Because of you, the abundant fish of the lower McKenzie River will thrive. Another critical piece of their habitat is protected!
In January, after years of negotiation and due diligence work, we purchased Chub Slough, a 34-acre property on the lower McKenzie River. Chub Slough adds to a network of complex, dynamic habitats across several hundred acres of floodplain land on the lower McKenzie.
Located nearby the Berggren Watershed Conservation Area and Bellinger Boat Landing, Chub Slough’s intact floodplain forest habitat adds to the “string of pearls” in this area. Within this network of conserved lands, healthy populations of Oregon chub, Chinook salmon, pond turtles, and red-legged frogs thrive – all thanks to your support.
Oregon chub are a tiny minnow found only in the clean rivers of the Willamette Valley. After Oregon chub were placed on the Endangered Species List in the 1990s, the McKenzie River Trust came together with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, private landowners, and many other partners to take actions to protect habitat and create safe harbors for this unique fish.
On February 17, 2015, Oregon chub made history by being the first fish ever to be removed from the Endangered Species List due to recovery. The Chub Slough property contains such incredible habitat for Oregon chub that we had to name it after them.
Chub Slough was protected thanks to the support from people like you. The McKenzie Watershed Council 412 Fund and EWEB’s Drinking Water Source Protection Program, and Meyer Memorial Trust also provided grants for this project.
Wetlands and oaks near Fern Ridge will be a home to wildlife and fish, forever.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
The historic announcement was made from the Berggren Watershed Conservation Area, a 92-acre property owned by the McKenzie River Trust (MRT). MRT is a land trust formed in 1989 to protect clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, and productive natural lands in western Oregon. The Berggren property was selected for the announcement because it contains a natural population of Oregon chub that has been growing over the past few years within some of the best side channel and floodplain forest habitat found on the lower McKenzie River. Since 2001, MRT has worked with private landowners to permanently protect habitat for chub and other species on six properties on this stretch of the river. These linked conservation areas help ensure that as the river continues to meander and change, there will always be suitable habitats for chub and other aquatic species.
“Protecting and caring for healthy habitat across the floodplain has been a key to chub recovery,” said Joe Moll, Executive Director of the McKenzie River Trust. “Here in Oregon, we live, work, and play among living rivers. We are proud to be a part of a partnership that has helped this native fish make a comeback. It is good news not only for chub, but for everything that depends on clean water and a healthy river. And that’s all of us.”
The chub is a small minnow existing only in the Willamette River Basin in floodplain habitats with limited or seasonal water flow such as beaver ponds, side channels and flooded marshes. These rare habitats generally have considerable aquatic vegetation to provide cover for hiding and spawning, and they are also home to other species of concern such as Chinook salmon, Red-legged frogs, and Western pond turtles.
Oregon chub were listed as endangered in 1993 under the Endangered Species Act and reclassified as threatened in 2009. If delisting is finalized, the fish will have gone from endangered to recovered in just over 20 years.
“We use ecologically appropriate farming practices so that we don’t harm species like chub,” said Jared Pruch, Coordinator for the Berggren Demonstration Farm. “We’re proud to partner with the McKenzie River Trust, McKenzie Watershed Council, EWEB, and others to build a strong local food system and engage the community to learn how to farm in a way that supports our native habitats.”
“What’s unique and exciting about the Berggren property is the opportunity to integrate restoration and education within the context of a collaborative partnership with the Trust, Farm and local schools,” said Jared Weybright, Project Manager for the McKenzie Watershed Council and coordinator of much of the restoration happening on the Berggren property. “Students participate through active involvement in tree planting and monitoring both the progress of the restoration work and natural conditions throughout the property.”
