by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSON - Chas McCoy replaces Janelle St. Pierre as the Scappoose Bay Watershed Council's coordinator. SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSONChas McCoy spends most of his time outside, along Columbia County’s various creeks. As the project manager for the Scappoose Bay Watershed Council, he was in charge of implementing a variety of habitat-enhancement and improvement projects with the local landowners, working with students and managing weeds along the watershed.

He originally began working at the Watershed Council as a volunteer with AmeriCorps, but has now taken on the position of coordinator, replacing Janelle St. Pierre who announced in February she was leaving for another job.

The Watershed Council works with landowners , students and the community to improve the quality of the County’s creeks and natural areas. McCoy hopes to continue this work full-force into the future, but there will be some challenges along the way.

Were you expecting the coordinator job to open?

No. Not at all. I actually thought if the opportunity did arise, I probably wouldn’t accept it.

What changed your mind?

Janelle approached me with the idea, but initially the way I thought of it was there’s no way I could fill her shoes. In my four years of experience I learned a lot about the area, how the Watershed Council operates, but my focus was the on-the-ground projects and not the organizational side of things. It kind of scared me off of the idea, but she put it in a good way: I’m not filling her shoes, I’m bringing my own shoes.

Although I will be taking over the projects she started, she also left us in a pretty good place for that transition.

What will the coordinator position look like now?

We’re not going to hire any additional staff, so basically we’ve reduced our staff. I’m still doing the role of project manager and now I’m taking on the role of the coordinator. At the moment things are incredibly busy because I’m balancing both jobs and I’m the only full-time staff now.

What does a typical day look like for you right now?

A lot of e-mails in the mornings. Then, today, I was out with the St. Helens High School students at the Middle School where they’re working on a wetland there. They dumped a lot of fill in there when, I’m assuming, they built out the parking lot. Now it’s full of willows. We’ve just been working along the perimeter mostly and taking out blackberry and ivy. Over the last two seasons we’ve been planting with native plants in there.

Then I checked on a guy we’re contracting with to do a lot of our planting on projects. He knows enough about plants and the area that I can go out and show him the project site. We’ll walk it and I’ll explain to him what I think we should do with it and he’ll work on it for the week.

I also had a meeting at the county office to review the plan for the Scappoose Bay Marine Park nature trail project as well. It’s been a good day The time is very much taken up and the days go by fast.

Given the staff changes and the up and down cycle of grants, have the Watershed Council’s goals changed?

It’s pretty much been the same. But when I first came on board, that was kind of the Watershed’s boom period. Grants were coming in very steadily. In 2009, 2010, we had two dozen grants going on. So, pretty much two dozen projects. Now, with the economy, there’s a smaller pool of funds to apply for and more people applying for those funds. The grants have become very competitive, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but we have not been getting nearly as many as we used to. We’re kind of in transition between coordinators now but this also gives us a chance to see where we want to go next.

What will this look like?

We won’t be able to take on as much. Our focus will be primarily on the ground work, such as planting along the creeks, placing large wood, bank stabilization projects. Funders, such as the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, they want to see on-the-ground projects, instant results for the funds they’re putting in. We’re working with the County Roads Department to address failing culverts and when we’re replacing them, we’re replacing them with fish passage in mind.

What has kept you in this area and this line of work?

I like the community out here. One of the things I often remark on is that fact that we still do have salmon and steelhead in the creeks out here. I was working with the Youth Corps on a project, it was late October, early November, when the Cohoe were coming up to spawn and you see these large 20-pound, 30-pound Cohoe splashing up the creek behind you.

The creeks are pretty confined in the urban areas, but you get a mile out of the city, or less, and you have pretty large parcels of land, a lot of room to work on and very willing landowners.

A lot of people aren’t sure what to do to help the creek, but they’re more than willing to cooperate and that’s where we come in. I find it rewarding that I get to help folks who want to take care of the creek and do the right thing for the creek — or at least what we see as the right thing for the creek — to create better habitat conditions.

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