthrop National Fish Hatcheries opened in 1941 and 1942, creating a complex of hatcheries working together. The purpose of the hatcheries was to keep salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River system after dams like the Grand Coulee were built. Leavenworth NFH currently raises 1.2 million juvenile spring Chinook salmon every year, releasing them into Icicle Creek.

    In 1998, Leavenworth NFH was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Visitors today can see the nursery, adult holding ponds, fish ladder, raceways, rearing ponds, and other features of an active hatchery, still operating from the original buildings.

    Come take a walk through time and explore the ambitious past, the busy present, and the hopeful future of our relationship with salmon in Washington State! The visitor center is open every day throughout the summer, and staff and volunteers are ready to answer questions. Call 509-548-2915 for more information.

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  • Mid-Columbia Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office: Students Aid in Restoring Salmon Habitat

    Okanagan High School students

    Juniors and seniors at Okanogan High School are doing citizen science as part of an Ecology of the Okanogan class, with support from the Mid-Columbia Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office (MCFWCO). The Ecology class is in the third year of a longitudinal study (Conservancy Island Channel Reconnection Project) in cooperation with Colville Confederated Tribes Fisheries biologists Chris Fisher and Dennis Papa. The channel was disconnected from the river for flood control in 1952. Following feasibility studies, the channel was reconnected to the river in 2013 with the goal of regaining habitat for juvenile salmonids. Effectiveness monitoring is an ongoing piece of the study.

    Students are trained at the beginning of the school year to collect data on parameters like substrate, herbaceous and woody plant cover, canopy cover, macroinvertebrates, and fish species. At the end of the year, students analyze the data and report their findings on the progress of the channel rehabilitation to the Okanogan City Council.

    In the spring of 2015, juvenile salmonids and other native species were identified in the channel. In order to participate in the study, students need waders and equipment. To purchase them, the program received a Connecting People with Nature grant through the MCFWCO in the spring of 2015.

    Class coursework includes studies in soils, water, air, plants, animals, and human interactions with the environment. Students meet with guest instructors from every agency in the area, including the USFWS. Students compete in the Washington State Envirothon, an annual competition in which teams demonstrate their knowledge of environmental science and natural resource management. Okanagan High School won the Regional Championship in 2014 and 2015.

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  • Winthrop NFH: Steelhead and Beavers Forge Common Cause

    Broodstock Collection

    Wild beavers and steelhead occupy the raceways at Winthrop National Fish Hatchery, both part of a long-term, cooperative effort to improve local watersheds and conserve fish.

    Leavenworth, Entiat, and Winthrop hatcheries were all created in response to the construction of Grand Coulee Dam, to mitigate for the impact of the dam on migratory fish. When fish culture operations began at Winthrop NFH in 1942, steelhead, sockeye salmon, and spring Chinook salmon were the primary species identified for the site. The first steelhead used were trapped at Rock Island Dam, 147 miles downstream of Winthrop. The fish present now are raised from wild broodstock captured in the Methow River itself.

    The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is a partner for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in boosting wild steelhead populations. As Assistant Hatchery Manager Bob Gerwig explained, raising steelhead must be done carefully so the fish produced behave like their wild ancestors. Fish fed too much or too often can lose the urge to migrate, competing with wild steelhead juveniles for space and food.

    Earlier programs raised and released fish within one year, resulting in too many fish that failed to migrate. The current method keeps fish on station for two years, providing a chance for smaller juveniles to achieve enough growth to become smolts and migrate to the ocean. A volitional release method is also used, separating fish ready to migrate from those that are more inclined to stay put.

    Steelhead typically spend one or two years in salt water before returning to spawn. Unlike salmon, some steelhead can survive to spawn again, although in low numbers: fewer than 3%. From Winthrop, fish must get past 9 major dams, which greatly lowers the chance that any of the 3% will return again.

    To give the fish a better chance, the Yakama Nation collects live spawned wild female steelhead during spawning operations at and places them in a reconditioning facility at the hatchery. The females are kept in circular tanks, fed krill and specialized fish feed, and released again in October to join the subsequent spawning population.

