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.
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!
Land Trust Purchases 63-Acre Island in the Willamette River Near Harrisburg
(EUGENE, OR) Landowners Wayne and Pam Swango have sold a 63-acre island in the Willamette River south of Harrisburg to the nonprofit McKenzie River Trust (MRT). The land trust’s purchase of the property, now called Railroad Island, protects critical fish and wildlife habitat along a dynamic stretch of the Willamette.
“Living along the river can sometimes be a challenge,” Wayne Swango says, acknowledging the river’s impact on his daily life. “We’ve lost some sheep that were stranded in high water. And part of our property is eroding – the river gives and takes whatever it wants to.”
It was partly this recognition of the river as a powerful and occasionally unpredictable force that caused the Swangos, who have roots in the area going back to the 1800s, to sell the 63-acre island. The Swangos own, live on, and farm an additional 200 acres on the east side of the river.
Railroad Island, named after the railroad bridge that crosses the land’s downstream end, is exceptional habitat for native fish and wildlife. With a network of complex gravel bars, side channels, and sloughs on the mainstem Willamette, Railroad Island is a refuge for Chinook salmon, steelhead, and migratory birds. As a natural area, the Island can also absorb high flows and lessen the impact of floodwaters.
The purchase of Railroad Island extends MRT’s conservation lands in the upper Willamette River basin. The property is several miles downstream of Green Island, a 1,000+ acre complex of fish and wildlife habitat that MRT has been restoring since 2005. In recent years, partners across Oregon have worked together to promote conservation along the Willamette. The statewide focus on the river in our own backyard attracted the attention of the Meyer Memorial Trust, and they awarded MRT a grant for pre-acquisition costs through the Willamette River Initiative. The Bonneville Power Administration contributed the additional funds for MRT to buy Railroad Island.
“Bonneville Power Administration funding helps fulfill an agreement that the State of Oregon made in 2010 to protect nearly 17,000 acres of Willamette Basin wildlife habitat,” says Lorri Bodi, the Bonneville Power Administration’s Vice President for Environment, Fish and Wildlife. “The agreement dedicates stable funding from electric ratepayers for 15 years to safeguard Willamette habitat for native species, supporting state efforts to protect the Willamette Basin and fulfilling BPA’s responsibility under the Northwest Power Act to offset the impacts of federal flood control and hydropower dams.”
Land trust accomplishments are often measured in the number of acres protected. But for Railroad Island, that may not be the best way to gauge success. “Railroad Island is a place for fish and wildlife where the dynamic river can move around without causing harm or loss of livelihood,” says Nicole Nielsen-Pincus, MRT’s Willamette Program Manager. “Gravel bars and floodplain forests provide a buffer from where people are trying to live or farm. That’s part of what makes this such a great conservation project.”
With the addition of Railroad Island, the McKenzie River Trust now owns 1,827 acres of land in western Oregon and has permanently protected an additional 1,830 acres with conservation easements. The Eugene-based land trust was founded in 1989.