March 14, 2001 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

A project that puts dead fish in rivers to help young salmon and other organisms grow has been partly funded by the Grande Ronde Model Watershed.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will receive $30,000 from the model watershed for a project that will place about 100 salmon carcasses in a one-mile reach of the Upper Lostine River late in the summer.

Tim Walters, researcher for the ODFW, said several studies in the Northwest have shown that as the fish decompose, nutrients, valuable to plant and animal life, are added to the stream. Young salmon also feed directly on the carcasses, as do a variety of other fish and some animals, he said.

Walters said that he reviewed the results of about 30 fish carcass studies while preparing the proposal.

The state agency has been developing the plan for several years and first presented it three years ago to the model watershed.

In discussing the proposal with the model watershed board earlier this week, ODFW Northeast Regional Director Craig Ely said that the cattlemens associations in the area had questioned the effectiveness and the cost of the project.

Ely said the original cost, in excess of $142,000, would have included considerable research. The actual proposal, $30,000, will include a study of the effects of the increased nutrients downstream.

Walters said that historically, after salmon spawned in the upper reaches of a stream, the remaining carcasses provided nutrients to plants, invertebrates and animals.

Salmon are a direct food source for 22 species, in and out of the stream, he said.

As salmon runs have declined, so have the number of carcasses. The project will try to replicate history, Walters said.

Carcasses help juvenile salmon grow

The previous studies show that juvenile salmon grow larger and healthier when carcasses are in the stream, Walters said. If the young salmon are healthy when they begin their migration to the ocean, they may have a better chance of survival, he said.

Weve tripled the growth rate of juvenile coho (salmon) by 50 percent to 100 percent, he said.

Looking at young salmon is not the only objective of the project, Walters said.

Were looking at the overall productivity of the stream with carcasses, he said.

The upper Lostine River was chosen for the project because it is nutrient poor, Ely told the model watershed board.

Other streams may be stocked with fish carcasses if the Lostine River project proves effective, but no decisions have been made, Walters said.

Wed like to continue this study (after this year) and use it in combination with other studies to decide where and how many wed place, he said.

The model watershed board approved 22 other projects for funding in Wallowa and Union counties. Among them:

Rangeland drill. The Union Soil and Water Conservation District will buy a seeding drill to lend to rangeland owners who want to improve the quality of the grass and fight the noxious weeds.

Riparian fencing and planting will continue on the Cahuna Ranch with a newly funded Longley Meadows restoration project, to be directed by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. More than 200 acres will be fenced and planted.

A portable bridge built in 10 sections will be purchased and loaned to forest landowners to eliminate fords and culverts along streams where logging trucks cross. The Oregon Department of Forestry will buy the bridge.

About seven projects are planned for private land or will help landowners to improve streams. Another five are La Grande Ranger District Forest Service projects, and four are sponsored by the Wallowa Valley Ranger District. A total of $532,531 has been committed for projects for this year. Funds come from the Bonneville Power Administration.