Historically, the Rogue River Basin had outstanding runs of salmonids and other native fish. By the late 20th century, however, agriculture and urban development had contributed substantially to their sharp decline. Nevertheless, only the much larger Columbia River Basin produces more salmon than the Rogue Basin.
One reason for the Rogue Basin’s importance to salmon is its cold-water refugia. Located primarily in the upper watersheds of Rogue River tributaries, these refugia were identified in the Rogue Restoration Action Plan as priority areas for preservation and restoration. While the largest dams in the Basin were removed in the first 15 years of this century, over 600 barriers of various heights, however, remain. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has identified nearly 90 of these barriers as the highest regional priorities for removal.
To varying extents, these barriers block passage for different life stages of different species at different times of the year. Juvenile fish are particularly prevalent; for some species, barriers as low as 3 inches can block passage of juveniles.
The number of barriers, almost entirely privately owned, requires a strategic approach across multiple watersheds where barrier removal partners collaborate to address priority barriers in priority watersheds.
The Rogue Basin Partnership’s Fish Passage Improvement Program helps native fish—particularly juveniles—get past these barriers. Members listen to landowner needs and concerns, develop win-win water diversion alternatives, secure project funding, implement projects on-time and give attention to project details every step of the way. Opportunities to return water to instream uses to benefit aquatic species are explored for projects where water savings can be realized.
Program funders include the Open Rivers project of the Resources Legacy Fund; the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board; the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife; the Oregon Water Resources Department; the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration; and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
To learn more about the story of improving fish passage in the Rogue River basin, take a look at the program’s Fish Passage Story Map.