'You bet we're worried': River guides concerned about future of Leaburg hatchery

LEABURG, Ore. - Change may be on the way for the Leaburg Fish Hatchery.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering privatizing or possibly defunding and closing the hatchery.

The hatchery is jointly funded by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Their Cooperative Agreement is due to expire on June 30.

Now the Army Corps is deciding how to move forward with the 7 Oregon hatcheries involved in this agreement, Leaburg included.

Richard Hargrave, a deputy administrator at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that the Corps told the state in January that the hatchery would be defunded - and that ODFW staff were no longer needed at the hatchery.

On Thursday, Michelle Helms from the Army Corps avoided discussing the possibility of defunding the hatchery and said the Corps is still exploring options.

No decisions have been finalized, Helms said.

For some Lane County residents like Steve Mealey, the uncertainty is worrying.

"You bet we're worried," Mealey said.

Mealey is the president of the McKenzie River Guides Association, a group of 50 people who lead fishing and rafting trips on the river.

For Mealey and his group, fish are their lives.

"Federal agencies' responsibility is to develop partnerships with their local communities. Their friends and neighbors - you don't surprise people where their livelihoods are at stake. That's why this all comes as a shock and a disappointment to us," Mealey said.

Mealey said he's concerned the changes to the hatchery will jeopardize fish stocking in rivers and lakes.

"Look out there in the summertime and the family with the young kids, catching their first trout, screaming with joy. Those kids are going to be sportsmen. And you lose that, you lose a whole legacy of the outdoors. That scares us," Mealey said.

Helms with the Army Corps said the agency is considering contracting out some hatcheries in order to meet "federal acquisition regulations."

Hargrave with ODFW said the state hopes to find out more information for the Corps about the late of the hatchery as soon as possible.

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