Mission of

the Month

Documenting the removal of dams on the Klamath River

LightHawk is helping to document a historic moment for free-flowing rivers and salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest. For more than a century, four dams along the Klamath River in southern Oregon and northern California have harmed water quality and blocked salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey from migrating upstream, keeping these native fish from over 400 miles of spawning and rearing habitat. 

Now, in the largest dam removal project in American history, the structures will be, one by one, destroyed, allowing the river to return to a more natural flow. It is a major win for local tribes and environmental groups who are hopeful salmon will return.

Last May, LightHawk and our Trout Unlimited partners began a multi-year project to document the removal of the dams and the changes this will have on the Klamath River riparian landscape.

Klamath River and the draining reservoir above Copco Dam. Credit: Evan Bulla, Trout Unlimited

Evan Bulla (Trout Unlimited) and Lane Gormley (LightHawk); Credit: Evan Bulla, Trout Unlimited

This first flight captured the engineered state of the river, with the dams in place and the river in its non-free-flowing path. On February 10, 2024, we flew the route again, with one dam already removed, and the remaining three starting to release the waters confined behind them. LightHawk Volunteer Pilot, Lane Gormley, flew Evan Bulla from Trout Unlimited in his Cessna 182 over the dwindling reservoirs’ emerging mudflats.  

Over the course of 2024, LightHawk will fly this stretch of river multiple times, including when the actual demolition of the remaining dams occurs (probably this summer) and documenting restoration efforts along the riverbanks. We expect it to tell a hopeful story of riparian restoration and the homecoming of salmon and other fisheries – a story that may inspire other efforts to restore and protect free-flowing rivers across the country.

Volunteer pilots interested in flying some of the upcoming 2024 missions over the Klamath River should contact LightHawk’s Betsy Daub, Western Program Manager.

Klamath River and emerging mudflats behind JC Boyle Dam. Credit: Evan Bulla, Trout Unlimited

Dam on the Klamath. Credit: Evan Bulla, Trout Unlimited

Share This