GRESHAM, Ore. — Officials and residents alike are welcoming what they hope are new, permanent neighbors. Johnson Creek runs through the middle of Gresham and Southeast Portland. It now appears to be home to a small but promising run of coho salmon.
Two years ago, Gresham natural resources’ coordinator, Kathy Majidi, remembers hearing someone claim there were coho a stone’s throw from the city’s operation center.
Majidi: “We did have an anecdotal report not very far from where we are – the middle of Johnson Creek here, in Gresham, of two. ‘Couldn’t possibly have been steelhead,’ was the report ‘had to have been coho or chinook’. And we were pretty dismissive.”
Then another report came in, last year, this time from city councilors in Gresham and Damascus. So Majidi scrambled down the hillside to check for herself.
Kathy Majidi: “Expecting to see that it was something like – you know, we’ve had reports of salmon in the creek before – and it was somebody’s barbecue leftovers that they’d tossed over from Main City Park. And this was actually the real thing – a real, clearly spawned-out coho carcass.”
Last fall and then again this fall, a handful of adult coho were found, at the end of their lives.
Clyde Rust: “Any fish?” Kathy Majidi: “Not here, right now, somewhere in there!”
That voice in the distance asking “any fish?” belongs to Clyde Rust. He lives near Johnson Creek, and walks the Springwater Trail nearby regularly with his wife. He says he reported seeing an adult coho to city officials last year.
Clyde Rust: “I come over and looked and said ‘That’s a fish, a dead fish, it’s a salmon.’ It was just laying there. ‘Hmm, salmon, up here? Unbelievable.’ So I went over to the city service center and said ‘There’s a salmon in this river here.’ She said ‘Oh, no.’ I said ‘yeah!’.”
So, Kathy Majidi tells Rust he’s found wild fish that had spawned – and spawned successfully:
Kathy Majidi: “Coho juveniles all the way through Gresham and up through Springwater.”
Clyde Rust: “You’re kidding!”
Kathy Majidi: “So we actually had successful life cycles.”
Clyde Rust: “Did they go up as far as Sunshine Valley Road?”
Majidi isn’t clear on the exact geography. It was her colleague Laura Guderyahn who led a group of local volunteers reach by reach through the creek this fall see if the adult fish had reproduced successfully.
Laura Guderyahn: “The first couple of times, it was the first time that I’d seen juvenile, and they were excited to see juvenile coho in Gresham. Every time we’d find one, we’d measure it and weigh it and take photographs as documentation and as data.”
Then the farther upstream Guderyahn and her volunteers went, the more fish she found.
Laura Guderyahn: “And there came a point toward the end of the day, where we would find these pools that had dozens of them in – and it did become almost common, and we would say ‘Oh, it’s just another coho’.”
State officials say the coho are coming to Johnson Creek for two reasons. The creek’s habitat has been improved. And perhaps more important, because coho are returning to the Lower Columbia in stronger numbers.
The discovery of threatened coho isn’t expected to change rules governing the creek. That’s because Johnson Creek is already as tightly regulated as it can be – as salmon “critical habitat.” City officials say the knowledge can help guide projects – whether for habitat or urban infrastructure.
For Gresham local, Clyde Rust, the coho discovery is still a surprise.
Clyde Rust: “I’m 87, my wife’s 84 – we gotta keep mobile, and so we always look at the creek and see what’s happening. But it really amazed me when I saw those salmon. I thought I’d never live to see the day. So you never know.”
(This was first reported for opbnews.org.)
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