The McKenzie River Sub-basin is known for outstanding water quality and steady flows due to its unique hydrogeology. It is one of the last remaining strongholds for threatened Willamette River spring Chinook salmon and bull trout. McKenzie rainbow trout are a prized target for recreational fisheries and the businesses that depend on them. Many strong partnerships exist among local organizations, and the Sub-basin is a hub for innovative programs. Despite these excellent features, the Sub-basin is showing signs of degradation in water quality and habitat quality, loss of riparian forest, and disconnection from its floodplain. These downward trends are largely a result of a variety of anthropogenic impacts including dam and hydroelectric project construction, rural and urban development pressures, and land-use practices. Conservation and restoration in the McKenzie River Sub-basin is essential to providing the foundation from which ecological uplift in the entire Willamette River Basin can occur.
Restoration Projects In Development
The “middle” McKenzie River from Quartz Creek upstream to Horse Creek contains a wide floodplain that offers excellent opportunities to greatly expand floodplain connectivity and enhance habitat for native species. Channel complexity and the presence of side channels have been shown to increase biodiversity and the productivity of salmonids. With this in mind, the McKenzie River Trust , US Forest Service and watershed council have recently begun collaborating on planning and restoration designs within the “middle” McKenzie River. The US Forest Service is nearing completion of planning and design work for a large-scale restoration project on the lower four miles of the South Fork McKenzie River below Cougar Dam. The lower South Fork has been significantly impacted by the presence of the dam, placement of berms and levees, and the removal of instream wood. Similar to the smaller-scale Deer Creek Project, the intent of the South Fork Project is to restore natural processes which will create and maintain habitat over time by removing berms, placing fill within incised channels, adding large wood throughout the floodplain, upgrading culverts, and decommissioning roads. The watershed council is working with the USFS to fund the South Fork Project and assist with aspects of design, planning and outreach. Phase I will cover the lower two miles and approximately 400 acres downstream of the Road 19 (Aufderheide) bridge. Phase I is expected to begin in 2018 or 2019 with Phase II to follow in 2021 or 2022. The McKenzie River Trust’s Finn Rock Reach property includes an extensive network of side channels and the lower portion of Elk Creek. Current planning is examining the potential to remove culverts and a roadway that prohibit side channels from braiding and a restoration solution for a 10- acre shallow gravel pond. There are also opportunities to enhance habitat complexity in Elk Creek and McKenzie River side channels through the addition of large wood.
South Fork Flood Plain Enhancement 80% Design Report (pdf)
Restoration Project Reports
Deer Creek flows into the upper McKenzie River downstream of Olallie Campground near river mile 80. It was once the home of spawning spring Chinook salmon. Rainbow trout continue to spawn in the creek, and a few foraging bull trout have found their way into these waters. Until recently, lower Deer Creek was significantly degraded. Large wood had been removed, berms were built to channelize the creek, and the stream bed consisted of large cobble and boulders with little spawning gravel and few large deep pools In 2016, the US Forest Service and the watershed council partnered to implement a restoration project on the lower portion of Deer Creek. The intent was to resort natural processes that create and maintain diverse habitat for fish and wildlife. Constraining berms were removed and material redistributed within the incised mainstem channel. Large wood was added over the 1.1-mile project area throughout 35 acres of floodplain. Initial results have already been remarkable. High flows during the past winter transported, sorted and deposited gravels around logjams and over the floodplain. Multiple channels and deep pools have formed providing diverse habitat for fish. Beaver are now active, and native vegetation is reestablishing throughout the floodplain. This fall, the project will be completed by pulling additional stream-adjacent trees into the creek to provide “key” pieces of large wood to help retain gravel, form pools and enhance the stability of previously placed large wood. Funding for the project was provided by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s “Bring Back the Natives” program, EWEB, the Mt. Hood/Willamette National Forest Resource Advisory Committee, the Western Native Trout Initiative and the Willamette National Forest.
During Fall 2017, spring Chinook Salmon were observed spawning in Deer Creek for the first time since the early 90’s.
The project can be easily seen from the McKenzie River Trail footbridge over Deer Creek and from various locations along Deer Creek Rd (NF Road 2654). Take a look!