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Sandy River project hopes to hook salmon

by: COURTESY OF MAGAURN VIDEO MEDIA - Restored Sandy River side channel provides habitat for spawning salmon and steelhead. The project was recognized recently with a state honor.A near-infrared laser pulses over the Sandy River Basin, emanating from a helicopter hovering above the break in foliage.

The Light Detecting and Ranging laser measures bouncing light waves to capture three-dimensional topographical images. A sensor records the range and uses a GPS, noting elevation points to create the map.

On the Sandy River in Welches, LIDAR is being used to locate old side channels, now isolated and buried.

It’s one step in a detailed plan by the Freshwater Trust to revive salmon and steelhead populations by actively restoring vegetation on the banks of the Sandy River to provide shading and food, prevent erosion and in the long run, grow wood for more habitat structures.

The Upper Sandy River Basin Habitat Restoration Project, has been in development for six years in Welches, at the foot of Mount Hood. The goal is to recover the salmon and steelhead populations that have diminished since a 1964 flood. By 2007, the project had restored its first side channel.

by: FRANCES BERTEAU - A coho spawner was spotted in the Salmon River, a tributary to the Sandy River. More than 600 salmon have been spotted in a restored pool near the restored side channels.The project was among those that earned the 2013 Stream Project Award on April 8 from the State Land Board in the 10th year of celebrating responsible and sustainable efforts in Oregon.

The governor, secretary of state and state treasurer are the State Land Board and they have the flexibility to award multiple projects, or none at all, as they see fit. They offer two other awards; a Wetland project award and a Partnership award, to encompass all types of groups.

“This project is about partnerships and a long-term vision,” said Secretary of State Kate Brown, who presented the award. “The Land Board appreciates the many volunteers, agencies and citizens dedicated to this important effort to restore fish habitat in the Sandy River Basin.”

The award, established in 2004, accepts nominations in February for projects completed the previous year. To qualify, projects must obtain a DSL removal-fill permit, and are judged on their capacity to benefit natural resources with creative innovation. Community involvement and long-term prospects are analyzed.

“It’s really nice to get recognition for the work the partners are doing,” says McCollister. “We see it as an opportunity. Not only does it validate the work we’ve done, the process we’ve outlined and the strategy we’ve come up with, but also I think it will give us momentum going forward.”

Funding for the project came from the city of Portland, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Bureau of Land Management, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Ecotrust, NOAA Restoration Center, Carol and Velma Saling Foundation and the Boeing Co.

Bulldozing boulders

Mark McCollister, the habitat restoration director, has been with Freshwater Trust for 12 years. “All I do is work on fish projects,” says McCollister. “Monday through Friday, we’ve got projects going throughout the state.”

His team dug 7,000 feet to reopen the channels, which juvenile salmon live in today. This means the fish are selecting the man-made habitats as better areas for them to spawn in.

A flood in 1964 eroded the Sandy River, cutting off salmon and steelhead access to spawning locations. As a solution, engineers bulldozed boulders on the mountain, hoping to speed up the water trickling down. The opposite occurred: detrimental erosions.

In 1999, salmon were removed from the Endangered Species Act listing in the Lower Columbia River. The same year, Portland General Electric decommissioned the Marmot Dam, creating the largest removal in Oregon on the main stem of the Sandy River.

“There was an impetus to focus on habitat restoration to restore salmon and steelhead on the Sandy River Basin,” says McCollister.

After meticulous planning, McCollister’s team decided to implement two main strategies to increase spawning: rebuilding historical side channels destroyed in the flood and building wood habitat structures.

“A lot of restoration work is piecemeal; you do an opportunistic project here, you do one over here,” says McCollister. “So with that, you get synergistic effects.”