Bella Vista Foundation supports restoration program for the John Day basinJuly 29, 2019
A three-year, $360,000 grant from the Bella Vista Foundation will help The Freshwater Trust (TFT) use data-driven, science-based approaches to prioritize and fund high-quality restoration projects in northeastern Oregon’s John Day basin.
The funding will bolster TFT’s goal of improving conditions to better support the basin’s native fish species in the face of climate change impacts. The John Day houses a significant portion of the last remaining populations of wild Columbia basin Chinook and steelhead.
The Bella Vista Foundation’s “Ecosystem Restoration Program” focuses on protecting, restoring and revitalizing five watershed ecosystems in California and Oregon.
“Climate change will continue to decrease summer streamflows and increase water temperatures statewide – including the John Day Basin,” said Spencer Sawaske, hydrologist and project manager in the basin. “All of this makes it harder for cold-water fish to survive. Our goal is to provide them with valuable refuge from conditions that will only become more challenging.”
Between now and 2022, TFT will build, refine, and employ optimization and administrative tools to ensure the most beneficial projects to protect and restore fish populations happen in the right places throughout the John Day. In addition to identifying needed actions, TFT will explore new, outcomes-based funding approaches that ensure ecological goals are met.
These tools will also help to more easily identify targets and evaluate the costs and benefits of different actions, so that funders can efficiently choose to support restoration and conservation projects that have the greatest possible outcomes.
“Securing the survival of these species means working collaboratively and strategically,” said Sawaske. “With this award, we’ll be advancing systems and performing analyses that will ensure that everyone involved in restoring this basin, from those doing the work to those funding it, can be more knowledgeable and integrated in their actions.”
Giving fish here the greatest chance of survival means addressing issues of both water quality and quantity.
TFT will work with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (CTWS) to identify the best places for new streamside planting projects along the Middle Fork John Day.
“We know replanting native trees and vegetation is one of the most cost-effective and ‘ready to implement’ actions to protect against temperature extremes in the Middle Fork,” said Sawaske. “Native vegetation here goes a long way toward creating shade, reducing erosion, and preventing nutrient runoff from nearby farms and ranches.”
TFT will also partner with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and CTWS to identify water temperature and instream flow targets, based on juvenile Chinook and steelhead needs in the Upper John Day. This will inform future water rights leasing, irrigation efficiency upgrades and other methods of improving flow.
“We will be able to accomplish a lot with this grant, and all of it is built around devising systems and tools that make it easier to choose the best combinations and sequences of actions to protect these fish,” said Sawaske. “In the face of a changing climate, we need to act with urgency and precision to make sure these species are around for decades to come. TFT is at the heart of bringing people, tools and actions together to guarantee that it happens.”
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