Greg Huchko, ODFW senior biologist

On October 6, 2023, the Oregon Department of Fish an Wildlife (ODFW) levied a $27.6 million fine against the Winchester Water Control District (WWCD), the owners of the condemned Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River, and their contractors TerraFirma Foundation Systems and DOWL Engineering.

ODFW Director Curt Melcher stationed senior Biologist Greg Huchko in Roseburg to manage the stewardship of the North Umpqua River. Huchko is ODFW’s top official in the Umpqua District.

But when ODFW staff reported on August 7, 2023, that Ryan Beckley, president of the WWCD and owner of TerraFirma Foundations (WWCD’s dam repair contractor) had drained the private water ski lake behind the dam 12 times faster than his permit allowed, Greg Huchko failed stop the repairs at Winchester Dam, as is normally the consequence permit violations of this nature.

Huchko’s failure to intercede and enforce the permit as written resulted in the biggest fish kill on an Oregon river this year, and the death of more than 500,000 wild native fish.

No doubt, ODFW Director Curt Melcher will lay the blame for this colossal fish kill at Huchko’s feet, as doing so may temper the ire of Douglas County residents who decry ODFW’s incompetent management of the North Umpqua River – the number one steelhead stream in North America (and some say the world).

But most Douglas County residents are unaware that senior ODFW Biologist Greg Huchko’s wife – who also works for ODFW – is the official who signed off on Ryan Beckley’s 2022 Winchester Dam repair permit. At the very least, this suggests an absence of transparency. That said, the entire matter wreaks of nepotism.

In direct contradiction of ODFW’s Fish Passage Task Force’s published findings, Huchko is repeatedly quoted in local newspapers stating that, in his professional opinion, the Winchester Dam doesn’t block fish passage, but rather is merely “delaying fish migration.” 

This is patently false and Huchko knows it. He is well aware that dams kill fish and that studies have found that only 3% of fish actually find passage through a fish ladder.

Huchko’s so-called professional opinions are clearly tailored to help a few rich property owners maintain their grasp on the most dangerous and illegal private water ski lake in Oregon, directly behind the Winchester Dam. But most egregiously, Huchko’s lies are repeatedly quoted by the WWCD in their dam repair permit applications to ODFW ­– which ODFW then approves!

The collusion between ODFW and WWCD flys in the face of ODFW’s stated mandate of “Protecting and enhancing Oregon’s fish and wildlife, and the habitats they use, for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations is at the heart of what we do.”

Some people who support the imminent removal of Winchester Dam bemoan the loss of the Winchester Dam’s fish ladder video camera. These citizens have no way of knowing that the dam’s concrete fish ladder, installed in 1945, is 78-years-old, way out of compliance with all 21st-century standards, and is literally worn down to the exposed rusting rebar so that it actually maims fish who attempt to pass through it. The Winchester Dam and its antiquated fish ladder are now ODFW’s 2nd highest priority for fish passage at a private dam.

In ODFW’s decades long effort to aid and abet their buddies in the WWCD, ODFW obediently refrains from publishing (or even admitting to the existence of) the two identical fish ladder video cameras at nearby Rock Creek Dam and Soda Springs Dam – which, along with the fish counting stations, were paid for by the taxpayers of Oregon.

ODFW hides this information from the very public that pays their salaries.

Additionally, ODFW never publishes the fish counts at either of these two dam sites. This is because ODFW is deliberately hiding the existence of these cameras to make people believe that if Winchester Dam is removed (as it soon will be) this will also mean the loss of the only fish ladder video camera on the North Umpqua River. The 99 WWCD members make a concerted effort to broadcast this myth to anyone foolish enough to listen.

The rich WWCD property owners with whom ODFW has colluded for decades are now defendants in one of the biggest lawsuits ODFW has ever mounted against private dam owners. After decades of obvious collusion, ODFW is now suing WWCD for the massive fish kill that ODFW went out of their way to make possible.

But this is just one example of ODFW’s irresponsible and indefensible gross negligence.

In July 2022, Mike Ruehle, one of our volunteers, emailed senior ODFW’s Umpqua Basin senior biologist Greg Huchko a question about the Rock Creek Hatchery and the hundreds (some report thousands) of fish visibly stuck below the Rock Creek Dam in the heat of the summer sun. 

Fish lined up below the Rock Creek Dam in July 2022

Doors to fish ladder trap closed at Rock Creek Dam, July 2022

Huchko wrote back to Ruehle stating that the dam’s fish ladder is typically in operation and the fish ladder traps often have fish in them. But in his emailed response to Ruehle, Huchko blind cc’s the three Douglas County commissioners.

This is of serious concern as Ruehle was a candidate for the position of commissioner in a recent county election. This is apparently evidence of collusion between ODFW officials and the three Douglas County commissioners.

