Cooperation Brings Successby CBB Staff
Cattle have been removed, thousands of trees planted and the stream channel replaced so that 50 years after it was straightened, Bear Creak, located in the Upper Grand Ronde River subbasin, once again meanders through Longley Meadow.
The four-year project on the Alta Cunha Ranch, about four miles upstream from Hilgard State Park, includes stream channel restoration along the lower reach of Bear Creek, instream habitat enhancement on upper Bear and Jordan creeks, plus installation of a well and troughs to accommodate livestock moved away from the streams.
Because the landowners wanted the streams and wetlands meadow restored to their former condition, Shauna Mosgrove and Kelly Stinnett were willing to move livestock away from fish-bearing streams and establish a 500-acre conservation easement for 15 years to allow for recovery fish habitat and water quality.
"It was an opportunity for us to give something back to the environment," said Stinnett, who lives across Highway 244 from the meadow, about four miles upstream from Hilgard State Park 10 miles west of La Grande. "It was the right thing to do."
The "Longley Meadow Restoration Project" is a partnership between Mosgrove and Stinnett, the Grande Ronde Model Watershed Program, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service. It is funded by the GRMWP, Bonneville Power Administration and the NRCS Conservation Reserve and Enhancement Program.
"Cooperation between the people in the agencies was integral to the process," said Stinnett. "Without that kind of working together there's no way a project of this scope could have been done."
But the landowners deserve credit too, said Allen Childs, project manager for the CTUIR. "We had the technical ideas about fish and water but we would never have shaped this project without the landowners' thinking. We got crosswise a couple of times but worked things out," he said.
"It was good to be able to come to the table and talk about what we needed," Stinnett agreed. "We did get crosswise but we agreed at the end and it worked for everybody."
The project area encompasses more than 500 acres of historic wetland meadow and forested riparian habitat and includes about two miles of the mainstem Grande Ronde River, two miles of Bear Creek and 1.5 miles of Jordan Creek.
Both Jordan and Bear creeks are known to have historically provided spawning and rearing habitat for summer steelhead. Little is known about spring Chinook salmon in these tributaries, but in December 1999, CTUIR and ODFW personnel observed juvenile spring Chinook near the confluence of Bear Creek with the Grande Ronde River, confirming biologists' suspected use by overwintering juvenile spring chinook salmon.
Within about 200 yards of the Grande Ronde, the stream has also revealed beaver and raccoon tracks, nesting geese, a pair of Sand Hill cranes, great blue herons, deer, elk and a bald eagle.
"It's amazing," said Stinnett. "We're seeing so much happening with fish and waterfowl. In the evenings we cruise around on the six-wheeler and are getting so much enjoyment from having done this program. If this much has happened in the last two years, I can't imagine what's going to happen in the next five to 10 years."
Steam channelization, road and railroad construction, livestock grazing and logging over the last four decades left the area in poor watershed health, virtually void of steelhead and salmon populations.
Jordan Creek has suffered high summer water temperatures, winter icing and unstable streambanks. Instream habitat lacked large woody debris and pool habitat, both necessary for cooler water that supports anadromous fish.
Bear Creek, channelized in the 1960s to drain the wetland for hay production and pasture, was in even worse shape with an extremely deep, eroded channel and streambanks, excessive water velocity and high water temperatures. Wetland meadow vegetation such as sedges, rushes and willows, normally associated with stream channels in meadow systems was largely eliminated by the channelization effort and disconnection of the channel from its former floodplain, Childs said.
To restore the habitat and improve water quality for adult and juvenile steelhead and salmon, work called for aggressive measures, including livestock control, reconnecting the stream with the floodplain, instream work and the planting of trees, shrubs, sedge and rush plugs, and native grasses.
"You can take a passive approach if you're willing to wait a century or more for change or you can take an active approach like we did here," said Childs, walking along the banks of Bear Creek.
The Longley Meadow project has triggered plans for other projects in the Willow Creek watershed of the Grande Ronde Valley and on the Wallowa River.
"People like what they see here," said Childs. "Not all like taking cattle ground out of production but more people are becoming oriented toward improving water quality and restoring fish," he said.
Landowners can also take advantage of incentives offered by state and federal governments.
"Landowners get a large percentage of the land market value through various easement programs and, while placing land in a conservation use still maintain ownership," Childs said. "Plus there's some flexibility to use livestock and other ag-oriented management tools, but for the most part the land is set aside for wetland, wildlife and fisheries.
"Maybe that's part of the balance we need to restore salmon," said Childs. "We need tradeoffs that are a benefit to salmon. All these efforts, taken collectively over time will make a difference."
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