Weyerhaeuser Restoration Efforts Return Salmon Habitat
Jason Richardson, a forestry engineer for Weyerhaeuser, is celebrating. Salmon and steelhead are returning to the rivers and tributaries of the Coos Bay watershed in southwest Oregon.
“I’m thrilled our efforts are paying off,” Richardson says. “I heard from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife agents who reported their population projections for salmon moving up both the East Fork of the Millicoma River and the South Fork of the Coos River. They were super stoked about the numbers.”
The fish weren’t faring so well in the early 1990s when Weyerhaeuser first teamed up with the Coos Watershed Association to repair decades of out-of-date land-use practices. Now, nearly 20 years and countless projects later, 100 percent of the species found in the watershed on Weyerhaeuser lands are being restored to their natural habitat.
Weyerhaeuser, the largest private landowner in the area, owns and manages about two-thirds of the watershed. Its 212,000 acres of timberlands make the company an integral player in the mitigation process.
“We’ve been right in the middle of this,” says Richardson, “and we’ve learned a lot over the years.”
Past practices such as splash damming, stream cleaning, direct sediment delivery from roads and fish-passage issues created by historical road building techniques have prevented salmon from traveling to their native spawning grounds.
“Now,” he says, “we’re turning that around.”
Following best management practices, Weyerhaeuser has improved mainline drainage roads to prevent sediment runoff into adjacent streams. Log jams have been placed in historical spawning waters to recreate suitable habitat. Problem culverts have been removed or rebuilt with fish-passable crossings.
Other activities include planting vegetation and placing logs along streams to create shade and protect fish. Two of Weyerhaeuser’s old log yards have been restored and now are lush riparian areas. Working with restoration partners, the company completely removed knotweed, an invasive plant that takes over creeks and ruins habitat.
According to Richardson, the company has cleared 53 salmon blockages and restored 57 miles of their habitat. And all projects were completed by a 2012 target date.
One culvert project in Hodges Creek, a tributary several miles into the watershed, particularly impresses Bob Wallis, area team leader for Weyerhaeuser.
“Chinook, Coho and Steelhead all are using this tributary,” says Wallis. “When we started we thought it would take several years for this to happen. Everyone’s amazed.”
“The original goal was for stakeholders to work together to restore wild salmon populations to sustainable levels,” says Richardson. “Now we can say these rivers draining into the ocean are definitely salmon-friendly.”