Amid Klamath Dam Removals, Copco Lake Mud, Silt In Water And Deer, Fish Deaths


As the ongoing Klamath Dam removals have been lauded for the additional water flow for salmon and steelhead, shorter-term concerns came to fruition this week when wildlife officials were not able to save deer that got stuck in Copco Lake, adjacent to one of the dams being removed, Copco No. 1. Silt in the water is also being blamed for non-native fish deaths.

Here’s more from KOBI TV in Medford, Oregon:

According to the Hornbrook Fire Protection District’s Facebook page, it collaborated with CAL FIRE and the Department of Fish and Game in an attempt to rescue the deer which got stuck in mud at Mallard Cove. Chief Tim Thurner says it’s crucial to inform the public that the current condition of the lake bed is unsafe and the mud is deep and extremely dangerous.

“In fact, I got stuck and if I didn’t have other crew members there with me to pull me out, I would have been in need of a helicopter or something to pull me out,” Thurner said.

With conditions like these, he says rescuing the deer wasn’t something they were able to do.

“Our rescue trailer is set up for swift water and flood rescue, not necessarily mud rescue,” Thurner explained. “It was uncharted territory for us. If we’d had an animal that was 20 feet off the shore it probably wouldn’t have been an issue, but they were a good thousand feet out.”

According to the Capital Press, the Klamath River Renewal Corp., which is overseeing the dam removals, said some of the issues with silt were expected:

“The Klamath River is experiencing a period of poor water quality as sediment is evacuated from the former reservoirs,” the statement read. “This short-term impact will be small, relative to the long-term improvements to water quality and fisheries habitat.”

The statement said fluctuations in silt levels are expected for months. Impacts are expected to be heavy for non-native fish and less for salmon.

“Significant numbers of non-native (introduced) fish, such as yellow perch, perished as reservoirs were drawn down,” according to the company statement. “Many non-native fish that do survive drawdown are not adapted to a natural river environment and are not expected to live. We can also expect some fish mortality downstream as the evacuation of sediment impairs water quality.”


California Department of Fish and Wildlife also commented on the incidents in a Facebook post:

CDFW is aware of hazardous conditions created by water drawdown operations at Copco No. 1 Dam on the Klamath River. Nearly a dozen deer have been trapped in the basin due to muddy conditions from the draining event last week. The public should avoid the area given the dangerous conditions and not attempt to feed or rescue wildlife.

CDFW is initiating a wildlife management plan in response to ongoing drawdown actions at Copco No. 1 Dam and Iron Gate Reservoir as part of the planned, historic removal of the Klamath River dams. This includes increased staffing and wildlife surveys along reservoirs to detect trapped or impacted wildlife.

Plans are being implemented to include wildlife deterrents at key locations where animals are likely to enter the reservoir footprints. All available tools and resources are being evaluated for safe and effective wildlife rescue operations.

CDFW and its partners will continue to monitor the situation closely and maintain necessary resources to help safeguard both people and wildlife. In the event of a human emergency, please call 911.

Please do not contact the Klamath River Renewal Corporation with wildlife concerns. Anything wildlife-related along the Klamath River should be directed to CDFW’s Northern Region office in Redding at (530) 225-2300 or by emailing

This is the largest dam removal effort ever undertaken in American history. The stranding of wildlife on muddy reservoir bottoms is an unforeseen situation, one that will improve as temperatures warm in the spring and summer. We want to remind the public that the deer population in Siskiyou County overall is healthy and stable. But we definitely understand the loss of wildlife in this situation is sad and upsetting. We will continue to do all we can.