Balancing Farming and Fish Habitat: An Introduction to the Oregon Wetlands Bill

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Young dairy cows along Mill Creek in the Trask River floodplain. This parcel of land has been leased as pasture for many years, but because it is zoned as rare “industrial” land, it is destined for development. This illustrates one of the of the many ways in which Tillamook farmers are feeling the squeeze.

Tillamook’s dairy farming industry is faced with an ever-shrinking base of local farm land. As parcels of land change hands, they are often converted to uses other than farming. Some parcels are developed into residential, commercial or industrial areas, and others are reclaimed as wetlands for salmon habitat. This fundamental business problem is not unique to Tillamook. It’s a hot topic in every agricultural center in America, and it has spawned repeated calls for legislative solutions to preserve farm land.

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Baby salmon like these Chinook need healthy, connected wetlands to survive their early years. But wetlands restoration can mean a loss of farm land to the County.

Conversely, most of the vital floodplains and tidal wetlands of Tillamook County, which once reared abundant classes of juvenile salmon, were diked and gated off from natural function during the dairy industry’s expansion from the 1890s to the 1960s. Fisheries scientists point to the resulting lack of rearing habitat as a primary factor in the dramatic reduction of coho and Chinook salmon runs. Coastal coho returns today are less than 10% of their historical numbers, and it is this problem that has motivated the state of Oregon to invest tens of millions of dollars into salmon habitat restoration. So when a parcel of farm land goes up for sale, conservation organizations are obliged to consider the potential ecological benefits of reclaiming that land for fish. This, not surprisingly, can put farmers and fish restorationists in the wrestling ring.

Oregon’s 2016 legislative session produced the first substantive progress toward brokering a solution to this  problem with the approval of Senate Bill 1517, sometimes called the Oregon Wetlands Bill. This new legislation designates Tillamook County as the site for a 10-year pilot project to negotiate future land use in our floodplains and tidelands. The process will bring farmers and conservationists together to develop a framework for determining which of our lowlands are critical for the stability of the farming industry and which are appropriate for wetlands restoration. It will also create a system for The Oregon Senate expects that the results of this pilot project will eventually be rolled out state wide.

Join the Tillamook Bay Watershed Council the evening of September 27th for an introduction to the SB 1517 process by Chad Allen and Hilary Foote. Chad Allen is a renowned dairy farmer on the Wilson River, and a member of the Tillamook County Planning Commission. Hilary Foote is a Planner at the Tillamook County Community Development Department and the project manager for the SB 1517 process. The presentation will be held from 6:30PM to 7:30PM in the Hatfield Room at the Tillamook County Library, 1716 3rd Street in downtown Tillamook. This event is free and open to the public!

 

Don’t miss your chance to hear about this historic effort from the people who are planning the future of Tillamook County. The Council’s regular monthly business meeting will follow the presentation, including updates on local habitat restoration efforts. For more information call (503) 322-0002.

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Prime tidal wetlands at the head of Tillamook Bay demonstrate the type of habitat that young salmonids rely upon for strong rearing.

Annual Potluck Announcement & Updated Coordinator’s Report

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Mill Creek is a major floodplain tributary of the Trask River and the site of the TBWC’s summer restoration project. Join us August 30th for a picnic and site tour!

Every August the Tillamook Bay Watershed Council holds an outdoor potluck and picnic that is open to the public. It’s a special opportunity to share good company and good food in a beautiful location, preferably near one of our restoration project sites. This year the event falls on Tuesday, August 30th and will be held at Anderson Hill Park from 6:30PM to 8:30PM. The park is adjacent to Mill Creek, where the TBWC’s summer project is underway. So bring your hiking boots and be ready for an after-dinner expedition. We’ll tour a number of large-wood structures and discuss the “whys” and “hows” behind their design and placement. For those who aren’t familiar, the entrance to Anderson Hill Park is directly behind the Officer’s Mess Hall, 6825 Officers Row (just east of the Air Museum). We will not hold a business meeting that evening.

 

Here’s an updated Coordinator’s Report to get everyone up to speed on our active projects:

Council Coordinator’s Report, August 17th, 2016

Mill Creek Habitat Enhancement – TCSWCD has installed the main posts for the new fence line and strung a single high-tensile electric wire at 42” height. So far Mr. Obrist’s cows have not crossed the line, but I will be surveying the area every day to make sure the fence remains secure. The OYA work crew has removed most of the old fence and will finish this week. Steve Trask has surveyed our Mill Creek reach and has provided specifications for each of our large wood structure sites. The number of sites has been reduced from 22 to 17 after consultations from Trask and ODFW habitat biologist Troy Laws. Custom Excavating will begin pushing over Sitka spruce trees on the south side of Anderson Hill Park Thursday, August 18th. They will harvest 44 trees, cut them to specified lengths, and haul them to staging areas adjacent to Mill Creek. In-stream construction of large wood structures is scheduled begin August 25th and continue through September 9th. Our Council potluck at Anderson Hill Park on August 30th will provide a rare opportunity for people to tour a working restoration project.

