I'm a relative newcomer when it pertains to the arena of collaborative projects with government and private institutions. But like the proverbial joke, "Yesterday I couldn't spell 'restoration stake holder' now I 'R' one". Like most rancher/land owners I have tended to be a radically independent individualist striving to make responsible good in my chosen lifestyle.
When in the winter of 2004-2005 Coho Salmon began to appear in the boisterous winter flows of Joe Hall Creek (it bisects the back forty of our holdings) I was excited and to be honest, quite naive. Anecdotal evidence indicated that these anadromous fish had not been seen in our stream in 50 years. At the time Coho Salmon were still on the State of Oregon threatened list and the Federal endangered list. Their appearance at our ranch, Singing Falls, amounted to a major ecological event and fantastic life changing experience for my wife and I.
Really, there was little I knew to do or could afford to do with regard to the fish return. What did it all mean besides, "Wow, those are huge fish!"? The work and development schedule of our modest Tiller, Oregon Angora Goat operation was as consistently demanding as ever. We run between 40 and 80 Angora Goats for our mohair cottage industry at any given time.
News of the fish flashed through our area. Along came one of the local district fish biologists from the Tiller Ranger District to see and record the salmon building its redd in stream. When I received their call my first reaction was, "Oh boy, here we go. Here come the 'enviro' police". Turns out though that Casey Baldwin, Tiller Ranger District fish biologist, was an amiable fellow with a genuine concern for fish population recovery and water quantity/quality. Things that I was very interested in myself. On top of that he was a 'real person' who was perfectly willing to be honest about the foibles and failures of the agency that he was an integral part of. Oh, I'm sure he wasn't about to divulge any 'trade secrets' but there was something solid about his demeanor that solicited trust. It turns out we have a great team of people here at the Ranger Station in our part of the county.
Nonetheless I kept a wary and jaded eye on things as the process of recovery work in our stream began. The short of it is that the Joe Hall Aquatic Restoration Project was and is a resounding success. The Coho Salmon have returned three years in a row now and the Junior Salmon fish counts have been well above average for streams in our area.
The USDA CREP program, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB), the Nature Conservancy, the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wild Life (ODFW), Douglas County RAC, the United State Forest Service (USFS) and the Partnership of the Umpqua Rivers were involved. Each of these groups had sub-categories of departments and people interested in our project.
Why so many agencies? Two reasons. Firstly, this project involves YOUR water and OUR watershed and all of the assets they contain including the fish populations. Though Joe Hall Creek meanders through our property only a relatively short distance (.8 miles), its influence directly impacts 260 miles of stream and river systems in the watershed down stream to the ocean. True, the greatest impact of any mismanagement would be most intensely felt by my near neighbors along Elk Creek. And it would lessen as the distance increases toward the ocean.
On the other hand, the benefits of our work will positively effect the entire watershed system down into the ocean. The dream is to help reestablish a viable salmon run for people and the environment to benefit by. It would be great to see the Oregon fishing industry get safely busy and back to work again and have vibrant silver salmon runs at the same time
The second reason for this complex scenario is money. After fencing the riparian zone, drilling a well, placing 161 large logs with root wads attached to many of them, and 220 large boulders in stream, considerable funding was required. I can assure you that even though I would have wanted to, a project of this scope would never have fit into this ranch's operational budget. The scale of it was beyond my wildest hopes.
Stream restoration isn't an exact science but what we do know we know well and it is costly. One doesn't merely dump tons of rock and wood into the stream. Hydraulics, stream morphology and aquatic ecology are all big influences that directly impact you, my neighbors down stream. Simply put, guarding your interests costs considerable money. All of the above agencies and institutions contributed funding and or expertise to make the Joe Hall Aquatic Habitat Project a success.
Along Comes PUR, "Your Watershed Council"
But who's keeping track of it all and looking after the interests of the landowner? Needless to say my skills of oversight were not particularly well heeled when it came to so many different agencies. Each one of them has their own unique way of dealing with their concerns in the project and that may involve considerable paper work. Dealing with one or two agencies or programs wouldn't intimidate me much. But this project was on a scale a notch higher than that.
This is where the Partnership for the Umpqua Rivers (PUR) came in. Each Oregon County has one or more groups of people who represent private and public interests involved with watershed issues called a Watershed Council. PUR is the watershed council for my area of Douglas County. They kept track of the paperwork and grant funds needed to get the job done. Basically they sorted out all of the details for collaboration and acted on behalf of all the stakeholders, and in particular us here at Singing Falls Ranch.
Frankly, we couldn't have done it without them. As the project proceeded they followed along making sure everything was up to specs. They were very instrumental as a reputable organization in affirming the value of the project when it came time to approach various groups for help in funding acquisition. It was their stamp of approval on our effort that gave the stakeholders the confidence they needed to get on board.
But mainly it was the PUR supervision that instilled a sense of security with the project and addressed my own share of concerns. It was PUR's objective and impartial position, very much like an escrow account holder, that acted as a buffer and inter-agency interpreter for Singing Falls.
More people and groups have a stake in the watershed than you might imagine. Currently the Board of Directors under the Directorship of Bob Kinyon consists of representatives from many sources. Agriculture, Livestock, Timber, Aggregate, Mining, Construction, the Tribes, Fishing, Recreation, Conservation, Cities, Special Districts, Utilities, and the County are all represented on the Board of Directors. All of these interests are sitting down at one table and accomplishing great things for habitat restoration and water quality improvement in a positive way. Environmentalists, loggers and ranchers sitting side by side and finding common ground to do proactive and restorative work is an amazing thing to behold.
After three years of carefully observing the council I was so impressed with their success stories I felt compelled to get involved myself. The by laws of the watershed council require a periodic change of guard. Each position on the board lasts for a three year term and I was asked to represent landowner/agricultural interests for the coming session. I need your input to constructively go about connecting the dots for the successful rejuvenation of the watershed and its fish runs. Hopefully I have piqued your interest and perhaps we can coordinate through the watershed council to get your stretch of the watershed into prime condition once again. Everyone knows that every inch of our streams and rivers can and should be productive.
With cooperation of the parties involved we can leave behind us a legacy of life in our living streams. Our efforts will reduce the threat of the permanent loss of valuable aquatic resources shared by us all, it will stimulate the county's economy through restoration ecology contracts and keep the fishing boats on the coast out in the ocean providing us with good clean fish.
If you are a land owner with a water way through your land or adjacent to your land I would very much like to hear from you. By doing so it may be possible to coordinate a stream restoration project for your area. In general it is more cost efficient to formulate a comprehensive project that covers as much of a stream or waterway as possible. Knowing you wish to repair or enhance your stream habitat will help us prioritize the watershed council's efforts and enable us to solicit funding from a multiplicity of sources on your behalf. The PUR Watershed Council has a great working relationship with everyone involved. As a result many miles of the county's waterways are once again opened up as healthy spawning grounds for salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout. You could once again have a thriving live stream running through or adjacent to your land holdings. From personal experience I can tell you it is a thrill.
Authored by Stanley Petrowski. Contact me or Paula Stonerod (my alternate on Agricultural Seat of the PUR Board of Directors) through the Partnership of the Umpqua Rivers at info@UmpquaRivers.org. Address your email to Stanley Petrowski and I will be sure to get back to you.