PUBLIC PROFILE: Jen Aguayo, Ashland Parks and Recreation Department
Bear Creek is a defining natural feature for the region, but it also has been defined by pollution and trash over the decades. Not so much anymore! Do call it a comeback: Over the past several years, Bear Creek has enjoyed a restoration, and in no small part because residents are becoming better stewards of the stream and the watershed.
Learn more, and celebrate with the 15th annual Bear Creek Salmon Festival, Saturday, October 5, 11 am – 4 pm at North Mountain Park. Spin-casting demonstrations, storytelling, bands and food trucks. A great way to spend the afternoon. Free!
Jen Aguayo, coordinator for North Mountain Park Nature Center (Ashland Parks and Recreation Department) gives us some insights.
Rogue Valley Messenger: Just by the name of the event, you are celebrating salmon. They are back in Bear Creek? When did that happen?
Jen Aguayo: In the bigger picture of salmon populations, salmon never left Bear Creek, but they did have a lot of impediments to getting upstream. Since the main-stem dams were removed (2007-2010), fall Chinook have consistently made it upstream to Ashland and even as far upstream as Neil Creek since 2011, despite years of very low flow during the multi-year drought. One of the first major fish passage/dam removal improvements was the removal of the Jackson Street Dam sometime around 1998.
Last year we had a number of passage problems that slowed adult migration and we didn’t see them during the Bear Creek Salmon Festival, even though they were seen farther downstream. However, in years past, they’ve been seen swimming by N. Mountain Park as the Salmon Festival celebrated their return.
In the seasonal picture of salmon migration, this is the time of year that we see adult chinook salmon and steelhead returning from the ocean, to their native streams for fall spawning. Salmonids have already been spotted trying to jump Rainy Falls on the Rogue River and by late September we often see them making their way past Talent and into Ashland.
RVM: More salmon means more bears, potentially, as the name of the creek implies?
JA: Perhaps, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Unfortunately, the increase in a food source doesn’t necessarily cancel out the other complex factors that can affect bear populations. However, salmon do play a key role in supporting a larger food web, so it’s not unreasonable to think that many animal populations could increase with improved salmon populations.
RVM: What is the biggest threat to Bear Creek? And, how can individuals do something about that?
JA: Well, most of the threats to Bear Creek, including pollution from stormwater run-off, high water temperatures, low water levels and algae growth are all interconnected and have a cumulative impact.
RVM: How do you measure the health of the river? When it is clean enough for fish? Clean enough to drink?
JA: Great question! There are definitely some scientific parameters and measurements for different uses. Clean enough for drinking, clean enough for swimming, clean enough for salmonids, the measurements will vary but the bigger-picture goal is really to protect a functioning system that is elastic enough to adjust to unpredictable changes in our weather and climate. We have to begin to see the whole system, with all of its complex variables as an entire organism that needs to be cared for.
RVM: What are next steps to restore Bear Creek?
JA: The next-steps train is already running ,we just need to get on board! Several organizations right here in Southern Oregon are already actively raising awareness, planning clean-ups, removing fish barriers, restoring riparian areas and improving water quality. The next step is just to get in stride by learning more and finding a place to join the effort to improve our watersheds.