DARRINGTON, Wash. (AP) — Fisheries biologist Pete Verhey waded through the cold, clear creek that feeds into the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, scanning riffles and side channels looking for evidence of fish eggs.
"We got one!" he shouted, pulling pink tape from his waders and marking the spot where a steelhead trout had buried eggs in the gravel.
The redd, or spawning nest, is an encouraging sign that steelhead trout may be making their way upstream from Oso — above where a massive landslide decimated a riverside neighborhood a month ago and pushed several football fields worth of sediment down the hillside and across the river.
As search crews continue to look for two missing people in the slide, scientists also are closely monitoring how the slide is affecting federally endangered fish runs, including Chinook salmon and steelhead.
It's too early to know the slide's long-term effects, but so far scientists are hopeful about the immediate prospects: adult steelhead are spawning in clear waters above the slide area, and typical numbers of baby fish are migrating downstream to the marine waters.
"It's still a human tragedy, and we're respectful of that," said Jenni Whitney, a district fish biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We're doing our best to monitor fish because eventually people will want to know."
Water samples tests also have turned up low levels of fecal coliform, nitrates and other pollutants, easing concerns about chemical contamination for people and fish, said Dick Walker, a senior spill responder with the Department of Ecology.
The Stillaguamish River, which runs from the North Cascades into Puget Sound, once had legendary runs of wild steelhead and Chinook salmon. Western novelist Zane Grey fished its creeks nearly a century ago and described one as the most beautiful trout water he'd ever seen.