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Posted 4/2/2013

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By Chad Stuart
Rogue River Basin Project

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Northwestern Division recognized the Upper Rogue Watershed Association as its nominee for the Corps’ 2012 Excellence in Partnerships Award in a ceremony April 1 in Shady Cove, Ore.


Northwestern Division spans 14 states and the entire Columbia, Missouri and Rogue river basins. 


The division nominated the association to recognize its “exceptional contributions to the recreation and environmental stewardship programs at the Rogue River Basin Project,” said Division Commander Brig. Gen. Anthony Funkhouser in a letter to URWA Director Peter Mazzini.


“Your individual efforts and team of dedicated volunteers have worked tirelessly in providing valuable services to the natural resources of the Rogue River Basin,” Funkhouser continued.  “Your actions in organizing and implementing environmental restoration projects and leveraging partnerships within the local community has notably improved and protected the area’s natural resources while improving public participation and awareness of the Basin’s valuable resources.”


The Corps’ Lost Creek and Elk Creek projects in the Rogue River Basin have a combined land base of only about 10,000 acres and annual visitation of about 600,000, but the environmental stewardship and recreation missions have far-reaching effects.


URWA has over the past two years donated hundreds of hours of volunteer labor and obtained $89,085 in contributions that directly benefited these missions.


URWA and other organizations collected discarded Christmas trees the past two winters, then braved Lost Creek Lake’s muddy banks and frigid winter weather to anchor them in locations that will provide cover, food and rearing grounds for fish, invertebrates and other aquatic species.


URWA and other organizations also spent the past two years building spider blocks – cinderblocks filled with long, flexible tubing sticking up in the air like spider legs – and sinking them in the lake.  Over time the flex pipe will collect algae and create food and shelter for fish.


Over the past two years the association has also coordinated and participated in numerous outreach efforts that explained the importance of the Rogue River Basin ecosystem and the Corps’ management role to local youths.


For example, URWA partnered with the Corps and U.S. Bureau of Land Management to create a “Kids and Bugs” event to provide young children a greater appreciation of the outdoors.


“To me there is no better way to make a connection between children and the environment then to get kids out of the classroom,” said Corps natural resource specialist Justin Stegall.  “Having children standing on the banks of the Rogue River on a beautiful spring day, turning over rocks, identifying bugs and squealing with interest over an insect larvae they have never seen is fun to watch.”


“Standing ankle-deep in the Rogue River under blooming cottonwood trees with osprey diving all around them for fish, the kids  learn how bugs become food for juvenile salmon, and how when the adult salmon return to spawn and die, their carcasses become food for bug larvae,” said Stegall.  “You can see a connection being made that will leave a lasting impression, and this would not be possible without excellent partners like the watershed council willing to educate our local children.” 


One of URWA’s most valuable contributions has been accomplishing environmental goals at Elk Creek. 

Construction of a flood control project there was halted by litigation in 1988, leaving the dam at one third of its design height and without adequate passage facilities for endangered fish species. 


The Corps notched the 83-foot high dam in 2008 to allow normal passage of Coho salmon and seven other species.  However, since nine miles of Elk Creek and it tributaries were expected to be under 200 feet of water, no other management of the area had taken place.


The Rogue River Basin Project’s focus at Elk Creek is now on environmental stewardship and low density recreation.  URWA has partnered with numerous agencies and stakeholders in the past two years to plant riparian vegetation, remove invasive species, propagate and restore native habitats, educate the public, work with students for projects and foster habitat for game species. 


No projects in the Elk Creek watershed have been more important than those directly focusing on large woody debris – a key factor for the survival of salmon. 


“URWA has played a valuable role in the improvement in fish habitat in the upper Rogue basin tributaries, especially Elk Creek,” said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fish biologist Jay Doino.  “The association secured a grant through the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to place large woody debris over 1.25 miles of Elk Creek’s West Branch.  Over 130 logs created 15 structures to capture gravel, improve stream gradient, provide rearing and wintering habitat and shade to reduce temperature, and many other beneficial factors.  The project total costs were $82,710.”


“This project is a prime example of URWA’s drive to secure funds for a project that has tremendous benefit but would never be able to be completed by any one individual agency.  It has opened the door to a collaborative partnership that has created an entire watershed restoration plan targeting several million dollars in grants on Corps lands,” said Stegall.


URWA has also been instrumental in engaging other partners in restoration projects, including the Oregon Hunter’s Association, SOLV, Eagle Point High School, the Upper Rogue Flyfishers and the Middle Rogue Steelheaders, to name just a few.


“We are fortunate to have individuals such as you who unselfishly give of themselves for the betterment of all,” said Funkhouser. “Please accept my very sincere thanks for your contributions to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

Northwestern Division partnership Rogue River Upper Rogue Watershed volunteer