Monday, August 8, 2022

Karuk Tribe: McKinney Fire Slide Caused 'Kill Zone' in Klamath River, Suffocating Thousands of Fish

Posted By on Mon, Aug 8, 2022 at 10:40 AM

click to enlarge Dead fish and other debris in the Klamath River, near Happy Camp. - KARUK TRIBE
  • Karuk Tribe
  • Dead fish and other debris in the Klamath River, near Happy Camp.
The Karuk Tribe continues to investigate the cause and breadth of a fish kill event in the Klamath River but believes a massive debris slide from the McKinney Fire turned a section of the Klamath to sludge, killing thousands of fish.

Craig Tucker, a spokesperson for the tribe, said its believed the debris slide entered the Klamath River near Humbug and McKinney creeks, dropping dissolved oxygen levels in the river to zero and effectively suffocating scores of fish of different species, including suckers, salmon and trout.

"We think the impact is limited to 10 or 20 miles of river in this reach and the fish we ware seeing in Happy Camp and below are floating downstream from the 'kill zone,'" Tucker wrote in an email to the Journal. "We are working to better understand the event and the Karuk Tribe continues to monitor the situation."

The tribe first reported the kill Aug. 5, saying a "very large number of dead fish, of all species," had been observed near Happy Camp, saying preliminary observations suggested a debris flow on Aug. 3 in an area impacted by the McKinney Fire was to blame.

Sparked the afternoon of July 29, the McKinney Fire has grown to more than 60,000 acres along the Klamath River in Siskiyou County, spanning part of Klamath National Forest, and is 40 percent contained. Four people have been killed in the fire, which stands as California's largest of 2022.

The fish kill is the latest blow to Klamath River fish populations, which have been decimated by poor water quality caused by four upriver hydroelectric dams, which choke the river's flows, increasing water temperatures, blocking fish passage and causing toxic algal blooms. The Karuk and Yurok tribes, as well as environmental groups and other stakeholders, have been working to see the dams removed since 2002, when more than 34,000 fish — mostly adult fall-run Chinook salmon — died in the river due to a disease outbreak caused by low water flows, high temperatures and poor water quality.

Removal of the dams is slated to begin next year, with the states of California and Oregon, as well as Berkshire Hathaway, which owns the company that owns and operates the dams, now all having joined the tribes in support of the effort.

click to enlarge Kenneth Brink, of the Karuk Tribe, holds a dead fish on the bank of the Klamath River. - KARUK TRIBE
  • Karuk Tribe
  • Kenneth Brink, of the Karuk Tribe, holds a dead fish on the bank of the Klamath River.
click to enlarge Karuk Tribal biologists believe a debris slide from the McKinney Fire turned a portion of the Klamath River into sludge, killing thousands of fish. - KARUK TRIBE
  • Karuk Tribe
  • Karuk Tribal biologists believe a debris slide from the McKinney Fire turned a portion of the Klamath River into sludge, killing thousands of fish.
click to enlarge Dead fish found on the Klamath River near Happy Camp. - KARUK TRIBE
  • Karuk Tribe
  • Dead fish found on the Klamath River near Happy Camp.
click to enlarge Dead fish and other debris in the Klamath River, near Happy Camp. - KARUK TRIBE
  • Karuk Tribe
  • Dead fish and other debris in the Klamath River, near Happy Camp.
click to enlarge A dead baby steelhead in the Klamath River. - KARUK TRIBE
  • Karuk Tribe
  • A dead baby steelhead in the Klamath River.
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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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