Cerro Gordo Protected

531 acres of prairie, fir and hardwood forest, and a prominent rocky butte outside Cottage Grove are permanently protected in the Cerro Gordo Conservation Easement. Photo by Eric Alan.

“Do what’s right for the land.” It’s an ethos that the people who have lived at Cerro Gordo have taken to heart. Today, thanks to their foresight and dedication, glimmering Willamette Valley prairie, healthy oak and conifer forest, and a prominent rocky butte near Cottage Grove are all protected for conservation. However, it hasn’t been an easy or straightforward path.

In 1974 a visionary group of people led by the late Chris Canfield bought 1,165 acres of forests and meadows above Dorena Lake with the goal of creating a village in harmony with nature. While the original plan never fully materialized, a dedicated core remained committed to conserving this special place.

The Cerro Gordo Land Conservancy, led by board members Jim Stevenson (president), Don Nordin, Eric Alan, and Suzanne Huebner-Sannes, is now proud to celebrate a conservation easement in partnership with the McKenzie River Trust on 531 acres of this land adjacent to Dorena Lake.

Cerro Gordo as seen from across Dorena Lake near Cottage Grove. The prominent rocky butte is now permanently protected for conservation. Photo by MRT staff.

A Different Tool

“We see land conservation and restoration as the primary goal,” says Eric Alan, resident and Conservancy board member. “This easement keeps with the initial vision of Cerro Gordo, and yet it’s a completely different tool than was envisioned in the beginning.”

Cerro Gordo boasts a stunning diversity of habitat types and plant communities throughout its landscape. The property has exceptional native grass diversity and several notable populations of rare and threatened plants, including shaggy horkelia, timwort, tall bugbane, Roemer’s fescue and yellow monkeyflower.

“Every acre is really different,” says Scott Ferguson of Trout Mountain Forestry, who has been working with the people of Cerro Gordo to manage the working forests since 1986. “The quality of the prairies is significant and the conifer habitat is really diverse, too.”

In 2012 a Healthy Forests Reserve Program conservation easement was secured on another 447 acres of Cerro Gordo forestland through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Together, these easements comprise nearly 1,000 acres of contiguous, protected habitat. “It’s a pretty substantial bit of conservation in a key part of the southern Willamette Valley,” Alan says.

Cerro Gordo Land Conservancy members Mary Addams, Shirley Froyd, Suzanne Huebner-Sannes, Charlie Sannes, Eric Alan, Jim Stevenson, Greta Loeffelbein, and Don Nordin. Photo by Eric Alan.

Unique People and a Unique Place

“The property is amazing, but the human element is probably the most unique part of this project. Cerro Gordo Land Conservancy members are on-site stewards,” says Ferguson. “In my work I haven’t met anyone with a more profound connection to place than the people behind Cerro Gordo.”

The Cerro Gordo Land Conservancy looks forward to engaging the community on this special land in the future. They can be reached at P.O. Box 192, Cottage Grove, OR 97424.

This project was funded in part by a grant from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Bonneville Power Administration’s Willamette Wildlife Mitigation Program. Key partners in this conservation success include Cerro Gordo Land Conservancy, the Cerro Gordo landowners, Trout Mountain Forestry and McKenzie River Trust.

Green Island: A Floodplain In Restoration

A pond restoration project on Green Island brought heavy equipment to re-contour a pond on site this summer. Photo by Christer LaBrecque.
It was nearly impossible to have a conversation over the noise of the bulldozers, excavators and dump trucks. Earlier this month on Green Island, where the Willamette and McKenzie Rivers come together, over twelve thousand cubic yards of soil were being transported.

The McKenzie River Trust acquired 865 acres of Green Island in 2003, recognizing that such extensive acreage, river channels, and off-channel areas provided tremendous opportunities to implement conservation strategies that had been developed by many partner organizations working in the Upper Willamette Basin.

