In Short

U.S. Department of Transportation invests in Oregon fish

By: - August 18, 2023 5:30 am

Spring Chinook salmon in the Rogue River watershed. More than 600 human-made barriers to fish migration remain in the watershed today. (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)

The U.S. Department of Transportation is backing 26 projects to boost fish transit in Oregon that’s been stymied by poor road and dam infrastructure.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, six counties and the Coquille Indian Tribe will receive more than $19 million to get rid of barriers that have made it difficult for threatened fish to journey from freshwater rivers and streams to the ocean and back.

The federal agency on Wednesday announced the grants, which are funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress in 2021. 

The bulk of the projects will involve repairing, redesigning or removing culverts, which are tunnels or bridges built under roads and railroad tracks to channel water so it flows below rather than on top of surfaces. Some projects will also involve removing and repairing short dams on rivers and streams called weirs, which are typically built to control water levels. 

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Fisheries Biologist Christopher Claire helps with installation of a culvert on Redd Creek. (Roy Lowe/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Deteriorating and outdated culverts and weirs play a role in declining populations of Oregon’s native salmon, river herring and lamprey, which are born in freshwater and need clear passage to migrate to the ocean and return to freshwater to spawn.

The largest recipient of the funds, the state fish and wildlife department, will get $9 million to repair and replace roads and culverts in the Rogue River watershed in southern Oregon and help connect and improve critical habitat for Chinook and coho salmon, sea run cutthroat trout and steelhead. More than 600 human-made barriers to fish migration remain in the watershed, according to the Rogue Basin Partnership. 

The Coquille Indian Tribe will receive $1.5 million to remove or replace five culverts and eight weirs in the Smith Basin near the coast, ultimately reconnecting threatened salmon, steelhead, cutthroat trout, and lamprey to 62 miles of critical habitat.

About $9.3 million is going to Clackamas, Coos, Tillamook, Lane, Lincoln and Multnomah counties for rebuilding culverts or replacing them with bridges in order to connect fish with spawning habitat and passage. 

The federal transportation department estimates about 68 million culverts in the U.S. were built using designs from the 1950s that did not take fish migration into account. 

The agency is granting $196 million this year to nearly 170 projects that will improve more than 550 miles of fish passage nationwide.

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.