The Return of the Salmon to Tryon Creek

Deep in southwest Portland, in a stream that borders Lewis & Clark Law School, the salmon are awake.

by Shelly Meyer

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service caught, tagged, and released a small number of juvenile coho in Tryon Creek. The agency’s fish biologists weren’t even looking for salmon; instead, they were sampling for steelhead and cutthroat trout. “We were pleasantly surprised to pick up a few coho,” says Michael Hudson, supervisory fish biologist for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Columbia River Fisheries Program Office. “They all seemed in pretty good shape.”

Based on the size of the fish, biologists think adult coho may have migrated up Tryon Creek in the fall of 2005, spawned, and produced offspring that have survived for a year in the stream.

From its headwater springs in Portland’s Multnomah Village, Tryon Creek flows seven miles to join the Willamette River. The creek’s watershed spans 4,500 acres and includes Tryon Creek State Park, a picturesque wildlife area located adjacent to the law school. Because of paving, development, and other forms of human encroachment elsewhere, Tryon Creek is one of the last free-flowing tributaries to the Willamette in the Portland metropolitan area.

If we are given one more chance, we will do better. If only we could awaken this salmon, the other salmon might come up the stream.”

My job is to understand how meaning is made and translated, to trace how knowledge that is both cultural and material circulates among scientists and other stakeholders.From the Yakima’s Legend of the Lost Salmon

The return of the salmon to Tryon Creek is due, in large measure, to the cooperative efforts of government agencies, public and private landowners, and nonprofits like Lewis & Clark. “It’s a great success story,” says Dan Rohlf, associate professor of law and director of the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center at the law school. Rohlf also serves on the board of the Friends of Tryon Creek State Park and is a member of the Tryon Creek Watershed Council. “We’re now seeing the payoff of all our hard work.”

Over the years, interested stakeholders, including Lewis & Clark faculty and staff, have participated in volunteer work parties to remove invasive species (e.g., English ivy, Himalayan blackberry, European clematis, and knotweed) and replant native trees and shrubs in the park. Efforts such as these improve the health and flow of the stream, especially for fish like salmon.

Such work also ensures that Tryon Creek will continue to be an educational resource for Lewis & Clark’s undergraduate, law, and graduate students.

“At the beginning of each semester, I take my LLM students on a tour of Tryon Creek State Park,” says Rohlf. “We’ve got a habitat for threatened species right in our own backyard–amazing!” Faculty from the undergraduate college have also studied the Tryon Creek watershed in an effort to identify interdisciplinary research opportunities for students.

But there is still work to be done. For example, Rohlf says a 400-foot culvert that carries the stream under Highway 43 in Lake Oswego poses a problem for fish. Over the summer, baffles were installed to help slow the stream’s flow and to raise the height of the streambed so fish don’t need to make a dangerous jump into or out of the culvert. But he notes that eventually replacing the culvert with a bridge would have tremendous benefits for salmon restoration.

Despite the continuing challenges, Rohlf and others are heartened by the salmon’s return. “The surveying work that was done in the spring involved only a portion of the creek,” says Rohlf. “It bodes well that there may be more salmon to be found.” To find out for sure, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service plans to do more sampling–this time, specifically for coho–this fall.

Who knows what they may find now that the salmon are awake?