An aerial view of dozens of logs and pieces of large wood used to harden the outlet of a pond that has now become an alcove on Green Island. Alcoves like this are more friendly to native fish and the other floodplain species that rely on them. Photo by Christer LaBrecque.
As MRT and our partners have gotten to know the area better over the last 14 years of management and restoration efforts, the foresight of that initial acquisition and subsequent additions to the property has become increasingly apparent. The Green Island project, presently about 1,100 acres in size, gives us the chance to move beyond talking, and walk the talk of large-scale floodplain restoration.

Transforming a pond, restoring a river

With the support of the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Bonneville Power Administration, and a Pacific General Electric Habitat Support grant administered through The Nature Conservancy, we took one more step this summer to increase river-floodplain hydrologic connection and improve habitat quality.

Contractors used heavy equipment to remove a 350 foot by 150 foot levee, originally constructed to make the land more suitable to farming. An existing pond wall was opened, transforming the pond into an alcove that should connect to the floodplain in high water, spreading the river over about 3 acres that was previously inaccessible.

The next step will be to stabilize the site with native grass seedlings. Later this winter, we’ll plant cottonwoods and willows to restore the site.

As the noise of the bulldozers fade, and the calls of birds can be heard again, a conversation will continue: a conversation between the land and the rivers that cradle it.

Come see it for yourself

Want to learn more about restoration efforts on Green Island? Join us for the upcoming tour on August 26th with Christer LaBrecque, MRT’s Restoration Projects Manager, to see first-hand how Green Island is being restored! Register HERE.

To see the floodplain restoration happening across 1,100 acres on Green Island, join us for a free tour on Saturday, August 26. Learn more and register here. Photo by Christer LaBrecque.

Scholfield Creek Wetlands Conservation Area

Public Meeting: Scholfield Creek Wetlands Conservation Area

Tuesday, May 26th at 6pm
Reedsport City Hall, 451 Winchester Ave in Reedsport

Summary: Please join us to learn more about a proposed land conservation project along Scholfield Creek near the city of Reedsport. The project will provide public conservation and recreation benefits to people in and around the area. Snacks will be provided.

   
You’re invited to learn about and comment on a proposed project just outside of Reedsport in the Umpqua estuary.

The goal of the Scholfield Creek Wetlands project is to ensure that the unique estuary wetlands just outside the City of Reedsport will provide conservation and recreation benefits for the public, on into the future.

The McKenzie River Trust, a nonprofit, non-governmental land trust, seeks to purchase +/- 215 acres of wetlands in Scholfield Creek. The wetlands are currently owned by the City of Reedsport, Douglas County, and Roseburg Resources, a subsidiary of Roseburg Forest Products.

The purchase would be funded by a state grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and a federal grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Conservation program. Partnership for the Umpqua Rivers (PUR), a Roseburg-based non-profit, non-regulatory watershed council, would be responsible for habitat improvements and restoration.

We want to hear your thoughts and questions about the Scholfield Creek Wetlands project. Please join us for this Public Meeting!

Questions? Please contact us.

Alayna DuPont
Land Protection Manager, McKenzie River Trust
(541) 345-2799 or alayna@mckenzieriver.org

Matt Ruwaldt
Estuary Biologist, Partnership for the Umpqua Rivers
(541) 662-0049 or mruwaldt@gmail.com

Scholfield Creek Wetlands FAQ

What are the goals for this project?

McKenzie River Trust seeks to purchase the Scholfield Creek wetlands to protect an important community area for its fish and wildlife habitat, open space, and recreational values. Our long term vision is that the unique wetlands of Scholfield Creek that you value today will be there for your grandchildren’s grandchildren.

What public benefits will the project provide?

This project will provide conservation benefits, recreational benefits, and community benefits. By protecting the wetlands today, Reedsport residents and visitors will be able to enjoy and appreciate this area now and on into the future.

