Watershed Restoration within the Deschutes National Forest

Watershed Restoration within the Deschutes National Forest

Contributed by Bill Anthony with Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and Darek Staab with Trout Unlimited

You may have heard the saying “you can’t see the forest for the trees”. A similar saying might be “you can’t see the watershed for the stream”. We tend to take in what is visually right in front of us. But majestic trees and beautiful stretches of rivers are all interdependent parts of larger forested watershed landscapes … and the health, function, and beauty of the forest and its trees, and the watershed and its rivers, are intertwined and cannot be separated. That is why the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project (DCFP) is working hard to restore the health, function and beauty of both our local forests and watersheds together.

The need to protect and restore our forested watersheds is rooted in the creation of our National Forest System. The 1897 Organic Act for the U.S. Forest Service mandated that “No national forest shall be established, except to improve and protect the forest within the boundaries, or for the purpose of securing favorable conditions of water flows, and to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use and necessities of citizens of the United States.” Many of the original forest reserves were established around the turn of the 20th century by President Theodore Roosevelt and forester Gifford Pinchot, collaborating on where to draw lines around mountain ranges in the west known to be the headwaters of major river drainages.

Today, our National Forest System is the largest single source of water in the continental United States and provides reliable water supplies for more than one-third of the U.S. Population (123 million people) in nearly 3,400 communities 1/. Our national forests are truly America’s headwaters, and we share those headwaters and streams with hundreds of species of fish and wildlife that depend on our careful stewardship and use of our forests and the water bodies that are born from them.

Closer to home, the return of the pacific northwest iconic salmon and steelhead to their traditional upstream spawning and rearing waters after being blocked for decades by dams, diversions, culverts, low water flows and loss of suitable habitat has created an extraordinary impetus to restore their barrier free access to abundant flows of clean cold water and functioning habitat.

Locally, the Deschutes National Forest is the headwaters for many treasured rivers and streams … including the Deschutes River, Tumalo Creek, Whychus Creek, Indian Ford Creek and Pole Creek, which all flow within the designated project area for the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project. The upper watersheds in this area often contain important spawning habitat and the cold clear water many fish need to survive. In fact, it was recognized that the restoration of both forests and watersheds were important landscape goals during the development of the project proposal for the Deschutes collaborative in 2010. Thankfully, in July 2010 the Secretary of Agriculture selected the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project from a highly competitive national pool of collaborative project proposals to receive $10.1 million to support collaborative restoration activities on the Deschutes National Forest over 10 years.

To date, the Deschutes National Forest has utilized nearly $700,000 of DCFP related watershed restoration funding to help implement forest thinning, riparian planting, channel restoration and flood plain enhancements, restoration of recreation impacts, installation of fish-friendly culverts, and the decommissioning of roads and trails impacting water quality. All of these projects, and others like them, are designed to protect, restore and improve watershed health and function.

It should be no surprise that many of these watershed restoration projects involved many people and organizations with varied interests … public land managers, private land owners, irrigation districts and water users, federal and state and local governments, Indian tribes, non-profit conservation organizations, environmental and industrial groups, and many other interested citizens. Effective partnerships and collaboration are essential to solve many of the complex watershed restoration objectives while balancing the needs of all other interested partners. The DCFP is just one of many players in this important landscape restoration work that we face together in central Oregon. In fact, many of the DCFP funds have been mixed and matched with the contributions of other partners to help accomplish watershed restoration goals across the DCFP project landscape.

It is also important to note that many of these projects involved contracts for labor, equipment, and materials with the private sector … which means income and jobs … another important goal of the DCFP. Many contractors are diversifying their skills and services to add restoration methods to their services, and allowing local and regional companies to keep their staff employed.

As you explore the roads, trails, and fishing access in central Oregon, spend some time looking past the trees and seeing the hard work going into restoring our local forests and streams, and consider getting involved to help sustain our collective and collaborative effort. To learn more about getting involved, click here.

1/ “Water, Water, Everywhere” by Bill Possiel, Your National Forests: The Magazine of the National Forest Foundation, Summer-Fall 2015

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(c) 2023 Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project