History & Accomplishments
In 1995, Bill Bakke, a renowned steelhead fly angler and wild fish advocate, and his supporters founded the Native Fish Society in Portland, OR to create a space in culture for the appreciation of and advocacy for the Pacific Northwest’s wild, native fish and their homewaters. Bill Bakke has worked in fish conservation for nearly 50 years. He has worked for agencies such as the Columbia River Fisheries Council and the Columbia River InterTribal Fish Commission. He wrote over 100 articles for sporting, news and scientific journals and his work has been noted in numerous books about salmon conservation including A Common Fate by Joseph Cone, Song For The Blue Ocean by Carl Safina, and A River Lost by Blaine Harden. Bill founded several environmental groups aimed at native fish conservation, including Oregon Trout and the Native Fish Society. The organization’s founding Board of Directors, comprised of white men, shared Bill’s passion for wild, native fish and the need for strong advocacy on their behalf.
The native fish and tributaries of the Columbia River were the original focus of the Native Fish Society with the Deschutes, Metolius, Willamette, Molalla, Sandy, and Clackamas rivers as areas of emphasis. Over time, new members, directors of the board, and volunteers expanded the geographical range of the organization. Bill Bakke focused his wild fish advocacy efforts on the Northwest Power and Planning Council, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the National Marine Fisheries Service by submitting comments and testimony on their fisheries management and hatchery operations plans. Bill led petitions to list Snake River Chinook, Oregon Coastal coho and Columbia River coho under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
Jim Myron served as the organization’s contract lobbyist in Salem and, working with Bill, helped Oregon adopt the Native Fish Conservation Policy in 2002. This policy’s purpose is threefold: 1) prevent the serious depletion of native fish, 2) maintain and restore naturally produced fish in order to provide substantial ecological, economic, and cultural benefits to the citizens of Oregon, and 3) foster and sustain opportunities for fisheries consistent with the conservation of naturally produced fish and responsible use of hatcheries.
As the organization entered the mid-2000s the Board of Directors grew and diversified. Lead by Board Chair Peter Tronquet, the board included female scientists, attornies, and wild fish advocates like Tammy Mackey, Kaitlin Lovell, Laura Hudson, and Lisa Hansen. The board also welcomed younger members including Jason Koertge, Rob Elam, Jon Kellogg, Scott Baumer, and Spencer Miles as well as longtime wild fish advocates like Chris Conaty, Doug Vaday, Doug Robertson, John Tyler, David Moskowitz, Pat Furrer, and Richard Kennon.
In 2005, Tom Derry joined the NFS staff as Director of Wild Steelhead Funding. Previously, Tom and his wife Connie operated the Kokanee Café in Camp Sherman and helped support local efforts to remove hatchery trout from the Deschutes and Metolius rivers. Having sold his restaurant, Tom and Connie moved to the Molalla River where they soon engaged in local conservation efforts to protect native fish in their new homewaters. Through Tom’s development work, many of the Native Fish Society’s current members, supporters, and friends were originally Tom and Connie’s customers at the Kokanee Cafe, who knew Tom from steelhead fishing in British Columbia, or through his efforts on behalf of his homewaters, the Molalla River.
To involve the community, in 2006 the River Steward Program was created to empower knowledgeable and connected people to work on behalf of wild fish conservation and local communities. Annual River Steward Gatherings were held to bring River Stewards, mostly white, male fly anglers, together and facilitate their relationships with one another, NFS staff, and the best-available science.
River Stewards engaged in a number of local conservation campaigns that benefitted wild, native fish including: protecting the Metolius River from resort development, preventing the expansion of gravel mines in the Molalla River, placing weirs at the outlet of vital wild steelhead spawning tributaries in the lower Deschutes River, participating in the development of spring and fall Chinook Conservation Plans on the Rogue River, dam removal on the Sandy River, and helping secure catch and release regulations for wild winter steelhead in the Umpqua River.
River Stewards also collected data to track the health of their homewaters and native fish. For example, Molalla River Stewards conducted spawning surveys for winter steelhead and collected water temperature information and Salmonberry River Stewards conduct winter steelhead spawning surveys, providing the state with critical information on steelhead health on the Oregon Coast. Our central Oregon Coast River Steward, Paul Engelmeyer, hosted field trips on his homewaters, Ten Mile Creek, to teach participants about the conservation efforts focused on recovering Oregon’s wild coastal coho salmon. Spencer Miles, a young River Steward, originally from Tillamook, OR, utilized data and his skills as a software engineer to shed light on the challenges hatchery fish posed to threatened wild salmon and steelhead in Oregon’s Sandy River. Spencer’s data driven effort sparked a grassroots and legal campaign resulting in a landmark legal ruling and significant on-the-ground hatchery reforms.