The Scholfield Creek wetlands are the nurseries for healthy fish in the Umpqua River. Coho and Chinook salmon and sea run cutthroat trout rely on the rich estuary habitat of Scholfield Creek for summer rearing and winter refuge. Clean water also comes from healthy wetlands. Like sponges, the wetlands absorb, store, and release water. They provide a buffer against flooding by absorbing and retaining high water levels.

The Scholfield Creek wetlands provide Reedsport residents and visitors with dozens of recreational opportunities, from duck hunting to bird watching, photography, and kayaking. Scholfield Creek is open for cutthroat trout fishing, and because other valuable fish like Chinook and coho use these areas, the wetlands are also beneficial to recreational and commercial fishing in the surrounding areas. Healthy fisheries that are supported by the wetlands provide benefits to local fishing businesses.

Why is now a good time to make this project happen?

The project fits with the City of Reedsport’s vision for recreation and conservation surrounding the city. Planning efforts for the Reedsport Levee Loop Trail and Water Trail show that there is a lot of interest in increasing recreational opportunities for residents and visitors. The opportunity for a project like this that advances a community vision for conservation of an important area for fish, wildlife, and recreation does not happen every day.

Who will benefit from this project? How?

Across Oregon, the angling community, including commercial fisheries, increasingly recognizes the value of estuary lands for the health of fisheries. Maintaining healthy estuaries benefits both commercial and recreational anglers, because wetlands are the nurseries of strong fish populations. Local businesses also benefit from these activities: examples include fishing boats along the Oregon coast, the local port, Reedsport river guides and outfitters, upstream recreational guides on the Umpqua River, and more.

Beyond anglers, MRT is committed to working with the City, neighbors, and the entire Reedsport community to explore development of the Water Trail and other recreational opportunities that are appropriate. We are committed to working with the City to maintain a healthy wetlands that can be enjoyed and appreciated by everyone.

Where does the money come from for this project?

McKenzie River Trust and the Partnership for the Umpqua Rivers have secured funding for this project through two competitive grant applications. A grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) will be applied towards the land purchase. OWEB is a state agency that provides grants to help Oregonians take care of local streams, rivers, wetlands and natural areas. OWEB grants are funded from the Oregon Lottery, federal dollars, and salmon license plate revenue. We have also been awarded a federal grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Program. After a national competition, 25 wetlands projects were awarded funding in 2015, including the Scholfield Creek Wetlands project. The Coastal Wetlands grant funds come from taxes paid on equipment and fuel purchases by recreational anglers and boaters nationwide.

Some of the land that is proposed to be sold is publicly owned right now. Why should a private land trust own that land?

The McKenzie River Trust’s mission is to help people protect and care for the lands and rivers they cherish in western Oregon. As an independent, community-based nonprofit 501c3 organization operated for the public benefit, we will ensure that this land is owned and managed for conservation, no matter what changes in the future. We are in it for the long run.

The McKenzie River Trust was founded in 1989 and has completed conservation projects on over 4,000 acres of land from the Cascades to the coast. MRT is an Accredited Land Trust. Independent accreditation ensures all our lands will be protected forever.

Why are the City of Reedsport, Douglas County, and Roseburg Resources considering selling this land?

Roseburg Resources originally approached MRT, because they consider the wetlands to be unproductive timberland. They realized that this unique part of Scholfield Creek could be better stewarded by a different owner, one with a conservation mission, like MRT. The City of Reedsport and Douglas County became interested in the project because they saw the potential for this kind of a project and partnership to bring more resources to their communities. This transaction is also a way for the City and County to ensure that the wetlands are cared for in line with the community’s interests without having to be responsible for the long term management of the land. All three sellers will be paid for the land they sell.

What will happen to the land once it is sold to the McKenzie River Trust?

MRT will work with the Reedsport community to ensure that the land will be managed for its long term conservation and recreation benefits. In the coming years, the Partnership for the Umpqua Rivers will also enhance the health of the wetlands through on-the-ground projects.

What kind of work is the Partnership for the Umpqua Rivers proposing to do in the wetlands?

