Looking at the health of Whychus Creek

August 20, 2013
Looking at the health of Whychus Creek

By Jim Anderson

Whychus Creek got a kind of health check-up last weekend.

Saturday was the day for the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council's annual invertebrate sampling in Whychus Creek. Twenty-two volunteers from throughout Central Oregon met with Xerces Society aquatic biologists Celeste Mazzacano, Michelle Blackburn and UDWC research coordinator, Lauren Mork, to learn the techniques and art of collecting specimens from the somewhat turbid creek.

Last spring, as the winter snows began to melt in the Whychus Creek watershed, the volume of the creek came on strong, surpassing the usual 32 cfs flow. With the water came vast amounts of carbon and forest debris washed out of the Pole Creek Fire area, turning the creek into what looked like chocolate pudding.

One could not help but think of the millions of dollars and thousands of hours spent in restoring Chinook salmon and steelhead back to Whychus Creek and what they were doing when suddenly their home was hit with all that muck.

Finding out what that impact was will be one of the goals of the of the researchers when they begin to count, identify and analyze the tiny arthropods the volunteers collect from last Saturday's outing.

After the volunteers met at the park at 8:30 a.m., Mazzacano presented a short talk about the restoration work and macroinvertebrates, training volunteers in the protocols of collecting, and then sent folks out to 12 sites along Whychus - from river mile 1.5 upstream of the confluence with the Deschutes - to river mile 26 upstream of Sisters.

Results will be summarized in a report due out in December.

Many of the volunteers were from Central Oregon Community College and Oregon State University Bend campus, specializing in watershed restoration, wildlife studies and other natural-resource management areas.

Kazuya Miyashita, an OSU and COCC graduate majoring in wildlife and conservation studies, said, "Last year Whychus Creek was pretty clear, and this year it's so murky - I'm wondering what's going on this year."

Many of the volunteers are wondering the same thing.

Lauren Mork noted that up until 1988, Whychus Creek - then known as Squaw Creek - never flowed past Sisters in the summertime, as the water was taken for irrigation.

"We are trying to keep our thumb on the pulse of the creek now that it has a year-round flow, and the fisheries are being reestablished," Mork said. "What the volunteers are doing toward these ends today is fundamentally very meaningful."

The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. For 40 years, the Portland, Oregon-based organization has been at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs.

Native pollinators are of special concern throughout Oregon, which prompted Xerces Society scientists to call for an end to cosmetic insecticide use after the mass poisoning of over 50,000 bumblebees last week in Wilsonville, Oregon, and other incidents now being reported in neighboring Washington


During her instructions, Xerces Society scientist Celeste Mazzacano shared her knowledge of the role in the health of ocean-run salmon returning to the creek, and reminded the volunteers that, "If the bugs aren't in the creek, nothing else will work. Doing stream census tells us what's going on in the creek; then we have to find out why."

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