MCKENZIE RIVER STEWARD
Oregon’s McKenzie River rushes out of the Cascade Mountains, dropping around 3,000 feet in elevation from its headwaters in the Mount Jefferson and Three Sisters Wilderness areas to the confluence with the Willamette River near Eugene.
The McKenzie River is one of the last strongholds of two Endangered Species Act listed salmonids: Upper Willamette spring chinook and bull trout. Historically, spring chinook spawning and rearing areas were distributed along the main stem McKenzie up to Tamolitch Falls, Gate Creek, Horse Creek, Lost Creek, the South Fork McKenzie, Blue River, and the Mohawk.
However, the run has been significantly reduced from historic levels by dams that block fish passage and affect water temperatures. Also, hatchery fish are having a negative impact on the native salmon. Today the run is heavily supported by hatchery fish produced at the McKenzie Hatchery, which creates a large bait fishery below Leaburg Dam.
The McKenzie River may provide the only area in the Willamette Basin as a whole where spring chinook are capable of self-sustaining the population. The Columbia River distinct population segment, which includes McKenzie River bull trout, was listed as threatened under the ESA in June of 1998. Dams on the Willamette River at Dexter, Lookout and Hills Creek, Cougar Dam on the South Fork McKenzie, and Trail Bridge on the main-stem McKenzie River have fragmented Bull Trout habitat. The fish were extinct on the Upper Willamette above Hills Creek Reservoir until the Bull Trout Working Group (ODFW, USFS, Trout Unlimited and others) started restoring logging-wrecked habitat reintroducing fry to rearing tributaries in the 1990s.
Today the main-stem McKenzie River is the healthiest bull trout population west of the Cascades, though ODFW estimates there are fewer than 1,000 bull trout in the entire Upper Willamette basin. The McKenzie River is also home to the McKenzie Redside, a unique genetic strain of rainbow trout. The McKenzie Redside is plentiful in the Upper McKenzie above Blue River and also plentiful below Hendricks Bridge on the lower river to the confluence with the Willamette. Unfortunately, of the 68 miles of navigable McKenzie River, 33 miles are managed for hatchery trout production.
McKenzie River Native Trout Coalition
The 114,000 hatchery fish (stocked at two-week intervals), outcompete wild fish for limited food resources, and the put- and-take fishery has a major impact on the species as well. ODFW District Biologist Jeff Ziller has characterized the stocking area between Blue River and Hendricks as a Sacrifice Zone, and wild stocks in this section are severely depleted. The Native Fish Society is working to eliminate or reduce areas where trout are stocked in the Mckenzie River.