By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Six state-run fish hatcheries were damaged by wildfires that forced workers and their families to evacuate.
As soon as it was safe to return hatchery staff jumped into action keeping millions of fish alive.
“While these fish are important, they are not worth our health or our lives,” Greg Genbemer, Minto Fish Facility Manager told his staff.
With permission of fire management authorities, some Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff have been returning periodically to evacuated areas to keep fish in hatcheries alive.
“I got back up here Tuesday night. Everything was still going. Generator was good. Fish were good. We knew we had enough fuel for a few days,” Grenbemer said.
Most fish survived at the Minto Fish Facility on the North Santiam River which was damaged by the Beachie Creek Fire.
Here, a few staff returned during a critical time to spawn spring Chinook salmon while their egg quality is at a peak and before the adults die as part of their normal life cycle.
“We’ll hopefully take just over 2 million eggs. So far fish condition has been great. Fish mortality has been low,” Grenbemer said. “It’s kind of a miracle.”
Rock Creek sustained the most damage of all the hatcheries. With one exception, all the buildings were destroyed or severely damaged by the Archie Creek Fire and approximately 400,000 fish were lost.
At the Leaburg Hatchery on the McKenzie River, more than a million fish were released into the river before the hatchery lost water due to the opening of the Leaburg Dam.
This was done to prevent debris from clogging or over-topping the dam. Most of the released fish are expected to survive in the river.
50-thousand brown trout, some destined to be planted in Diamond Lake, were lost when the Two Four Two fire destroyed a hatchery building, shop and office complex at the Klamath Hatchery north of Klamath Falls.
“We try to take care of these fish every day at least a little bit to get us to this point. We are so lucky to still have what we have and preserve this year’s generation,” Grenbemer said.
There are no reports of damage to fish hatcheries in Central Oregon.
Crews were prepared to evacuate the Wizard Falls hatchery near Camp Sherman as the Lionshead Fire approached, but the threat has passed.