In 2010, longtime Board Chair, Peter Tronquet took a new role as Board Treasurer and Rob Elam and Kaitlin Lovell were appointed as the new Co-Chairs of the Board. Both Rob and Kaitlin served in this Co-Chair capacity until 2013. During this time the board also welcomed Julie Keil and Melissa Brown. Rob Elam continued as Board Chair until 2016, when Paul Fortino and Spencer Miles were appointed Chair and Vice-Chair, respectively. During this time, Peter and Rob, supported by Spencer, the board, and the staff emphasized and executed a generational transition for the organization. With an unwavering commitment to the mission, younger leadership was encouraged, the River Steward Program was emphasized, and new initiatives were created to connect with a new, younger membership. This era also included a new emphasis on technology, digital advocacy, and growing the organization into California, Washington, and British Columbia.
While all of Native Fish Society’s Board of Directors made important contributions, Peter Tronquet’s unmatched dedication to the organization, its mission, and his work as a River Steward of the Rogue, Umpqua, and Illinois rivers deserves additional recognition. Peter’s thoughtful leadership and consistent support as Board Chair and Treasurer ensured Native Fish Society would grow into the strong and effective advocate for wild, native fish we represent today. Peter worked tirelessly as a River Steward in the Rogue basin, serving as a stakeholder on the Rogue fall and spring Chinook Conservation Plans, the Coastal Management and Conservation Plan, and successfully advocating for wild steelhead catch and release in the Umpqua watershed. On the North Umpqua, Peter Tronquet served on the boards of the North Umpqua Foundation and the Steamboaters. Today, Peter continues to serve wild, native fish as the Yaquina River Steward from his home in Newport, OR. Peter is without a doubt one of the most important and effective wild fish advocates working today.
In 2011, Mark Sherwood was hired as the River Steward Program Director and the program benefited from a new handbook, presentation, and program outreach materials. Relatively quickly, the program grew beyond the lower Columbia River as 50 River Stewards participated in the program by the end of the year. Annual River Steward Gatherings hosted by the Native Fish Society grew to support increased attendance. These Gatherings provided an opportunity for River Stewards to share the challenges and opportunities in their homewaters, to learn from other River Stewards and staff, and to interact with fisheries biologists and professionals who shared the latest science.River Steward Spencer Miles launched one of the Native Fish Society’s most definitive campaigns, Save Sandy Salmon, to reform hatchery practices in Oregon’s Sandy River. Bill Bakke shifted to a new role as Science and Conservation Director. River Stewards worked to stop the expansion of the hatchery program on the Klickitat River and helped designate Washington’s first Wild Steelhead Gene Bank on the Olympic Peninsula’s Sol Duc River.
In 2012, the Native Fish Society hosted a River Steward Gathering on the North Umpqua River where South Umpqua River Steward Stan Petrowski helped launch a campaign to end damaging instream suction dredge mining in Oregon’s native fish habitats. By 2012, the River Steward Program had grown to support nearly 60 River Stewards. The Save Sandy Salmon campaign grew from a purely grassroots effort to include a legal strategy to seek relief for the Sandy’s native fish and establish a legal precedent to limit the impact of hatchery fish on wild fish across the Northwest. River Steward Peter Donahower served on the Wild Steelhead Gene Bank stakeholder group for the Wind River, to permanently end hatchery steelhead releases in an important stronghold for wild steelhead. A new Crush the Barb angling campaign encouraged anglers to pinch the barbs on their hooks to facilitate successful catch and release. The Native Fish Society hired Tracy Buckner as an Administrative and Development Coordinator.