One wonders how Huchko’s blind cc’ing the commissioners in correspondence with a concerned citizen is consistent with ODFW’s stated mandate quoted above.

Plywood blocking fish ladder at Rock Creek Dam

On the day in July of 2022, when Ruehle visited the Rock Creek Dam, there were indeed hundreds of fish lined up below the dam. But not one was seen in the fish ladder trap. This was because an old, worn piece of plywood had intentionally been placed to block access to the fish ladder and it appeared to have been there for months. All of the water from the fish ladder entrance spilled out a four-foot diameter steel pipe jutting out of the side of the dam onto rocks eight to ten feet below. Suffice to say, there was no fish passage of any kind for migratory native fish, which means about half million salmon and steelhead eggs were prevented from being deposited in the North Umpqua River that summer.

Fish ladder trap entrance at Rock Creek Dam inaccessable to migratory fish in July 2022

On July 29, 2022, Ruehle posted evidence of the blocked fish passage at the Rock Creek Dam on his “Douglas County Reports” Facebook page, where he also shared the details of on his email exchange with Huchko.

For Greg Huchko, senior ODFW biologist in the Umpqua District, this was a bridge too far. Instead of addressing the obvious problem at the Rock Creek Dam that Ruehle, an unpaid concerned citizen, had gone to the trouble of reporting, Huchko targeted Ruehle for revenge. One wonders if Huchko spoke with his supervisor at ODFW prior to embarking on his mission of personal vengeance.

At 7:55 am on Wednesday August 3, 2022, the doorbell rang at Ruehle’s home. Upon opening the front door, Ruehle was greeted by Sergeant Matt Bowersox of the Oregon State Police Department.

Sergeant Bowersox informed Ruehle that he was investigating a crime – he said Ruehle had allegedly trespassed on the Rock Creek Dam property, which Sergeant Bowersox claimed was posted with “No Trespassing” signs.

Gate at Rock Creek Dam in July 2022

Sergeant Bowersox admitted that Ruehle wasn’t “in trouble” because ODFW’s Greg Huchko “didn’t want to press charges this time.” Bowersox explained that Huchko sent him to put Ruehle “on notice,” and to warn him that if it happened again, there would be “legal consequences.”

Ruehle was surprised as there isn’t even a fence around the Rock Creek fish hatchery. There aren’t any “No Trespassing” signs visible in any of the 47 photos Ruehle took during his site visit. There is only one solitary gate, which curiously isn’t attached to any fence, but does bear one solitary “Closed to the Public” sign.

The entrance gate to the Rock Creek Dam in July 2022

Sergeant Bowersox told Ruehle that he had been ordered by Huchko to make sure that Ruehle knew his hike was illegal and that he may be arrested if he returned to the Rock Creek Dam.

Ruehle was skeptical. He told Bowersox that he didn’t think his hike from Hwy 138 to the dam site broke any laws.

“You are absolutely right,” said Bowersox. “But if you go into structures or buildings, that’s a lot different…I don’t know the intricacies of it. I got a call from Greg [Huchko]” 

Although Sergeant Bowersox presence at Ruehl’s home was uncalled for and unjustified, he was both polite and professional. Oregon taxpayers, who fund the state police force, will appreciate that Huchko’s use of Sergeant Bowersox’s valuable time to fulfill a personal vendetta is unsupportable. This is clearly an abuse of power.

Rock Creek Dam

Huchko abused his power for the purpose of intimidating a concerned citizen who reported on ODFW’s obvious mismanagement of the local fisheries. This is because Huchko is clearly a partisan player – a taxpayer funded bureaucrat who works to protect the interests of the few rich WWCD members who want only to retain their private water ski lake on a river and boat ramp that was once public property.

Upon hearing the news of Huchko’s gross indiscretions on the heels of this summer’s record fish kill, ODFW Curt Melcher was as mad as a boiled spotted owl. Rest assured that the next time Huchko sends a state trooper to intimidate a taxpayer, it will be his last act as ODFW’s senior biologist in the Umpqua Basin. Good thing Huchko’s wife has a job at ODFW as her husband may catapult himself into early retirement.

Greg Huchko has the distinction of being the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employee personally responsible for failing to enforce the repair permit the Winchester Dam this summer. ODFW stationed him in Roseburg to prevent catastrophes of this kind from ever occurring.

And he dropped the ball. His failure was indeed catastrophic. He personally presided over the biggest fish kill of the year.

If this costs him his job, he will be sorely missed by the 99 owners of the private water ski lake behind the condemned Winchester Dam whose interests he so loyally upheld.

One hesitates to speculate what manner of “rewards” the WWCD members provided Huchko for his years of collaboration and cooperation.