science environment

Steelhead Return To Beaver Creek After Century-Long Absence

By Monica Samayoa (OPB)
July 31, 2019 1:43 a.m.

Steelhead trout are once again spawning in eastern Oregon — after years of effort by city, state and federal agencies to restore them.

Government officials worked together for over 20 years to help bring steelhead back to the La Grande watershed after a century-long absence.


The new Beaver Creek Passage Project is a one-of-a-kind solution that includes a series of 59 mini dams stacked one by one like hurdles to help fish swim past the Beaver Creek Dam. The structure works without electricity and can accommodate high flows of water in the spring as well as low flows in the summer, according to officials who worked on the project.

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They say there’s not a fishway like it anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest.

Earlier this summer, Biologist Tim Bailey and Winston Morton from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife found the effort paid off, when they saw signs of steelhead eggs above the dam.

“When you’re seeing the first redd there, that may be in hundred years, you know you’re taking a closer look than normal just to make sure that you’re actually seeing accurately with what you believe you’re seeing,” said Bailey.

Migratory steelhead now have access to over 14-miles of pristine spawning and rearing habitat above Beaver Creek Dam.

“I’m grateful for the collaborative effort put forth by everyone involved,” said Kyle Carpenter, La Grande Director of Public Works in a statement. “The wealth of knowledge and experience that we all pooled together, along with our cooperative move-it-forward mentality, were invaluable in the successful completion of this project.’

The project cost $1.1 million with funding and contribution from several agencies and partnerships, including the City of La Grande, three state agencies, and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.