PUR is working with estuary science experts to develop a plan to ensure that the Scholfield Creek wetlands ecosystem is as productive and healthy as possible. After assessing the needs of the wetlands, PUR will begin taking actions to enhance the habitat of the land by increasing estuary complexity. Estuary complexity is very important for wetlands. For example, historically, there would have likely been more woody debris in the Scholfield wetlands than there is today. Enhancement work that adds more woody debris now can provide overhead cover for native fish that use the wetlands. Woody debris also makes the tidal channels more complex, provides habitat for bugs and other macroinvertebrates that contribute to wetland health, and offers nurse logs for spruce trees and native shrubs to grow. Habitat enhancements like these can make the area a more appealing place for native birds, insects, fish, beavers, and more.

Who is part of the project team? What experience do they bring to the project? Do they have any connection to the local area?

The McKenzie River Trust team includes Alayna DuPont, Land Protection Manager, and Joe Moll, Executive Director. Alayna and Joe both bring many years of experience in conservation land transactions, including large-scale, complex transactions with multiple owners. Alayna has been with MRT since January 2015, and Joe has been with the organization since 2005. Both are trail runners and avid outdoors-people. Although this is MRT’s first project in the Reedsport area, we do have other projects on the coast near Mapleton and Yachats.

The Partnership for the Umpqua Rivers team includes Matt Ruwaldt, Estuary Biologist, and Eric Riley, Executive Director. Matt and Eric have over 25 years combined experience in science-based conservation in communities in Oregon and beyond. Matt has been with PUR since 2009, and Eric has been with the organization since 2007. Matt and his family are Florence residents and Eric lives in Roseburg.

I have more questions about this project. Who should I call?

  • Alayna DuPont Land Protection Manager, McKenzie River Trust: (541) 345-2799 or alayna@mckenzieriver.org
  • Matt Ruwaldt Estuary Biologist, Partnership for the Umpqua Rivers: (541) 662-0049 or mruwaldt@gmail.com

   

Thanks to you, wetlands are protected!

Wetlands and oaks near Fern Ridge will be a home to wildlife and fish, forever.

The Coyote Oaks Conservation Easement permanently protects 152 acres of wetlands and oaks just north of Fern Ridge Reservoir in the Long Tom River Watershed. Photo by Tim Giraudier.

There’s a tucked away spot just north of Fern Ridge Reservoir where – just about any time of year – you can hear the loud waka-waka-waka of an acorn woodpecker. Huge expanses of wetlands and oak trees thrive here. And thanks to the foresight of a restoration-conscious landowner and the support of the Bonneville Power Administration, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and people like you, this place will be protected forever.

The Coyote Oaks Conservation Easement was signed in September, and with that, 152 acres of forested wetlands and marsh are protected from future development and commercial use.

The land is owned by longtime Eugene residents and MRT supporters Art and Anita Johnson. Mr. Johnson has completed numerous projects to enhance wetland and oak woodland habitat on the Coyote Oaks property. He’s won awards for his land stewardship on this property and others.

Strong partners

Meaningful partnerships play a role in the project, too. The Long Tom Watershed Council, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Army Corps of Engineers all have a presence in the neighborhood, working towards a vision for a 1,200-acre natural area surrounding the property. When you get to that scale, you can amplify the benefits of conserving a single parcel. Partners helped identify the Coyote Oaks property as a conservation priority due to its extremely high-quality wetland and oak habitat.

Nootka rose is one of many native plants growing on the Coyote Oaks Conservation Easement. Photo by Tim Giraudier.

This rare habitat means that there is exceptional ecological diversity on the property. Bradshaw’s lomatium, red-legged frog, cutthroat trout, slender-billed nuthatch, yellow-breasted chat, and western bluebird have all been spotted here. It’s not unusual to see signs of elk, bobcat, black bear, and river otter.

Ownership in the area is a mix of public and private land, with federal agencies managing over 700 acres and private landowners committing to permanent land protection on 260 acres through easements held by MRT. The Johnsons now join them.

