Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Obliterating Roads, Building Bridges

... and other fun things to do on the Oregon Coast.

On August 28th, a small crew of volunteers met at the Seaside Golf Course in, you guessed it, Seaside, Oregon.  Folks from Save Our Wild Salmon, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW), the Rainland Flycasters of Astoria, and the Tualatin Valley and Clackamas River Chapters of Trout Unlimited were on hand. 

Let's back up a second to explain what's going on here...

From Alan Moore – TUs NW Director of Habitat Programs:
A couple of years back, Trout Unlimited secured funding from the NOAA/American Rivers community-based restoration program and technical assistance from ODFW and US Fish & Wildlife Service for the replacement of a large barrier culvert in the middle sections of Circle Creek outside of Seaside, Oregon. Circle Creek is a major tributary of the Necanicum River used by coho, winter steelhead, coastal cutthroat, lamprey and some fall chinook salmon.

Now we're seeing projects undertaken by Trout Unlimited and all the wonderful partners working here from the Necanicum watershed’s headwalls down through the tidewater, which is pretty cool to see.  Currently, TU is a partner in 5 active project sites in the Necanicum River watershed, with more on the way soon. Here are two examples:

Road Obliteration

On August 21st, 2010, a small very non-elite team went up to the headwaters of Circle Creek to apply some post-obliteration TLC to a section of old logging road running alongside the headwaters up on Tillamook Head in the Necanicum watershed on the North Coast. In the works for a couple of years now, this project is funded by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and is a joint effort by ODFW and The Campbell Group, owner of the property as part of over 140,000 acres purchased from Weyerhaeuser Co.

Special thanks to TU Specialists Rod Lundberg and John Arnold for donating their Saturdays and to add some finishing touches before we step back and let Mother Nature – and happy hydrological and forest functions along Circle Creek - reclaim the area.

Our mission - led by Tualatin Valley TU stalwart, Necanicum Local Legend and 2009 National Betty Winn Award for Sea Run Conservation Winner Doug Ray - was to spread some bullrush thatch we cut earlier in the day over some selected terraces along the road obliteration where a week or so earlier Doug and Amy Horstman from USFWS had seeded with native stock.

This is not your grandma's road obliteration: each foot was carefully designed and executed for maximum ecological response. Kudos to Troy Laws at ODFW and Doug for having the vision and to Campbell Group and a patient excavator operator for allowing it to come to fruition. For example, where Doug and his crew knew there were sidehill seeps they constructed little pond basins as they ripped out the road prism to fill for amphibians, and while we were looking at one we were joined by a large female Northern Red-Legged frog taking up residence there already - a highlighted species in the Oregon Conservation Strategy!

Bridge Building
confluence of Circle Creek and the Necanicum River

Here again is Alan Moore:

While the small motley crew was putting the finishing touches on the project in the headwaters, I got a call from Troy Laws at ODFW.  We got the go ahead to complete a project at the very opposite end of Circle Creek: replace the triple-barrel culvert complex (and concrete path) over Circle Creek at the confluence with the mainstem Necanicum. Michael Ellis, Conservation Director of the Tualatin Valley Chapter of TU, led a crack team of construction experts (and others, like me) to the confluence project on Saturday, August 28th. 

Wielding slegehammers and drills, volunteers attached the surface timbers to the bridge's incredibly robust superstructure, much of which was recycled from an old bridge removed from the hatchery at Clatskanie.

What's important about this view of the bridge - and the whole project  - is the huge concrete plug and the three culvert pipes (which the awkward looking fellow is standing on in the pic) running through it which we can now pull, restoring full passage at all flow levels for all life stages of the many species of fish that use Circle Creek and, critically, tidal ebb and flow well up into Circle Creek, where it's been blocked for decades. That’s the mainstem Necanicum running in front of the culverts; not visible here is Circle Creek backed up behind them. That’s about to change.

There's high-quality habitat just beyond this barrier (including the 365-acre Circle Creek Preserve under the care of the North Coast Land Conservancy, another great TU partner), and all through the Circle Creek drainage, and with its removal and restored hydrologic function, that habitat can once again be fully utilized. The plug and the three pipes will all be pulled this week.

This project was funded in large part by a grant secured in 2009 by the Tualatin Valley Chapter of TU through the Embrace-a-Stream program. Other major contributors include the Rainland Flycasters from Astoria (especially Bob May), Mr. Wayne Fulmer and Seaside Golf Course, ODFW, Big River Construction, TU National, several local businesses who were good to us, and many others.

However, today's loudest golf clap goes to Troy Laws, Fish Bio from ODFW out of the Tillamook Office and North Coast Lifer. This whole thing was Troy's idea and he's managed the project for the duration of its long, often twisted and very bumpy road. We had Troy drive the final "golden spike" in the last timber completing the span on Saturday. We did this not out of recognition, reverence or respect for Troy, but because we realized he hadn't done a damn thing all day and we were about done.

Stay tuned for future news on expanding our partnerships and work into other North Coast watersheds soon. But notice - none of these can be done by TU - or anyone else, effectively - alone. It's all about partnerships, and we're lucky to have many of them, and volunteers. With those two pieces we'll be able to continue and expand what we're all trying to do here, which is restore ecological function and fish - and the quiet satisfaction they bring to the people fortunate enough to visit them now and in the future - to the great watersheds of Oregon's North Coast.

To learn more, and to learn about volunteer opportunities, please contact these guys:
Michael Ellis – conservation director for Tualatin Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited
Alan Moore – TU’s NW Director of Habitat Programs, (503) 827-5700
Tom Wolf – Council Chair, Oregon Trout Unlimited, 503-640-2123

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