CASCADIA — The 34 Douglas fir trees that were pushed into the South Santiam River last week, are intended to improve Chinook salmon and steelhead spawning habitat, according to Eric Hartstein, coodinator for the South Santiam Watershed Council.

Hartstein said the August 15-21 project was completed about a half-mile north of Highway 20 in the lower Soda Fork area about 30 miles east of Sweet Home. Most of the trees were left where they fell into the river, except 12 were moved upstream, Hartstein said.

“This is pretty much the upper extent of the Chinook salmon and steelhead spawning in the South Santiam,” Hartstein said. “The problem is that this stretch of the river has a lot of bedrock, had little gravel where the fish like to spawn. High water flushes the gravel downstream.”

Hartstein said the watershed council partnered with the Sweet Home Ranger District and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board on the project.

Aquatic Contracting of Portland attached wire rope to the trees — which were 28 to 34 inches in diameter — and pulled them into the river with a skidder.

“We had them pulled over instead of cut with a saw because we wanted the giant root wads to catch the gravel,” Hartstein said. “We hope that by building up the gravel beds, we can move the fish farther upstream and improve the habitat for spawning, but also for the juvenile fish later.”

Hartstein said that prior to the development of Foster Dam in the 1960s, the Soda Fork area had been a spawning and rearing area for the fish.

“Some of the highest red counts (salmon egg nests) were just below the confluence of the South Santiam and Soda Fork,” Hartstein said. “So, you had a really good pocket of habitat surrounded by areas of fair to low quality habitat. We hope to add a small area of good habitat.”

Hartstein said the project is part of the Cool Soda Planning Process that includes public and private partnerships.

“We sat down with folks from Cascade Timber Consulting and other stakeholders last summer and we talked about this project,” Hartstein said.

Hartstein said the second phase of the project will be to replace some small culverts upstream that are keeping gravel from moving into the habitat areas with larger culverts.

Hartstein said the project was funded by a $52,000 OWEB grant and the U.S. Forest Service contributed trees and staff time.

“Lance Gatchell, Sweet Home Ranger District hydrologist, put in a lot of work designing structures for this,” Hartstein said.

Hartstein said it will take a year to see if the effort pays off.

“Right now, it looks great,” Hartstein said. “We put some really big root wads in there and they should trap some great spawning gravel.”

To learn more about the South Santiam Watershed Council, visit www.sswc.org.

Alex Paul is the Linn County reporter for the Democrat-Herald. He can be contacted at 541-812-6114 or alex.paul@lee.net.

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