Restoration of Oregon river aims to help trout

Deep Creek is perhaps best known as a genetic stronghold for redband trout.

  • By STEPHEN HAMWAY The Bulletin
  • Wednesday, August 15, 2018 1:30am
  • Northwest

By Stephen Hamway / The Bulletin

BEND, Ore. — After decades of ranching and logging left a creek deep in the Ochoco National Forest less functional for the fish and other animals that live there, an interagency effort is underway to return it to a more natural state.

Since the end of July, Deep Creek, a tributary of the north fork of the Crooked River, has been the sight of an ambitious stream restoration project, which was spearheaded by the U.S. Forest Service and supported by a number of other public agencies, nonprofits and private companies.

Last week, workers used heavy equipment to re-grade channels that have become improperly aligned, and trucks hauled in downed ponderosa pine trees to add more complexity to the stream.

While the creek has long had an established population of redband trout, the overall goal, according to Juan Martinez, fisheries biologist for the Paulina Ranger District in the Ochoco National Forest, is to create a series of interconnected channels that are more suitable for all species that call the creek home.

“Nature can go back to taking its course,” Martinez said.

Deep Creek is perhaps best known as a genetic stronghold for redband trout, a subspecies of native rainbow trout that have adapted to the arid, desert conditions of Eastern Oregon, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Darek Staab, Upper Deschutes project manager for Trout Unlimited, said the Deep Creek population of redband trout is genetically distinct from other trout in the area and is better adapted to life in warmer water.

“In my mind, I see them as the fish of the future,” Staab said. “They’re going to have the genes and the adaptability, and the survival skills to be able to help as we move into more challenging times with the climate.”

However, years of degradation left the creek a more challenging place for trout and other animals to live. Rob Tanner, assistant forest hydrologist for the Deschutes and Ochoco national forests, as well as the Crooked River National Grassland, said the area was once the site of logging camps, and loggers wanted to concentrate the creek’s flow so their camps and homesteads weren’t affected.

Consequently, the creek, which once flowed through a series of interconnected channels, was concentrated into a single straight channel near the edge of the basin. This arrangement, Tanner said, concentrated the water and caused the river to cut into the earth, gradually widening the channel and creating dramatic berms along the riverbanks.

Tim Porter, assistant district fish biologist for ODFW, said trout populations have remained relatively stable in recent years, but conditions haven’t allowed them to thrive. The Forest Service has classified the river as “functioning at risk” because of the previous degradation.

Staab said having a single wide channel with berms means less food and warmer water in the creek. Staab said water temperatures can approach 70 degrees during the summer, which nears the upper limits for even trout native to the creek. Martinez described the single wide channel as “monotonous” for fish and other animals, as it lacks the mix of fast- and slow-moving channels that the creek would have historically had. He added that this forces fish to work harder just to stay in one portion of the creek.

“The more diverse their habitat is, the less energy they spend on survival, and they more they spend on reproduction,” he said.

The first step of the restoration project is leveling out areas of the basin that have gotten too high or too low. Workers placed a cofferdam upstream from the project area, diverting water out of the main channel. From there, workers moved dirt from high ground in the basin into the channel. The goal, Tanner said, is to get the whole area within 2 feet of elevation, allowing the river to find different channels.

The workers will then add in creekside vegetation including willows and dogwood, and strategically place downed ponderosa pines in the river to give it more complexity. Ideally, Staab said the restoration will bring the entire water table up and allow the environment to recover naturally.

“By bringing the water table up and letting it interact with all of this diversity, it will create a really nice mix of different types of plants,” he said.

Tanner said it will take about 11 weeks to restore the 7-mile project area, though work could extend into the spring, depending on funding and weather.

Staab said one challenge with projects in the Ochoco National Forest is the relative lack of dedicated stewards compared to projects in the Deschutes basin. However, he said more than 50 people, from Forest Service officials to groups of volunteers who pull weeds in the basin, are involved in the restoration effort.

“I feel like the Ochocos can be forgotten,” Staab said. “The more time that I spend out here, the more special I realize that they are.”

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Northwest

Alaska Airlines aircraft sit in the airline's hangar at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in SeaTac, Wash. Boeing has acknowledged in a letter to Congress that it cannot find records for work done on a door panel that blew out on an Alaska Airlines flight over Oregon two months ago. Ziad Ojakli, Boeing executive vice president and chief government lobbyist, wrote to Sen. Maria Cantwell on Friday, March 8 saying, “We have looked extensively and have not found any such documentation.” (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)
FBI tells passengers on 737 flight they might be crime victims

Passengers received letters this week from a victim specialist from the federal agency’s Seattle office.

Skylar Meade (left) and Nicholas Umphenour.
Idaho prison gang member and accomplice caught after ambush

Pair may have killed 2 while on the run, police say. Three police officers were hospitalized with gunshot wounds after the attack at a Boise hospital.

Barbara Peraza-Garcia holds her 2-year-old daughter, Frailys, while her partner Franklin Peraza sits on their bed in their 'micro apartment' in Seattle on Monday, March 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Valdes)
Micro-apartments are back after nearly a century, as need for affordable housing soars

Boarding houses that rented single rooms to low-income, blue-collar or temporary workers were prevalent across the U.S. in the early 1900s.

Teen blamed for crash that kills woman, 3 children in Renton

Four people were hospitalized, including three with life-threatening injuries. The teenage driver said to be at fault is under guard at a hospital.

Snow is visible along the top of Mount Pilchuck from bank of the Snohomish River on Wednesday, May 10, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Washington issues statewide drought declaration, including Snohomish County

Drought is declared when there is less than 75% of normal water supply and “there is the risk of undue hardship.”

Dave Calhoun, center, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on Jan. 24. (Samuel Corum / Bloomberg)
Boeing fired lobbying firm that helped it navigate 737 Max crashes

Amid congressional hearings on Boeing’s “broken safety culture,” the company has severed ties with one of D.C.’s most powerful firms.

Rosario Resort and Spa on Orcas Island (Photo provided by Empower Investing)
Orcas Island’s storied Rosario Resort finds a local owner

Founded by an Orcas Island resident, Empower Investing plans” dramatic renovations” to restore the historic resort.

People fill up various water jug and containers at the artesian well on 164th Street on Monday, April 2, 2018 in Lynnwood, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Washington will move to tougher limits on ‘forever chemicals’ in water

The federal EPA finalized the rules Wednesday. The state established a program targeting the hazardous chemicals in drinking water in 2021.

Everett
State: Contractor got workers off Craigslist to remove asbestos in Everett

Great North West Painting is appealing the violations and $134,500 fine levied by the state Department of Labor Industries.

Riley Wong, 7, shows his pen pal, Smudge, the picture he drew for her in addition to his letter at Pasado's Safe Haven on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021 in Monroe, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish County organization rescues neglected llamas in Yakima County

Pasado’s Safe Haven planned to provide ongoing medical care and rehabilitation to four llamas in its care at its sanctuary.

Whidbey cop accused of rape quits job after internal inquiry

The report was unsparing in its allegations against John Nieder, who is set to go to trial May 6 in Skagit County Superior Court on two counts of rape in the second degree.

LA man was child rape suspect who faked his death

Coroner’s probe reveals the Los Angeles maintenance man was a Bremerton rape suspect believed to have jumped off the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.