Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

A Christmas vacation for Beaver Creek salmon


Old Christmas trees provide food and protection for creek's ocean-bound fish

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Volunteers placed old Christmas trees in Beaver Creek to provide habitat for rearing salmon.Half-submerged Christmas trees make great habitat for raising young fish, according to those who helped install around 225 of them in lower Beaver Creek off the historic highway in Troutdale.

During May, volunteers from the Sandy chapter of Northwest Steelheaders along with help from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife placed discarded Christmas trees in Beaver Creek and plan to place more in the Sandy River Delta’s newly dredged channel.

The goal, said Dave Stewart, stream restoration biologist at the Department of Fish and Wildlife in Clackamas, is to provide juvenile salmon and steelhead food and protection on their way to the ocean.

Placed in bundles near the creek’s edge, the Christmas trees’ browned limbs offer the perfect habitat for raising fish.

“We are trying to mimic how a large tree would fall naturally in the wild,” Stewart said.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Dave Stewart, stream restoration biologist at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Clackamas.Historically, nature took care of itself.

Old-growth trees looming along the banks of the creek would fall over and provide fish with a dark, cool habitat where they can avoid predators, rest and find food.

But in urban areas, where concrete has replaced native trees and plants, and runoff from streets flows freely into the streams, the lush habitat fish have thrived on for centuries has become overly simplified, Stewart said.

“It’s like the perfect storm of habitat degradation,” he said.

When it rains and floods scour the creek’s vegetation, Stewart said, “Salmon get shot out like a fire hose.”

The Christmas tree project in Troutdale may be the first of its kind in this part of the Willamette Valley, but is by no means a new concept.

Similar projects have taken place in California, Missouri, Ohio and Louisiana.

The Tualatin Valley chapter of the conservation group Trout Unlimited began placing trees along Oregon’s northern coastal streams about three years ago.

That program is called “Christmas for Coho.”

Since this is “the Christmas tree capital of the Northwest,” Stewart said the project makes sense for the local area.

For this project, volunteers collected 1,000 donated Christmas trees that otherwise would have been burned.

Unlike larger restoration efforts, Stewart said this project is small and inexpensive, but “quite a bit of work.”

Volunteers will pull the trees they installed in about a year.

To save their backs, they made sure to use 5-foot Christmas trees instead of heavier 8- to 10-footers.

Stewart said the project is more than just a way to help salmon along in their journey.

“This is really about teaching people about the restoration of ecology and habitat,” he said.

Putting Christmas trees in the creek is one of many projects local volunteers are doing to improve habitat for aquatic life in and along Beaver Creek.

For example, SOLVE volunteers have planted native trees and plants along the creek.

Stewart said it will take more than just a few years to restore the habitat along Beaver Creek, which is heavily impacted by the city of Gresham.

“It’s going to take 30 to 60 years,” he said. “It’s a long process, and we are just starting out.”