As we gear up for Get Outdoors Day alongside 12 other land trusts across Oregon, we are starting to hear a question repeated over and over. What’s a land trust?
When you join us on Green Island or at one of our other many events on the land, you will be standing on land protected by McKenzie River Trust. We are one of more than 1,700 non-profit land trusts around the country. Collectively, land trusts have protected over 47 million acres of wildlife habitat, working farms, forests, wetlands, trails, scenic vistas, parks, and community gardens!
What’s a Land Trust?
A land trust is a non-profit organization with a mission to protect, preserve, and steward special lands by working with willing landowners and various community partners.
The two most widely used tools to accomplish this mission are conservation easements and fee-title purchase. In the case of Green Island, the Green family wished to see this land remain undeveloped, so they sold the property to MRT in 2003. Whatever tool is used to conserve land, most importantly, a landowner gets the assurance of knowing that the place she loves will be cared for by the land trust and its partners forever.
Oregon’s Land Trusts
From the coastal estuaries in Nehalem to the magnificent Wallowas, Oregon land trusts work to protect the unique character and beauty of our home. Together, Oregon land trusts have protected 402,523 acres of land. That is nearly four times the amount of land in the Oregon State Parks system!
In every city and town across Oregon, there is a local land trust working to protect and care for that place. Land trusts are accountable to their communities, with local people serving on their boards and volunteering to care for the land. Land trusts are non-regulatory, providing incentives for private landowners to conserve their land for the good of all Oregonians.
How the Land Trust Serves Green Island
Since we acquired Green Island, we’ve been working with many partners to restore what we call a Living River. To us that means river banks and floodplains thick with native trees, grasses, and wildflowers; a river that can meander and move and change over time. It also means clean water, abundant fish and wildlife, and great opportunities for people to connect, as you are today. Thanks for being a part of such an effort, something that will long outlive us all.
Land trusts rely on community support, and McKenzie River Trust is no different. Please consider joining us as a member or volunteer today!
Trees and more trees, along with grasses and shrubs — all native Oregon plants — are key to ensuring a healthy future for the rivers in the South Willamette Valley. And in turn, that means a healthy future for all of us. The floodplain forest on Green Island, near the confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers, is a major restoration project managed by the McKenzie River Trust. It’s supported by hard working volunteers and generous donors like you. This winter, we added over two hundred thousand new stems to the forest there.
In addition to the work in the south, contractors planted over 260,000 trees and shrubs over the winter on the north end of the property. Since 2006, MRT has restored hundreds of acres of floodplain forest or riparian habitat. In all, we’ve planted more than half a million native trees and shrubs on Green Island. Many more are yet to come.
Because of strong member support over many years, these trees will grow to become a gallery forest and provide refuge for birds, bugs, frogs, beavers, and all the creatures that visit and live on this land.
Focused investment, big results
The project is part of the Willamette Focused Investment Partnership. This basin-wide effort helps restore the Willamette River from its headwaters to its mouth at the Columbia. The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Bonneville Power Administration, and Meyer Memorial Trust’s Willamette River Initiative provide the major institutional support and grant funding. The collective effort includes coordinated work by land trusts, watershed councils, riverkeepers, universities, and friends groups.
Back on Green Island, MRT’s Restoration Projects Manager Christer LaBrecque leads the restoration efforts. In February, he planted a variety of native species close to the river, including cottonwood, ash, honeysuckle, and willow. “We encircled the plants with large pods of bark or leaves to help mulch the growing vegetation,” LaBrecque says. Planting in the pods can increase the density of the plants. “Over time, they will spread between the pods. Then, we will plant additional native grasses to fill in the area.”
Volunteers came from all walks of life to help with the planting. They dedicated a significant portion of their days to the work. All expressed their dedication to conservation and their desire to see the environment protected for future generations, which is a common theme for all of you who help us carry out this work.
MRT Executive Director Joe Moll put the restoration efforts on Green Island in perspective. “For most of us in the area, you don’t think too much about the river,” he said. “You don’t have a chance to realize that every time you pour a glass of water or take a shower or drink a beer or a glass of wine, that’s the river, that’s the river itself.”
