In April 1968 the Army Corps of Engineers was preparing to shut the spillway gates of the John Day Dam, forming 79-mile-long Lake Umatilla on the Columbia River, in part to take advantage of the permanent fish-passage facilities of the new dam for the spring chinook salmon run. The only problem was that several hundred Canada goose nests and their eggs were going to be submerged when the water level rose 100 feet in four days.
Biologists with the Oregon and Washington game departments and the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife sprang into action with Operation Mother Goose. Crews of men in helicopters and boats lifted between 1,000 and 1,200 Canada goose eggs from their nests in a four-day rescue mission beginning April 11, 1968. Pickup operations collected eggs from approximately 200 nests on 25 islands that were in danger of being inundated with water by the forming of Lake Umatilla. The eggs were transferred to the Washington State Game Department’s Kennewick Game Farm for artificial incubation. Game officials said the hatched birds would be raised at the game farm until they were old enough to be released in Canada goose nesting areas along the Columbia River.
Biologists expected that by the time the operation got underway, between 25 and 30 percent of the eggs would have already hatched. John D. Findlay, regional director of the sport fisheries bureau, said he hoped the goslings wouldn’t be adversely affected by the rising water and would be left with their parents to occupy the new habitat formed as Lake Umatilla filled.
Findlay also said that strong parental instincts of Canada geese meant that the artificially raised young birds would likely be adopted by mature geese after their release into the wild.
Other denizens of the Columbia River also were expected to be on the move when the waters began to rise. The Corps of Engineers warned sightseers along the Columbia to beware of families of rattlesnakes that would be moving to higher ground as the lake began to fill.