Conservation project a growing success

October 2, 2012
Conservation project a growing success

Groups await spawning salmon and steelhead now that the creek follows a more natural route

By Dylan J. Darling -

SISTERS — Whychus Creek is growing into its new route through Camp Polk Meadow Preserve near Sisters — or should that be, the meadow is growing around the creek's new route?

After more than a decade of planning by conservation groups, construction crews plugged the old straight run of the creek through the meadow in February, forcing it into a meandering course.

Since then, willow and other plants have grown tall along the stream and more birds are in the meadow, said Brad Chalfant, executive director of the Deschutes Land Trust.

“It's just a much more dynamic, diverse set of habitat out here," he said during a visit to the meadow last month.

The Land Trust owns the 145-acre meadow, but several groups and agencies — including the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, the Deschutes River Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service — helped with the project to reroute and restore Whychus Creek.

Negotiations for purchase of the meadow started in 1997 and ended in 2000, Chalfant said. Portland General Electric, which owns and operates dams on the Deschutes River, funded the $1 million purchase as part of its salmon and steelhead reintroduction efforts. Whychus Creek flows into the Deschutes River near Lake Billy Chinook.

The project is meant to remedy the results of a rechanneling of Whychus Creek nearly 50 years ago. Following a winter storm that caused flooding at Camp Polk Meadow in 1964, the Army Corps of Engineers moved the creek into a straight channel on the southern edge of the meadow. The design prevented the creek from flooding, which Chalfant said changed the balance of the meadow.

Stopping the flooding left the meadow parched and the stream as a fast-moving straightaway unappealing to fish looking to spawn or raise their young.

After examining aerial photographs of the meadow taken before the Army Corps' changes and digging into the meadow to find the old stream bed, the groups involved in the project designed a new route for Whychus Creek. The reroute added a half-mile to the main channel of the creek and opened up three miles of side channels.

During a spring storm, the channel spilled over its banks and into the side channels and over parts of Camp Polk Meadow, said Ryan Houston, executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council.

“That is exactly what we want it to do," he said.

As the meadow shows signs of revival, the watch now is on the water and whether steelhead, reintroduced to the Upper Deschutes River system earlier this year, spawn there.

The deep pools resulting from new curves in the creek as it passes through the meadow were designed to create prime steelhead spawning beds and refuge for young fish.

“Certainly the habitat that has been created by the new channel is considerably better than the channelized section of Whychus Creek," said Brett Hodgson, district fisheries biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,

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An aerial view of a body of water.