Two deer dead after getting stuck in mud at Copco Lake

SISKIYOU COUNTY, Calif. – Two deer are dead after getting stuck in mud at Copco Lake.

“We’re seeing a really serious impact, both for the aquatic and terrestrial animals now.”

According to the Hornbrook Fire Protection District’s Facebook page, it collaborated with CAL FIRE and the Department of Fish and Game in an attempt to rescue the deer which got stuck in mud at Mallard Cove. Chief Tim Thurner says it’s crucial to inform the public that the current condition of the lake bed is unsafe and the mud is deep and extremely dangerous.

“In fact, I got stuck and if I didn’t have other crew members there with me to pull me out, I would have been in need of a helicopter or something to pull me out,” Thurner said.

With conditions like these, he says rescuing the deer wasn’t something they were able to do.

“Our rescue trailer is set up for swift water and flood rescue, not necessarily mud rescue,” Thurner explained. “It was uncharted territory for us. If we’d had an animal that was 20 feet off the shore it probably wouldn’t have been an issue, but they were a good thousand feet out.”

Eventually, Fish and Game had to make the decision to euthanize both deer. Chief Thurner and William E. Simpson II, executive director of the Wild Horse Fire Brigade, say they don’t believe this will be the last time this happens.

“It’s going to happen again, it’s just a matter of time,” Thurner said. “This is not going to dry quickly and even when it masks over, it’s still going to have, in some areas, anywhere up to 15 feet of mud below it.”

“The rest of that mud isn’t going to go anywhere,” Simpson said. “It’s going to take a very long time for precipitation to move that, and every time it does, the river’s poisoned.”

But mud doesn’t seem to be the only problem. With water being drained out, long stretches of mud are being exposed and the water left has high concentrations of sediments.

“You can see the Scotts River’s is kind of a little bit brown from the runoff,” he added. “It’s going into the Klamath which is black, opaque black like obsidian, and that’s because of what’s going on.”

Simpson says with the water this dirty, aquatic wildlife has no chance, which will effect the rest of the ecosystem.

“The river is the foundation of life here, and then you have the whole ecosystem above that, including the eagles and the ospreys, which no longer have a source of fish,” he said. “All the fish in the river are dead now.”

But the welfare of animals isn’t the only concern. Simpson told NBC5 this will not only have adverse effects on animals, but the people who live here as well. He says the Klamath River Renewal Project will affect property values and create a need for wells.

“They’re losing their dream homes up there,” he said. “They’re no longer on a lake, and some homes are getting ready to fall into the mud.”

According to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, this is just a part of the process.

“We’ve basically seen everything go according to plan with the initiation of draw down and Iron Gate, Copco 1, and JC Boyle,” said Mark Bransom, CEO of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation.

Bransom says they’re doing everything they can to keep both people and animals safe.

“These reservoirs are private property,” he said. “People should not being going down into the reservoirs and should be avoiding any contact with the sediment to avoid a public safety issue.”

He says everything that’s happening right now is an adjustment to the change in environment.

“This is a temporary condition, of course,” Bransom explained. “There really is no shortage of water supply for wildlife. It’s simply a situation of a changed environmental condition and the wildlife are expected to adapt.”

He believes the final product of this project will be beneficial to all.

“We want to give the native vegetation that we’re planting every advantage and every opportunity to get established as a part of this important effort to restore the ground, to stabilize these sediments and make it safer and more attractive for everybody, wildlife, livestock and people who want to visit the area.”

Simpson on the other hand isn’t so convinced.

“Right now, it looks like it could be the largest environmental disaster on the West Coast,” Simpson said. “We didn’t have to take these dams out at all, and then we would have the beneficial water up here in this sensitive ecological system and continue to support this very complex ecology up here.”

Bransom added anyone who sees any stuck animals should not try to rescue it themselves. Instead, you should call the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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NBC5 News Reporter Lauren Pretto grew up in Livermore, California and attended University of California, Santa Cruz, graduating with a double major in Film/Digital Media and Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing. Lauren is a lover of books, especially Agatha Christie and Gothic novels. When her nose isn't buried in a book, she knits, bakes, and writes.
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