January 19, 2008 - Bend Bulletin $4M Grant To Benefit Fish Projects

January 22, 2008
January 19, 2008 - Bend Bulletin $4M Grant To Benefit Fish Projects

$4M grant to benefit fish projects
4 Central Oregon groups will split funds to boost salmon, steelhead

By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin
Published: January 19, 2008

Four organizations in Central Oregon received a $4 million grant to work on conservation projects earlier this week. Now they’ve just got to figure out which projects to spend it on to help salmon and steelhead.

The Deschutes River Conservancy, the Deschutes Basin Land Trust, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and the Crooked River Watershed Council together received the grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board at the board’s meeting last week. The watershed board is a state agency that distributes grants for conservation projects with funds from the lottery and other sources.

“The plan is to support the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead in the upper basin,” said Tod Heisler, executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy.

But instead of working on projects in a piecemeal fashion, with the river conservancy restoring stream flow in one place, the land trust preserving property in another place and the watershed councils improving fish habitat in yet another stream reach, this joint grant will help the region have more of a unified, strategic approach for helping the Deschutes and Crooked rivers and their tributaries.

“We said, ‘Let’s stop looking at the world just on an opportunistic base for projects,’” Heisler said. “‘Let’s try to make them happen in these places in an integrated way over time.’”

The grant is tied to the return of salmon and steelhead to the area, he said. As part of the relicensing of the Pelton Round Butte dams, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Portland General Electric are constructing a fish passage facility at the base of Lake Billy Chinook that will allow those fish to migrate between the ocean and the waters above the dams for the first time in decades. And conservation groups are working to get the upstream reaches of the area’s rivers and streams ready.

But the funding will also help restore habitat for native fish, such as red band trout, Heisler said.

The project started about three years ago, when the four organizations got together and starting talking about what each wanted to accomplish in the next 10 years, and what could be done together, said Ryan Houston, executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council.

“We realized that even though a lot of us go to the same funders, we knew it would be better if we went as a unit of four,” he said.

And with $4 million, it helps some of the bigger projects get going.

“It lets us actually start doing restoration work at a scale that begins to match the scale of the need,” Houston said.

The groups haven’t yet decided how to allocate the money, and they have a wish list of more than $8 million in projects, but said they will work together to determine which get funded first.

“All of us are working together to help each other. Whoever’s ready, we want to make sure that they get the money to keep moving,” Heisler said. “This gives us the ability to say, this (project) is ready, let’s do it.”

The Deschutes River Conservancy would focus on increasing the amount of water running through Whychus Creek, Heisler said. And the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council is looking to work on projects that would put up screens to prevent fish from entering irrigation ditches, restore habitat and work with the city of Sisters to improve the stretch of Whychus Creek that runs through the city.

Whatever projects the group ultimately allocates the money to, the idea is to spend the money before the end of the biennium. Then, the organizations would come back to the watershed enhancement board to show what the grant has accomplished and possibly receive more money to continue these large-scale efforts.

“We’re hoping to really demonstrate that we have a strong program,” Heisler said.

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

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