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Making Chinook feel at home

Portland Water Bureau improves salmon habitat in Sandy River tributary


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: PORTLAND WATER BUREAU - The man in this photo is directing the helicopter to drop the logs in predetermined locations.Gordon and Trout creeks, which flow into the Sandy River near Oxbow Park, are not very friendly to Chinook salmon, said Terry Black, a spokesperson for the Portland Water Bureau.

And since the water bureau is charged by the National Marine Fisheries Service with mitigating its closure of the Bull Run Watershed to the passage of fish by improving the salmon run in other nearby streams, the agency just finished working on the two creeks.

The project was designed to improve habitat, which would tend to encourage fish to return to their spawning area and be able to survive the swim.

More than 500 tree trunks were dropped into the relatively remote areas of the stream using large, heavy-lift helicopters.

On the ground, the logs were moved into place in the stream’s most open areas to enhance the buildup of gravel bars, increase shade and create eddies where water would be deeper and colder.

Accumulations of woody debris benefit fish partly by slowing stream velocity. The trees also create resting areas, scour out deep pools, offer cover for fish and collect gravel for spawning beds. This also provides nutrients and homes for aquatic insects that the fish eat.

Instead of waiting for older, larger trees to fall naturally into the streams, these trees are being placed strategically to create good habitat where it is needed. Up to 60 sites in the two creeks were to receive logs, according to a written statement from Black.

Directing the project is Steve Kucas, environmental compliance manager for the Portland Water Bureau. Kucas says this project can make a big difference.

“These locations on Gordon and Trout creeks,” he said, “were identified as high potential areas for fish recovery and protection.”

Black says the logs have been sustainably harvested, which means they either were dug out of the Columbia River mud or cleared from the Oregon Zoo to make room for the new animal hospital, or taken from a wildlife refuge near Dallas to return that area to a historic oak woodland.

The drop sites are on land owned by Metro and Longview Timberlands, while a local Christmas tree farm owner allowed the helicopter to refuel on his farm.

The Portland Water Bureau is conducting 49 projects in the Sandy River basin over the next 50 years, costing $90 million, with the majority of those projects finished within the first 15 years.

That 50-year goal is to recreate optimal habitat conditions that improve runs of fall and spring Chinook salmon, winter steelhead, coho salmon and cutthroat trout.

For more information, call Black at 503-823-8978.