Portland District

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Posted 2/15/2018

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By Lauren Bennett, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District

Portland, Oregon — As one of the largest tributaries in the Columbia River, the Willamette River historically ran rich in biodiversity and aquatic life. Human settlement and development in the last century have altered and degraded aquatic habitats critical to native fish populations, such as ESA-listed winter run steelhead and salmon. 

In 1999, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) listed the winter steelhead and spring Chinook as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The declaration of this “threatened” status prompted federal agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District, to consult with the NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on what is called a biological opinion of steelhead and Chinook populations. 

While juggling various missions related to navigation and dam management, the Corps’ environmental stewardship mission sometimes takes center stage. The Corps continuously looks for ways to offset impacts from various projects by implementing actions that restore, enhance and maintain healthy ecosystems. 

Through an existing agreement, the Corps partnered with the South Santiam Watershed Council in August 2017 to assist in implementing the Scott Creek Steelhead Enhancement project and to carry out shared educational and restoration goals that protect and enhance Oregon’s watersheds. 

A road safety improvement project in the summer of 2016 on Corps’ property gave Cameron Bishop, Willamette Valley Project environmental specialist, the opportunity to work with the South Santiam Watershed Council and donate 13 Douglas fir logs, with root wads intact, for the steelhead restoration project. 
Located within the lower section of Scott Creek, a tributary of Hamilton Creek in the South Santiam basin, this enhancement project aimed to improve habitats necessary for winter steelhead spawning and rearing.

A practice as simple as adding logs and woody debris to a stream’s riparian area allows for numerous ecological benefits to unfold into the future. These logs help slow the flow of water to create areas where water pools, thereby providing critical habitats to aquatic life. Repurposed timber provides stability to the streambank, helping to retain sediments and slow the rate of erosion. Additionally, these logs provide cover from sunlight, which increases overall water quality and helps maintain colder water temperatures. All of these benefits provide fish, such as steelhead and salmon, with the habitat conditions necessary for their reproduction and survival.  

Working with local partners is key to minimizing adverse impacts on ESA-listed species. The Corps currently has seven agreements with various watershed councils located within the Willamette Basin. These agreements have helped the Corps succeed in restoring habitats and fish populations at the local level.  The fate of threatened species rests upon coordinated efforts among various entities to lessen threats to wildlife and ensure their success.