McKinney fire debris flow kills Klamath River fish

A massive runoff caused by flash flooding following a wildfire in Northern California is believed to have killed scores of fish along the 50-mile stretch of the Klamath River last week.

Craig Tucker, natural resources policy adviser for the Karuk Tribe, said intense storms caused floodwaters to flood through an area recently burned by the McKinney Fire, pushing soil, rocks and burned trees. into a river near Humbug Creek, said Craig Tucker, natural resources policy adviser for the Karuk Tribe. At least four deaths were linked to the 60,000-acre fire, the largest California fire so far this year.

Mike Lindbery, a fire public information officer, said debris flow was reported after up to 3 inches of rain fell on the east side of the fire on Tuesday, August 2. Lindbery, a public information officer about the fire.

A telemetry system managed by Karuk about 20 miles downstream, at Seiad Creek, found that dissolved oxygen in the river dropped to zero in about four hours on Wednesday night, Tucker said. then again the next night. Dead fish started drifting downstream at Happy Camp that Thursday.

“It’s like corpses floating in our smoke,” he said.

Active fires – including the McKinney fire and the 8,000-acre Yeti fire – have precluded a full investigation, as virtually everything upstream of Happy Camp remains evacuated, Tucker said. But it looks like the fish killing extends across 50 miles of river, he said.

“From about Humbug Creek to Indian Creek, at Happy Camp, it was a kill zone in those two days,” Tucker said. “It looks like everything in the river is dead.”

Species include juvenile chinook and coho salmon, as well as trout, pacific osprey, suckerfish, crayfish and various invertebrates, he said.

The measurement system shows that oxygen levels have since improved, Tucker said. And since adult salmon are now entering rivers in the Pacific to swim upstream to spawn, it’s likely they haven’t yet reached the area where the killing occurred, he said.

“As bad as this is, we feel like we’ve dodged a bullet, because if this happens at the end of August it could wreak havoc on the adult fish migration,” he said.

At the same time, he said, suckers play an important role in river ecosystems, acting as vacuum cleaners to keep algae from growing out of control. It is unclear what their destruction on such a large stretch of river will mean for next year’s water quality.

Recently burned soil is susceptible to debris runoff because there is less vegetation to absorb rain and hold the soil in place. Ash and other burned particles can also clog the soil, reducing the soil’s ability to absorb water.

Research has suggested that severely burned soils, in which most or all of the vegetation has died, is even more susceptible to detritus runoff. That seems to be true for the area where this runoff takes place — the fire was sparked by an accumulation of combustible vegetation and burned violently, Tucker said.

“For us, this highlights the importance of land management for fisheries,” he said.

Indigenous people regularly set fire to the landscape until the practice was criminalized, he said. As a result, fires have been excluded from this particular area for 70 years, since another wildfire burned almost to the same extent in the early 1950s.

Meanwhile, decades of commercial logging have seen swathes of Klamath forest cleared and sprayed with herbicides to suppress hardwood growth and nurture dense plantations of fir. Douglas and Ponderosa pines, further harming the diversity and resilience of the forest, Tucker said.

“You pour global warming on top of this, and these ecosystems are at a breaking point,” he said.

“That is why we are advocates of regulated burning,” he added. “Because what we allowed was for the fuel to build up over the decades. And when the fire came, it just ignited violently and lost control.”

The tribes that call home the Klamath basin, including the Karuk and Yurok, also actively manage the land to support salmon populations using sophisticated techniques, Tucker said. They will strategically place smoke in the air in the fall, he said, often during ceremonial events to welcome the fish. The smoke blocked the sun from the water, he said, and caused the river’s temperature to drop, which in turn triggered the salmon to swim upstream to spawn.

“Now, people are getting ready to participate in tribal rituals to celebrate the return of the salmon and here we have these mass killings of fish,” he said. “It’s hard to have a religious celebration when these terrible things are happening all around you.”

The killing, Tucker said, came as tribal leaders were chatting about how to mark the 20th anniversary of the 2002 fish killing, in which up to 70,000 adult salmon died before spawning. downstream of Klamath because of poor water quality and low flows, Tucker said. The tragedy led tribes, conservation organizations and commercial fishermen to band together and demand the removal of four old hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River that reduced the river’s flow, warmed the water and blocked the salmon migration. .

Tucker called the removal, which is expected to be unveiled by federal regulators later this year, “the largest salmon restoration project in history.” Locals were excited about the project moving forward, he said. And the rain that falls in May means that for the first time in several years, they are optimistic they will see a good percentage of fry survival. That was until last week.

“We were hoping to celebrate,” he said. “This is a real setback to that.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-10/mckinney-fire-debris-flow-kills-klamath-river-fish McKinney fire debris flow kills Klamath River fish

Edmund DeMarche

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