In 2013, the River Steward Program grew to 70 River Stewards as Jake Crawford, our former Illinois River Steward, was hired to expand the River Steward Program into southern Oregon and northern California. Steve Lent and Peter Donahower helped secure the East Fork Lewis River and the Wind River as Wild Steelhead Gene Banks, curtailing the negative impacts of hatchery steelhead on these streams. The organization successfully advanced policies that protected instream wood from removal and tightened regulations around suction dredge mining. Molalla River Stewards helped with habitat restoration on the North Fork, placing 300 root wads and trees and 480 tons of boulders instream. The Save Sandy Salmon Campaign reached a landmark success, when Oregon’s District Court ruled that the Sandy River Hatchery violated federal environmental laws and jeopardized the recovery of wild fish in the Sandy River. The judge’s ruling required that no more than 10% of the fish on the spawning grounds can be of hatchery origin. Additionally, threatened wild salmon and steelhead were no longer collected for hatchery broodstock in the Sandy and upper Willamette tributaries. The legal precedent from this case was utilized to reform hatchery programs in the McKenzie, Trinity, Mad, and Puget Sound. River Steward Spencer Miles developed an action alert system that allowed NFS’s membership to submit 1,200 comments on a range of wild fish issues, from protecting forage fish species to cleanup at the Hanford Nuclear Site to opposing the development of strip mines in the headwaters of Oregon’s Hunter Creek and Pistol River. Peter Donahower, Paul Engelmeyer, Conrad Gowell, and Kyle Smith served as part-time District Coordinators to help support the new River Stewards in their areas.
In 2014, the Native Fish Society’s River Steward Program supported a widening geography of conservation campaigns and nearly 80 River Stewards safeguarding 70 watersheds. The organization’s first California River Steward, Doug DeRoy, secured protections for 12 populations of threatened wild steelhead on the Mendocino and Sonoma Coast when new “low-flow” closures were adopted by the California Fish and Game Commission. River Stewards secured the North Fork Toutle / Green rivers as a new Wild Steelhead Gene Bank. As part of our campaign to limit suction dredge mining, Oregon’s State Scenic Waterways program was revived and local advocates on the Molalla and Chetco rivers worked to advance protections for their native fish. River Stewards and staff protected the Salmonberry River and its wild steelhead from the unlawful reconstruction of the Scenic Railroad during spawning season, eventually calling upon the Governor’s office and Oregon State Police to shut down the illegal construction. Shortly thereafter, the Department of State Lands and the Army Corps of Engineers issued cease and desist permits to the Scenic Railroad. To this day, the Scenic Railroad does not operate in the Salmonberry Canyon. In southern Oregon, Hunter Creek River Steward Dave Lacey built a large local coalition to oppose nickel strip mining in the headwaters of Hunter Creek, submitting 600 comments to the Forest Service, winning the support of the Gold Beach City Council for an agreement to forgo selling water to mining operations, and traveling to Washington D.C. to advocate for wild fish with the Oregon congressional delegation on the issue. Michael Moody resigned as Executive Director, and Board President Peter Tronquet served as the interim Executive Director.Jake Crawford transitioned into a new role as River Steward Program Director and Mark Sherwood moved to southern Oregon assuming his new role as Southern Regional Manager. Jason Small supported River Stewards in South Puget Sound as our first District Coordinator in Washington. Our River Steward Gathering was hosted at Westwind Camp on the Oregon Coast and focused on Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Both the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde and Siletz joined and participated, and new relationships were formed.
In 2015, the Native Fish Society supported 85 River Stewards in four states across the Pacific Northwest. Our action alert system leveraged the voices of our membership to submit 2,000 comments to decision makers. State Scenic Waterway Designation protected 28 miles of the Molalla and Chetco rivers from mining, dewatering, and damming thanks to the leadership of local River Stewards. After a stalemate in the legally required work group, a temporary ban on suction dredge mining went into effect at the end of the year, protecting 22,000 miles of salmon and steelhead habitats in Oregon. The Native Fish Society reached out to Bryan Husky, founder of Keep 'Em Wet Fishing, and launched a #keepemwet photo contest that helped take the practice of keeping fish in the water during catch and release viral. With over 200 photos submitted, 1,500 likes, and 30,000 # in three months, anglers spread the idea like wildfire. River Stewards and staff helped add two more Wild Steelhead Gene Banks in Washington – the Chinook and Grays rivers. In total, 1,000 sq. miles of Washington watershed were set aside for wild steelhead across the state. In northern California, River Stewards on the Eel River launched the Eel River Headwaters Campaign – a grassroots effort to return wild salmon and steelhead to the habitats above Scott Dam on the upper mainstem Eel River. During the third year of California’s crippling drought, River