What's Happening at MSRF?

What do fish do when it's eight below?

Winter on the Methow River

Winter in the Methow Valley can feel pretty bleak. Short days and deep valleys often drop local temperatures far below freezing. Lakes and rivers freeze over. Beneath the ice, however, life continues.

Spring Chinook salmon and bull trout eggs develop in redds (spawning beds) formed last fall by their returning parents. Juvenile salmon and steelhead that emerged last year remain in the river, feeding on algae, smaller fish, and insects. Adult mountain whitefish migrate upstream to spawn well into the winter. Some fish seek out the warmth of groundwater seeps, which can hold back the ice with temperatures 20-30° F higher than the rest of the river. Other fish bury themselves in cobbles or wood jams to conserve energy. Their cold-blooded metabolisms slow in the frigid water, slowing their growth and movement, but also decreasing their need for food.

In a few short months, spring Chinook and bull trout will emerge as the ice begins to break up. As the ice makes its way downstream, it re-sculpts the habitat for the new year, scouring channels and exposing clean gravel for the next generation of fish to spawn in. Ice dams force ice and water out of the main channel to scour side channels and floodplains. Restoring floodplain areas where levees and dikes aren’t required ensures that the spring flood surge has somewhere to go that’s not a street or basement, and takes pressure off the dikes and levees that protect homes and businesses.


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