Funding for land protection

The Bonneville Power Administration and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife provided funding for the project through the Willamette Wildlife Mitigation Program, with additional support from individual donors like you. The grant to purchase the Conservation Easement was awarded through a competitive application process. The Coyote Oaks project was the second highest ranked project for the Willamette Valley in 2014, showing the importance of this investment for land conservation in our region.

The Willamette Wildlife Habitat Agreement, which created the grant program that funded the acquisition, was signed in October of 2010 between BPA and the state of Oregon. This 15-year agreement provides stable funding for wildlife habitat acquisitions for more than 26,000 acres in the Willamette Valley to offset the impacts of federal dams on the Willamette River and its tributaries, as required by the Northwest Power Act.

Flushing for fish

Restoration of the former Coburg Aggregate gravel pits on Green Island is all about working with the water we have.

If you ask Chris Vogel, the $1 million restoration project happening this summer on Green Island is all about flushing.

Wildish Construction Company crews moved over 110,000 cubic yards of gravel to create habitat for fish at the Coburg Aggregate Reclamation Project on Green Island. Photo by River Design Group.

“We’ll be working with the same amount of water we used to get on site,” says Chris, who has been Green Island‘s restoration Project Manager for six years. “It’s just where it goes and how and how long it stays that’s different.”

Flushing is simple: in a healthy river system, you’ve got water in, and water out. When a side channel fills up and then empties out, at least a couple times a year during high water events, the river flushes any ponded water and the critters living in it down the channel. In a natural area, this flushing provides a huge range of benefits for fish and wildlife.

The CARP site is in an active side channel of the Willamette River. We call this area the historic McKenzie River channel, because the main channel of the McKenzie River flowed right through here before the big 1964 floods which moved the McKenzie-Willamette confluence to where it is today, just south of Green Island. The channel has water year round, even more in the winter.

But it’s far from a natural area.

An altered landscape

CARP stands for Coburg Aggregate Reclamation Project. Until the McKenzie River Trust purchased this 56-acre parcel in 2010, the site was mined for sand and gravel. And that created steep gravel pits with few places for native plants to take hold.

“Before restoration, when that historic McKenzie River channel filled up, it would overtop into the pits. Lots of fish – both native and non-native – would get trapped until the next high flow,” says Chris.

In other words: no flushing.

The fish didn’t have a way to escape back into the channel as the water dropped. So, stranded, the fish lived their lives in the pits. “More frequent flushing will get them out,” says Chris.

Restoration solutions

The solution is to use heavy construction equipment to grade the slopes to a more natural rise of one foot up for every ten feet out. And that’s exactly what we did this summer at CARP, hiring the Wildish Construction Company to move 125,000 cubic yards of gravel to create those slopes and the right entry and exit points for the ponds to be much friendlier to native Willamette spring Chinook salmon, Oregon chub, and other fish and wildlife.

A new side-channel bypasses gravel ponds at the Coburg Aggregate Reclamation Project on Green Island, allowing fish to go around the pits in high water events and continue on down the Willamette River system. Photo by Raptorviews by Philip Bayles.

This winter, we’ll plant thousands of willows and other native trees and shrubs along the pond edges. As the plants grow up, they’ll offer fish plenty of places to hide from predators.

The next time the water rises, we’ll see on the ground how all this work makes a difference for salmon.

“We’re always looking for ways to give life to the river,” says Joe Moll, Executive Director of MRT. “This is one of the best investments we can make to do that.”

Special thanks

The Bonneville Power Administration, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, and Meyer Memorial Trust’s Willamette Special Investment Partnership provided funding for CARP restoration. Additional funds were provided by The Nature Conservancy Portland General Electric Habitat Support program, and individual donors like you.

