November 21, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Meadow plan draws residents’ opposition

Nov 22, 2010

November 21, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Meadow plan draws residents’ opposition

Meadow plan draws residents’ opposition

U.S. Forest Service proposes turning site along Deschutes River Trail into wetland

By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin
Published: November 21. 2010 4:00AM PST

The U.S. Forest Service is drafting a plan to flood Ryan Ranch Meadow along the Deschutes River Trail in order to create a wetland habitat similar to what the site was historically. But a group of residents is criticizing the plan, expressing concerns that the project would draw in more mosquitoes, damage elk habitat and result in an area that doesn’t work as a wetland should.

“This project makes the landscape worse, makes it less functional,” said Carol Rosendahl, a retired engineer who worked for environmental organizations and who has helped to form a group called “Friends of Ryan Ranch Meadow.”

But Shane Jeffries, Bend-Fort Rock District ranger with the Forest Service, said the project is an effort to restore a section of the eroding riverbank, and a chance to turn the meadow back to what it was before. A levy built decades ago separates the Deschutes River and the meadow, and the restoration project proposes to breach the levy to allow water to flow into and out of the meadow area freely.

“The project is proposing to reset the historic riparian and wetland conditions,” Jeffries said. “You’re creating sort of that freshwater marsh environment that’s providing habitat for flora and fauna.”

Interpretive loop

The plan also calls for building a boardwalk above the would-be marshy sections of the Deschutes River Trail and creating an interpretive loop.

For Rosendahl, one of the main concerns about the project is that the Deschutes River has different flow patterns than it did a century ago.

Now, there are high flows during the summer as water is released for irrigation purposes, and low flows during the winter when water is stored behind dams upstream.

“Extremes of highs and lows did not exist historically. The river was much more stable,” she said.

This could create a situation where a wetland is inundated in the summer, but then turns to dried-out mud in the winter, she said.

“These wetlands are dysfunctional for half a year because they’re bare,” she said.

Elk herds also use the existing meadow, Rosendahl said, and could be affected by the switch to a more marshy environment.

There’s also the concern of a wetland drawing in more mosquitoes, said Jeff Trant, of Bend, who frequently takes his dogs to the area.

“There’s going to be 70 acres of water, 1 to 3 inches deep during the summer, which is going to be a massive breeding ground for mosquitoes, in my opinion,” he said.

And both Trant and Rosen-dahl mentioned that many people they have spoken to, who bike or walk along that section of the Deschutes River Trail, were unaware of the proposed changes.

“We were all kind of taken aback,” Rosendahl said.

The Forest Service has gone through its regular public notification process for the project, Jeffries said, and hosted a field trip to the project area for a county recreation group.

Agency staff have been meeting with those with concerns, he said, noting that the project designers are also working on putting together a community group to look over the proposed design for the boardwalk and project restoration.

Recreating a wetland won’t mean that the entire area will be underwater year-round, he said, and so there would still be elk habitat in the area. The added water could even add more plants for the ungulates to eat.

“I think in the long run it’s going to be very beneficial for the elk species,” Jeffries said.

And it will also be beneficial for mosquitoes, he agreed.

“There’s a strong likelihood that you’re going to see mosquitoes in an area like that, as we do in all other wetland-type environments along the Deschutes,” he said.

But the project is designed to return the area to an ecosystem more like what it was naturally, he said, and to restore the riverbanks.

Project planners have studied the surface and groundwater in the basin, said Peter Sussmann, soil scientist with the Bend-Fort Rock District.

And although the river flow pattern is different now — with more water in the summer months than there was historically — the current river flows should still be able to create a healthy wetland, he said. There will be areas that have deep water in the summer and mud flats in the winter, Sussmann said, but only over less than a quarter of the project area. And those areas provide valuable habitat for amphibians like spotted frogs.

The Forest Service is currently working on a final environmental assessment for the project, Jeffries said, and hopes to have a decision on the restoration plan this winter to start on-the-ground work in summer 2011.

Kate Ramsayer can be reached at 541-617-7811 or at kramsayer@bendbulletin.com.

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010

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