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  • OR is the southern extent of Chum and Sockeye
  • Home to populations of Chinook, Coho and Steelhead
  • Steelhead populations are stable on the OR coast

Oregon’s salmon habitat spans a tremendous diversity, including the arid high desert tributaries of the Snake and Columbia, Coastal Rainforest, and Southern Oregon Siskyou

Oregon steelhead

Oregon is the southern extent of both Chum Salmon and Sockeye and is home to populations of Chinook, Coho and Steelhead. Given the range of watersheds and salmon in Oregon the issues facing salmon vary broadly throughout the state.

In the east, the Deschutes, John Day, Umatilla and Grande Ronde and Imnaha are major tributaries to the Snake. Like their neighbors in Idaho and Washington, these fish must navigate past the Columbia and Snake River Dams a major contributor to both juvenile and adult mortality, and large scale hatchery production throughout the basin limits the productivity of many stocks. The John Day does not receive hatchery plants, although some hatchery fish stray into the river, and it supports arguably the healthiest population of steelhead in the state. It is the third longest undammed river in the United States.

McKenzie River, Willamette National Forest

McKenzie River, Willamette National Forest

The Lower Columbia and Willamette are both home to listed populations of steelhead as well as Chinook. On the Willamette, dam construction has blocked roughly 50% of the historic spawning habitat for native spring Chinook and winter steelhead and plans are in the works to provide fish passage at dams on the North and South Santiam, McKenzie and Middle Fork Willamette. In 2007 fish and river advocates celebrated as Marmot dam was removed on the Sandy River, a major tributary of the Lower Columbia. However, prior to the dam removal biologists had been able to sort hatchery fish from the population spawning above the dam, creating a refuge for native salmon and steelhead. Since the removal data suggests that upwards of 70-80% of Chinook spawning in the upper Sandy are of hatchery origin, and concerns have surfaced about the magnitude of hatchery programs in the Sandy and their role in depressing wild steelhead and Chinook.

On the Oregon Coast, wild steelhead populations are stable and ESA listed coho are gradually recovering from decades of logging and overharvest. Both species benefit from restrictive harvest regulations, and an increased focus on managing forests not only for timber production but also to support healthy watersheds and salmon populations.

Oregon Coast

Oregon Coast

The Umpqua and Rogue are the two largest rivers on the Oregon Coast, reaching far into the interior of the state to the Cascade Crest, these rivers loom large in the history and mythology of steelhead angling. Both support large populations of winter and summer steelhead as well as spring and fall Chinook. The North Umpqua and the “fly water”, a 30 mile stretch of river concentrated around the mouth of Steamboat Creek has nurtured steelhead fly fishing traditions since the early 20th century. ODFW has been counting returning adult steelhead and salmon at Winchester Dam since 1945 and remarkably wild winter steelhead in the North Umpqua have not declined significantly since that time. While summer steelhead have declined some, populations remain relatively robust. ODFW does not release hatchery winter steelhead into the North Umpqua and hatchery summer steelhead are limited to the lower river.

In the coming decades Oregonians have hard work ahead of them to ensure that forests and fish can thrive on the Oregon Coast, and to encourage ODFW in efforts to reform hatcheries and reduce their impact on wild populations. Despite these challenges, Oregon is blessed with a remarkable diversity of productive salmon and steelhead rivers and with thoughtful management and strong citizen advocacy these populations will continue to recover and thrive.