TU boots on the ground: Mabel Creek Coastal Cutthroat Project

From the desk of TU’s Alan Moore:

Mabel Creek is a coastal cutthroat project on private timberland high in the headwaters in Clastop County of NW Oregon in the shadow of Saddle Mountain, just above the mouth of the Columbia River. The project involves:

1) permanent decommissioning of nearly a mile of legacy logging road
2) permanent removal of four barrier culverts and replacement of a fifth with a properly sized culvert with a stream-simulated bottom
3) large wood placement throughout the project reach to provide floodplain reconnection, habitat diversity, cover and myriad other benefits, and finally,
4) revegetation of the entire project reach with native trees and plants.

That re-veg piece is what TU worked on with our partners at the North Coast Watersheds Assn and its intrepid and indefatiguable leader Jesse Jones on Saturday. TU was one of several project partners, providing funding secured from the Orvis Culvert Fund, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Trout and Salmon Foundation. Other major partners include the Campbell Group, US Fish and Wildlife Service (Amy Horstman and the Western Native Trout Initiative) and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. This was WNTI’s first on-the-ground project specifically targeting coastal cutts (applause). Special thanks to Oregon TU’s resident restoration engineer Rod Lundberg for leading the TU small but mighty volunteer contingent on Saturday.

The Mabel Creek cutthroat population is significant because it is an above-barrier population, meaning it has persisted in relative anonymity upstream of 90-foot Youngs River Falls , insulated from the fish management issues associated with anadromous fish populations playing out just downstream, most notably in Youngs Bay. While the habitat of cutthroat populations like Mabel Creek’s and countless others in coastal forests have been severely impacted by decades of timber harvest, these intrepid little native fish have hung on in good numbers, so the more we can do now to restore and reconnect that habitat and cutthroat populations themselves, the stronger the coastal cutthroat piece of the multi-species native fish puzzle throughout coastal ranges will be as we work to put the rest of the puzzle together.

Mabel Creek Restoration

The road on Mabel Creek was too close to the stream, cutting off floodplain connectivity and fish movement, and causing significant sediment inputs at the crossings with undersized, blocked and failing culverts. One of those culverts was pulled here where a feeder creek enters Mabel Creek from the left. The former logging road bed shown here, ripped and re-contoured back to natural slope, being re-planted with native trees.

Mabel Creek Restoration

Western Red Cedar and Sitka Spruce plantings replacing logging road.

Mabel Creek Restoration

Bottom end of the nearly mile-long project reach post-construction. Native trees and plants will be placed throughout, and existing standing wood on either side has already begun to fall and populate former road prism with critical downed wood and organic material to jumpstart natural processes that will ameliorate sediment movement toward stream.

Mabel Creek Restoration

Mabel Creek Restoration

Dozens of pieces of large wood were placed in-stream throughout the project reach. Wood in-stream, especially higher up in the watershed, means fish in-stream – and better fishing – throughout the watershed.

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