By Katelyn Hale, Community Engagement Specialist | November 2020
Part 1 of 2: Salmon Spawning on Still Creek
On a beautiful October day, Still Creek was full of autumnal magic. The sunlight shone through the golden foliage, twinkled on the rippling clear water, and illuminated– what is that? The silhouettes of giant fish swimming through shallow pools! Spring Chinook salmon are spawning and it is a sight to behold.
[Video of Howard Schaller & Katelyn Hale discussing spring Chinook salmon in Still Creek.]
Council member Howards Schaller joined me on a tour of Still Creek, a tributary of Sandy River located near the town of Rhododendron, OR, over 100 river miles upstream from the Pacific Ocean. Why are we here? In the late 1990s, Sandy River partners identified Still Creek on their list of priority streams for restoring Sandy River salmon habitat. In fact, Still Creek was identified as one of the highest priority streams for restoring wild Chinook salmon in the Sandy River basin by its partners in 2006. Multiple partners, including SRWC, implemented restoration projects over the past two decades, including our salmon habitat restoration project in 2013.
As we walked upstream, Howard pointed out the results of various habitat restoration projects to keep the stream and its banks a complex place. These include placing large pieces of wood in the stream to provide fish with protection from predators. It also includes restoring native stream-side trees and shrubs, which provides shade to keep stream water cool. These different types of restoration projects make it great for spawning salmon and their eggs that hatch the next spring.
A ‘weir’ is low, human-made dam that helps regulate the flow of a creek. These weirs were built to create deep pools and areas of slower-moving water. These pools are where salmon migrating up or downstream can rest and hide from predators.
See how this giant log looks like it just fell over?
Take another look: at the base of the tree. There’s a metal cable drilled through the trunk.
This log, with its rootwad attached, was flown in here with a helicopter. These projects were done to restore natural processes of a dynamic landscape. In fact, we saw a few trees that had blown over in the windstorm last month. These fallen trees will also impact the flow of the stream and provide lots of cover for juvenile salmon. Howard & I observed multiple adult salmon upstream of the jams, and were happy to see that these new log jams were passable by these amazing fish.
Log jams are another common restoration tactic we use. These are large structures made of logs and tree root wads that create many different benefits throughout the seasons. Log jams help absorb the energy of a stream, slowing it down and stopping erosion in key areas. Log jams are great for fish habitat, too. They often also give migrating salmon & trout a place to rest, create good habitat for the insects they eat, and provide protective cover for juvenile salmon.
For more info on why log jams are the jam, check out our educational short video another one of our project sites not far from Still Creek.
Like many tributaries of the Sandy River, including the Sandy itself, Still Creek is a dynamic body of water. The creek often floods its surrounding area. This of course is a natural phenomenon, yet climate change is impacting those patterns. Fast waters move boulders, rocks downstream. Erosion occurs, but that is where more cobble and gravel come from. These restoration projects are “designed to be dynamic,” Howard says. Instead of fighting natural processes with dams, pipes, and other constraining infrastructure, we aim to work with natural energies and processes. We aim to keep things dynamic, so that these amazingly resilient animals can thrive.
Thank you Howard Schaller for your time and edits.