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.”
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.
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.
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?’”
This brewers have included ingredients in their beers as varied as yarrow, lemon balm, mustard seed, fennel, chamomile, and many other wild ingredients. These experimental beers will be a joy to experience, particularly because they were inspired by the lands MRT members are helping to protect.
The proceeds from the event at The Bier Stein on November 5th will support MRT’s mission.
Participating breweries and cidery include:
Agrarian Ales, Claim 52 Brewing, Elk Horn Brewery, Falling Sky Brewing, Oakshire Brewing, Plank Town Brewing, Viking Braggot Co., and Wildcraft Cider Works.
Tapping event details
For more details about the event, including a link to the full beer list, click here.
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.
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.
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.
Contact: Liz Lawrence
Director of Resources
McKenzie River Trust Hosts Living River Event
Celebrating Green Island Conservation
EUGENE, Ore. (June 19, 2014) – On Saturday, June 28, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., the McKenzie River Trust will celebrate 11 years of land and water conservation on Green Island with a free and family-friendly event. The McKenzie River Trust invites families, friends, and nature lovers to enjoy the conserved land and water at the Living River Celebration.
Visitors will enjoy birdsong and live music, freshwater and cold beverages, all while exploring 1,100 acres of rolling floodplain that grow wilder by the day. Activities include tree climbing, guided tours, birding, picnicking, self-guided walks and runs, canoeing, Ninkasi beer, a musical performance by guitarist Don Latarski, and more than a dozen booths from local conservation organizations. New this year, writers and others will offer walking tours and free workshops for nature lovers to get in tune with their senses and better appreciate the land.
Green Island is located west of Coburg, Oregon where the Willamette and McKenzie Rivers come together. Green Island is just a 15-minute drive from downtown Eugene or Springfield. Parking on the property is limited, so carpooling is encouraged.
About the McKenzie River Trust
The McKenzie River Trust is a nonprofit land trust that was formed in 1989 to conserve and care for special lands and the rivers that flow through them in western Oregon. For 25 years, McKenzie River Trust has worked with landowners and diverse partnerships to protect, forever, nearly 4,000 acres of special lands in western Oregon. The McKenzie River Trust is committed to a future in which intact, functioning ecosystems provide clean water, abundant fish and wildlife, and productive natural landscapes throughout western Oregon. To learn more about McKenzie River Trust, visit mckenzieriver.org.
About the Living River events
The Living River event, now in its sixth year, is the McKenzie River Trust’s annual event to connect our community to the unique landscapes that surround us in Oregon – where we all live, work, and play. Living River events benefit the McKenzie River Trust’s mission. Last year’s Living River Celebration was the first to be held on Green Island. Over 800 people joined us to walk, bird, paddle, climb, picnic, and explore this special place. To see pictures of last year’s celebration, visit http://on.fb.me/1nhTN0G.
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.