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Dam removal likely aided salmon runs

I was wondering if removing Fielder and Wimer dams made much of a difference in the fall chinook salmon runs in Evans Creek like the fish people thought they would? I live along Evans Creek and heard of people seeing salmon, but I haven't.

— J, Rogue River

Fall chinook salmon made a big presence in the Evans Creek system this fall, and chances are it has at least something to do with the removal this year of two abandoned former irrigation dams, Fielder and Wimer dams.

In most past years, fall chinook rarely made it over Fielder Dam, let alone get up to Wimer dam because of their antiquated fish ladders worked poorly in generally low-flow conditions seen in Southern Oregon each fall.

However, not the case this year.

Fall chinook surveys conducted this year by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife show that not only did chinook make it over both dams, they were even found spawning in the West Fork of Evans Creek as far as 10 miles upstream from its confluence with Evans Creek.

"Not only did they go past Wimer, they turned left and went 10 miles up the West Fork," says Pete Samarin, the ODFW assistant district biologist who oversees the spawning surveys here.

Survey crews had walked the West Fork earlier this decade to gather some pre-removal data and found no spawners there, Samarin says.

While it's tempting for a tip of the cap to dam-removal efforts, the reason for chinook's showing high in the Evans Creek Basin is a combination of dam removal and an unseasonable October rain storm that pushed far more water down Evans Creek than normal for that time of year, Samarin says.

The high flow conditions could have made it possible for at least some fall chinook to get past Fielder and Wimer dams had they been there this year, yet their absence sure didn't hurt things, he says.

"When there's water and no dam, boom, they go," Samarin says.

— Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.