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Project gives coastal stream new lease on life

 
October 6, 2010

 

Volunteers

Volunteers from the Rainland Flycasters and Trout Unlimited take a break from putting the deck on a new bridge over the mouth of Circle Creek at the Seaside Golf Course. The new structure replaced an old asphalt golf cart crossing and undersized culverts that were blocking the movement of fish upstream.

Kaino & Laws
Ryan Kaino (left), forest engineer for Lewis & Clark Oregon Timber, and Troy Laws (right), biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, look for fish inside a reference reach used to pattern recent stream restoration work completed on Tillamook Head in the headwaters of Circle Creek near Seaside.

SEASIDE, Ore. – In September, coastal conservation partners completed two major projects on Circle Creek near Seaside that benefit coho, steelhead, cutthroat trout, frogs, turtles and salamanders and will do so for many years.

Circle Creek flows from its headwaters down Tillamook Head, an area identified in the Oregon Conservation Strategy as a Conservation Opportunity Area – a place where restoration works will benefit many fish and wildlife species. Partners in the two projects included state and federal agencies, private landowners and conservation organizations.

For centuries, Circle Creek supported a cornucopia of life as it meandered down the slopes of Tillamook Head toward the Pacific Ocean on Oregon’s north coast. Huge Sitka spruce, Douglas fir and hemlock trees shaded pools of rainwater full of coho salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout. These pristine pools watered thirsty elk, black-tailed deer and other creatures that inhabited the ancient forest overlooking the Necanicum Estuary.

Not since the late 1800s has anybody seen this corner of Oregon in its natural state because shortly after its discovery by European settlers fortune-seekers saw there was money to be made harvesting the massive trees and feeding them to hungry sawmills below. First came narrow gauge railroads used to shuttle logs down the mountainside to Seaside, where they helped fuel Oregon’s booming timber industry. Later on came the logging roads, which were easier and less expensive to build next to streams, despite impacts on flow, function, water quality and aquatic life.

Today, road-building rarely occurs next to streams because planners are aware of these impacts, and many resource managers recognize the value of restoring streams to their natural state. Often, as in the case of Circle Creek, this involves removing old railroad beds, logging roads, culverts, riprap and other manmade structures and contouring the surrounding topography to its original shape – a process that is as much an art as it is a science.

RESHAPING THE HEADWATERS

The first project involved removing about a mile of old logging road along Circle Creek and relocating it upslope and away from the area of stream influence on property owned by Lewis & Clark Oregon Timber, managed by The Campbell Group, which recently purchased more than 140,000 acres on the north coast from Weyerhaeuser Co. Troy Laws, an ODFW biologist with the North Coast Watershed District, spearheaded the project by leveraging $178,000 in matching funds and in-kind contributions from several partners to obtain a $192,000 grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, which is supported by the Oregon Lottery.

“There was a ton of people with concerns for the watershed that jumped in to help with both of these projects,” said Laws, who grew up in Seaside and used his connections and appreciation of the watershed to coordinate the efforts.

The cooperative effort on upper reaches of Circle Creek restored natural stream functions, including the original meander and valley form by removing fill from old roadbeds and reshaping the surrounding topography, then reseeding it with grass and other native vegetation. More than 300 trees provided by Lewis & Clark Oregon Timber were placed throughout the stream corridor to create spawning pools, cover, and food for coho, steelhead and cutthroat trout as well as habitat for frogs, turtles and salamanders.

“One of our objectives is to protect and enhance the environment,” said Ryan Kaino, forest engineer for Lewis & Clark Oregon Timber. “We’ve found that we can get more bang for our buck by working with some of these groups.”

THE RECYCLED BRIDGE

Farther downstream, the partners restored the mouth of Circle Creek at its confluence with the Necanicum River in Seaside to its original dimensions by removing an asphalt golf cart crossing and undersized culverts that were creating a plug in the channel and an impediment to migrating fish. Laws first became aware of the problem when he was in high school at Seaside and the bottleneck was pointed out by his former biology teacher, Neil Maine, who now works with the North Coast Land Conservancy. As is the case today, Maine pointed out to his students back then the significance of the huge Sitka Spruce wetland behind the golf cart crossing that awaited salmon on the other side of the golf cart crossing – if they could just reach that lush habitat. The refuge is essential especially for juvenile fish that are completing the freshwater rearing phase of their life cycle before entering the ocean to become adults, according to Laws. 

“I always wondered if there would come a day when this problem could be fixed,” he said. “I just didn’t know I would be involved in the solution 30 years later.”
 
To remedy the situation, the partners needed the cooperation of Wayne Fulmer, owner of the Seaside Golf Course, where the asphalt crossing was located. Fulmer quickly became an enthusiastic participant in the project when he found that the plan was to replace the old structure with a “new” bridge recycled from ODFW’s Klaskanine Fish Hatchery. It also helped that cost-sharing was available and that dozens of volunteers were waiting in the wings to pour concrete footings and pound nails. For Fulmer, there was an added benefit – not only does the new bridge provide better fish passage from the mouth to the headwaters of Circle Creek, it is also expected to help reduce flooding on the golf course during periods of high tide when there is a large volume of stream runoff in the watershed.

In addition to ODFW, partners in the two projects included Seaside Golf Course, Big River Excavation, Rainland Flycasters, Trout Unlimited, the Necanicum Watershed Council, North Coast Land Conservancy, Lewis & Clark Oregon Timber, McGee Engineering, Sopko Welding, and Seaside ProBuild Builders Supply.

Coordinating such a large contingent of volunteers took a lot of footwork and flexibility, but Laws says it was worth it.

“I grew up here and have an acquired appreciation for this watershed,” he said. “I want to see abundant fish and wildlife for others to enjoy, and this will have long lasting effects on water quality and the health of the environment.”

Laws says completion of these projects leaves only two state-owned culverts under Highway 101 standing between migrating fish and fully unobstructed passage from the headwaters of Circle Creek to the Pacific Ocean. Those impediments have been targeted for replacement in the Oregon Department of Transportation’s long-range plans.

ABOUT THE OREGON CONSERVATION STRATEGY

The Oregon Conservation Strategy provides a blueprint and action plan for the long-term conservation of Oregon’s native fish and wildlife and their habitats through a non-regulatory, statewide approach to conservation. It was developed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife with the help of a diverse coalition of Oregonians including scientists, conservation groups, landowners, extension services, anglers, hunters, and representatives from agriculture, forestry and rangelands. Learn more on ODFW’s website at www.dfw.state.or.us.

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Contact:

Troy Laws (503) 842-2741
Rick Swart (971) 673-6038

 
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