Another restoration project along Whychus Creek near Sisters is scheduled to begin this summer to rehabilitate a historic floodplain and meadow for fish and wildlife.
The project is expected to occur in phases over several years along a 6-mile stretch of the creek. It includes removing berms and other barriers that have kept the creek from overflowing into stream channels used by salmon, steelhead and trout for spawning.
The majority of the restoration is planned within the Whychus Canyon Preserve, 930 acres that is owned and managed by the Deschutes Land Trust. About 2 miles of the project area includes the privately owned Rimrock Ranch, where the land trust has a conservation agreement with the owner.
Amanda Egertson, the land trust’s stewardship director, said crews are expected to begin excavating channels and removing berms at the canyon preserve in August. Project partners plan to plant native vegetation around the channels in October.
Federal engineers constructed berms and barriers along the creek in the 1960s to limit flooding in the area. The decision restricted the creek to a straight channel and dried up wetland habitat where fish and wildlife once flourished. Egerston said the goal of the upcoming project is to restore the areas of the creek where it would naturally disperse across the floodplain.
The nonprofit conservation group partnered with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and the Deschutes National Forest to complete a similar project in 2012 at the Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Work crews restored a main channel for the creek to flow through and created side channels. The meadow preserve is upstream from the canyon.
“It will be a matter of connecting the channels that have existed out there,” said Egerston. “The restoration crews will just be linking those together.”
Whychus Creek flows into the Deschutes River near Lake Billy Chinook. In 2009, Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs submerged a fish tower at the lower end of the lake as part of a plan to return salmon and steelhead to the Crooked, Metolius and upper Deschutes rivers.
Brett Hodgson, a Bend-based fish biologist with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said a steelhead was observed at the Camp Polk preserve in March. It may have spawned with another steelhead downstream where a spawning nest was discovered, he said.
The work scheduled for this summer will take place on 1 1/2 miles of the creek in the northernmost section of the canyon preserve. The land trust is partnering again with Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and Deschutes National Forest as well as with other organizations.
Crews have already begun hauling trees into the area to create logjams for fish to use as shelter in the soon-to-be constructed stream channels. The project also consists of planting 60,000 shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and trees to shade the streams and stabilize the floodplain. The vegetation is designed to provide habitat for wildlife.
Egerston said the project partners expect songbirds, amphibians, deer, beavers, otters and other wildlife to use the floodplain habitat.
The project will be slightly different from the Camp Polk project, Egerston said. Hydrologists with the U.S. Forest Service designed a “braided system” consisting of multiple stream channels along the banks of the creek. The project partners expect the channels to be used by the creek to naturally create new water pathways that interconnect.
The second phase of the project is expected to begin in 2017 or 2018 upstream from this first phase.
By Ted Schorack
The Bend BulletinJune 14, 2016