Tribal members release first fish into new wetlands


National award recognizes multi-partner environmental effort

A Klamath Tribe member restocks fish in the newly reclaimed wetlands.

The transformation is complete. ODOT’s wetlands near Klamath Lake recently received its first inhabitants – fish placed in the restored area by members of the Klamath Tribes. In addition, the project won a national award from the Federal Highway Administration: the 2022 Environmental Excellence Award. The citation credits the project team for changing a “…degraded, contaminated landscape to a complex of wetlands, channels and open water.”

ODOT Highway Region 4 Wetlands Specialist Allison Cowie learned about the award just one day after the Klamath Tribes introduced endangered fish to the wetlands – a former part of Klamath Lake that had been neglected as the area grew around it.

The new wetlands were created as part of ODOT’s mitigation efforts. When the state uses wetlands for road construction, as ODOT had for projects on state highway 140, it is required to mitigate the damage. The highway work occurred on the west side of the lake but BiologistCowie saw an opportunity to compensate for the project on the east side, and she set about developing a project there.

A look at the before (top) and after (bottom) of the Klamath Lake project.

Partners in this wetlands project included the FHWA’s Western Federal Lands Program, the U.S.Forest Service and the Klamath Tribes, who wanted to reintroduce the Lost River sucker and the shortnose sucker into the lake.

Cowie explained that these two fish species were listed as endangered species in 1988.

“Habitat loss and poor water quality make life challenging for the young fish. This project will help young fish survival rates, and make it easier for them to make their way into the deeper parts of the lake.”

The 1,000+ fish that were introduced to the pond at the wetlands are expected to be released into the open water later this year.

“I am so happy about this and hope everyone feels as proud as I do,” said Cowie. “This really has been a model project for partnership and innovation. I am eager to see how it develops in the future, but we are happy in the meantime to have received this recognition.”

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