Friday November 10, 2023

Earth Island Journal

In July 2022, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe as well as several fish and wildlife agencies celebrated the reintroduction of Chinook salmon to the McCloud River in far Northern California for the first time since World War II. That was when federal officials removed Winnemem Wintu people from their ancestral homes along the river and erected the 602-foot Shasta Dam, blocking the salmon’s migration path and flooding 27 miles of the lower McCloud.

Because mother salmon couldn’t swim up the river to dig their nests, called redds, agency staff trucked and helicoptered fertilized salmon eggs from a Sacramento River hatchery to the remote, mountainous site on the McCloud River. They then deposited the eggs into streamside incubators, which are designed to imprint the unhatched salmon with an urgent desire to return to the river’s unique water chemistry as adults. After experimenting with a barrel-like incubator, agency staff eventually moved the eggs to another device called “heath trays” because they could filter the McCloud’s potentially dangerous spouts of turbid flows.

All of this was part of an urgent effort to save California’s winter-run Chinook from extinction. After struggling for decades, the winter-run Chinook eggs suffered catastrophic death rates in the summers of 2021 and 2022 when drought and industrial diversions turned the Sacramento River into a sizzling death trap.

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