Diverse partnerships lead to success
Partnerships have been the foundation of the Oregon chub’s recovery, beginning with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s conservation planning efforts which led to the development of the species’ recovery plan. The McKenzie Watershed Council, Long Tom Watershed Council, and Middle Fork Willamette Watershed Council have helped coordinate many private landowners who have contributed to the recovery of Oregon chub by managing habitats to support the fish on their lands. In some cases, private landowners have also created habitat to support introductions of the species on their property. Other key partners include Lane County, which owns parkland adjacent to the Berggren property that is home to several natural chub populations, and the Meyer Memorial Trust, which has catalyzed habitat conservation efforts basin-wide through the Willamette River Initiative. Many public agencies also manage habitats that support Oregon chub populations.
“Efforts to conserve Oregon chub have been collective in the Willamette Valley. This recovery clearly demonstrates how a listed species can make a comeback in a highly populated, working landscape,” said Paul Scheerer, Oregon Chub Recovery Project Leader for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now has up to one year to determine whether the proposal should become final. The Service will open a 60-day public comment period to allow the public to review and comment on the proposal and provide additional information. The final decision whether or not to delist the Oregon chub will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available.
In the meantime, groups like the McKenzie River Trust, McKenzie Watershed Council, and Cascade Pacific Resource Conservation and Development will continue to coordinate with biologists from state and federal agencies to track chub populations and protect and restore habitat for the many creatures that benefit from healthy natural lands.
Many people think of land conservation and farming as opposites. But on properties protected by the McKenzie River Trust, land owners and managers are doing both, balancing our communities’ need for fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat, while protecting drinking water, and conserving natural areas where salmon thrive riparian forests tower high above clean flowing rivers. Here are two farms that are doing just that.
Berggren Demonstration Farm – McKenzie Watershed
As you prepare for Thanksgiving dinner this year, know that there’s a new place in town to get your turkey. The Berggren Demonstration Farm is concluding its second year of production this winter. The farm is located on lower McKenzie River property that MRT acquired in 2010, and it is managed by Cascade Pacific Resource Conservation & Development. This collaboration among the Trust, CPRCD, and EWEB is an effort to protect clean drinking water, integrate farming and conservation, and teach young people about growing food. Right now, the farm is growing chickens, ducks, turkeys, goats, rabbits, chicken eggs, and more. For more information visit berggren-farm.org.
Whiskey Creek Organics – Siuslaw Watershed
Looking for fresh food in Florence? Whiskey Creek Organics, a family farm on Duncan Island near Mapleton, grows tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, peppers, and much more. David and Joy Pippenger’s mission is to grow the best food possible with the least amount of “off farm” inputs as possible. The Pippengers’ property is protected under a conservation easement held by MRT. Framed by towering Sitka spruce, the estuary wetlands there provide tremendous nursery habitat for salmon and many marine animals. And MRT staff can personally vouch for the deliciousness of the farm’s raspberries! For more information visit whiskeycreekorganics.com.
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.
Your donations help expand the Coyote Spencer Wetlands
We’re excited to announce that on November 8th – thanks to the generous support of people like you – we added 29 acres to the Coyote Spencer Wetlands, a special place you helped us protect in 2012. The conservation area now totals 190 acres and includes several miles of Coyote and Spencer creeks surrounded by large swaths of forested wetlands, marshy emergent wetlands, and a small area of drier meadows.
Local nursery owner Glenda Bloomer sold the property to the McKenzie River Trust. In honor of her late husband, avid cyclist James Bloomer, and his devotion to the land, Ms. Bloomer said, “James loved this place. He would be so happy to know that it will be cared for forever.”
In recent years, the Trust and our partners at the Long Tom Watershed Council have focused more conservation efforts on Coyote and Spencer Creeks as we’ve learned more about their fish and wildlife habitat values. In the last issue of this newsletter, we told you of the purchase of 52-acre Spencer Swamp, just a few miles away from this latest acquisition on Spencer Creek.
Why is protecting wetlands so important?
