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Saving steelhead – Project places log jams in Abiqua Creek

Kurt Berning of the Pudding River Watershed Council is shown at one of the engineered log jams on Abiqua Creek that has been placed to improve steelhead fish passage.
Kurt Berning of the Pudding River Watershed Council is shown at one of the engineered log jams on Abiqua Creek that has been placed to improve steelhead fish passage.

By James Day

The Pudding River Watershed Council and a plethora of partners have completed a $500,000 project aimed at improving the survival rate of endangered steelhead on Abiqua Creek.

The key piece of the puzzle was placing 12 “engineered log jams” on the creek on land owned by Weyerhaeuser, which also contributed the logs and boulders for the effort. Project officials hope the new obstructions will help the fish navigate their annual return in early 2023.

To get to the Abiqua Creek spawning grounds the fish travel upstream about 175 miles after leaving the Pacific Ocean in the mouth of the Columbia. The fish then travel up the Willamette, the Molalla and the Pudding before arriving in the Abiqua.

“Engineered log jams mimic the natural disturbance process,” said Anna Rankin, co-director of the watershed council. “Using logs and boulders, geomorphologists design structures that create deep pools, provide high flow refuge, serve as shelter from predation, and shade the searing summer sun. All these elements are needed to support multiple life stages of steelhead throughout different seasons of the year.”

The genesis of the project goes back to a 2014 assessment of the distribution of steelhead in Abiqua Creek, said Rankin, who noted that the current project is step four of five phases.

The second step was stakeholder engagement with large-acreage timberland owners. Third was the alternatives analysis and conceptual design with cost estimate. Fourth, was the Abiqua Creek log jams project. Fifth, is a repeat of the assessment in 2023 and continuing to monitor the Abiqua large wood site for five years.

Helping out along the way have been:

• Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, $165,400 in cash;

• Marion Soil and Water Conservation District, $12,500 in cash;

• Weyerhaeuser Company $26,000, in-kind materials;

• Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, $5,000 in-kind technical assistance;

• Pudding River Watershed Council volunteers, $3,500 in-kind technical assistance;

• City of Woodburn $3,000, in-kind technical assistance;

• Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District,  $3,000 in-kind technical assistance.

“Each phase of the project took time to engage partners and secure funding,” Rankin said in noting the challenges project officials faced.

Rankin offered special praise for the contribution of Weyerhaeuser, the Seattle-based forest products company which owns 12.4 million acres of timber in the U.S. and manages another 14 million in Canada.

“Weyerhaeuser’s contribution is far beyond the financial,” Rankin said. “They volunteered their land for restoration activities. That is priceless and is at the core of the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. Without private landowner participation, habitat restoration in the Pudding River Watershed would be extremely limited.”

Weyerhaeuser contributed 77 cut logs and roughly 200 2-by-3 foot boulders for the project. The log jams were placed about ten miles southeast of Silverton on property owned by Weyerhaeuser.

“Abiqua Creek is loved by so many people,” Rankin said. “Yes, the goal is to get these fish off the Endangered Species Act list, but large wood projects aren’t just about the fish – it’s the whole food web: birds, bugs, mushrooms, etc. As a source of hope and inspiration, the steelhead and coho that return every year are a reminder of strength and resilience.

“Both economically and ecologically, the Abiqua keeps on giving. She’s a workhorse worth protecting. It takes everybody doing their individual part to keep the stream and her benefits flowing.”

How to Help

The Pudding River Watershed Council is seeking volunteers for steelhead spawning surveys in Butte Creek from February through May 2023. Interested individuals can email [email protected] to receive information about training and surveys.

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