Restoration Progress on Green Island

Big Earth Works for Little Fish

Restoration on Green Island

Green Island low water crossing construction, photo by Chris vogel
The downstream run for a juvenile Chinook salmon can be a gauntlet. Flushed from mountain headwaters, they ride high winter flows with logs and stones, avoiding predators, looking for food, seeking to grow before heading out to the ocean. Floodplains and side channels can provide a bounty and a respite, but as waters drop young fish can also be cut off and isolated, trapped in pools and then puddles that warm and make them vulnerable to hungry birds, bull frogs and non-native bass.

This fall on Green Island we brought in the heavy equipment – dump trucks, backhoes, loaders, and even cranes – to provide safer passage for such small fry.

What you’ll see

The next time you cross the old McKenzie channel or “the neck” near the property’s center, you’ll see the results of three major earthworks that will make it easier for young salmon to get in and to get out of the site. The low water crossing, our road access across the historic McKenzie River channel onto the property, has been completely retrofitted with a concrete span engineered to withstand significant winter flooding. Crews have also been hard at work on a side channel of the Willamette River, placing massive logs and root-wads there, creating pools that are perfect for young salmon. And a culvert thirteen feet in diameter will help connect side channels of the mainstem Willamette to the historic McKenzie channel for longer seasonal stretches.

Why are we doing it?

These changes will provide more frequent floodplain connections, better passage for fish through the area, and better places for native fish and wildlife to thrive. The project brought more than $270,000 for local restoration contractors, including R.L. Reimers Company of Albany and the Corvallis-based River Design Group. Grants from the Bonneville Power Administration Willamette Biological Opinion Habitat Technical Team and Natural Resources Conservation Service are funding the work.

In the coming years, we expect to be carrying out similar work around the CARP ponds – the gravel mining site that we added to Green Island in 2010 – so look forward to more big equipment and earth moving on behalf of some tiny little fish.

Landowners donate 91-acre forest easement

"Our vision for Woodpecker Ridge is not to have it just be a wild refuge," says landowner Max Gessert, who recently worked with his wife Kate to donate a conservation easement to the McKenzie River Trust. "We also want the forest to be a place where humans can be part of the land."

As you walk through the forest and farmland protected in the Woodpecker Ridge Conservation Easement near Crow, mature conifer trees tower above while your feet squish into the rich floodplain of Trout Creek. Passing tall oak groves, you reach a small wetland. A flock of sheep grazes in the farm fields. It’s easy to see why Kate and Max Gessert wanted to protect this special place.

Kate, an English as a Second Language teacher at Lane Community College, and Max, an artist and writer, donated a 91-acre conservation easement to the McKenzie River Trust in May. Grant funds from the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Wetlands Conservation Act helped pay for some of the transaction expenses.

Landowners Kate and Max Gessert.

After living on 20 acres of the property for a few years, the Gesserts learned that the second-growth forest next door was owned by a timber company and about to be cut, so they bought it. “We first talked with the McKenzie River Trust about an easement about 10 years ago,” says Max. “We wanted to protect the land, but there were some staff changes and it was easy to put off. Many years went by. Then I was diagnosed with cancer, and suddenly, all kinds of issues became foregrounded. We began thinking about lots of things we had considered before that hadn’t been finished.”

Red-legged frogs, pileated woodpeckers, yellow-breasted chat and other sensitive fish and wildlife species are likely to benefit from the land’s protection. In keeping with the Gesserts’ Forest Stewardship Certification of the land, the easement allows for limited, sustainable forest harvest.

Nicole Nielsen-Pincus, MRT’s Willamette Program Manager, emphasizes that customized legal agreements can meet landowner needs while protecting critical habitat. “In working with Kate and Max to develop this easement, I learned how much this forest means to them,” says Nicole. “Conservation easements are as unique as the landscapes they protect, and we’re grateful that future wildlife and people will coexist on Woodpecker Ridge and be protected.”

Here at the McKenzie River Trust, we are also grateful to you, our supporters, for your help in bringing conservation agreements like this one to life.

“There are many ways we all try to take care of the world,” says Kate. “But it’s hard to know which ones will work. This seemed like something effective we could do.”

