Every summer, our habitat restoration director does his best directing. Overhead, Mark McCollister coordinates helicopters carrying trees by massive metal hooks. On the ground, he and a set of partners use a long-standing, science-backed plan to guide the large wood into just the right creeks throughout the basin. Gravel, specifically sized for spawning, is added by the ton.
The efforts accomplished in one year augment the benefits of the projects constructed in years prior. Our coordinated funding and action mirrors the interconnected nature of a watershed itself.
This approach has yielded powerful results, including that many of the threatened species here are now on a trajectory to recovery, largely due to increased spawning and rearing habitat.
Last July, despite it being only a few months into a pandemic that brought the world to a halt, McCollister and local partners moved forward with their plans to implement another year of restoration in the Sandy. The helicopters still left the ground. The logs found their homes in the streams. The basin continued to benefit from the momentum of the last decade.
“The outdoor and dispersed nature of the work has allowed us to continue to operate safely throughout the many twists and turns of the last year and a half. Being able to keep up this momentum, despite a whirlwind of unforeseen global circumstances, has not only been good for us, but for the fish and the businesses that rely on our work to continue,” said McCollister.
A Decade Marked
2020 marked a decade of work in the Sandy. From the onset, the goal for the basin has been to accelerate the recovery of naturally functioning conditions, so that habitat for spring Chinook, coho and winter steelhead can be improved. To that end, work each year has revolved around adding new large wood structures to restore flow to side channels and open new floodplains.
“An assemblage of funding from different sources and partners has allowed us to really tackle this basin strategically,” said McCollister, “When the restoration season begins each summer, we know how we’ll augment what was done the year prior.”
This past year, 25 new large wood structures were added to Clear Fork, a tributary of the Sandy River. These new large wood structures helped distribute flow across the entire valley, restoring connectivity to 12 acres of floodplain and improving nearly 2,000 feet of side channel.
“We’ve been actively expanding and increasing the habitat that young fish need to survive,” said Daniel Baldwin, restoration monitoring coordinator. The wide, depositional valley setting of the lower Clear Fork is uniquely well-suited for juvenile fish. By reintroducing large wood to the system, old side channels that had been cut off from the main river have been reconnected, and existing ones enhanced. The river is now connected to cool, groundwater-fed springs where young coho and steelhead can be found throughout the year.
“There is huge value in looking at a river basin as a whole and acting strategically. The outcomes are clear that when that happens, there’s a much greater chance at making a difference,” said Baldwin.