[birding] Prime North Santiam River Frontage Goes To Grand Ronde Tribes For Fish/Wildlife Habitat Preservation

Stephanie Hazen stephaniehazen17 at gmail.com
Sun Jun 9 10:00:11 PDT 2013



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Prime North Santiam River Frontage Goes To Grand Ronde Tribes For Fish/Wildlife Habitat Preservation 
Posted on Friday, June 07, 2013 (PST) 

A healthy future for what is “perhaps the finest relic of fish and wildlife habitat in the entire Willamette” river valley was guaranteed this week with the acquisition of 338 acres of land, and conveyance of that land to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde for management and protection.

Through a partnership between Western Rivers Conservancy, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Bonneville Power Administration and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, two miles of the North Santiam River frontage will be preserved near the base of what the Conservancy calls the “powerhouse of fish production” in the west-central Oregon’s Willamette basin. The acreage is located near Stayton, Ore., in the lower North Santiam.

The acreage has particular significance to the tribes, which have renamed the property "Chahalpam" (meaning "place of the Santiam Kalapuya people" in Kalapuyan). The tribes will serve as the land’s long-term conservation steward.

"This is the most significant tract of intact habitat along the entire lower North Santiam River," said Sue Doroff, Western Rivers Conservancy’s president, "and the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde are the perfect steward."

"The tribe has the natural resource expertise to care for this vital habitat and shares WRC’s vision to protect and restore this remarkable block of riverfront, forests and wetlands," said Reyn Leno, tribal chairman.

Once proposed for gravel mining, the project lands include an extraordinary assemblage of riparian features, including 130 acres of floodplain forest, numerous winding side channels and 20 acres of wetlands, as well as a unique native upland prairie. The riparian features are important to winter steelhead, spring chinook, Pacific lamprey, Oregon chub and other species that inhabit the river. The wild winter steelhead, spring chinook salmon and chub are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The property is also home to six species of concern: pileated woodpecker, hood merganser, American kestrel, little willow fly-catcher, western pond turtle and red-legged frog.

The conservation lands include wetlands, seven side channels and sloughs, and portions of Dieckman Creek, which is key side-channel habitat for salmon and steelhead. A 130-acre stand of mature black cottonwoods, big-leaf maples and red alders lines the river, and willows are commonplace.

The property is adjacent to a parcel owned by the Bureau of Land Management and together they form the largest stand of riverine forest along a nine-mile stretch, from an ODFW-managed refuge downstream to an extensive forested area on private lands upstream.

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde will monitor fish and wildlife habitat and develop a management plan for the land. The public will have an opportunity to provide input on the plan, which will be submitted to BPA for final approval.

The tribe plans to replant several farm fields with culturally important native species. The plan is to convert, over time, the 170 acres of agricultural land into ash-dominated forest with some patches of wet prairie interspersed.

“It’s a gorgeous piece of property, said Laura Tesler, Wildlife Mitigation coordinator for ODFW.

The North Santiam River drains a large portion of the central Oregon Cascades. It joins the South Santiam in west-central Oregon before flowing into the Willamette River roughly midway between Albany and Salem.

At one time the North Santiam produced about two-thirds of the Willamette River’s steelhead and a third of its spring chinook, but those runs have declined so steeply, primarily due to population growth and development in the Willamette Valley.

That development includes the building of dams that without fish passage facilities have long blocked access to upstream habitat. Passage solutions are now being studied and/or implemented at a number of the dams, include Big Cliff and Detroit on the North Santiam. The newly purchased habitat is located downstream of those two dams.

Most of the funding for the project, $3.5 million in total, was provided by BPA through the Willamette Wildlife Habitat Agreement. The 15-year agreement, fashioned with the state of Oregon and signed in 2010, provides stable funding for wildlife habitat acquisitions that are expected to pay a debt in terms of wildlife habitat inundated because of the construction of federal dam on the Willamette River and tributaries.

When the agreement was struck, the negotiated total to mitigate for dam impacts was the protection/restoration of 26,537 acres. Nearly 10,000 acres had been protected by 2010, leaving a balance of 16, 880 acres still owing on the ledger. BPA, which markets power generated at federal Willamette hydro projects, pledged $117.9 million to fund the acquisition/protection over the course of the agreement, 2011-2025.

The federal Willamette River Basin Flood Control and Hydroelectric Project in the Willamette basin includes 13 multi-purpose dams and reservoirs as part of the Federal Columbia River Power System.

So far, the state has been chipping away at the deficit, protecting only 160 acres in fiscal year 2011 but adding 1,800 acres in the second year of the program. Tesler said she expected 2,000 acres of habitat to be acquired through the program during the current fiscal year.

The agreement also provides seed funding for continuing basic work on acquisition sites – a new practice for BPA, which historically budgeted for ongoing maintenance, but one that has been a standard in the land trust community for years.

"The project is a tremendous step forward in accomplishing what these funds were intended for: conserving the best remaining fish and wildlife habitat in the Willamette Valley," said Doroff.

Portland-based Western Rivers Conservancy is a non-profit organization that aims to protect outstanding river ecosystems in the western United States. It acquires lands along rivers to protect critical habitat and to create or improve public access for compatible use and enjoyment. Founded in 1988, Western Rivers Conservancy is the nation's only conservation program dedicated solely to the protection of riverlands. To learn more, please visit www.westernrivers.org.

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde is made up of more 27 tribes and bands in western Oregon, southwest Washington, and northern California. For more information go to the tribe’s web site, www.grandronde.org.




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