Railroad Island Now Protected!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 3, 2012

Contacts: Nicole Nielsen-Pincus, Willamette Program Manager: nicole (at) mckenzieriver.org
Liz Lawrence, Operations Manager: llawrence (at) mckenzieriver.org
541-345-2799

McKenzie River Trust Protects Railroad Island

Land Trust Purchases 63-Acre Island in the Willamette River Near Harrisburg

Railroad Island, a 63-acre dynamic floodplain property in the Willamette River south of Harrisburg recently purchased by the McKenzie River Trust. Accessible only by boat, the Island is blanketed with cottonwood and ash forest, gravel bars, and backchannel sloughs, making it prime habitat for native fish and wildlife. Photo by Raptorviews by Philip Bayles: psb@efn.org.

(EUGENE, OR) Landowners Wayne and Pam Swango have sold a 63-acre island in the Willamette River south of Harrisburg to the nonprofit McKenzie River Trust (MRT). The land trust’s purchase of the property, now called Railroad Island, protects critical fish and wildlife habitat along a dynamic stretch of the Willamette.

Landowners Wayne and Pam Swango have roots in the area going back to the 1800s.

“Living along the river can sometimes be a challenge,” Wayne Swango says, acknowledging the river’s impact on his daily life. “We’ve lost some sheep that were stranded in high water. And part of our property is eroding – the river gives and takes whatever it wants to.”

It was partly this recognition of the river as a powerful and occasionally unpredictable force that caused the Swangos, who have roots in the area going back to the 1800s, to sell the 63-acre island. The Swangos own, live on, and farm an additional 200 acres on the east side of the river.

Railroad Island, named after the railroad bridge that crosses the land’s downstream end, is exceptional habitat for native fish and wildlife. With a network of complex gravel bars, side channels, and sloughs on the mainstem Willamette, Railroad Island is a refuge for Chinook salmon, steelhead, and migratory birds. As a natural area, the Island can also absorb high flows and lessen the impact of floodwaters.

The purchase of Railroad Island extends MRT’s conservation lands in the upper Willamette River basin. The property is several miles downstream of Green Island, a 1,000+ acre complex of fish and wildlife habitat that MRT has been restoring since 2005. In recent years, partners across Oregon have worked together to promote conservation along the Willamette. The statewide focus on the river in our own backyard attracted the attention of the Meyer Memorial Trust, and they awarded MRT a grant for pre-acquisition costs through the Willamette River Initiative. The Bonneville Power Administration contributed the additional funds for MRT to buy Railroad Island.

“Bonneville Power Administration funding helps fulfill an agreement that the State of Oregon made in 2010 to protect nearly 17,000 acres of Willamette Basin wildlife habitat,” says Lorri Bodi, the Bonneville Power Administration’s Vice President for Environment, Fish and Wildlife. “The agreement dedicates stable funding from electric ratepayers for 15 years to safeguard Willamette habitat for native species, supporting state efforts to protect the Willamette Basin and fulfilling BPA’s responsibility under the Northwest Power Act to offset the impacts of federal flood control and hydropower dams.”

Land trust accomplishments are often measured in the number of acres protected. But for Railroad Island, that may not be the best way to gauge success. “Railroad Island is a place for fish and wildlife where the dynamic river can move around without causing harm or loss of livelihood,” says Nicole Nielsen-Pincus, MRT’s Willamette Program Manager. “Gravel bars and floodplain forests provide a buffer from where people are trying to live or farm. That’s part of what makes this such a great conservation project.”

With the addition of Railroad Island, the McKenzie River Trust now owns 1,827 acres of land in western Oregon and has permanently protected an additional 1,830 acres with conservation easements. The Eugene-based land trust was founded in 1989.

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From Blackberries to Native Trees

Floodplain Restoration Continues on Green Island

Contractors have been hard at work on the south end of Green Island this month. Bulldozers, excavators, and large trucks removed four berms that limited the flow of high water onto the interior of the property. Within years, native grasses, incense cedar, Douglas fir, and ponderosa pine will fill an area that was once covered in blackberry vines and reed canary grass.