Wetlands like these will provide a degree of resilience in the face of climate change. As we experience more intensive winter storms, hotter, drier summers, and the arrival of new species, wetlands can buffer and better hold water across seasons, while also filtering runoff from surrounding hard surfaces and developed lands. They can provide oases for wildlife during the hottest times of the summer. And because of the unique way that water moves through wetland soils, these places will continue to support only those species that are adapted to wetness, reducing the risk of warm climate invasive species becoming established.
A network of protected lands, like we are establishing along the Spencer and Coyote Creek corridors, can provide a meaningful buffer for surrounding lands and help ensure that native wildlife and working lands can continue to coexist, even in the midst of climate change. And it’s your donations that make all the difference! Thank you!
Keep the momentum going
Do you want to see more special places protected in our region? Then now is a great time to give to the McKenzie River Trust!
McKenzie River Trust Invites the Community to Explore
10 Years of Habitat Conservation on Property Near Eugene
[EUGENE, ORE.] When you picture re-forestation in Oregon, you might imagine the cool mountains of the Cascades or Coast range. But a different kind of re-forestation has been steadily enhancing native habitat on the Willamette Valley floor for the past 8 years, much closer to Eugene than you may know. With the Living River Celebration: 10 Years on Green Island from 7am to 5pm on Saturday, June 29, the McKenzie River Trust invites the community to explore this special place just 15 minutes from downtown Eugene or Springfield.
Green Island is located at the confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers just west of Coburg, OR. Since 2006, the McKenzie River Trust has been undertaking an ambitious habitat restoration project on the property, planting tens of thousands of trees, removing barriers to floodplain connectivity, and enhancing side channels of the Willamette and historic McKenzie rivers. The restoration has already provided benefits to Chinook salmon, Red-legged frogs, Western Meadowlarks, and many more native species.
Ten years ago, the McKenzie River Trust was able to purchase 865 acres of land from the Green family, who had a vision for a restored natural area on farmland that was subject to flooding. Funding for the purchase was provided by the Bonneville Power Administration and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Willamette Wildlife Mitigation Program, Eugene Water and Electric Board, US Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and individual supporters of the Trust.
Today, the Green Island habitat complex measures nearly 1,100 acres thanks to additional land transactions that have expanded the conserved area.
The McKenzie River Trust frequently hosts small tours and volunteer events on the land, but for the Living River Celebration on Saturday, June 29, an array of offerings will greet visitors interested in nature. “Many people have helped us plant trees, pull weeds, and learn about this place over the last ten years,” says Joe Moll, McKenzie River Trust Executive Director. “While enjoying a walkabout, music, canoeing, tree climbing, and a picnic beside two of our community’s great rivers at the Living River Celebration, you can see some of the changes that have occurred thanks to that support, and help us think about the next ten years of work to be done.”
The Living River Celebration is sponsored by Mountain Rose Herbs. The event is free and family friendly. Gates will open at 7am and close at 5pm. The full day of activities on the land includes:
Exploring nearly 7 miles of trails. Points of interest throughout the Island will tell the story of this special place where wildflowers bloom, salmon hide, turtles bask, and volunteers plant trees, restoring the floodplain forest.
Free guided walks all day. Choices include: early morning Bird Walks, an Ethnobotany Walk, two Green Island Restoration Tours, an Amphibian and Reptile Walk with Dr. Tom Titus, a Dragonfly & Damselfly Walk with Cary Kerst, a Nature Tour with Bruce Newhouse and Peg Boulay, and a Native Plant and Herb Walk with Mountain Rose Herbs.
Canoeing and Kayaking: Explore a bit of a historic McKenzie River channel on the water. Try paddling a canoe or kayak for free, offered by Oregon Paddle Sports.
Tree Climbing: Get a bird’s-eye view by climbing up into a cedar tree with the experts from the Pacific Tree Climbing Institute.
Music: The Blue McKenzie (11am-12pm) acoustic trio returns to Green Island. Then from 1-3pm, The Whiskey Chasers will bring their bluegrass-old-time-country, grassytonk-dance-stomp to the stage.
