At his perch above the pool, Lee Spencer jots down an observation into his notebook. Spencer has been keeping a notebook here for the past 19 years. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Along with the migrating steelhead, Oregon river pool holds life lessons

A wonderful article and associated short video in the LA Times about the life and work of Lee Spencer who has spent 20 years watching over and documenting the vulnerable steelhead in a perfect pool in the headwaters of the Umpqua River in Oregon, USA. Well worth a read of the full article and a watch of the 6 minute video – an amazing story!


Everyone on the river calls it “Lee’s pool,” and that alone might be proof one person can make a difference.

Decades ago, it was Dynamite Hole. Poachers would set off explosives and kill steelhead by the dozens, fish that had made it upriver from the ocean — past sea lions, fishermen and a dam — but hadn’t yet reached their spawning grounds.

That was before Lee Spencer settled in almost 20 years ago to watch over the trout. First with Sis, a cattle dog he still mourns, and later with Maggie.

I am acutely aware that a dog is a gift given to us for perhaps 10 years if we’re fortunate, and everything after is extra,” says Spencer, 65, resting a hand on Maggie’s back.

Spencer and Maggie watch a pool that in late summer is a teal mirror reflecting firs, cedars, vine maples and dogwoods. The details of a towering sugar pine are easier to see on the water than by looking up into the sky. The world outside this spot, where blue-green fireflies shimmer and river otters play, seems far away — although it will determine whether places like this survive.

At a time when environmental protections are being lifted, scientific research budgets slashed and frenzied political battles center around single species, one man’s study of the world in front of him is a throwback to conservation work rooted in bearing witness to simple truths in nature.

The migrating trout rest here for months in this protected, cool creek that feeds the wild Umpqua River. It can take a moment for a person’s eyes to make out that the dark stripe at the center of the pool is actually about 60 steelhead, just enough space between them to show their outlines…

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