OK Ranch, Miami River – Final designs have been provided by Meghan Walter, NRCS engineer. We plan to submit an application to DSL and the Army Corps this week, followed by a County Development Permit. So far no contractors have been able to confirm availability for working on the project, and we still need to secure roughly $30K in match funding to move this project forward.

Skookum Dam Removal – We kicked off the project in July with a meeting in Salem. Our two engineering contractors met face to face and came to a consensus on roles, responsibilities and next steps. Our goal is to have final designs and a bid package ready to go in October of this year to ensure we get the best contractor possible for construction. Total cost of project $514,298; OWEB funds requested: $264,198. Construction scheduled for summer 2017.

Coast Range Road (South Fork Trask) – Jon Wehage offered up 400 more seedlings on behalf of Stimson Lumber for the replanting plan during our OWEB Review Team site visit on June 2nd. The unofficial word is that the project will be recommended for funding, and Stimson’s commitment to the project was apparently a key factor in that decision. Thank you, Jon & Stimson! Total cost of project: $129,465; OWEB funds requested: $91,365. Construction scheduled for summer 2017.

Mill Creek Culverts – No word from the Carlsons on their crossing, or whether they plan to have Euchre Mountain do any in-stream work this summer. Next step for the remaining passage barriers is to apply for a TA grant to get design dollars.

Headquarters Camp Creek, Trask River –Three culvert replacements and a series of large wood structures are planned for the lowest mile of the creek, above its confluence with Stretch Creek. ODF is working on design for the main culvert now for a 2017 or 2018 installation. The Council plans to submit an OWEB Restoration Grant application for October 2016 in the amount of $60,000 to $80,000.

Holden Creek Tidegates – Troy Downing has reached out to the Tillamook River Drainage District on behalf of new operators in the flood areas between HWY101 and McCormick Loop. Awaiting a call from Darrell Fletcher to set a meeting date when our partnership can make the case for a solution.

Upcoming events – Here’s a list of our remaining meetings and events for 2016 so everyone can get them on the calendar:

  • August 30thPotluck & Picnic, Anderson Hill Park (behind the Officer’s Mess Hall at the Port)
  • September 27thThe Oregon Wetlands Bill with Chad Allen and Hilary Foote, Tillamook Co. Library
  • October 25thPathways to Resilience by Daniel Bottom, Tillamook County Library
  • November 29thSpeaker TBD, Tillamook County Library
  • December 27thAnnual Holiday Party, Bay City Arts Center

All of the above Council events will be held from 6:30PM to 8:00PM on their respective dates.

For more information contact: Robert Russell, Council Coordinator, 503-322-0002

Tillamook Skyline
Trask River tidewater looking east from the Spruce Tree. Believe it or not, downtown Tillamook is hiding behind the Hoquarton Forest in the center of the photo, less than a mile upstream.

TNC’s Kilchis Preserve: Reconnecting Salmon with Estuarine Habitat

The Tillamook Bay Watershed Council continues its 2016 Speaker Series next Tuesday evening, June 28th at the Tillamook Library from 6:30PM to 7:30PM.

Kilchis_channels_ditchesDick Vander Shaaf, Associate Conservation Director for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), will give an update on the Kilchis Preserve and review its restoration goals. In 2015 the project removed dikes, reconnected Stasek Slough to the Kilchis, and recreated tidal channels that effectively doubled the habitat available to salmon in the Kilchis estuary. But the Kilchis Preserve has sparked controversy among the agricultural community and neighboring landowners, both for the loss of farm land it represents, and for changes made to the area’s hydrology. Then, December of 2015 brought the second highest flood on record to the area, leading to fears that the project was responsible. This presentation is a chance for the public to hear directly from TNC, and to air questions and concerns as time allows.

Stasek near crossing
The Council’s regular monthly meeting will follow the TNC’s presentation. We encourage attendees to stick around and learn about the Council’s restoration efforts throughout the watershed.

Life in the River

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Derek Wiley is one of the “fishiest” guys in Tillamook. Not only is he an avid angler, he is also a research biologist at our local ODFW office. He supervises two field crews responsible for monitoring abundance of adult and juvenile salmonids in the NF Nehalem and EF Trask Rivers for the state’s Salmonid Life Cycle Monitoring (LCM) project. That means he has his finger on the pulse of our local fish populations, literally.

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The Tillamook Bay Watershed Council (TBWC) has been fortunate to join Derek and his crew for some eye-opening days at their fish traps. These folks work extremely hard to collect population data critical to our understanding and protection of our fisheries. They are the unsung heroes on the front lines of fisheries conservation. Thankfully, Derek dedicated himself to recording key moments from the 2015/16 field season, which he has edited into two documentary films that will inspire anyone with a passion for fish.

