Curt Melcher, ODFW Director (left) and Greg Huchko, ODFW Douglas County Biologist (right).

During the August 2023 repairs of the Winchester Dam, Ryan Beckley’s Terra Firma Foundation Systems failed to remove any of the highly toxic pressure-treated lumber that leaches chromium, arsenic, and copper, and the carcinogenic creosote-treated wood used in previous repairs to Winchester Dam.

Taxpayers picked up the tab for a specially designed $50,000 lamprey fish ramp installed at the Winchester Dam in 2013. During the August 2023 dam repairs, along with the fish ladder, this ramp was shut down so fish passage was blocked for over four weeks when the private water ski lake above the dam was drained.

This was approved by Curt Melcher, Director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and overseen by ODFW Douglas County biologist Greg Huchko, and resulted in the biggest fish kill on an Oregon River in 2023, and the needless death of “hundreds of thousands” of lamprey.

Curiously, when the dams were removed on the Rogue River, 100 miles away in neighboring Curry County a few years ago, the same Curt Melcher, Director of ODFW refused to allow the fish ladders to be shut down or fish passage blocked for even one minute

Perhaps Melcher can explain what’s so different about the fish in Douglas County? 

Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) president Ryan Beckley chose the apex of a severe wildfire season in the hottest summer on record, to drain WWCD’s private water ski lake. Beckley’s permit required WWCD to implement a comprehensive strategy to salvage fish stranded or isolated fish both upstream, and downstream of the dewatered dam.

But according to Jeffrey Dose, a retired fish biologist with 31 years of experience in the North Umpqua River Basin, and the author of Salmon 2021: The Future of Wild Pacific Salmon in the Pacific Northwest, this did not occur.

Tens of thousands of juvenile Pacific lamprey were also dewatered,” said Dose, “and suffered extensive mortality. The WWCD … failed miserably.” He called Ryan Beckley’s and WWCD’s conduct “reprehensible and predictable.”

On August 9, 2023, 48 hours after the draining of the private water ski lake, dozens of state, federal, and tribal entities attempted to rescue juvenile Pacific lamprey that were trapped behind the drained dam wall – even though Beckley’s permit specifically stated that this was WWCD’s responsibility. The efforts of these state and federal officials at the Winchester Dam (also paid for by taxpayers) were largely unsuccessful due to Beckley on-the-cheap and inept dam repair plan, and his callous disregard for native fish. 

The 109º temperature of August 14, 2023, sealed the fate of any remaining trapped fish. This resulted in the largest fish kill on an Oregon river this year.

Ryan Beckley had the audacity to misinform the Roseburg News-Review that he had “hired 17 marine biologists who were there the first four days, accompanied by 60-70 volunteers.” 

Beckley’s claim is patently false. 

Apparently, he is unaware that marine biologists’ expertise is in oceanic environments. The biologists to whom Beckley refers were among the volunteers who showed on August 9, 2023, (paid for by the taxpayers) to attempt save the fish from certain death imposed upon them by Beckley’s failure to observe “fishery best management practices.”  

According to Jim McCarthy of WaterWatch of Oregon, “This is like an arsonist lighting the forest on fire, then taking credit for the firefighters who show up after others rush to raise the alarm. River advocates observing the repairs on August 7, 2023, immediately raised concerns with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) regarding the woefully inadequate salvage effort of the [WWCD] District, and soon after notified federal wildlife officials of the mass death of lamprey.”

“At the least, the WWCD should reimburse all the costs;” wrote retired Umpwua River biologist Jeffrey Dose, “including salaries, transportation, equipment, per diem, and any other expenses that were … incurred by civil servants and employees of agencies [who came to rescue stranded fish at Winchester Dam on August 9, 2023] that are taxpayer expenses. We, citizens and taxpayers, should accept nothing less.”   

Allowing the biggest fish kill of the year to occur on his watch may cost ODFW’s Douglas County biologist Greg Huchko his job.