Oregon River Conservation Project
The headwaters for the Klamath Basin start in the arid mountains east of the Cascade Range in southern Oregon. Downstream, these waters support one of the largest lake-wetlands complexes in the western US. These unique aquatic habitats in the Upper Klamath Basin support the incredible biodiversity for which the watershed is notorious. Water is also a critical economic resource as it is used for irrigating crops and supporting cattle across the Basin, where there is a long history of highly productive farming and ranching.
River, riparian, lake, and wetlands habitats are what make the Klamath Basin unique. These habitats historically supported millions of fish and waterbirds. Wetlands and riparian habitats also provide key ecosystem services that sequester nutrients and provide habitat for all life stages of fish native to the basin. More than half of the wetlands in the Basin have been modified by draining, levee construction, and agricultural practices. These changes have impacted populations of all species that depend on these habitats including water dependent birds, fish, and other organisms.
Fish Passage at Fivemile Creek
The problem was a year-round barrier to fish passage caused by an irrigation diversion dam. The reconstruction of the historic channel provided fish passage and improved fish habitat by reconnecting the creek to its floodplain, increasing the meander length, improving riparian conditions, and simulating natural stream conditions.
The project’s primary objective was to recover fish and other aquatic resource populations protected under the Endangered Species Act. The secondary objective was to maintain diverse, self-sustaining fish and other aquatic resource populations.
Reestablishing fish passage for native Lost River sucker, Klamath large-scale sucker, and reband trout to upstream spawning habitat during the spring was critical. The project created a passage for the large-scale sucker (Catosstomus and Chasmistes), which is the native migratory fish species with the most limited swimming capabilities.
This project is one component of a larger project aimed at fish passage and habitat improvement on Black Drake Ranch. Overall restoration is targeted toward improving Klamath large-scale sucker, redband trout, and federally endangered Lost River sucker populations.
Project partners and friends included:
Fremont-Winema National Forest
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Klamath Country Fly Casters
Oregon Council, Federation of Fly Fishers
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Effect on Wildlife Habitat and Species: The project removed a barrier to 26 miles of spawning and rearing habitat. It provided a diverse and enhanced habitat along the 600-foot reconstructed channel. Pools were sustained by the placement of large woody debris and provided excellent cover. Riffles are shallow stretches of a river or stream where the current is above the average stream velocity and the water forms small rippled waves where oxygen enters the water, and are often the location of fish spawning habitat. These were maintained through the use of spawning gravel and rock fragments, which created excellent spawning areas, as well as stabilizing the channel grade. Backwater wetlands were created, which provided rearing habitat for juvenile fish. Riparian vegetation was planted adjacent to the stream to provide shade, cover, and enhanced habitat.
Long-term Economic Benefits for the Local Community: Large equipment operators, laborers, and quarry personnel were hired locally to work on the project. They were able to be employed during a difficult economic time and the money earned was spent several times over within the community. In addition, these workers gained experience working on a restoration project.
The improved fisheries will enhance the economics of the local community by increasing recreation potential of the area. Most of the upstream watershed is public land, both Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, and there will be more opportunities for camping, hiking, wildlife observation, and fishing. We anticipate that these areas will be visited more frequently as a result of the enhanced fisheries and improved watershed condition. The increased recreational use brings economic stimulation to the community through the purchase of food, supplies, fishing equipment and licenses, and other necessities.