Meta awards $50k grant to Deschutes Land Trust to support two local conservation projects

Central Oregonian reporter, Ramona McCallister, reports on how a recent grant from Meta will support habitat restoration and community access at Ochoco Preserve.
By Ramona McCallister
Central Oregonian

 

Meta has awarded a $50,000 grant to the Deschutes Land Trust and the Crooked River Watershed Council in support of two local conservation projects.

The funding will support habitat restoration and community access at the Ochoco Preserve, and help construct a fish passage solution for salmon and steelhead in Ochoco Creek.

The Deschutes Land Trust envisions a future of strong and healthy natural and human communities — where they collaborate with communities to conserve and care for the lands that make Central Oregon an incredible place to live, work and grow. As Central Oregon's locally based land trust, the Deschutes Land Trust has conserved and continues to care for more than 17,682 acres since 1995.

"Meta is committed to sustainability and environmental stewardship, and we're proud to support these two Prineville-area restoration projects," said William Marks, community development manager at Meta. "Not only will they help provide healthier habitats for salmon and steelhead trout, but the Ochoco Preserve project will also benefit the community by providing increased access and education to this premier local wildlife site."

The grant from Meta joins a $1 million grant by Portland General Electric (PGE) and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, co-owners of the Pelton Round Butte hydroelectric project on the Deschutes River. That grant was awarded through a special round of funding from the Pelton Round Butte Fund. The Land Trust plans is using that funding for the first phase of the major restoration at Ochoco Preserve, the organization's 185-acre wetland and wildlife preserve outside of Prineville. The project includes floodplain restoration, development of side-channel and wetland habitat and construction of an acclimation pond for juvenile fish.

The Ochoco Preserve land includes one mile of the Crooked River, a half-mile of McKay Creek and a half-mile of Ochoco Creek and will be adjacent to the Crooked River Wetlands Complex (across the river) when the project is completed. Deschutes Land Trust's efforts will center around returning many of the historic natural processes that the Crooked River, Ochoco Creek and McKay Creek once had by providing space to meander, adding side channels and diversifying habitat to improve conditions for fish and wildlife. It also means creating floodplains and wetlands so these waterways can store, and then release, cooler water back into the system.

Ochoco Preserve was conserved by the Deschutes Land Trust in 2017. The preserve has been identified by state fish biologists as important for fisheries conservation and salmon and steelhead reintroduction. It is home to a variety of regionally and locally important native fish, including Chinook salmon, steelhead trout and red band trout.

The Meta grant will support the creation of new floodplains and wetlands at the preserve, which will allow the waterways to store and release cleaner, cooler water back into the river system. Part of the habitat restoration will also include adding more side channels and natural structures to improve habitat for fish and wildlife.

The grant will also support the creation of new paths and a bridge that connects the Ochoco Preserve to the city of Prineville's Crooked River Wetlands Complex, a property that features wetlands, public walking and biking paths, and habitat enhancements along the river. The Crooked River Wetlands Complex is also a popular outdoor education setting for local schools; connecting it to the Ochoco Preserve is expected to expand local public access and educational opportunities.

"We're so grateful that this funding from Meta will help us get closer to building a new, more robust Ochoco Preserve," said Rika Ayotte, Deschutes Land Trust executive director. "The end result will be much healthier creeks and rivers for our local community and some new amazing trails and educational opportunities in the coming years."

The grant from Meta also supports the Ochoco Fish Passage project on Ochoco Creek, upstream of Prineville. The project will eliminate an existing diversion barrier that currently blocks salmon from accessing the last two miles of habitat below the Ochoco Dam. The barrier will be replaced by an open channel "roughened riffle," which allows fish to swim past the diversion site using a more natural feature.

This is one of the last fish passage projects in the entire lower Crooked River geography, and it concludes the council's Connecting Waters program that addressed 12 major barriers to fish movement and full utilization of available habitat. The program was initiated in 2007, which project leaders say provides a sense of the time period and durable commitment required to achieve this goal.

"It is exciting to expand our partners in this project by adding Meta to the collaborative list," said Chris Gannon, Crooked River Watershed Council director. "These projects are inherently challenging and securing necessary levels of funding is the first key to success. We very much appreciate this generous donation."

In a prior interview, Ayotte commented that a big emphasis for the project is salmon and steelhead reintroduction and a partnership with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, as well as more than one dozen partners who came together to create a cohesive plan, which included city of Prineville, Crooked River Watershed Council, ODFW and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

"They have been monitoring and doing fish surveys on this property for many, many years, and when the property came up for sale, it was ODFW who really encouraged the Land Trust to take a close look at it," she concluded of ODFW's involvement with the project.

For more details on the Crooked River Watershed Council (CRWC), please contact Chris Gannon at 541-447-8567 or visit crwc.info.

For more information or to contact Deschutes Land Trust, contact Sarah Mowry, Outreach Director Deschutes Land Trust Address: 210 NW Irving Avenue, Suite 102 Bend, Oregon 97703 Phone: 541-330-0017 Web: deschuteslandtrust.org