SALEM — Oregon’s salmon and steelhead bearing streams will benefit from $15 million recently allocated by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund money, along with Oregon Lottery proceeds, are granted to the state’s soil and water conservation districts and watershed councils by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to improve habitat for species listed on the federal Endangered Species List.
Eric Williams, grant program manager at the Watershed Enhancement Board, said the state applies and receives money from the fund every year. He said nationally the fund contributes $65 million to Western states with salmon runs to restore habitat for endangered species.
Twice a year, county and regional groups are encouraged to apply for funding through the Watershed Enhancement Board.
“The program solicits a broad range of water quality and habitat projects for species protection,” Williams said. “It’s an awesome way to leverage dollars and make the money go so much further.”
The Joseph Field Office for the Nez Perce Tribe Fisheries is one of the entities receiving money for salmon habitat work. Katie Frenyea, watershed project leader for the tribe, oversees some of that funding.
“Typically they like to designate the money to stream restoration involving channel work for ESA salmonids,” she said.
Frenyea said she doesn’t know how much of the federal money is used for her projects. However, Frenyea said she is required to measure and record data in such a way that National Marine Fisheries can tabulate how many miles of stream were treated, what amount of large wood was put into streams for juvenile habitat and how many acres or miles of vegetation was planted along stream banks.
Generally speaking, Williams said the habitat restoration grants are funded one-third with federal money and two-thirds with lottery proceeds.
In Wheeler County, Chase Schultz, the soil and water conservation district manager, said the grants he’s received through the Watershed Enhancement Board are used to cool stream temperatures and improve water quality with streamside planting and fake beaver dams.
“Beaver dam analogs are a hot button topic,” Schultz said.
Built from untreated wooden posts driven perpendicularly into the stream and woven with willow whips, the analogs simulate a beaver dam by spreading a stream’s water out into the floodplain, benefiting adjacent wetlands, Schultz said. The analogs also increase stream flow later in the summer, slowing water down that is released longer into the summer and early fall.
The hope, Schultz said, is to create the habitat to attract beavers to move in and maintain the dams.
The best part, he said, is the dams quickly create desired results. Immediately following the 2017 installation of a dam on Bear Creek, a tributary to the lower stem of the John Day River, Schultz said water started backing up and extended a wetted reach almost 2 miles.
“It went from solid dry to completely wetted. Within a month, a side channel was reengaged,” Schultz said.
Side channels, he said, are crucial rearing habitat for juvenile fish.
Herb Winters is the district manager for Gilliam County Soil and Water Conservation. He said he’s built beaver dam analogs and passage barrier removals in summer steelhead reaches with the funding.
A lot of the work Gilliam County does is on 30 Mile Creek, Winters said, a major tributary to the lower John Day River.
Umatilla County Soil and Water District Manager Kyle Waggoner said a lot of his projects benefit fish indirectly, like developing upland water sources to encourage livestock to spend less time along streams. He listed planting along stream banks and fencing waterways to prohibit livestock impact as other projects he’s led funded through the Watershed Enhancement Board.
According to a press release from Gard Communications, the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund has invested nearly $237 million in Oregon since 2000. Together with state lottery money, $603 million was invested in habitat restoration through the Watershed Enhancement Board.