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Rare Willamette Valley salmon and steelhead habitat protected
6/6/2013 3:11 PM
The effort to rebuild salmon and steelhead runs to the Willamette Valley was bolstered today by a successful habitat conservation effort on the North Santiam River, once a powerhouse of fish production in the Willamette Basin.
Photos courtesy, Steve Terrill
A partnership between Western Rivers Conservancy, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Bonneville Power Administration and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife conserves two miles of the North Santiam River. The Grand Ronde Tribe will serve as the sponsor for the project, which protects 338 acres of land with benefits for both fish and wildlife.
“The project is a tremendous step forward in accomplishing what these funds were intended for: Conserving the best remaining fish and wildlife habitat in the Willamette Valley,” Sue Doroff, Western Rivers Conservancy’s President.
Once proposed for gravel mining, the project lands include riparian features, with 130 acres of floodplain forest, numerous winding side channels and 20 acres of wetlands as well as a unique native upland prairie. The riparian features are important to winter steelhead, spring Chinook, Pacific lamprey, Oregon chub and other species that inhabit the river.
“The Tribe has the natural resource expertise to care for this vital habitat and shares WRC’s vision to protect and restore a remarkable block of riverfront, forests and wetlands,” said Reyn Leno, Tribal chairman.
The property is also home to six species of concern: pileated woodpecker, hood merganser, American kestrel, little willow fly-catcher, western pond turtle and red-legged frog.
The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde will monitor fish and wildlife habitat and develop a management plan for the land. The public will have an opportunity to provide input on the plan, which will be submitted to BPA for final approval. The Tribe plans to replant several farm fields with culturally important native species. This will expand what is already the largest and oldest riverside forest in the area, when combined with an adjacent tract owned by the Bureau of Land Management.
The North Santiam River drains a large portion of the Central Oregon Cascades into the Willamette River. At one time, it produced two-thirds of the Willamette River’s steelhead and a third of its spring Chinook. These runs have declined steeply and today are listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, primarily due to population growth and development in the Willamette Valley.
Funding for the project was provided by BPA through the Willamette Wildlife Habitat Agreement, signed in 2010. This agreement between the state of Oregon and BPA provides stable funding for at least 19,000 acres in wildlife habitat acquisitions in the Willamette Valley to bring BPA’s total conservation of lands there to 26,000 acres. This land acquisition will help to offset impacts of the federal dams on the Willamette River and its tributaries.
“This aligns with our priority to be responsible environmental stewards,” said Dorie Welch, BPA’s coordinator for the agreement. “Our goal is to continue delivering the benefits of the resources on the Willamette River to the region while improving conditions along the river for the species that call it home.”
The agreement also provides seed funding for continuing basic work on acquisition sites – a new practice for BPA, which historically budgeted for ongoing maintenance, but one that has been a standard in the land trust community for years.
“This is the most significant tract of intact habitat along the entire lower North Santiam River,” said Doroff.
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