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Salmon Habitat Improvement Work along the Yaquina River

Salmon project continues on the Yaquina River

Tidal marsh restoration work has been underway for about a month now along the Yaquina River just upriver from Toledo. The MidCoast Watersheds Council (MCWC) and partners are restoring a 55-acre site owned by The Wetlands Conservancy to enhance habitat for juvenile salmon and other important estuary species. Those driving Elk City Road may have noticed construction equipment across the river, downstream from the Cannon Quarry boat ramp and floating work platforms carrying large logs to place on the site. This summer’s activity—slated to continue for another few weeks—will have long-lasting benefits for fish and wildlife and will help this important habitat keep up with sea level rise.

This past week, in preparation to fill a large man-made drainage ditch to force water into narrow, winding channels, typical of natural wetland system, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel were out on the site, removing fish and transporting them to safe areas. Over 300 sculpins and sticklebacks were successfully transferred out, so that filling the ditch and placing trees with roots at critical junctions could proceed before the tide came back in.

“Working with the tides presents a natural deadline to any work being done,” explains MCWC Council Coordinator Evan Hayduk. “ODFW’s Mid-Coast Fish District staff are experts at using a seine net to trap and remove any fish found in the ditch, and having their expertise really made everything run smoothly and quickly.”

In addition, a lot of grading and soil removal was done to achieve an appropriate elevation for allowing tidal flow back in through man made dikes, and new channels were dug. “Our contractors, BCI Contracting, Inc., are very experienced at this type of work, having done similar projects in the Tillamook area and on the Columbia. They make use of specialized equipment, including amphibious excavators, to minimize soil compaction and potential damage to the wetland” says Hayduk.

Other work that has occurred so far includes the placement of large wood and tree root balls in strategic areas across the site. This will increase cover for rearing fish, create habitat structure, and in the long term will act as nurse logs for the growth of Sitka spruce trees and other plant species.

Later on after fall rains begin, extensive seeding and planting of native plants will also occur to provide additional habitat structure for both fish and wildlife, and bring back declining forested tidal wetland habitat types unique to the Oregon Coast. These areas— commonly called crabapple bogs and spruce swamps historically made up 40% of the Yaquina’s tidal wetlands, types, but today only 10% remains.

When the work is completed, vital habitat in the Yaquina will be increased and improved for juvenile coho, chum and Chinook salmon. Research in the restored Salmon River estuary north of Lincoln City found that young coho that had spent extended periods of time in the estuary accounted for 20-35% of the adults returning to spawn a few years later. Similarly, but to an even greater degree, more than 50% of the returning adult Chinook salmon also had spent more time as juveniles in the nutrient rich and protected waters of the estuary.

The Yaquina estuary has been significantly affected by historical diking, ditching, and conversion to other uses. The Yaquina has lost 78% of its historic tidal marsh habitat and 95% of its’ of tidal forest and shrub swamps (spruce and crabapple). Where land is no longer being used for productive agriculture, like at this site, the MCWC’s restoration efforts can help raise salmon instead, by restoring some of the lost habitat.

Partners include The Wetlands Conservancy (property owners), the City of Toledo, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians,

Funding for this work was received from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the US Fish and

Wildlife Service National Fish Passage Program, with additional support from the Pacific Marine and

Estuarine Fish Habitat Partnership and the Oregon Wildlife Foundation. Project p

Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service,

Bureau of Land Management and US Fish and Wildlife Service National Fish Passage Program.

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