Make the McKenzie Connection!


Corps, ODFW, Guides & new contractor pledge cooperation

Tom MacDonald pic







LEABURG: “Desert Hot Springs Trout Farm has been in business since 1985 and never had an outbreak of pathogens,” was a point stressed by Tom MacDonald last Friday. Speaking at a McKenzie Chamber of Commerce town hall meeting, he was part of a panel discussion on the future of angling in the McKenzie River region.

The session came about after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided this year to end a long term agreement to get trout from the Leaburg Trout Hatchery. It asked for bids to deliver 277,000 pounds of fish to stock streams and lakes in the Willamette basin. Desert Springs was awarded a $1.3 million contract on August 2nd.

Shortly after that decision,  Tammy Mackey, the Corps’ Portland District Fish Section chief, issued a statement saying, “Desert Springs’ proposal met the federal government’s requirements at a cost that provides the best value to taxpayers,” it said. “They have worked with ODFW in recent years and we feel confident that they will provide good stock that will meet the expectations of Oregon anglers and fish managers.”

Because the contract contains proprietary information the Corps hasn’t released any details to the public. Greg Taylor, the Corps’ Willamette Basin fisheries biologist was part of the panel and did his best to respond to multiple questions about the contract.

“I was not on the selection committee,” Taylor noted, adding that he has, “not seen the contract or any details associated with it. Even if I knew the details I couldn’t speak.”

People at the meeting pressed for more. Among them was Dana Burwell, who said in his experience with public contracting a request for bids would include details on how submissions would be evaluated.

“Why wouldn’t the Corps do a public process for that?” he asked.

Saying the contract didn’t “pass the smell test,” Andy McWilliams questioned, “Why we should pay $500,000 more for something we had before, was adequate and did a good job. People are going to lose their jobs. The hatchery was a tourist attraction for the area. I don’t think we’re getting a good deal here. I think it’s an inside job that smells bad.”

Some details of the contract were outlined in a Freedom of Information Act request from McKenzie River Reflections. Although the response to the FOIA request didn’t cover all the background material, it did include a subcontracting plan from the Desert Springs Trout Farm that the Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife’s losing bid might have been hard pressed to compete with. Desert Springs’ submission detailed plans to enter into subcontracts with women-owned, veteran-owned and service disabled veteran-owned small businesses, as well as working with other struggling businesses in Lake County - where the hatchery is already one of the area’s largest employers.

Other concerns ranged from questions about the distances involved in trucking fish from Eastern Oregon, to whether the fish were being raised from GMO (genetically modified organism)  breedstock.

MacDonald said his hatchery earlier this year had trucked trout 760 miles to Los Angeles and, “Didn’t lose a fish.” He also credited his operation’s artesian spring water source, at 60 degrees, for producing, “Much, much healthier fish.

ODFW’s Willamette fisheries biologist Jeff Ziller fielded the GMO question by noting that hatchery produced fish are hatched out as “triploid trout” that are sterile and won’t interbreed with native stocks.

Ziller also described ODFW’s relationship to the McKenzie fishery, dating back to the early 1900’s. Over time, he said, the agency dealt with “two separate statutory authorities” - not allowing decreases in indigenous species while also “providing optimum recreational benefits to Oregonians.”

The contract, Ziller pointed out, called for planting 277,000 lbs. of trout in Willamette River system streams. Only 15% of that amount, he added, have always been scheduled for stocking in the McKenzie area, with the rest going out on “about 250 other release dates.”

Steve Mealey, president of the McKenzie River Guides Association, gave a history of how his group has helped distribute fish between the Forest Glen Boat Ramp to Hendricks Bridge using a planter boat.

“Without the current fish distribution system, hatchery fish stocking would be limited to trucked fish ‘dumps’ at landings,” he warned. Doing that, he felt, would concentrate fishing pressure at the landings and likely “reduce or eliminate the McKenzie River guiding industry as we know it.”

Ziller said ODFW “owns the boat and would set up stocking just like we’ve done in the past. Our expectation is that Tom (MacDonald) is going to have fish there at the boat landings at 8 o’clock in the morning.”

Although that’s not in the present contract MacDonald said he planned to enter into an agreement with the Corps, ODFW and the McKenzie Guides to continue stocking fish using the planter boat system. He expected that could be done using three of his hatchery’s nine tanker trucks to haul fish from the  Eastern Oregon hatchery, saying “We’re gonna make it work.”

To view videos of the entire meeting, go to:

Image: Tom MacDonald, left, and Steve Mealey said a plan to distribute fish along a 35-mile stretch of the McKenzie River is being negotiated.


McKenzie River Reflections


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