Update on the Orvis-TU “1,000 Miles” Program


Written by: Phil Monahan

Orvis-TU 1000 Miles Campaign

The North Fork of the Crooked River is a beautiful high-elevation stream
that will benefit from reconnection of trout habitat.

photo courtesy of Trout Unlimited

Up high in the Ochoco Mountains of Central Oregon are the headwaters of the Crooked River, the desert streams of Deep Creek and Crazy Creek, and a feisty and beautiful population of Columbia Basin redband trout. With a name like Crazy Creek, you might wonder why Orvis and Trout Unlimited (TU) are working to restore a small desert stream. Historically, the Deep Creek drainage was full of old-growth forests, lush meadows, and spring-fed streams full of trout. Unfortunately, after more than 100 years of grazing, logging, and road building, Deep Creek and the upper Crooked River have been used and abused, and the trout are left struggling to survive. TU has partnered with Ochoco National Forest to help restore priority reaches within Deep Creek and build awareness of the importance of these headwater streams and the wild trout that are adapted to this rugged landscape. One of the key coldwater tributaries is Crazy Creek, which provides more than seven miles of spawning habitat and meets Deep Creek approximately three and a half miles above the Wild and Scenic North Fork of the Crooked River.

Orvis-TU 1000 Miles Campaign

TU and Orvis have removed a culvert barrier as part of a larger effort to restore habitat for native redband trout in the upper Crooked River drainage. The undersized culvert located at the confluence of Deep and Crazy Creeks fragmented habitat and blocked fish movements between two important tributaries. Now, through the funding from Orvis, the Western Native Trout Initiative, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, and the Forest Service, the old culvert has been removed and replaced with a new bottom-arch culvert. With the new culvert, Crazy Creek can flow freely as a natural stream below the road, and redbands can move up and downstream as the flashy flow of this desert stream allows.

Orvis-TU 1000 Miles Campaign

This “perched” culvert kept trout from moving freely through the creek.

photo courtesy of Trout Unlimited

Deep Creek supports a robust population of genetically pure redbands, and Crazy Creek often provides some of the best coldwater refuge for those fish when summer stream temperatures get too warm in neighboring creeks. Crazy Creek lies in a steep, walled canyon with dense riparian vegetation, high bank stability, high habitat complexity and provides cool water to Deep Creek. However, the perched culvert and three outdated roads prevent migration through this excellent habitat, thus reducing access to quality spawning and rearing habitat, as well as genetic exchange of the two populations. The new culvert now opens up miles of habitat and provides additional spawning habitat for this important Deep Creek fishery. This project will make it easier for fish to move into Crazy Creek when they need to. In addition, this project is integral to a larger watershed restoration plan that includes stream channel restoration, revegetation of streamside habitats, and road decommissioning.

Orvis-TU 1000 Miles Campaign

The new arched culvert re-establishes contact for the different population of trout.

photo courtesy of Trout Unlimited

If you build it, they (the fish and anglers) will come. Redband trout are feisty and beautiful, and they live in some of the most remote country in the West. As an angling quarry, they are less renowned than their higher profile cousins—steelhead—but provide an exciting opportunity to catch native fish in their native places. Redbands are some of the most adaptable of the native trout species, with populations spread from high-elevation Northwestern watersheds to harsh desert habitats in Nevada and Idaho. With a bit of engineering and habitat enhancement, the trout of these desert streams can freely move and thrive for decades to come.

Reconnect, Restore and Sustain
The culvert replacement was an important step in a larger effort to restore Crazy Creek and sustain the health of the area through monitoring, education, and action. The Deep Creek watershed is a degraded system with important redband trout populations surviving in cool, disconnected refuges. Like many other streams in the arid West, Deep Creek has been impacted from past grazing practices, dispersed recreation, roads in riparian areas, and other management activities. Multiple problems need multiple solutions. The new stream-channel improvements at the culvert and in the middle basin will increase the density of pool habitat and will allow the stream to access its floodplain (improved water storage) for a greater distance; this will in turn allow the riparian vegetation (existing and planted) to expand further from the stream creating more forage and habitat for wildlife.

TU has tackled this effort collaboratively with the help of the Forest Service and local grazing permittee. Instead of ignoring the historic uses in this landscape and fencing out the rancher and his cattle, we are working with the rancher to improve practices and habitat together. First, we will rest the sites that have been restored, while working on a new grazing plan for the stream’s pastures. When the cows return, we will have in place improved grazing standards and practices, using flash grazing, increased monitoring, and working together to make sure our habitat goals are met. By reducing the impact of grazing on stream side vegetation and channel conditions, riparian areas will recover which will increase runoff filtration, lower water temperatures, and improve water quality.

Orvis-TU 1000 Miles Campaign

Local Girl Scouts help plant willow stakes along the streambank.

photo courtesy of Trout Unlimited

While the on-the-ground restoration activities are critical for the long-term health of the Deep Creek watershed, it is equally important for citizens to understand and be aware of the value of these types of programs, and the importance of a healthy environment around them. In addition to the ecological benefits, this project provided opportunities to educate the public and engage volunteers and students in hands-on learning. TU hosted volunteer days and educational tours in the spring, summer, and fall to track conditions on the ground and help with restoration work that was needed. Activities such as planting trees, monitoring water temperature, studying fish population numbers and health, and assessing habitat conditions served to enhance their science and planning skills, in addition to understanding the importance of a healthy environment in the communities where they live. With the help from our funders, partners, and volunteers, we know our efforts will sustain the health of Deep Creek and Crazy Creek, as well as fish and fishing experiences for our future.

Click here the Orvis Commitment page for the 1,000 Miles Campaign.

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