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  • 16 Sep 2014

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  • 17 Sep 2014

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Feed your old Christmas tree to the salmon

by: MICHAEL ELLIS - Rod Lundgren, Bob May and Mike Gentry position a chain of old Christmas trees in a coastal waterway last year to provide habitat for coho salmon as part of a Trout Unlimited conservation effort. Volunteers soon will once again collect holiday trees for the Christmas for Coho program.Instead of grinding your Christmas tree into mulch this year, you might consider giving it a new life as habitat for native fish.

Sport fishers from throughout the Portland area plan to gather up donated trees after the holidays and haul them out to the coast, where they will be placed in waterways to provide coho salmon with shade and protection from predators, along with new sources of food.

“Think of it like a Christmas tree awning for fish,” said Mike Gentry of Lake Oswego.

Gentry is involved with the Tualatin Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited, a group made up largely of fly fishers from throughout the Portland area. Many of the chapter’s 600-plus members volunteer on conservation projects that enhance fish habitat, including Christmas for Coho.

Now entering its third year, the program netted about 1,000 trees last January, Gentry said. Close to half were donated when people no longer wanted them in their homes after the holidays. The rest were surplus trees from a seasonal operation in Estacada.

by: MICHAEL ELLIS - Byron Thompson wrangles more trees into a coastal area where old Christmas trees are providing young fish with protection and food.The old trees are used to re-create historical conditions supporting juvenile coho. The young fish spend their first year in streams before migrating to the ocean, and they rely on healthy freshwater habitats for food, protection and relief from strong currents.

“There are all kinds of rivers on the coast that used to have a lot of woody debris,” Gentry said. “Naturally fallen timber and logs provided cover and slower water for young fish over the winter so they didn’t get washed away, they had a protected area, they had food and they had protection from birds of prey.”

But coastal stream channels and backwaters used to contain far more woody debris than they now do.

“With all of the farming and land-use practices over the years … a lot of these areas no longer have that kind of cover,” Gentry said.

Floating in backwaters, ponds and wetlands, old Christmas trees can provide shade and shelter for coho as well as the organisms they feed on.

Gentry credited Doug Ray, a wetlands specialist on the coast, with finding prime locations for the donations. A main restoration site is on the Necanicum River near Seaside, but organizers believe there are plenty of other areas that could benefit. The trees volunteers collect this January could replenish previous years’ donations washed out by winter storms. Others will be stockpiled and deposited in the river over the summer.

Gentry sees no shortage of places where additional old trees could help salmon.

“There are many more opportunities for other sites in the river that could also use this sort of overwintering habitat,” he said. “If we had enough manpower and the money for transportation, we could certainly increase that by several thousand.”

He said underwater photos have showed fish responding even before volunteers finished their work in the river.

“The little baby fish were beginning to congregate under those trees even as we were in the water working with them,” Gentry said. “It was instantaneous.”

That’s the sort of salmon comeback Joel La Follette hopes to support by working with Trout Unlimited. La Follette, who opened Royal Treatment Fly Fishing in West Linn a few years ago, will provide one of two drop-off locations for donated trees this year.

“We have a tendency these days when a storm blows through to remove the stuff that historically stayed in the river and was a sanctuary for these fish,” La Follette said. “By re-creating that in controlled areas, I think we’re helping a lot of fish we’ve had trouble protecting.”