MRT is undertaking this work on the higher floodplain near side channels and sloughs of the Willamette River to allow for seasonal connections that have been prevented by these berms.

Before and after views of an area where 4-foot tall berms were removed on Green Island. The berms were covered in blackberry vines and reed canary grass, and their removal makes way for planting native grasses and trees.

Active floodplains can provide many benefits to people, fish and wildlife, and they’re key to maintaining the qualities that define our Oregon landscapes. Floodplains clean water by filtering it through many layers of gravel and sediment, and they can buffer flooding impacts on downstream areas.

Floodplain side channels and sloughs also create spawning and rearing habitat for endangered salmon. Studies on Green Island completed by Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife show that Oregon chub, Chinook salmon, and other native fish use these channels throughout many phases of their lifecycles. Floodplain forests, once abundant along the Willamette River, also harbor sensitive birds, amphibians such as red legged-frogs, and reptiles like western pond turtles.

Since 2005, MRT has been working to re-establish floodplain forest habitat for fish and wildlife by removing man-made obstructions and planting over 300 acres of Green Island with native trees, shrubs, and grasses. Local farmers, hundreds of volunteers, and dozens of local contractors have been involved in restoration efforts on the 1,000+ acre property just downstream of the confluence of the McKenzie and the Willamette rivers.

The berms removed this month were originally built 20-40 years ago to reduce flooding on farm fields. The 3,500 cubic yards of sandy loam dirt that was removed will be reused in the Coburg Aggregate Reclamation Project (CARP). The former gravel mines at CARP along the eastern edge of Green Island will also be restored to native habitat in the coming years.

In recent years, habitat restoration projects at Green Island have been supported by grants from the Bonneville Power Administration, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Meyer Memorial Trust. Individual donations also support our restoration efforts at Green Island and on the other properties we protect throughout western Oregon.  For more information about Green Island, visit: http://37.60.251.229/~mckenzi9/protected-lands/owned-properties/green-island

Restoration Makes Dollars and Cents

Enhancing habitat can help build the local economy

Ecotrust recently released a report – supported in part by NOAA – concluding that restoration projects in Oregon generated $977.5 million in economic activity and as many as 6,483 jobs between 2001 and 2010. For a local example, look no further than the McKenzie River Trust and Siuslaw Watershed Council‘s (SWC) Waite Ranch Tidal Wetland Restoration Project, located on the Siuslaw River near Mapleton.

MRT recently awarded a $22,000 contract to Leisure Excavating Inc., a local company based in Florence, for work on the Waite Ranch project. Leisure Excavating owner Gary Rose and his team are removing aging infrastructure on the property to make way for the re-establishment of 211 acres of tidal wetland habitat near Highway 126, important habitat for coastal coho, Chinook and chum salmon, steelhead, and sea-run cutthroat trout. The SWC has also received contracts and secured grant funding for the Waite Ranch project, enabling them to hire new project management staff and work with local and regional businesses.

Healthy estuary habitat is often described as a nursery for economically important fish and other marine creatures. Not only is local economic benefit being provided now through these contracts and the resulting jobs, but in the future, the Siuslaw and coastal recreational and commercial fishing industries could benefit from the habitat improvements.

The first few buildings have already come down.  You can learn more about Waite Ranch and track the latest developments by visiting: http://37.60.251.229/~mckenzi9/protected-lands/owned-properties/waite-ranch/

Thank you to the Waite Ranch Tidal Wetland Restoration Project funders:

  • NOAA Fisheries Service, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, and Ecotrust – Whole Watershed Restoration Initiative
  • Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife – Restoration & Enhancement program
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service – North American Wetlands Conservation Act
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – Oregon Governor’s Fund for the Environment
  • Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board – Technical Assistance grant program
  • Siuslaw Watershed Council
  • Individual supporters of the McKenzie River Trust and Siuslaw Watershed Council