For the first time in 100 years, chinook salmon are spawning in the White Salmon River above Condit Dam.  It’s happening thanks to a USFWS program that’s been going on over the course of the last month to both protect this year’s spawners, and help jump start the recovery process.

Normally, these threatened Tule Chinook would swim as far upstream as they could–Condit Dam for the last 100 years–then find a suitable site to spawn and die.  Eggs laid below the dam this fall, though, would risk being wiped out by the massive sediment-laden torrent of water that’ll be sent downstream once Condit is breached in late October.  So to protect this year’s offspring, and to give the recovery process a head start, USFWS has been rounding up returning fall chinook below the dam and transporting them upstream–with hopes that they’d spawn.

Tule Chinook Salmon Digging a Redd (video still)

Well, the experiment worked.  The lower White Salmon River has several incredible areas of spawning habitat and the fish are loving it.  Next spring, their eggs will hatch and the salmon will be swept downstream through a hole in the base of Condit Dam and eventually to the ocean.  And in 3-5 years, they’ll return to the White Salmon to spawn and die like their parents are doing right now.

Rod Engle, USFWS Biologist, admires his work

This weekend, I headed out with Hayden Peters to document some of the spawning.  Using techniques I learned from filming wild endangered Salmon River Chinook in Marsh Creek, ID, we captured some incredible moving images of spawning activity.  My filming techniques were developed under the close supervision of 30-year veteran field biologist Russ Thurow last summer to minimize the impact on highly stressed spawners.  Not only were the fish on the White Salmon not spooked off of their redds by our presence, but our main problem was keeping them far enough away from our lens to get a decent shot.

Enjoy these behind the scenes photos from our day in the river!