Stewards monitored temperatures above Scott Dam and discovered cold water, which persisted year round – an incredibly important piece of information to help build the case for dam removal. Conrad Gowell joined the Native Fish Society staff as River Steward Program Director. Tom Derry, Director of Wild Steelhead Funding served as Executive Director in an interim capacity. Thomas Mitchell joined the Native Fish Society Board of Directors, serving as Treasurer. Thomas provided substantial support for the young staff, drawing from his extensive non-profit and financial experience from his work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In 2016, the Native Fish Society celebrated its 20th year as an organization and supported 85 River Stewards, safeguarding 174,000 sq. miles of watersheds in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and California. The Wild Rivers Campaign, led by Hunter Creek River Steward Dave Lacey, achieved remarkable milestones: 500 people at public meetings, 200 business supporters, 40,000 public comments, the creation of the Wild Rivers, Wild Brews Coalition, and bills introduced into the Congressional House and Senate to protect 101,000 acres of public lands from strip mining in the headwaters of the Illinois, Rogue, Smith, Pistol rivers and Hunter Creek through a mineral withdrawal. Ultimately, after three years of grassroots work, a 20-year administrative mineral withdrawal was secured for this area, protecting it from new mining claims. Smith River Steward Sunny Bourdon helped secure 64 miles of Heritage Trout Waters in the South Fork Smith River – the highest honor that can be given to a trout fishery in California. The Eel River Headwaters Campaign took another step forward as River Stewards collected cold-water data and the recognition of federal fisheries agencies that Scott Dam blocked 200 miles of salmon and steelhead habitats in their Recovery Plan for Northern California Coast Steelhead. In Washington, at the urging of River Stewards, staff and partners, both the Nisqually and Elwha rivers were added to the state’s network of Wild Steelhead Gene Banks for a total of 2,200 sq. miles of watersheds free of hatchery steelhead. In South Puget Sound, River Stewards partnered with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to study 533 coastal cutthroat trout learning information critical to guide their science-based conservation and management. In central Oregon, Native Fish Society increased its involvement in the Pelton Round Butte Fish Committee to advocate for the benefits to the lower Deschutes watershed and fish health promised by Portland General Electric in the relicensing of their hydropower project. Mark Sherwood transitioned to a new role as Executive Director and Science and Conservation Director, Bill Bakke, retired from the organization.
In 2017, the Native Fish Society supported 90 River Stewards safeguarding nearly 4,000 river miles across the Pacific Northwest. River Steward Stan Petrowski, with help from River Stewards Charles Gehr and Dave Carpenter, succeeded in his efforts to protect Oregon’s rivers from suction dredge mining when 22,000 miles of salmon and steelhead habitat were permanently protected through a new bill signed into law by Governor Kate Brown. River Stewards in southern Oregon defended their 101,000 acre mineral withdrawal from repeated threats by Utah Congressman Rob Bishop and helped secure protections for 58,000 acres of the North Fork Smith River in Oregon as the west coast’s first Outstanding Resource Water. River Stewards on the Oregon Coast launched a new campaign aimed at cleaning up the mess left by unsustainable clear cuts on steep slopes. Rogue River Stewards and staff defended recovering wild spring Chinook from pressure from fishing interests to restart unsustainable fishing practices. The legal precedent set on the Sandy River, resulted in 1 million fewer hatchery salmon and steelhead planted annually in Oregon and Washington rivers. In California, Eel River Stewards sounded the alarm when PG&E failed to include dam decommissioning among its options to review through its forthcoming relicensing process. Swift response from the Native Fish Society’s members and partners kept dam removal on the table. In the Deschutes, River Stewards rallied Governor Kate Brown and her natural resources staff to provide the leadership necessary to improve water quality in the river. Joining together with our partners at Wild Fish Conservancy in the Our Sound, Our Salmon Coalition, Atlantic salmon farming operations were stopped from expanding and now must phase out by 2025. In British Columbia, our past involvement in a steelhead catch and release study resulted in new best practices for recreational anglers and the expansion of our River Steward Program into Canada. Allison Oliver was hired as our British Columbia Regional Coordinator. Native Fish Society staff and board began exploring the need to increase our understanding and capacity for growing the diversity, inclusion, and equity of our organization. Executive Director, Mark Sherwood and River Steward Program Director Conrad Gowell authored a technical advisory grant to Meyer Memorial Trust for diversity, equity and inclusiveness training and the development of an Organizational Equity Strategy with the Center for Diversity and the Environment. Russell Loeb joined the Native Fish Society Board of Directors as Treasurer. River Steward Doug DeRoy joined the Board of Directors.