Enhancing Habitat Saves Lives

GALES CREEK, Ore. - Winding through the Tillamook State Forest and flowing into the Tualatin River, Gales Creek serves as critical habitat for upper Willamette steelhead, listed as 'threatened' under the Endangered Species Act. ODF and ODFW have led a years-long cooperative project to improve habitat in the Gales Creek basin. The latest step was a project in fall of 2018, enhancing a mile-long stretch of Gales Creek, with plans in place to complete a second mile in the summer of 2019. This work was funded in part by us here at Oregon Wildlife Foundation, as well as in-kind services from both agencies. “When I do projects like this, it’s more than my professional duty”, said Mark Meleason, aquatic and riparian specialist for ODF’s State Forests Division. “Our model for state forests is we want to do the right thing, and this is doing the right thing for the environment. We’re providing good habitat, and we’re enhancing it.”

[Photo above: Mark Meleason plots where a tree should be placed in Gales Creek using GPS. This project will improve steelhead habitat in the Tillamook State Forest.]

Contractor Mark Pierce (left) and Mark Meleason, the riparian and aquatic specialist for the Oregon Department of Forestry, choose trees to be cut and placed into Gales Creek to improve steelhead habitat in the Tillamook State Forest.

The trees were selected from a mixed conifer/hardwood forest where hardwoods, mainly alder, are nearing the end of their lifespan. These trees used for the enhancement will be replaced ten-fold in the spring, when ODF will plant approximately 1,000 seedlings along the creek bank. “Logjams are the most important part of stream habitat for fish,” said Dave Stewart, a stream restoration biologist for ODFW. “When you have wood in the stream, it creates habitat for juvenile fish, spawning and amphibians. All the fish and wildlife species need this wood – we’ve documented that with many studies.”

Large wood in streams, like pictured here in Gales Creek, helps create pools and side channels where fish can spawn, while their offspring can find shelter from predators and refuge from strong creek flows in the winter.

This portion of Gales Creek is in the Tillamook State Forest and was part of the Tillamook Burn, a series of catastrophic forest fires from the 1930s-50s that, decades later, still leave a mark on the land – in this case, less wood available for stream enhancement. Projects like this mimic the natural pattern of trees falling into streams as they age or are knocked down by storms. This cooperative effort is just one of many cooperative projects conducted by ODF and ODFW under the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds to restore healthy salmon populations and their watersheds.

You - yes, you - can help continue this kind of on-the-ground conservation so that together we can keep Oregon healthy and thriving for years to come!

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