Please select your home edition

McKenzie River restoration benefiting threatened upper Willamette River Chinook

by NOAA Fisheries 9 Jun 17:54 UTC
Chinook salmon returning to spawn at Finn Rock Reach © Tim Giraudier / Beautiful Oregon

NOAA's Office of Habitat Conservation and partners are increasing numbers of threatened Upper Willamette River Chinook salmon by restoring habitat in Oregon's McKenzie River watershed.

Years of development and road building in the region altered stream flows, limiting the ability of adults to reproduce and juveniles to survive to adulthood.

In 2022, NOAA provided the McKenzie River Trust $1.7 million in congressionally-directed community project funding to restore 150 acres of floodplain habitat at Finn Rock Reach. Adult Chinook spawned in the restored habitat last fall, laying eggs in 65 "redds"—gravel nests they scour out of the river bottom. A new generation of juvenile Chinook is now growing there and will eventually head downstream toward the ocean.

The limited habitat prior to restoration work confined salmon to a small single channel. "We used a cut and fill operation to reconnect the river to the floodplain, dramatically increasing the wetted area where water can flow across the site," says McKenzie River Trust Restoration Projects Manager John Trimble. "We then let the river do the work of rearranging the sediment into preferred flow paths."

Adding fallen trees and other pieces of wood to the river slowed stream flows and created protected pools. They prevented spawning gravels and juvenile fish from being washed downstream.

More recently, the Office of Habitat Conservation awarded the McKenzie Watershed Alliance $7.6 million through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act. They will use the funds to restore lower Quartz Creek, a tributary of the McKenzie. Historical accounts document the presence of Chinook salmon and bull trout in Quartz Creek, but neither species has been seen there for decades.

Project partners have replaced an aging bridge that constricted Quartz Creek. Previously, the stream constriction forced the water to gush like a fire hose, blasting salmon and sediment downriver. "Slowing down the water flow will keep juveniles from being flushed out and help keep spawning gravels in place," says NOAA Marine Habitat Resource Specialist Larissa Lee. "Salmon need a certain size gravel to cover and protect their eggs."

Next, the partners will restore floodplain habitat around the creek. Floodplains give juvenile salmon a place to escape fast-moving winter flows and provide access to highly nutritious organic matter and insects. The floodplain absorbs excess water during winter storms and increases groundwater connectivity throughout the watershed, keeping the river flowing through the summer months.

The 2020 Holiday Farm Fire severely impacted the watershed, resulting in increased flooding and significant erosion. Higher levels of sediment made it harder for fish to breathe and decreased water quality for downstream residents. Eugene and other cities rely on the McKenzie River for drinking water.

The restoration work will increase groundwater and expand the amount of wetlands, which can reduce the impact of forest fires. Crews will place felled trees and other woody debris in the creek to further slow and spread the water. The log jams will act like sieves to filter sediment so it drops out.

"When you have a single-threaded river that doesn't function naturally, fire just runs right through it," says Eli Tome, Director of Conservation for the McKenzie River Trust, a project partner. "However, when you restore the natural processes of a river and reintroduce wetlands you create a natural fire break and provide refuge for wildlife trying to escape."

Additional partners for both projects include the McKenzie Watershed Council, U.S. Forest Service, and Eugene Water & Electric Board.

NOAA's Office of Habitat Conservation is reinvigorating efforts to restore threatened salmon and trout species in Oregon's Willamette River watershed. This is one of four related restoration projects being funded under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act in this area.

Related Articles

Restoring coral and stream banks
Through the National Fish Habitat Partnership Partners are making great strides in habitat restoration and angler engagement projects in Hawai'i and Alaska. Posted on 22 Jun
Strategies to optimize sablefish sustainability
Scientists & fishermen collaborated to identify management approaches for this commercial species Sablefish don't recognize political boundaries. These highly migratory fish move freely across the state and national lines within which they are managed. Posted on 18 Jun
Largest salt marsh restoration in the Northeast
NOAA and partners help river herring safely reach spawning grounds by restoring a degraded estuary After decades of planning, NOAA and our partners are moving forward with the Herring River Restoration Project, the largest salt marsh restoration effort in the northeast United States. Posted on 17 Jun
Yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio need protection
No change warranted in Endangered Species Act status of two rockfish species in Puget Sound/Georgia NOAA Fisheries has reviewed the current status of threatened Puget Sound/Georgia Basin yelloweye rockfish and endangered bocaccio, as required under the Endangered Species Act. Posted on 16 Jun
Podcast: Teaching Kids to Fish and Love the Water
Dive in with NOAA Fisheries NOAA Fisheries and partners are working with communities in South Carolina to get kids involved in fishing and environmental conservation. Posted on 13 Jun
Frustrating experience for fishermen in Atlantic
Noaa fisheries continues to work with partners and fishermen to find solutions to shark depredation Shark depredation is the partial or complete removal of a hooked fish by a shark directly from an angler's line before the line can be retrieved. It is a growing concern for recreational anglers. Posted on 11 Jun
Exploring strategies to reduce red snapper discard
NOAA Fisheries is recommending nearly $900,000 in funding for projects that will reduce discards NOAA Fisheries recognizes that recreational and commercial fishers, fishery managers, and others are frustrated by short fishing seasons for South Atlantic red snapper and high levels of dead discards. Posted on 7 Jun
ESA listing of chinook salmon may be warranted
Missed escapement goals, decreasing size and age at maturity are factors in the decision In response to a petition to list Gulf of Alaska Chinook salmon as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA Fisheries has found that listing may be warranted. Posted on 1 Jun
Ship to Shore: Live from Research Vessel Sikuliaq
Join researchers from NOAA Fisheries on board Join researchers from NOAA Fisheries and other organizations on board the research vessel Sikuliaq for in-person Ship to Shore events! Posted on 12 May
Trout Unlimited wins Award
For California Partnership uniting Landowners to save Coho Salmon U.S. Representative Jared Huffman and NOAA leaders recognize North Coast Coho Project. Posted on 4 May