A small decision that makes a big difference: the Blue Sky Habitat Fund

Haley Walker
Haley Walker
Former Senior Director of Advancement for The Freshwater Trust
English   |   Español

“You don’t have to be a freshwater expert in order to be a part of high quality native fish restoration,” said Monique Leslie.

Since 2002, Pacific Power has provided residential and small business customers with the opportunity to support renewable energy and restore native fish habitat through an automatic $2.50 monthly donation. The donations are placed into the Blue Sky Habitat Fund, which since 2011 has been administered by The Freshwater Trust (TFT). To date, the program has distributed more than $2.5 million in grants to restore habitat in Oregon.

“The fact that Pacific Power makes it easy for their customers to fund restoration is inspiring,” said Monique, who is a Habitat Restoration Project Manager at TFT and the Blue Sky Habitat Fund’s Administrator. “We’re lucky that every year, we get to help them direct those funds to the projects that will have the greatest impact.”

This year, more than 5,500 customers contributed the $167,000 that was recently awarded to five grant recipients. Grantees included Hood River Watershed Group’s work to restore ecological processes in Neal Creek; the Rogue River Watershed Council and Rogue Valley Council of Governments’ riparian restoration project in Bear Creek; and the South Santiam Watershed Council’s salmonid habitat restoration work in Lower Hamilton Creek.

The before (left) and after (right) of the Ashland Creek Fish Passage Improvement Project funded by the Blue Sky Habitat Fund last year.

“The most important criteria we look at in picking a project is its direct benefit to native, threatened anadromous fish,” said Monique. “We also want to make sure that the projects are a part of a larger vision and recovery plan for a basin because we know that more concentrated habitat is going to be more impactful.”

This year, TFT and Pacific Power are especially excited about the funding of a project to benefit the Upper Wallowa River, a project proposed by Wallowa Resources. The Wallowa River flows from the pristine Eagle Cap Wilderness to the Wallowa Lake and provides important habitat for Kokanee salmon, bull trout and steelhead. Funding will support habitat for these fish, as well as Sockeye salmon, extirpated in the 1930s but likely to be reintroduced to the river following improvements to the Wallowa Lake dam, which currently prevents fish passage.

“Wallowa Lake is a heavily used recreation area, so the project is going to have a huge opportunity for outreach and raising public awareness about river and lake systems, and their effects on anadromous fish,” said Monique.

TFT also received an award for its Upper Sandy restoration project in Portland’s backyard.

“It’s one of the best examples of focused restoration in the state of Oregon,” said Monique. “There’s been a lot of great restoration, lessons learned and applied, and new techniques implemented over the last decade. All this has been a result of an amazing partnership between TFT, Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service and many other partners.”

TFT has witnessed powerful fish returns on the Sandy, due to the construction of hundreds of large wood structures that serve as valuable habitat for salmon and steelhead.

The Blue Sky Habitat Fund has funded Upper Sandy restoration work each year since 2014. This multi-year project benefits salmon, including coho, spring chinook and winter steelhead, by restoring natural stream processes through large wood placement, the addition of side channels and reconnection of flood plains. The project has already seen an enthusiastic response from native fish returning to the system, including a 130% increase in coho smolts, or young salmon, since TFT began work in 2010. Next year, with the award, TFT will place more than 500 pieces of large wood across the Sandy basin, add four new side channels, totaling more than 1,200 feet, and reconnect 8.5 acres of floodplain.

“These are great stories,” said Monique. “Whether it’s bringing a species back entirely to a river system or improving conditions in an existing habitat, we feel lucky to be a part of them, and we’re grateful to Pacific Power for helping make them a reality.”

Want to learn more about our Blue Sky projects?

Learn more

August 7, 2020

#Blue Sky    #Blue Sky Habitat Fund    #Bureau of Land Management    #native fish    #Pacific Power    #U.S. Forest Service    #Wallowa River    

Enjoying Streamside?

This is a space of insight and commentary on how people, business, data and technology shape and impact the world of water. Subscribe and stay up-to-date.