In 2009, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board provided support for McKenzie River Trust to create this poster about the function and value of hyporheic zones in rivers. Hyporheic zones are river flows under and adjacent to river channels where riverwater and groundwater meet. When we protect floodplain lands like Green Island, Finn Rock, and Waite Ranch we are ensuring these hyporheic zones remain intact and healthy, providing numerous benefits for ecosystems and people.
Click the image to view full size.
Poster design by Ryan Ruggiero, MRT Land Protection Manager from 2008-2014
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.
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.
Your experiences at the 2015 Living River Celebration
By Eric Alan, McKenzie River Trust member
People’s experiences of the McKenzie River Trust’s annual Living River Celebration on Green Island make it clear that the river there is not just water: it’s a river of life, emotion, experience and connection.
We gathered attendees’ thoughts about the land and the event, and the diversity of answers is illuminating and beautiful.
Surprises intertwined with the intrigue
We asked in terms of discovery, first and foremost. What were you surprised by? What was most interesting to you? What had you never noticed before that day?
Peaks of interest varied from the shifts in the restored river channel, to the surprise meeting of an old acquaintance. The living and free birds drew passionate attention; so did an animal pelts exhibit, and evidence of beaver along the river. For one, the most exciting sight was a snake; for another, the chance to climb a tree. For a many it was simply everything — the beauty of it all.
Surprises intertwined with the intrigue. Unexpected giant tadpoles. Warm morning clouds, which briefly let loose rain. The vast numbers of attendees, the wide range of planned activities, an unplanned connection with a friend. A doe, a riverbank, the growth of poplars, the sheer magnitude of Green Island’s acres.
And what did people newly notice? The sheer amount of restoration work done. The hiking trails. Beaver teeth. The way a dragonfly lands on prairie grass. How waste can be recycled through forests. Plantings done in rows, for weed control and irrigation. That urban runoff can add more pesticides to the environment than agriculture. The time, money and effort needed for restoration; yet the sheer number of other conservation projects nearby. The confluence of the rivers, and how it felt to swim in them.
Living River experiences and the emotions instilled by them left lasting impressions. We asked, how did you feel after visiting? Answers included: More connected. Relaxed. Delighted, inspired, sunburned. (It was an unusually hot day.) Energized, positive, rejuvenated. Refreshed, more knowledgeable, reassured that there is hope. Even more clear that MRT is a great organization.
We also asked what inspired people to visit, as 900 did. For a few, it was because they’d been before; for others, because they hadn’t. The kayaking opportunities called someone, and in contrast, one had previously only paddled through. One was new to Eugene. Another came because of a friend’s suggestion on Facebook. Curiosity, nature, support of local land conservation—these reasons and more brought people together.
What would attendees tell their friends who were elsewhere this year? What a gem the land is, how much others missed by not attending. How great it is to learn about the world of which we’re all a part. How much can be accomplished successfully in restoration. Mark your calendars for next year, someone said. Take a walk, visit when you paddle by. All fine suggestions.
Your visions for Green Island’s future
In the beauty of the moment, we asked for visions of the future. What will it feel like, to see Green Island’s continued shifts by next year? Superlatives flowed in. Exciting, gratifying, uplifting, fascinating, inspiring.
And in fifty years, what were visitors’ visions for Green Island and MRT? Many envisioned the continuance and growth of restoration work at Green Island. One had a vision of its riparian area so well restored that its previous life as a farm would be invisible. Some saw Green Island as a model for other restoration projects, with MRT thriving, growing, recognized as an example of what combined efforts can do for a natural resource. One envisioned more programs for kids, on a land opened up more often for visitation. Another, thriving salmon runs in the rivers running by. Many saw inspiration for others elsewhere, and viewed Green Island as a showplace for conservation opportunities on lands private and public.
We share our attendees’ visions and their inspirational excitement. With gratitude for everyone who attended and took time to write down their visions, we look forward to being in the flow of next year’s Living River, because in truth, we already are.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: https://www.mckenzieriver.org/protected-lands/owned-properties/green-island