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Tribes Worry Over Lower Columbia Gorge Coho Runs With Forest Fires

The Eagle Creek fire is burning in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area near Cascade Locks, Oregon.

The forest fires raging in the Columbia River Gorge are unlikely to disturb adult coho salmon right now. But Northwest tribal fishers are worried about what will happen in the fall.

Tribes are particularly concerned with a distinct group of coho salmon that spawn on the Oregon side of the Gorge, especially those that use the tributaries of the Columbia and Sandy rivers. Numbers wise, they say the fires are not going to decimate all Columbia coho. But for this small population of threatened fish, it’s a major upset. ?

Seth White, a watershed ecologist for Northwest tribes, said spawning time and fall rains could be a deadly match-up this autumn.

“Because what’s going to happen is that rain is going to bring down a lot of the ash and the sediments and the woody debris and a lot of the other things that have gotten into the stream from the fire,” White said.

These fish may use nearby streams for decades while the affected watersheds recover—that’s what happened after Mt. St. Helens. White said some streams could take up to 50 years to recover.

The tribes are also concerned that several of their traditional fishing sites are under evacuation or close watch. And some tribal fishers have put down their nets to fight the fires.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.