Gearing Up for a Big Year in 2017

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Don Best’s spectacular photo of the floodplains and deltas of the Tillamook, Trask and Wilson rivers. Order a print at donbestphotography.com

The Tillamook Bay Watershed Council is gearing up for a big year in 2017, with two major watershed restoration projects, four Explore Nature events, and, of course, our 2017 Speaker Series featuring presentations by leaders in watershed science and management. There has never been a better time to plug in to our local restoration community and contribute to positive change in your watershed.

The Council’s first meeting of the year will be held Tuesday, January 31st from 6:30PM to 8:30PM at the Tillamook County Library. We will discuss upcoming restoration projects, cover Council business, and conduct a biennial self-evaluation exercise intended to improve the Council’s organizational development.

Our first 2017 Speaker Series event is scheduled for February 28th at 6:30PM, and will feature members of the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Work Group. This visionary program aims to help farmers maintain working lands, while providing incentives and support for conservation efforts on those lands. We expect Tillamook to be a focus-area for this new program, so we’re excited to learn more about it.

Our Explore Nature events will kick off in April with a Steelhead Ecology hike. We’ll announce the date for that event and a number of others in a future post.

Here’s an updated Coordinator’s Report with information about our upcoming watershed restoration projects:

Council Coordinator’s Report, January 23, 2017

Skookum Dam Removal –The bid package is in a final review by the City of Tillamook, Boatwright Engineering and River Design Group for edits. Bid announcement is planned for early February. Total cost of project $514,298; OWEB funds requested: $264,198. Construction scheduled for summer 2017.

Coast Range Road (South Fork Trask) –Permitting is underway, with a bid announcement planned for February. A site walk-through is planned for Feb 7th with Troy Laws to designate large wood sites and to map out excavation areas in the roadbed. Total cost of project: $129,465; OWEB funds requested: $91,365. Construction scheduled for summer 2017.

Mill Creek Culverts (Salmon Superhwy) –Letters of Intent needed from landowners on private crossings. Outreach has begun, with the goal of having landowners on board by early February. Once we have landowner buy-in, we can begin developing an OWEB grant application—either a TA for designs or a restoration grant for implementation. $193,000 secured (USFWS & TCPWD) plus Joint Chief’s dollars, which should be allocated soon.

 Mill Creek Habitat Enhancement –Dave Harris and Maysa Miller (NORP) walked the site and made detailed notes to help determine a final planting plan so they can plan accordingly. Seeking permission from the Tillamook Adventist School to cut willows to be deposited in the beaver-dam stretch of Mill Creek ASAP. Final reporting to OWEB is underway.

Bill Creek, Trask River – We will be visiting the Bill Creek site Feb 7th with Troy Laws, Mark Meleason and Jorge Rios. The hope is that it will be a strong prospect for our next OWEB restoration grant application.

Education & Outreach – Our 2017 Speaker Series is in development, with a few speakers set. We’re also talking with Pelican Brewing about starting a Science Pub series.

Science Discovery Nights at South Prairie and Garibaldi Schools went very well, and Nehalem School’s event is this Thursday. We’re also working with students to help them plan their science projects.

Upcoming eventsJanuary 31st, Monthly Meeting and Council Self-Evaluation, Tillamook County Library, 6:30PM.

February 28th – Speaker Series: OWEB’s New Agricultural Heritage Program and what it might mean for Tillamook County, Tillamook County Library, 6:30PM.

For more information contact: Robert Russell, Council Coordinator, 503-322-0002 or email us at tillamookbaywatershedcouncil@gmail.com

A Report from Tillamook’s 53rd Annual Christmas Bird Count

 

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John P. counts huge flocks of waterfowl and shorebirds at Kilchis Point while Denise H. writes it all down. If you are curious about our local birds, don’t miss next year’s Christmas Bird Count!

Our Council members spend a lot of time in and around the Tillamook Bay, which means we are always surrounded by birds. We recognize some of them on sight: bald eagles, red tailed hawks, great blue herons, as well as local favorites, like the great egret and the white tailed kite. We are familiar with several of the many different duck species that frequent our bay: mallards, buffleheads, goldeneyes. But there are dozens of species that fly or swim by us that get lumped into broad categories like “gulls” or “shore birds.” Even experienced birders can be daunted by the number of species, especially given their seasonal changes in plumage. So when our Council Coordinator got the chance to participate in the 53rd Annual Christmas Bird Count on Tillamook Bay, he jumped at the chance, even if it required a pre-dawn meeting on a cold winter’s day. Here’s Rob’s report from December 17th, 2016:

 

Our team met at the Tillamook Denny’s at 6:30PM. It was still dark, but a fresh layer of snow made everything seem brighter, and colder! Denise H. and I were paired with a master birder named John P. who has been doing bird counts for over 40 years. We knew we were in for a real education, and it sure turned out that way.

