Since 2001 the John Day River and its tributaries have seen a major effort by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to restore salmon and steelhead runs in their waters. These tribes were the aboriginal inhabitants of this region and they retain a claim on fishing and other rights in the region under the 1855 Treaty of Middle Oregon. The signatories of that treaty were listed as: Symtustus, Locks-quis-sa, Shick-a-me, and Kuck-up, chiefs of the Taih or Upper De Chutes band of Walla-Wallas; Stocket-ly and Iso, chiefs of the Wyam or Lower De Chutes band of Walla-Wallas; Alexis and Talkish, chiefs of the Tenino band of Walla-Wallas; Yise, chief of the Dock-Spus or John Day's River band of Walla-Wallas; Mark,William Chenook, and Cush-Kella, chiefs of the Dalles band of the Wascoes; Toh-simph, chief of the Ki-gal-twal-la band of Wascoes; and Wal-la-chin, chief of the Dog River band of Wascoes.
Today the individual tribes that make up the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs are usually referred to as the Wascos, Dock-Spus, Walla-Wallas, Teninos and Northern Paiutes. Before the coming of the settlers, the Columbia River basin was home to enormous runs of salmon. Today, these runs are only a small fraction of their former size. There is an active debate over how much the dams, commercial fishing and habitat degradation have individually contributed to the current situation. Whatever the case, the Tribes are committed to doing something to correct it. The John Day River is the second longest undammed river in the continental United States. Its spring Chinook salmon and summer steelhead are two of the last remaining wild anadromous fish populations in the Columbia River basin. That makes the region a natural site to concentrate efforts to restore these fish populations. The salmon were central to the culture of the tribes who lived on the Pacific coast and on the banks of the Columbia River and its tributaries. With financing from the Bonneville Power Administration, the Tribes have acquired riparian lands in spawning grounds on the mainstem and middle fork of the John Day River. On part of this land they have created a plant nursery to support a program of invasive species removal and riparian vegetation enhancements which is intended to increase the productivity of these spawning grounds in perpetuity. On another part of these properties, gold dredging operations have stripped the river banks and surrounding fields of vegetation, leaving them unusable for fish spawning. They are now undertaking an ambitious program of replanting to re-establish native trees such as alder, cottonwood, hawthorn, willow and chokecherry to provide cooling shade and biodiversity to spawning grounds. Restoration efforts include continuous riparian plantings, riprap removal, woody debris structures, mining rehabilitation, dike removal, pool creation, channel re-connections, barrier removals and floodplain re-connections. The goal of all these conservation efforts is to protect, manage and enhance habitat that support culturally significant fish populations for the Tribes for the generations to come. They also engage in long-term monitoring to determine the effectiveness of their various efforts in order to concentrate on the most effective methods in the long term. The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs have long traditions of natural resource stewardship. Because the Tribes retained their rights to hunt, fish gather forest products, and pasture livestock on all unclaimed lands under the 1855 treaty, they have a long-term interest in protecting and enhancing the health of the region as a whole. There is free public access to the conservation areas, which offer wildlife viewing, hiking, and hunting (by permit). Controlled grazing with careful management demonstrates that agricultural uses of the land can also be compatible with resource conservation. The Tribes strive to have their conservation areas serve as models for habitat restoration and land management.
If you have any questions or comments or would like to participate in some of these restoration efforts, please click through to the next page and let us know.
Grant County Gazette Masthead
Restoring Fish Habitat
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