Rich Zellam of Steelhead Water (left) and Jake Crawford of Fly Water Travel (right)

On Friday, September 15, 2023, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Commissioner met in Bend, Oregon, and one of the subjects on the agenda was the Winchester Dam.

Jake Crawford of Fly Water Travel in Ashland, Oregon, is the former Southern District Manager of the Native Fish Society. He addressed ODFW Director Curt Melcher and the Commission, stating:

“Of all the destinations, the North Umpqua River is the most revered steelhead stream in North America. There’s a rich angling history that draws people from across the state and the country, year after year. The economic benefit and multiplier effect from anglers to local businesses is well known. On the North [Umpqua], anglers support the hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, in Roseburg, up to Steamboat and Dry Creek, to the gas stations in Glide and Idlewild, and into many tackle manufacturers and the multi-generation family guide business we work with on the North [Umpqua]. For more than two decades we’ve worked with thousands of anglers to go and fish the North Umpqua River and I’m here to share my concern with the poor returns of summer steelhead and draw special attention to the egregious actions taken by the repair company at Winchester Dam this past month.

“The reality is that anglers seek out healthy fisheries. And for the second time in three years, the North Umpqua River is now closed to recreational angling due to returns not meeting conservation thresholds…

“Frustratingly, over the past month, while the recreational closure was in effect and we were on the sidelines, the private company repairing the dam has shown utter disregard for the short and long term health of the river, at the expense of the public trust to the benefit of the few.”

Scott Howell, a license fishing guide told the commission:

“I’m an Oregon State licensed fishing guide and North Umpqua permit holder and special use permit holder. So, I guide up there and my business has been built, over the last 20 years, around fishing the North Umpqua. 

“What I hear with this issue when I hear people talk in in defense of the [Winchester] dam is – I hear a lot of ‘I’s and ‘mine’s: ‘I’m losing my waterfront property,’ ‘I’m losing my private summer playground,’ and ‘I’m losing my favorite fishing spot, which is below the dam, which is a place where fish artificially stack up because the of the dam itself…’

“[The North Umpqua River is] closed right now because of low numbers … My businesses is shut down; at the same time that we have private interests that are killing fish, impeding fish passage at a time of critical water temperatures, and polluting a river.”

Dax Messett of Daxfly Angling Services in Medford, Oregon, told the Commission:

“I run a guide outfitting business on the North Umpqua where I operate above the dam, where I help hold a special use guide permits to the national forest. Virtually all of my clients travel from out of state, which generates pretty high revenue of out of state license sales for the ODFW. They also generate, of course, a huge revenue base for the surrounding communities, for lodging, food, fuel, and other expenses that they incur when they travel here to fish the most iconic and celebrated steelhead river on the planet – unless it’s closed, like it is now. Then they don’t buy fishing licenses or come here at all. The fact that myself and other guide operations cannot operate our businesses on the North [Umpqua] will cost the ODFW tens of thousands of dollars in lost fishing license sales and of course will cost the local surrounding communities on the river hundreds of thousands in lost critical tourist revenues.

“Meanwhile Winchester Dam produces zero dollars for the local community or the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. This barrier has been a major contributing factor in the closure of sport angling on the North Umpqua for two of the last three years. It has a proven negative impact on the watershed and is a barrier for all migrating species, cutting off habitat for 160 miles of river above this ridiculous dam. 

“I want state management agencies to put the local communities and ODFW’s economic interests ahead of the privately run Winchester Water [Control] District interest, which keep their private lake that generates zero state or public revenue on a public river. 

“I want the Winchester Water [Control] District to be held accountable for the staggering amount of heinous violations that they have committed over the years. I want ODFW to take action towards finally taking the Winchester Dam down and we could do it without any cost from the state…”