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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

KLAMATH FALLS FWO: Agencies Get Help from Above on Stream Restoration Project

Region 8, December 11, 2009
A large treee dangles in the air from a 20,000-pound Chinook Helicopter above Spencer Creek in Southern Oregon. In 10 hours, eight people (including a pilot and co-pilot) moved more than 1 million pounds of large
A large treee dangles in the air from a 20,000-pound Chinook Helicopter above Spencer Creek in Southern Oregon. In 10 hours, eight people (including a pilot and co-pilot) moved more than 1 million pounds of large "wood" into the high elevation stream in order to create habitat for native rainbow trout and other species. (photo Rob Roninger, BLM) - Photo Credit: n/a
Damion Ciotti (left), a restoration ecologist with the Klamath Falls FWO and  Rob Roninger, a fisheries biologist with the Klamath Falls Resource Area Office of the BLM, stand between newly placed logs that constitute habitat for native fish and wildlife. Due to the timber harvest legacy of the area, the stream lacks woody debris, branches and fallen trees that would be in the stream under natural conditions. (photo: USFWS)
Damion Ciotti (left), a restoration ecologist with the Klamath Falls FWO and  Rob Roninger, a fisheries biologist with the Klamath Falls Resource Area Office of the BLM, stand between newly placed logs that constitute habitat for native fish and wildlife. Due to the timber harvest legacy of the area, the stream lacks woody debris, branches and fallen trees that would be in the stream under natural conditions. (photo: USFWS) - Photo Credit: n/a
Ciotti (Left) and Roninger planned the restoration project with JWTR, a timber company based in Klamath Falls, OR.  The crews carefully placed wood in the stream with the intention that smaller biomass will be captured in the debris, creating the habitat for the fish, salamanders and other wildlife in the Spencer Creek ecosystem.  Ciotti and Roninger are planning additional restoration projcts on Spencer Creek in for 2010.   (Photo by BLM)
Ciotti (Left) and Roninger planned the restoration project with JWTR, a timber company based in Klamath Falls, OR. The crews carefully placed wood in the stream with the intention that smaller biomass will be captured in the debris, creating the habitat for the fish, salamanders and other wildlife in the Spencer Creek ecosystem. Ciotti and Roninger are planning additional restoration projcts on Spencer Creek in for 2010. (Photo by BLM) - Photo Credit: n/a
Using colored paper, OIT students (pictured) conduct a study to assess how well the newly placed wood captures additional organic debris. Leaf matter, twigs and other biomass, is critical for aquatic food webs. The students measured a section of streambed that contained the large wood placements against a section of stream that did not have wood placements. (photo: USFWS)
Using colored paper, OIT students (pictured) conduct a study to assess how well the newly placed wood captures additional organic debris. Leaf matter, twigs and other biomass, is critical for aquatic food webs. The students measured a section of streambed that contained the large wood placements against a section of stream that did not have wood placements. (photo: USFWS) - Photo Credit: n/a

By Matt Baun, Klamath Falls, FWO  

The Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office (FWO) and the Klamath Falls Resource Area office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently partnered with a Klamath Falls-based timber company, JWTR, to improve stream habitat on one of the Klamath River’s most treasured tributaries - Spencer Creek.  

 

“These improvements promise to enhance the creek’s aquatic habitat, and subsequently increase populations and distribution of aquatic species,” said Rob Roninger, a fisheries biologist with the Klamath Falls Resource Area Office of the BLM.  “It’s anticipated that the Klamath River redband trout, Klamath small-scale sucker, Pacific giant salamander, and lamprey will all benefit from this project.”

 

Only a handful of people were on site, but together they had the collective muscle to heave around more than 1 million pounds of “wood” – parts of trees, whole trees, branches, and root wads.  In all, more than 220 pieces of ‘wood’ were moved into the stream in less than 10 hours. 

 

“It was hard work but it was rewarding,” said Damion Ciotti, a restoration ecologist with the Klamath Falls FWO.  “Of course, we had a big assist from above – a Boeing 234 Chinook helicopter – which did the really heavy lifting.”

