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Good for people, good for fish

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Volunteers remove a dam during a work day at Spencer Creek. [Courtesy photo]
Notching allows backed-up waters to resume their downstream flow. [Courtesy photo]
Water flows unhindered after removal of human-built dam. [Courtesy photo]

Jeff Schlecht has spent his lifetime fishing.

Now he figures it’s time to help others have those same opportunities.

“I have fished enough that I want to give back,” explains the 71-year-old retired educator and former principal at Ashland High School. “I want a place for my grandkids to wet a line.”

Earlier this year, Schlecht and two others helped to remove small dams along Spencer Creek, a tributary of the Klamath River. Located near Chase Mountain, Spencer Creek is known for its quality trout fishing.

Removal of the small dams was part of what Schlecht sees as a larger effort to “give back” by re-creating a Klamath Falls chapter of Trout Unlimited, a national nonprofit group with a slogan of “Fishing. Conservation. Community.”

“I’ve always believed in their mission,” he says of Trout Unlimited. “They want to work, not to tell people what to do.”

Schlecht lives in Ashland, but has several Klamath Basin ties. For decades he’s made the drive over the Cascades to fish the Sprague, Sycan, Williamson and others rivers, along with Agency and Upper Klamath lakes while also visiting the Tulelake and Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuges to view migrating birds. He’s also proud that his son, Ethan, is an Oregon Tech graduate.

Schlecht, a 40-plus-year member of Trout Unlimited, credits the group for his history of working with regional, state and federal agencies and private landowners to protect and improve rivers. Klamath Falls used to have a TU chapter, but it was de-chartered as membership declined. The closest chapter is in Bend, but he hopes to change that.

After reviewing a membership list, Schlecht reached out to former TU members and was “thrilled” when several responded. Because he believes in action – “We want to do things, not just talk” — he and the others put their words into action by notching dams along Spencer Creek.

Notching, he explains, is creating passages wide enough for fish to swim through. Along Spencer Creek, he and others sometimes made a single notch while at wider sections they made two or three passages. Most of the relatively small human-made structures, sometimes incorporating logs or boulders, create pools where people can sit to cool off.

The problem, he says, is “They’re constructed well enough that fish cannot go up or down.”

During their recent work day, the trio cleared about nine dams. “That was actually encouraging to me because it’s a place to start,” he said of the turnout and their accomplishments.

But Schlecht also regards it as a first step, noting, “We’re looking for people who work hard” and can help improve regional waterways. “It’s a great thing being part of a group that does good work,” whether notching dams or applying other conservation improvements for rivers and riversides.

With cooler weather taking hold, over the next few months Schlecht plans to focus on enlisting enough members to re-create a Klamath Falls TU chapter. Although a TU chapter might be based in Klamath Falls, he believes — and hopes — anglers from a broad region of Southern Oregon will participate.

Because he’s optimistic that a regional TU is possible, his plans also include meeting with regional fisheries biologists and managers with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and others to “learn how they can use us. Hopefully, we’ll become a trusted group that helps with stream management.”

Schlecht said he believes the timing is right. He hopes the recent decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approving what many term the “last major hurdle” needed to move ahead with removing four Klamath River dams will stimulate interest in a DU chapter. As he and others note, if and when the dams are removed, it will be the world’s largest river restoration project.

“Spencer Creek is the Klamath River’s first tributary in Oregon,” Schlecht said, noting it could “soon become a salmon and steelhead spawning area, like it had been. That is something we can all celebrate.”

For now, however, he hopes the possible dam removal will inspire others to create a revived TU chapter and participate in future stream improvement projects. Whether it involves Spencer Creek or the Klamath River, his personal mantra is, “If it’s good for people, it’s good for fish. And, vice versa, if it’s good for fish, it’s good for people.”

“We’re starting small, and we’re going to grow together,” Schlecht said, emphasizing, “It’s not just about fishing. It’s about being outdoors. I’m at the age where I don’t have to catch another fish. I’m at the age where I want the younger generation to be able to be in nature like I have.”

To learn more about Trout Unlimited, email Jeff Schlecht at folksnfishtu@gmail.com

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.