Fish release highlights new habitat near Salmon Creek

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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photoVolunteers used buckets to transfer wild coho salmon from a holding tank to a newly built habitat near Salmon Creek in Pleasant Valley Park on Monday.

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photoDave Brown, who runs Northwest Wild Fish Rescue, supplied wild coho salmon that were placed into a newly built habitat near Salmon Creek fish drop. Brown’s organization rescues fish from the portions of the Salmon Creek watershed unsuitable for survival, then releases them months later.

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This year, workers finished restoring a fish habitat near Salmon Creek in Pleasant Valley Park north of Vancouver.

Now comes the true test.

Two local nonprofits and volunteers on Monday introduced about 300 young coho salmon into the new habitat, a spring-fed pond built with logs and debris to provide shelter to growing fish. Many will likely linger there until it’s time to make the journey to the Pacific Ocean. Gravel at the bottom of the pond and nearby channel offers what organizers hope becomes spawning ground for returning adult salmon.

“Everybody just talks about fish,” said Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt. “But it’s great to see something happening.”

Monday’s fish release highlighted the two organizations that made the project happen: The Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group — which built the habitat this year — and Northwest Wild Fish Rescue — which supplied the young fish, plucked from other parts of the Salmon Creek watershed unsuitable for survival. Dave Brown, who runs Northwest Wild Fish Rescue, first found the natural spring that now feeds the pond and channel connected to it.

Tony Meyer, executive director of the Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group, said the new habitat offers a crucial respite for fish living and growing in the Salmon Creek basin. The spring-fed channel next to the pond stays close to an ideal 56 degrees year-round, he said. Parts of Salmon Creek itself, by contrast, can rise to well above 80 degrees during the summer months.

“And that’s just instant death (for fish),” Meyer said.

Boldt was among the dozen or so volunteers who helped place the salmon, bucket by bucket, into their new home on a gray Monday. State and local agencies were also represented. Paul Matson simply came as an interested neighbor who lives in the area.

“I walked up, and they handed me a bucket,” Matson said.

While digging out the new pond, workers found the remnants of an old habitat constructed there, Meyer said, likely destroyed by the 1996 flood. Most recently, the area was simply an open meadow before the project harnessed the spring into a defined channel, he said.

“Springs like this are very rare, and they’re very valuable,” Meyer said.

This week’s new arrivals likely aren’t the last fish that will end up in the pond. Brown said he may put as many as 1,000 in eventually, depending on how the still-new habitat “settles” in coming months, he said.

At least one more change in the area is expected to happen later this fall. Clark County Environmental Services plans to plant trees and other vegetation to further shade and protect the habitat.

Monday marked the beginning of a busy week for Brown and his organization. On Wednesday, he’ll be out in the Dollars Corner area helping create new spawning grounds in Mill Creek. Helping with that effort will be Clark Public Utilities’ StreamTeam program and Jeff Wittler, the utility’s environmental resources manager. The job is big — Brown said he expects to build several spawning beds using 12 cubic yards of gravel.

As usual, Brown will work with a team of volunteers to get the job done. That’s part of an ongoing effort by Brown and Meyer to educate and engage the community in their work.

Brown expected the same during the Pleasant Valley fish release. Shortly before the fish were placed in the pond, one person asked if attendees could help. Brown answered quickly.

“Oh, they’re going to help,” he said. “Everybody’s going to help.”

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541 or eric.florip@columbian.com.