 

JWTR owns approximately 50 percent of the land near the restoration site, with the other half being managed by BLM.  JWTR said it was eager to help restore the creek and partner with the federal agencies.   

 

“This cooperative effort between JWTR, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management demonstrates that we all have a common goal of leaving streams and other resources better than we found them,” said JWTR Forest Manager Chris Sokol.  “JWTR takes pride in managing its private timberlands and is committed to sustaining the multiple resources on these lands.”

 

According to Roninger and Ciotti, the helicopter services were provided by Columbia Helicopters Incorporated, a leading expert on stream restoration in the Pacific Northwest.  The Chinook helicopter easily handled entire trees that measured up to 51 inches in diameter and up to 70 feet long.  The largest single tree moved into place weighed over 14,000 pounds. 

 

Interestingly, the real advantage of having the helicopter move the large trees wasn’t only the brawn it provided, but rather the finesse. 

 

“The helicopter was able to do what trucks and large work-crews could never do: place large and heavy trees into a remote stretch of stream without harming the existing riparian zone,” explained Ciotti.  

 

Spencer Creek is a gem of a trout stream; it’s clear, cold, has high quality water, and yes, it also has very large trout.  The native rainbow trout are known locally in the Upper Klamath Basin (and around the world) as Klamath River redbands and they are best measured in pounds, not inches.  Early in the spring, many of these large, adult redbands actively migrate from the Klamath River into Spencer Creek to spawn.  The adults then return to the river and the juveniles grow up in the creek.   

 

As pristine and beautiful as it is, however, Spencer Creek still has challenges.  The area around Spencer Creek has been logged for over a century.  Historically, there would have been a lot of dead trees and root wads in the Spencer Creek ecosystem. 

 

Because of the timber harvest legacy, the stream is lacking large wood and therefore biomass – the woody debris, branches and fallen trees that should be in the stream under natural conditions. 

 

Biomass adds nutrients, cover and structure, which in turn, allow trout to thrive.  The biomass also provides habitat for the aquatic insects that comprise a small, but crucial link in the food chain.

 

Because Spencer Creek is a high elevation stream, biomass is doubly important because water-borne insects (common trout food) do not typically thrive in higher elevation headwater streams in great numbers.  The exception, of course, is unless there is a healthy and reliable supply of nutrients that can enter the stream. 

 

The goal then of the restoration project was to place the trees into the stream, imitating what nature would otherwise have done.  At various locations in the stream, crews created a total of 54 structures.  The structures were placed on both BLM land and the private timber company’s land.

 

The crews carefully placed these structures in the streambed with the intention that smaller biomass will be captured in the debris, creating the habitat for the fish, salamanders and other wildlife in the Spencer Creek ecosystem. 

 

Eventually, this project will also benefit salmon and steelhead, anadromous fish from the Pacific Ocean that migrate up the Klamath River each year.  These fish have not had access to Spencer Creek for nearly 100 years due to the existence of hydroelectric dams. 

 

This is expected to change, however, in the next decade or so, once the terms of a new operating license are completed.  Based on current negotiations, it appears that the dams will need to have fish ladders, or they could be removed from the river altogether.    

 

A week after the initial placement of the wood into the stream, another project partner, Oregon Institute of Technology, sent a group of students to the site to conduct surveys on biomass retention of Spencer Creek. 

 

Retention of organic debris, leaf matter, twigs and other biomass, is critical for aquatic food webs.  The students measured a section of streambed that contained the large wood placements against a section of stream that did not have wood placements.  The students designed the study by releasing a flotilla of artificial leaves (cut-out pieces of colored paper) down the stream. 

 

After the students assessed whether the ‘leaves’ were retained, they collected the paper from the stream and recorded the results, which showed that more leaves were retained in the section with the wood placements.

 

BLM and other partners will continue monitoring the newly created habitat in the weeks and months to come.  In addition, BLM and the Service are currently planning additional restoration projects in Spencer Creek for 2010 with JWTR and other private landowners in the area.

 

 

 

Contact Info: Matt Baun, 530-842-5763, matt_baun@fws.gov