Grant opens doors for The Freshwater Trust to explore low-impact restoration in wilderness

March 15, 2017

PORTLAND, OR — The Freshwater Trust (TFT) is developing a plan for low-impact restoration in federally designated wilderness areas of northwestern Oregon, thanks to a $15,000 grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.

The funding will be used to research and plan habitat restoration on four tributaries of the Salmon River. Adding large wood to Boulder Creek, Sixes Creek, Cheeney Creek and South Fork Salmon River would improve habitat for steelhead, coho and Chinook salmon. Yet because these reaches are in federally designated wilderness areas of the Sandy River Basin, strict land management rules must be followed.

A wilderness designation is the highest level of conservation protection for federal lands and intended to preserve natural, undeveloped areas for solitude or primitive use. Motorized equipment is largely prohibited, which complicates efforts to implement restoration using traditional construction equipment.

TFT hopes to increase habitat complexity and diversity by placing large wood in key parts of the tributaries. With this award, the organization is exploring alternative, low-impact techniques, such as placing large wood in stream channels and floodplains using hand tools instead of heavy machinery.

Deep pools created in and around the logs provide juvenile rearing habitat and allow for the collection of gravels that are used by fish for spawning. Installed structures are designed to be self-sustaining and placed where woody debris would naturally accumulate.

“Timber harvests, recreation, development and road construction have all taken a remarkable toll here over the years,” said Mark McCollister, habitat restoration director with TFT. “Yet for the last decade, we’ve been working to bring the Sandy basin back to its natural state.”

Once techniques are identified for each site, the US Forest Service (USFS) will conduct an analysis to ensure the proposed actions are consistent with wilderness values.

“From an ecological standpoint, these tributaries are both significant and sensitive,” said McCollister. “Our intention is to better understand how to improve them, while respecting the designation that keeps them wild.”

The Wilderness Act, signed into law in 1964, recognized wilderness as “an area where the Earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

While there are more than 700 of these areas — encompassing more than 100 million acres nationwide — active restoration within them is not well studied.

Working with USFS and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), TFT will produce a detailed plan that could serve as a model for restoration in other wilderness areas of the Pacific Northwest.

“More than 3 percent of the United States is wilderness,” said McCollister. “The plan devised for these four local tributaries could help guide other professionals.”

TFT has worked with USFS and BLM since 1999, when they joined together with more than a dozen other private interests, government entities and nonprofit organizations to form the Sandy River Basin Partners. Together, the group has installed nearly 60 large wood habitat structures on the Salmon River and its tributaries. These structures have reconnected 2.1 miles of off-channel habitat, and reactivated 28 acres of floodplain habitat.

In 2016, the Salmon River broke a record for the greatest number of steelhead spawners, 68 redds per mile, on a two-mile restoration reach. And for the fourth consecutive year, the number of winter steelhead spawning in the upper Sandy basin was more than 350% of that when they were listed as threatened in 1998.

“Wilderness is dedicated as such because it’s valuable and worth protecting,” said McCollister. “We want to implement low impact restoration that yields high impact for this special place.”

#BLM    #Bureau of Land Management    #Grant    #Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board    #Salmon River    #Sandy River Basin    #spawning habitat    #United States Forest Service