Big Chinook Fingerling

Join us May 31st at the Tillamook County Library (6:30PM) for a special screening of Derek’s films. Journey’s End is an 18-minute video capturing underwater behavior and spawning of wild chum salmon, Chinook salmon, coho salmon, and Pacific lamprey in several rivers and creeks on the northern Oregon Coast. Salmonid Life Cycle Monitoring on the NF Nehalem River is a documentary about ODFW’s Life Cycle Monitoring activities on the North Fork Nehalem River with a focus on the 2015 fall salmon trapping season. Footage for both was primarily captured with a GoPro camera and editing was done with iMovie11. The two films showcase the journey of anadromous fish species during spawning season and offer a behind the scenes look at ODFW’s Salmonid Life Cycle Monitoring Program.

 

Heroic Efforts at the 2016 Tillamook Bay Cleanup

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Over 100 volunteers filled the Bay City Arts Center on Saturday, April 23rd for the Tillamook Bay Spring Cleanup and after-party. Between 2 and 3 tons of garbage were pulled out of the estuary over the course of five hours. Hundreds of filled trash bags lined highway 101 and the Cape Meares Loop until our crew of drivers rounded them up and piled them at strategic locations around the bay. It was an outpouring of effort and support beyond our wildest dreams, and solid proof of the generosity of the communities surrounding Tillamook Bay. Thank you volunteers and sponsors! And a BIG thanks to Pelican Brewing, Fat Dog Pizza, Pacific Oyster, Hook, Line & Sinker, Barview Jetty Store,  and our musical guests Benny and the Bay City Rockers for making the after-party one to remember! Let’s do it again in 2018…

The Biggest Bay Cleanup in a Decade!

TB Cleanup Shirt Design

Tillamook Bay is getting cleaned up this year with the help of volunteers, private landowners, local businesses, SOLVE and local non-profit organizations. The Tillamook Bay Watershed Council, Tillamook Estuaries Partnership and Tillamook County Solid Waste Department are pleased to announce plans for the 2016 Tillamook Bay Cleanup, scheduled for Earth Day, April 23rd from 8:30AM to 2:30PM.

Volunteers will gather at the Bay City Arts Center at 8:30AM for a kick-off meeting with complimentary coffee and snacks. Eight teams will be formed, each with a local team-leader who will assist volunteers, ensure safe handling of hazardous waste, and steer teams away from private property. Garbage will be staged at a number of sites around the bay for pick-up by truck and boat. Cleanup teams will return to the Arts Center at 2:30PM, and the event will culminate in an after-party from 2:30pm to 5:00PM. Locally-made food and drink will be provided by Pacific Seafood, Pelican Brewing, Barview Jetty Store, Fat Dog Pizza and the Hook, Line & Sinker.

The last major cleanup effort on Tillamook Bay was back in 2006, so this event is long overdue. Volunteers can expect large amounts of floating debris including plastic bottles, flip-flops, shotgun shells and styrofoam. A similar effort on the Nehalem Bay in 2015 brought in 2.4 tons of trash, including 915 pounds of recyclable or re-useable material. The Tillamook Bay Cleanup is a family-friendly event, with a number of cleanup routes that will be appropriate for kids who are accompanied by an adult.

Local sponsors for the 2016 Tillamook Bay Cleanup include City Sanitary Service, the Bay City Arts Center, Pacific Seafood, Pelican Brewing, Tillamook County Creamery Association, Blue Heron French Cheese Company, Tillamook Headlight Herald, Tillamook County Pioneer Museum, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, Barview Jetty Store, Elevate Yoga & Fitness Studio, Five Rivers Coffee Roasting, Garibaldi Charters, Hook Line & Sinker, US Coast Guard, and Tillamook High School. The list of sponsors keeps growing, and more are always welcome.

Volunteers are encouraged to register on the SOLVE website, solveoregon.org or call SOLVE at (503) 844-9751 ext. 321, or 1-800-333-SOLV(7658).

To become a team-leader or sponsor, or for more information please contact: Robert Russell, TBWC Coordinator, 503-322-0002, or via email at tillamookbaywatershedcouncil@gmail.com

Bay Cleanup Map Updated

Welcome to the Tillamook Bay Watershed

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Hello, world! This is the new Tillamook Bay Watershed Council web site & blog, an ever-growing repository of information related to the Tillamook Bay watershed and its many inhabitants. We hope you will follow our progress and join our family of partners and volunteers. The Council invites you to participate in our efforts to protect, restore and enhance Tillamook’s aquatic habitats. Try attending one of our meetings, held at 6:30pm on the last Tuesday of each month at the Tillamook Public Library in downtown Tillamook. You can also donate time and/or money to our projects, or just spread the word by sharing our stories with your friends.

For more information send us an email at: tillamookbaywatershedcouncil@gmail.com

Or drop us a line: (503) 322-0002

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