US Army Corps of Engineers
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Just Another Day in Paradise

A conversation with Jim Day, fisheries biological technician at The Dalles Lock and Dam.

Published Oct. 5, 2020
Jim Day puts out a structural fire during a training exercise as part of his volunteer fire fighting duties with High Prairie Fire and Rescue.

Jim Day puts out a structural fire during a training exercise as part of his volunteer fire fighting duties with High Prairie Fire and Rescue.

Jim Day, fisheries biological technician at The Dalles Lock and Dam, snaps a selfie in front of the East fish counting station window. Fish are counted as they swim through the fish ladders at the dam.

Jim Day, fisheries biological technician at The Dalles Lock and Dam, snaps a selfie in front of the East fish counting station window. Fish are counted as they swim through the fish ladders at the dam.

Jim Day replants healthy trees away from buildings as part of the Firewise program at High Prairie.

Jim Day replants healthy trees away from buildings as part of the Firewise program at High Prairie.

Jim Day, fisheries biological technician inspects avian wires at The Dalles Lock and Dam-seen in the background. The wires help deter birds from preying on juvenile salmon as they migrate downstream through the sluiceway.

Jim Day, fisheries biological technician inspects avian wires at The Dalles Lock and Dam-seen in the background. The wires help deter birds from preying on juvenile salmon as they migrate downstream through the sluiceway.

The Dalles Lock and Dam is located 192 miles upstream from the mouth of the Columbia River. It is one of the top ten largest hydropower dams in the United States! In addition to supplying hydropower to the Pacific Northwest Region, The Dalles Dam provides a reliable water source for navigation, irrigation, flood mitigation and recreation.

The Dalles Lock and Dam is located 192 miles upstream from the mouth of the Columbia River. It is one of the top ten largest hydropower dams in the United States! In addition to supplying hydropower to the Pacific Northwest Region, The Dalles Dam provides a reliable water source for navigation, irrigation, flood mitigation and recreation.

Meet Jim Day.
Based on his career history we think he may have been a fish in a previous life. He even follows salmon migration patterns. He migrated from freshwater hatchery work with the Oregon and Washington Departments’ of Fish and Wildlife, to ocean fisheries with the National Marine Fisheries Service, and eventually returned to the freshwater of the Columbia River to join the Corps team. Coincidence?
 

What was your most memorable career experience?

My time with the Peace Corps in the Philippines and at Prince William sound hatchery in 1989 during the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

How long have you worked at The Dalles Lock at Dam? 

I started with the Corps of Engineers in 2015 as a park ranger and then in 2018 I transitioned into the fisheries office.

What motivates you to go to work every day? 

After many years of working on biological problems, I recognize that many of the solutions must be engineered. It’s refreshing to work with people who have the ability and desire to make those solutions happen.

For example, the post to my right is the attachment point for avian lines. These lines deter birds from eating juvenile salmon as they migrate through the sluiceway you see in the background. The sluiceway is a crucial fishway that diverts fish moving downstream away from the turbine intakes. The avian lines deter gulls from picking up young salmon momentarily disorientated at the surface by the ride through the sluiceway.

Avian wires work well and are a low-cost, low-energy solution. Part of my job duties are to inspect and repair the lines, make recommendations for removal and/or install more.

I understand you are a volunteer firefighter. Where do you volunteer?

My first volunteer experience was with Juniper Flat rural fire district near Maupin in 2011 while working at the Oak Springs hatchery. The need to protect the hatchery facilities and fish with active firefighting was very evident. I continued my service as a volunteer firefighter when I moved to High Prairie in 2013. Now I volunteer for the High Prairie Fire and Rescue District 14 in Klickitat County, Washington.

What motivates you to volunteer? 

Respect. The Latin root literally means to “look again.” Volunteering for the fire department means when I drive through my community, I can find inspiration in the specific houses, barns and lives that were saved by what I have done. This is very emotionally rewarding as well as socially fulfilling.

What resources do you protect at work and in your volunteer position?  

At work I try to minimize the impact of the dam on migratory fish and other wildlife using technology. I do the same with my volunteer efforts. Fire can damage engineered solutions severely and many of our wildlands are in fact engineered and managed. The discrete boundaries between USACE project lands and adjacent wildlands are not respected by fire and must be met with active controls. In addition to fighting fires, the Firewise program at High Prairie is a project that removes vegetation around homes and barns and encourages replanting healthy trees away from buildings. 

What are some engineered solutions we can do?

Tree planting is probably the most important thing we earthlings can do to help the fish.

Salmon spawning beds are vulnerable to siltation from erosion after a fire. By planting trees, keeping them healthy and thinned, we greatly reduce the severity of fire when it does happen, reducing the impact of erosion and run off into streams.  

What do fish and fire have in common for you, if anything?  Are they connected somehow in your life?   

Migratory fish in the Northwest are very dependent on the adjacent forest and scrub lands. Unplanned fire resulting from human impacts globally and locally, will likely have very negative impacts on fish, the ecology and all of us. Fire volunteers are thinking globally and acting locally.  

Both at work and in my home community, I have to respond to emergencies, so what I do, or don’t do, affects everyone around me. Fortunately, USACE has been very supportive of my volunteering with the High Prairie Fire District. 

As my wife says, “Just put the dam fires out.”   

 
Authors Sidebar: Had to ask questions!
When you can’t fall asleep at night, do you count sheep or fish?
In 2019 there was a delay in getting the fish counters into the count stations in the fish ladder. As a result, I had to do some of the counting of fish in the window and I can assure you counting fish is a very effective sleep aid. I don’t count fish in my sleep but one of the most amazing things I ever saw was a monk seal in Hawaii sleeping under water.
 
What’s your favorite food?  Is it fish?
I do love smoked salmon but don’t tell anyone.
 
If you were a fish, what kind of fish would you be?
A manta ray. Like sharks and sturgeon, they are often misunderstood. They are a prehistoric cartilaginous fish that feed on plankton. They are a remarkable fish, peaceful, long-lived and powerful.
 
Have you ever been a fish for Halloween?
No ( ☹ )
 
What’s your best fish joke?
What did the fish say to the other fish in the aquarium? Know how to drive this tank?