‘Safe Harbors’ for native fish

This is part of a series about the MRT members who have played a part in the incredible comeback of Oregon chub. In the coming days and weeks, we’ll share more stories of MRT members who aided the recovery.

Gail and Eric Haws

“The chub seems like such an insignificant little creature,” MRT member Gail Haws noted from her home along the Middle Fork of the Willamette River near Oakridge. But her family’s work to protect it has had a huge impact.

Gail and her husband Eric were among the first landowners to sign a Safe Harbor Agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2009. Through the agreement, the Haws family committed to protecting Oregon chub found in their ponds.

Researcher Brian Bangs from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife helps coordinate the Safe Harbor program for Oregon chub in the Willamette Valley.

The Safe Harbor program started in the early 2000s. The program allowed private landowners to take on voluntary conservation measures on behalf of Oregon chub on their properties. This allowed agency staff to work in partnership with private landowners to manage endangered species on private property as well as public land. For species native to the Willamette Valley, where land is 96% privately owned, that’s critical.

“It’s been staggering to watch a community grow around this two inch minnow,” says researcher Brian Bangs. “There was a word of mouth to it. People begin seeing what one landowner is doing and saying, ‘Well, this is really neat. What can I do? How can I get involved, too?’”

The importance of healthy floodplains

This is part of a series about the MRT members who have played a part in the incredible comeback of Oregon chub. In the coming days and weeks, we’ll share more stories of MRT members who aided the recovery.

Art and Anita Johnson

Places protected for Oregon chub are also habitat for many other creatures like Great blue herons, red-legged frogs, and Chinook salmon.

In 2007, MRT helped members Art and Anita Johnson create a conservation easement on their 28-acre floodplain property on the lower McKenzie. The land was protected for its ideal habitat for Chinook salmon, redside rainbow trout, steelhead, and red-legged frogs. Years later, researchers found Oregon chub were also using the side channels there year-round.

As more and more people studied the chub, they learned about the interrelationship between one species and the whole web of creatures that live in the river.

“You can’t allow one species to be lost without that having an impact on other species,” says Art. “I’ve been on the McKenzie and Willamette my whole life. I knew the chub was in the river and I was very pleased that they were in that pocket of our property.”

A healthy, functioning floodplain was a major help for Oregon chub. “The recovery of the chub, to a large extent, is because of natural features,” adds Art. “The way the river moves back and forth creates harbors” for fish like chub.

Like many who have assisted in chub recovery in ways large and small, Art and Anita are humble about their role. “We don’t take any credit for [the recovery],” says Art. “It was a bit of fortune that the habitat developed right in the bends of the river.”