‘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.”

The little fish that we’d never noticed


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.

George Grier and Cynthia Pappas

MRT made the front page of the Register-Guard on November 9, 2001, when researchers discovered Oregon chub on George Grier and Cynthia Pappas’ Big Island conservation easement. It was the first sighting of the fish in the McKenzie basin since 1899.

George Grier and Cynthia Pappas permanently protected 7 acres of their land, pictured above, with a donated conservation easement in 1992. MRT’s first easement, it prevented development on backwater sloughs and side channels of the lower McKenzie River on the edge of Springfield’s drinking water well field.

In 2001 during a routine fish survey on George and Cynthia’s property, researchers Jeff Ziller from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Mike Sheehan from the Willamette National Forest made an incredible discovery. They found Oregon chub, last seen in the McKenzie basin in 1899, over 100 years earlier. A Register-Guard reporter happened to be there to document what George calls “a new chapter” in chub recovery.

It was a new beginning. “No one really knew about chub on the McKenzie until this population was found,” said George. “By looking closely at where the major populations were on our property, [the researchers] were able to get a better handle on where to look for them” elsewhere in the McKenzie and in other Willamette River tributaries.

George Grier, pictured at right, with Mike Running and Ryland Moore, the former Co-Directors of MRT who were with the organization when chub was discovered on Big Island in 2001.

ODFW’s Brian Bangs agrees that the sighting was “a big deal.”

After chub were found on Big Island, researchers started looking for them in similar habitats nearby. “They were everywhere,” says Brian, reflecting back. “It’s the little fish that’s under everyone’s noses. The fish that people, even fisheries biologists, just ignored. We call them little brown fish. And people forget about them. It’s pretty remarkable that we could go 100 years before everyone realized what they were.”

When asked how they felt about the recovery of Oregon chub, George and Cynthia took an optimistic view. “I was pretty excited” to hear they’d be de-listed said George. “To play a role in something like that is a pretty major milestone. It was a long time coming.”

“I was actually surprised that it didn’t take longer,” added Cynthia.

Oregon chub makes a comeback

Because of members like you, an Oregon native makes a comeback

It was the early 1990s. Like many of our native fishes, the Oregon chub was in trouble.

Chub lived their lives in the moist backwater channels and sloughs of the Willamette Valley’s lush rivers and streams. But those streams had fewer and fewer rich habitat areas for the chub to thrive. Braided rivers with plentiful meanders, oxbows, and diverse floodplains that had once blanketed the Willamette Valley were now largely developed or cut off from the river.

In 1993, with only 1,000 known Oregon chub remaining, the fish was listed as endangered.

This was the start of a huge group effort to recover Oregon chub, a native species that went from imperiled to healthy in just 22 years.

Member stories

Together with our members, MRT has played an important part in the comeback of Oregon chub. Because of support from people like you, we’ve protected places for chub to grow and thrive, six places on the Lower McKenzie River.

In the coming days and weeks, we’ll share a few stories of MRT members who aided the recovery.

George Grier and Cynthia Pappas
Art and Anita Johnson
Gail and Eric Haws

 

Places our members have helped protect