LAPWAI, Idaho Dead fish make Lapwai High School students proud.
''We've been putting fish in the creek for seven years,'' says sophomore science teacher Paul Smith.
One or two of those endangered coho salmon may be turning up dead along the banks of Lapwai Creek.
The deaths mark the end of a hard-fought run from Lapwai, through the Snake and Columbia river dams to the ocean, past fishermen and other predators and back home to spawn.
Biologists tell Smith's students ''out of 5,000, if one of these would come back then you're making progress,'' says Smith.
The Lapwai sophomores raise the fish from eggs to fingerlings before turning them loose in the headwaters of Lapwai Creek.
This year the sophomore class visited the creek to watch the fish return and give the creek a habitat checkup. Students and fishermen alike watched the red fish swim below bridges at Spalding toward a Nez Perce tribal fish trap, says Smith.
The creek is too degraded from in-stream bulldozer work and floods that tore out shady vegetation for the fish to spawn naturally, according to Smith, who has taught at Lapwai for 28 years.
Work with the school's nearest stream has inspired some young people. A few of Smith's students have gone on to make careers working with fisheries for the Nez Perce Tribe.
The Nez Perce Tribe releases about 1.2 million hatchery coho each year, says Scott Everett, the tribe's coho project leader.
Coho have come back by ''leaps and bounds,'' says Everett.
Last year only 1,200 coho made it over Lower Granite Dam. This year, 4,000 have returned. The coho have a three-year life cycle.
The tribe will collect 100 coho from Lapwai Creek, says Everett.
''We're seeing quite a bit more coho at both Kooskia and Dworshak (hatcheries),'' he notes.
The coho project will reach its target for 600,000 eggs today, says Everett. The fish are taken from capture sites at Lapwai, the Potlatch River and Kooskia to Dworshak National Fish Hatchery at Ahsahka.
The eggs will become hatchery coho and the cycle will begin again.
Smith says the fish project has gained the interest of local high schools. His classes also are active in tree planting projects and stream survey work.
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