    In some raceways, small houses on stilts are occupied by beavers. The Methow Beaver Project has many partners: WDFW, the U.S. Forest Service, the Okanogan Conservation District, the Yakama Nation, the Mid-Columbia Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office, and, of course, the hatchery. All hope to see beavers returned to formerly occupied habitat in higher-elevation areas, where their dam-building activity will help trap water for slower summer release, create aquatic habitat for a variety of plants and wildlife, improve water quality, and enhance conditions for steelhead and other fish. The program is meeting with success.

    Hatchery Manager Chris Pasley points out that all the hatchery programs are cooperative and reach beyond just raising fish. Success is measured in more than numbers of fish released, but in high survival rates and a reduction in ecological risks to natural fish populations in the Methow River, for example.
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  • Pollinator Partnerships Thrive at Leavenworth Fisheries Complex

    Broodstock Collection

    Although the focus is on fish at Leavenworth Fisheries Complex, managers have found ways to protect pollinators, too. Partnerships are a vital part of this effort.

    Manager Chris Pasley at Winthrop National Fish Hatchery (NFH) started working with Rob Crandall of Methow Natives Nursery a dozen years ago. The area between the hatchery and its water source was infested with invasive knapweed. Methow Natives hand-pulled the plants and introduced a beetle that eats knapweed seeds. Then they planted natives adapted to the area, like snow buckwheat, rabbitbrush, sagebrush, and grasses (Idaho fescue, sand dropseed, and bluebunch wheatgrass). "They never used any chemicals," affirmed Pasley, a choice important for protecting the juvenile Chinook and Coho salmon and steelhead on site.

    Today, no knapweed is present. Waist high sagebrush and robust native species thrive. "It's a good example of the effectiveness of establishing competitive plants that fight invasives," Crandall said. The result is stable and long-lasting.

    Snow buckwheat and rabbitbrush are especially important plants for pollinators because they bloom in late summer, Crandall said, when most other native plants are long since done flowering. Methow Natives often assists in riparian restoration, examples of which can be seen at locations like Twisp Ponds Discovery Center, managed by the Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation and home of the Watershed Watchers Program. "My heart lies in education," stated Crandall, mentioning another pollinator garden at Liberty Bell Junior-Senior High School in Winthrop he helped start eight years ago.

    Pasley invited Methow Natives to continue expanding pollinator support at the hatchery. This year, elderberry, chokecherry, serviceberry, and mock orange bushes were planted in two locations.

    At Leavenworth NFH, a brand new 2,400 square foot pollinator garden occupies a central location opposite the main nursery and draws visitors through a decorative gazebo and down a 150 foot long path. Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork Americorps volunteer Heather Love planned the garden, recruited volunteers to help, and started a partnership with the Chelan-Douglas County Master Gardener Program to continue maintenance and interpretation of the garden. A Connecting People with Nature mini-grant helped the Master Gardeners purchase fencing and identification signs. The garden earned recognition this year with an award from the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.

    USFWS Biologist Greg Van Stralen supplied mason bee houses, now installed along the fence in back of the garden. A local student Rotary Interact Club helped with planting the garden and representing monarch butterflies at local events. Friends of Northwest Hatcheries helped install a new gazebo with a ramp that allows wheelchair access to the garden.

    Entiat NFH also faced a knapweed desert a few years ago. Manager Craig Chisam made attacking this problem a priority. Today, a large portion of once-infested land hosts a kids fishing pond and hundreds of young trees. Chisam hopes to increase pollinator-specific plantings on the property, and continues to fight invasive species. The Red Willow Trail along the river edge of the hatchery is fragrant with masses of mock orange in spring, and other native species abound in the riparian area and the small wetland that drains the trout pond.

    The Mid-Columbia Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office works on restoration projects throughout the region, and that includes right around their own office. Fish Biologist Ken Muir planted a pollinator garden in beds beside the buildings. He is also a Master Gardener, and will be earning some of his volunteer hours working on the pollinator garden down the road at Leavenworth NFH.

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Last Updated: October 9, 2014
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