We launched the boat at Park’s Landing on the lower Kilchis and floated out to Hathaway Slough and Kilchis Point. It snowed periodically, which added a magical quality to the morning. We made several stops on gravel bars to get set up the spotting scope, where John counted literally thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds. From there we proceeded to Bay City, counting as we went, and arrived at Pacific Oyster just in time for lunch. Then we climbed back in the boat and motored across the bay to the Bayocean side. This was important because there were birds that John knew would be associated with the eel grass beds in the middle and West bay. Then we made our way up to Dick Point and the Picket Fence, where we crossed back to the east side and explored the massive delta of the Kilchis, Wilson and Trask. Since the Southern Flow Corridor project had mostly finished, we were able to enter Blind Slough for the first time–very exciting. And we were all blown away by the beauty of the newly-connected tidal channel. Our team ended the day at Memaloose Point with over 8,000 birds counted, representing 65 species. There were 14 other birders who participated–a total of 17. Between all of us we counted 27,381 birds of 121 species. A few points of interest from the organizer, Owen Schmidt: The biggest news was the Hooded Oriole coming to the Tweelinckx’s in the Village of Meares and staying at least until Count Day.  Not everyone who stopped by saw the bird, which had been coming daily but stayed only briefly.  The bird was photographed in the days prior to the Count and appears on eBird lists. Say’s Phoebe was seen for only the third time, a single bird near the Air Museum.  A total. of 13 Western Bluebirds from 2 locations set a new high Count record.  Great Egrets continue to grow in their winter numbers with 114 birds from several locations.

For more information about the Tillamook Bay CBC, contact the compiler, Owen Schmidt, at (503) 789-4854, oschmidt@att.net.

Holiday Events: November 29th Business Meeting and December 27th Potluck & Watershed Celebration!

It’s been a big year for habitat restoration in the Tillamook Bay Watershed, and we have two more opportunities to gather, share and celebrate the positive momentum that is making Tillamook a better place to live, work and recreate.

Join us the evening of November 29th at the Tillamook County Library for our monthly business meeting from 6:30PM to 8:00PM.

And don’t miss our annual Holiday Potluck & Watershed Celebration on December 27th at the Bay City Arts Center from 6:30PM to 8:30PM.

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Both events are excellent opportunities to get involved in local watershed projects and volunteer activities. For more information call Council Coordinator Rob Russell: 503-322-0002 or drop us an email at tillamookbaywatershedcouncil at Gmail dot com.

Wetland Recovery and Salmon Population Resilience

Tillamook has been an epicenter of salmon habitat restoration efforts over the last two years. In fact, we are currently hosting the largest wetland-restoration project in Oregon’s history. Tillamook County’s Southern Flow Corridor Landowner Preferred Alternative project–usually referred to as “Southern Flow” for the sake of brevity–is reconnecting 520 acres of tidal wetlands in the Wilson-Trask Delta. The summer of 2015 saw The Nature Conservancy’s reconnection of Stasek Slough to the Kilchis River, and the excavation of miles of tidal channels, nearly doubling the available wetland habitat in the Kilchis Delta. And going back a few years earlier, the Miami Wetlands project restored tidal wetlands at the mouth of the Miami River. Collectively, these projects add up to over 650 acres of restored habitat for juvenile salmon, and they represent a major pendulum swing in local land use, from dairy farming to the natural production of salmon.

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This photo shows the 520-acre area being reconnected through the Southern Flow Corridor project in the Wilson-Trask delta. By 2017 this area will be available to juvenile salmon.

In the Tillamook, roughly 85% of tidal wetlands were reclaimed as farmland from the late 1800s through the 1970s. That meant the clearing of Sitka spruce forests and swamps and the diking of large areas to prevent tidal influence and saltwater intrusion. With the dikes came tidegates which were designed to allow water to flow off the land, but to prevent water from flowing in. Consequently, today’s salmon populations in the Tillamook Bay watershed are roughly 10% to 50%  of their historic abundance depending on the species. Fisheries scientists have long asserted that the primary limiting factor for Tillamook’s coho and Chinook salmon populations is the availability of tidal wetland habitat, where young salmon feed and grow before heading out to the ocean.

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Young Chinook salmon like these rely on tidal wetlands to grow big and strong.

With so many major restoration projects rolling out in the Tillamook, the big question is How will the fish respond? Only time can tell, but we do have a very good case study just two watersheds to the south which points to a hopeful outcome. The Salmon River estuary, just north of Lincoln City, was the scene of intensive restoration of wetlands from 1978 to 2011, resulting in over 400 acres of reconnected salmon habitat. NOAA scientist Daniel Bottom, along with a team of fisheries scientists, studied the response of coho and Chinook salmon populations during the same period. They also looked at how the wetlands performed as rearing habitat for young salmon and how the fish used the habitat. Bottom and his team found that the diversity of coho and Chinook life-history strategies expanded dramatically with the increased rearing opportunity. And they estimated an increase of 20% to 40% of returning adult salmon as a result of the restored habitats. It was the first local study to quantify the benefits of wetland restoration to salmon, and to clearly demonstrate the connection between wetlands habitats and life-history diversity. In the years since the Salmon River studies, Bottom and others have gone on to suggest that life-history diversity among salmon is likely the key to survival in a changing world. And since wetland restoration has been shown to restore that diversity, it follows that wetland restoration is critical to the adaptation and survival of salmon populations as climate changes and sea levels rise.

Join the Tillamook Bay Watershed Council the evening of October 25th for a special presentation by Daniel Bottom. He will share experiences and revelations from his time on the Salmon River, and he will discuss the potential gains from our local restoration efforts. Don’t miss this rare chance to learn some of the latest findings in fisheries science from one of our area’s leading researchers. The presentation will be held in the Hatfield Room at the Tillamook County Library from 6:30PM to 7:30PM. We hope to see you there!

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Daniel Bottom, NOAA Researcher and presenter on October 25th, 2016 at the Tillamook County Library, 6:30PM to 7:30PM.

 

 

 

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

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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…