NEWPORT, Ore. -- Throughout August and September, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will be placing 335 large boulders and 54 whole trees at selected sites in a 3.4 mile stretch of Big Elk Creek near Elk City.
Fish habitat biologists have long known that adding trees and boulders to degraded streams can help improve salmon habitat, said Jason Kirchner, ODFW habitat biologist.
But while these efforts have been successful on hundreds of small streams and tributaries, this is the first time ODFW has applied this technique on a much larger river.
“We usually work in streams that are 20-25 feet across,” Kirchner said. “Big Elk Creek is 70-80 feet wide with lots of water volume so we have to bring in bigger, heavier materials that won’t wash away during heavy winter flows.”
In addition, the materials will be strategically placed near the banks of the stream rather the spanning the water from bank to bank as they would on smaller tributaries.
The trees and boulders will help accumulate spawning gravel for chinook salmon and create a more diverse, complex habitat favored by salmon, steelhead and trout, Kirchner said.
An excavator began placing boulders on Aug. 1 and in September a heavy-lift helicopter will place 54 whole trees 100-150 feet long and 15 root wad trees.
“As you move into larger rivers the challenges are different than when you’re working in smaller tributaries,” said Kirchner. “If this project is successful, we hope it will become a model for restoration projects in larger streams.”
Over the next five years ODFW will monitor the effectiveness of the project by documenting changes in stream habitat and fish use near the newly placed trees and boulders.
The project is a cooperative effort funded and supported by a mix of state and federal agencies and private landowners including Yaquina River Chinook Advocates (U-DA-Man Fishing Club), Gates Tree Farm, Green Diamond Resource Company, Oregon Department of Forestry, U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
This cooperation is a hallmark of the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds and the Oregon Conservation Strategy, which bring together a wide range of public and private partners to promote the recovery of vulnerable fish populations.