Oakshire Brewing will join in the celebration by serving their Watershed IPA. Through Oakshire’s 1% for Watersheds program, the brewery is donating 1% of all sales of Watershed IPA in the Southern Willamette Valley in 2013 to the McKenzie River Trust.
Food: Sammitch Food Cart will serve up their unique local fare. So Delicious Dairy Free will also be giving away frozen treats. Or you can bring your own picnic. You can also fill up your water bottle with fresh water from McKenzie Mist.
Booths: Learn about the history of Green Island, the work of the McKenzie River Trust, partner organizations and lots more at The Hub’s educational booths. Booths include: McKenzie River Trust; McKenzie Watershed Council; Long Tom Watershed Council; Siuslaw Watershed Council; Middle Fork Watershed Council; Mountain Rose Herbs; Eugene Water and Electric Board; Terra Tech; McKenzie River History with the University of Oregon Environmental Leadership Program and McKenzie River Mobile Museum; Hands-On Nature with David Walp’s amazing touch & feel mammal specimen collection; and Karma’s Forest Native Nursery with examples of the native plants used to restore Green Island’s habitat.
About the McKenzie River Trust:
The mission of the McKenzie River Trust (MRT) is to protect and care for special lands and the rivers the flow through them in western Oregon. Formed in 1989, MRT is committed to a future in which intact, functioning ecosystems provide clean water, abundant fish and wildlife, and productive natural landscapes throughout western Oregon. In the year 2000, MRT expanded its service area from a focus solely on the McKenzie watershed, the source of Eugene and Springfield’s drinking water. Today, MRT works in the watersheds of the McKenzie, Long Tom, Upper Willamette, Coast and Middle Forks of the Willamette, Umpqua, Siuslaw, and coastal streams and lakes from Reedsport to Yachats. Throughout its history, MRT has worked with landowners and diverse partnerships to protect, forever, over 3,650 acres of special lands in western Oregon. Green Island, a 1,100-acre property at the confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette rivers, is MRT’s largest protected property.
Eagle Scout completes volunteer service project on
Coyote Spencer Wetlands
Kolton Baldree of Walton, a sophomore at Elmira High School, recently completed his community service project for his Eagle Scout ranking, the highest ranking attainable in the Boy Scouting program. Kolton constructed a boot scrubbing kiosk at the Coyote Spencer Wetlands (CSW), a botanically rich landscape acquired by the McKenzie River Trust in 2012. In order to help limit weeds on the property, the boot scrubber will enable site managers, conservation partners, and public tour participants to scrub weed seeds from their footwear as they walk onto the site.
A community member donated the materials for the project, and Kolton has been working on it for the past few months. On Wednesday, Kolton completed the installation of the interpretive sign that teaches people the value of cleaning their shoes and the importance of doing so on a property like the Coyote Spencer Wetlands.
The CSW contains over 300 species of plants, more than half of which are native and several of which are very rare, including suncups, federally-endangered Bradshaw’s lomatium, Hitchcock’s blue-eyed grass, and thin-leaved peavine. MRT is managing the property for these and other native plant species.
Historically, the property was grazed, and several pasture grasses, notably meadow foxtail, now dominate the meadow areas. MRT is working to reverse the dominance of introduced species through annual mowing and other measures. One factor that will continue to influence how healthy native plant communities are in the meadow areas is the introduction of weed seed. More weeds means less light, water, and soil nutrients will be available for native species.
The boot scrubbing kiosk will help reduce the weed seed being brought into the site over time, increasing the chances that the CSW will be a haven for native plant species and the wildlife species that depend on them.
On behalf of the McKenzie River Trust board, staff, partners and supporters – A huge thanks to Kolton for making this project happen, for contributing something of tremendous value to the property’s conservation value, and for building the Trust’s first-ever boot scrubbing kiosk!
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.
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.”