Across the state, there are more than 28,000 artificial barriers to fish passage through waterways, leading to fish population declines, damaged habitats and affecting watershed health.
The Oregon Forest Resources Institute hosted a workshop Tuesday to give landowners information about voluntary projects to improve fish passage and habitat in forested streams.
About 40 people participated in the free workshop. The goal was to educate small-forest landowners on best practices for restoring and enhancing fish habitats and provide tools to do the job, said Julie Woodward, the institutes’s senior manager of forestry education.
The fish-passage dilemma is systemic and pervasive across the state, said Greg Apke, fish passage program coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Human-made obstructions, such as culverts at road and stream crossings, dams, tidegates and other artificial structures, are to blame.
Determining if an obstruction is “passable” is somewhat subjective, but the state estimates about 6,400 structures are completely blocking fish passage; nearly 6,000 are partially blocking passage; more than 5,000 are passable; and about 13,000 are unknown.
The state does not “have a handle” on where all the obstructions are located or who owns the property, Apke said.
“The theme is, we’ve got a big problem and there are a lot of different culprits,” he said.
In 1997, under former Gov. John Kitzhaber, the state created the Oregon Plan For Salmon and Watersheds to restore Oregon’s native fish populations and aquatic systems. The complex plan “means a lot of different things to a lot of different folks,” but the primary element of the plan is to encourage private landowners to engage in voluntary “on-the-ground restoration projects at the local level,” Apke said.
Looking at the big picture
Before attempting fish passage and habitat restoration projects, landowners should look at the bigger picture, because many issues are intertwined, said Guillermo Giannico, associate professor at Oregon State University and fisheries specialist. Otherwise, projects are less likely to be successful.
Without a long-term plan, projects may fail to restore watersheds or their benefits may be nullified by human activities taking place elsewhere in the system, Giannico said.
Successful restoration projects tend to address the cause of the ecosystem change; match the scale of the physical and biological processes taking place and act to maximize the local potential of a specific area. Most importantly, the project should have explicit expected outcomes.
Landowners should “think like a fish” when designing for passage and habitat, Giannico said. Fish movement is based on environmental conditions that optimize growth, survival and reproductive success. Humans can aid natural movement by reducing barriers to passage and creating proper habitats. However, Giannico warned workshop participants against oversimplifying.
“Universal rules are not always applicable in nature,” Giannico said. There is no single formula that fits for all fish species, systems and habitats.
Fran Cafferata Coe, a certified wildlife biologist, said habitats should be clean, cold, connected and complex. Some suggestions to restore or enhance forest habitats include planting diverse tree species in riparian areas; maintaining conifer and hardwood trees in riparian areas for large-wood recruitment, shade and sediment retention; decommissioning and obliterating roads near streams and adding logs, root wads and boulders to streams.
“If you come up with a great idea, don’t hoard that idea. Share it with your neighbors,” Coe said.
Giannico believes “the system will heal back once you remove the pressure,” he said.
During the workshop, participants went to the Lewis and Clark Tree Farm, managed by Greenwood Resources, to view a few fish passage and habitat projects.
In 2007, former landowner Weyerhauser partnered with the Necancium Watershed Council, ODFW, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, Rainland Flycatchers and the North Coast Land Conservancy on a project. The partners obliterated half a mile of gravel road along Hawley Creek and restored the area to its former natural floodplain condition; placed trees into the stream to improve habitat and floodplain functions; replanted the former road surface area with native trees, shrubs and wetland plants; and removed two passage barrier culverts and replaced them with a single structure that met fish passage standards.
At Klootchy Creek, partners did a habitat restoration project in the late 1990s, shortly after the Oregon Plan implementation. They placed wood and boulders in the creek to provide shade, induce the stream to meander naturally, cause natural erosion and scouring, enhance the floodplain and create deeper pools for fish refuge, according to ODFW’s Troy Laws.
Landowners are not alone when it comes to planning and implementing projects. Watershed councils are one resource, said Melyssa Graeper, Necanicum Watershed Council coordinator. Working with a local watershed council helps a landowner see how their project fits into the bigger scheme, she said.
“It’s about trying to do these things on a strategic level,” she said.
Additionally, watershed councils can help obtain permits, funds, partnerships with other agencies and other forms of support. Councils can help landowners leverage their own funds to obtain grants.
“Leverage is a word we like to use a lot,” Graeper said.
The Oregon Forest Resources Institute also provides a website, KnowYourForest.org, to help educate landowners about managing their lands and getting help for various projects.
One participant asked if a landowner alerts an agency of a potential problem, will the state then require the landowner to find a solution, regardless of cost?
Apke responded landowners are required to address passage for fish species if they engage in an action that triggers state requirements. Trigger events include creating a new road or stream-crossing structure over a channel; widening a road footprint within a stream channel; constructing a new culvert or overflow pipe within a stream channel; and several others. Landowners are responsible for knowing if native migratory fish are in their stream and if fish passage requirements apply to them.
One unfortunate aspect of Oregon’s restoration and conservation effort, Giannico said, is a lot of money has been spent on projects, but only 7 to 10 percent of them are monitored or evaluated.
Kyle Abraham, with the Department of Forestry, said the department is preparing a voluntary measures survey, to get information on actions by landowners that go above and beyond regulations.
Since 1995, there have been about 15,800 projects.