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Lakes Basin

 

Lakes Basin Wetland and Riparian Area Restoration

In the desert landscape of the Lakes Basin, wetlands and riparian areas are critical, high-diversity hotspots. Many wetlands within the basin are remnants of large lakes that once filled valley lowlands during the Pleistocene. The Oregon Conservation Strategy, a planning document developed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, recognizes the ecological importance of Lakes Basin wetlands. Many have been identified as "conservation opportunity areas".

A marsh in Lake County

A marsh in Lake County
(Oregon State Archives)

Among these are:

  • Lake Abert -- The largest saline lake in the Pacific Northwest, it provides important shorebird habitat
  • Warner Basin -- An area with 90,000 acres of shallow lakes, marshes and playa wetlands
  • Silvies River Floodplain -- Southeast of Burns, the seasonal wetlands in this area provide habitat for sandhill cranes and other water birds
  • Harney-Malheur Area -- Harney, Malheur and Silver Lake and the floodplain of the Donner und Blitzen River. This area receives heavy use by waterfowl and is recognized as one of the most important wetland habitats in the western United States

Conservation issues for wetland and riparian areas include: channelization and alteration of wetlands for agricultural uses, threats from invasive species, and fish passage issues. In recent years, efforts to conserve and restore wetland habitats have increased.

Examples of past restoration efforts in the region:

The impact of carp in the Malheur Marsh

In the Malheur Marsh, efforts are ongoing to control carp, a nonnative fish species. The bottom-feeding fish churn up lake sediments and prevent the growth of native water plants critical to the survival of migrating waterfowl. Although the complete eradication of carp from the wetland has proven unsuccessful, there has been some success at limiting the areas impacted by the fish. For more information on restoration in the Malheur Lake area, visit these sites:

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

Summer Lake hosts hundreds of thousands of water birds each year during the spring and fall migrations. In the past several decades, the wetlands surrounding the lake have been altered by irrigation and agriculture. Water diversions, dam construction, and diking activities have changed the hydrology of the basin and the distribution and abundance of wetland habitats. Today, man-made irrigation systems sustain many of the remaining wetlands. In recent years, agencies, landowners, and nonprofit groups have come together to improve the water management system that supplies these wetlands. The goals of this group are to reduce water loss from irrigation canals, better control water levels to manage for priority species and maximize wetland habitat. For more information about Summer Lake, visit these sites:

Chewaucan River Fish Passage

The Lakes Basin has no outlets to the ocean, and thus cannot support populations of ocean-going fish such as salmon. However, the basin is home to fish species that move between lakes and streams, such as the redband trout. However, road culverts, irrigation pipes, and other in-channel structures can create barriers that prevent fish from migrating. One project near Paisley, Oregon, hopes to improve the ability of fish to migrate on the Chewaucan River. Agencies, landowners, and nonprofit groups have partnered to remove several barriers to fish passage and restore native redband trout populations. In 2006, restoration managers retrofitted the Paisley Town Weir, opening 50 miles of stream habitat that was once unavailable to migrating fish. For more information about the Chewaucan River restoration projects, visit these sites:

Authored by Maria Wright, Faculty Research Assistant, Institute for Natural Resources, and Caitlin Bell, Science Writer, Oregon Explorer.