[Letter to the editor of the Roseburg News-Review, October 12, 2023]

The pervasive myth that the Winchester Dam prevents small mouth bass, an invasive species, from swimming upriver is false.

According to aquatic biologists familiar with the North Umpqua River, the natural cold temperature of the river is an effective barrier to invasive fish. But the sun-warmed water stored behind the dam makes the river hospitable to warm water invasive species like the bass.

If the dam were removed, the river’s natural cold temperature would repel invasive species – including bass – as it did for tens of thousands of years before the dam was built.

Ryan Beckley, the president of the Winchester Water Control District (WWCD), told the News-Review that the dam’s fish ladder “… is keeping out small mouth bass. It’s allowing salmon, it’s allowing trout, it’s allowing steelhead in huge and vibrant, healthy numbers.”

This is also false.

Mr. Beckley conveniently forgets that the 2023 steelhead count at Winchester Dam was less than 400. Thus, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) closed all fishing on the North Umpqua until December 2023 – the second 120-day fishing ban in the last three years.

The dam impedes upstream migration of native fish. Out-migrating juveniles are injured or killed by the 17-foot fall over the dam’s lip onto the bedrock below.

Contrary to WWCD’s repeated claims, ODFW admits that Winchester Dam and its fish ladder DO NOT stop smallmouth bass from traveling upriver.

In 2019, ODFW ranked Winchester Dam and its fish ladder the 26th worst out of 590 migratory fish passage barriers in Oregon, and ODFW’s second highest priority for fish passage improvement among all privately owned dams.

The North Umpqua is the #1 steelhead stream in North America – a world-class fishing destination. Remove the dam and the native fish will return, and our local economy will blossom.

–John Hunter, Tenmile, Oregon