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SALEM – The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has approved $1.5 million for projects in the Coquille watershed that will restore salmon habitat and tidal floodplains while also replacing tidegates on a working ranch and replacing an old, failing culvert.

“These are two win-win projects that benefit our community as a whole. We are very grateful that Oregonians continue to support projects like these that benefit our diverse economies like fishing and farming,” said Kyle Motley, restoration program manager for the Coquille Watershed Association, which is leading the projects in partnership with landowners, Coquille Indian Tribe, state agencies and federal agencies.

Both projects benefit salmon and local residents who depend on the commercial and recreational fishing economies. The Coquille Tidelands Restoration project also benefits a local ranching business, whose aging tidegate needs to be replaced to drain pastures. The Baker Creek Fish Passage project removes an aging culvert that not only blocks fish, but is no longer needed for rail transportation.

Coquille Tidelands Restoration

OWEB approved $808,600 for the Coquille Tidelands Restoration project in Coos County. Tidelands are important to salmon and other native fish. Tidelands – also called tidal floodplains – provide vital winter habitat for salmon, with slow-moving water where fish can rest and eat, especially juvenile salmon headed to sea. Currently, 95 percent of tidelands have been lost in the Coquille watershed, mostly drained and converted to pasture. Coho salmon in the Coquille watershed are estimated to be at 8 percent of their historic abundance.

Ranchers depend on tidegates to drain their pasture and prevent rising tides from flooding their fields. Current tidegates prevent fish from accessing floodplain habitat, and many in the Coquille watershed are older and starting to fail. In many cases, what’s good for the fish is also good for the ranching business. The Coquille Tidelands Restoration project is one such example. The Coquille Watershed Association and its partners are working with the landowner and agencies to replace two failing tidegates that are preventing landowners from draining their pastures, and also limiting access to important habitat for Oregon Coast coho, Chinook salmon, steelhead, cutthroat trout, and Pacific lamprey.

“This is a win-win project for agriculture and fish,” said Motley.

In addition to replacing tidegates, partners will be reconstructing historic tidal channels from currently diked channels; planting native trees and shrubs inside an area fenced to exclude livestock along the tidal channels; and implementing a water management plan to support fish and ranching goals. Partners include local ranchers, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Coquille Indian Tribe, Wild Rivers Coast Alliance and OWEB.

Baker Creek

OWEB approved $685,573 in Coos County to remove a failing culvert that prevents fish from reaching habitat in Baker Creek, an important cold water tributary to the South Fork Coquille River. The 70-year-old culvert is not only falling apart, but it lies 18 feet above the stream and is a total barrier to fish migration.  It was built decades ago for a rail line that no longer exists, so there is no more need for the culvert. A fish ladder was installed in 1994, but it is ineffective. Removing the culvert and restoring the stream channel will allow salmon to once again access two miles of high-quality habitat.

“Roads and rail lines were crucial to economic development in the Coquille Basin, but many of these structures are out of date or were built in ways that impacted water quality and limited fish passage. We’re working to upgrade or remove these structures where we can and provide benefits to both the local economy and native fish populations,” Motley said.

The Coquille Watershed Association, working with partners, will remove the Baker Creek culvert and degraded fish ladder, construct a new stream channel to improve fish passage and natural flow, and plant native trees along the creek for shade that will cool the water for fish and support a healthy stream. These actions will allow fish passage to important upstream fish habitat and promote healthy salmon populations in the Coquille River basin, while also providing economic and recreational benefits for the local community.

Fish in Baker Creek include Oregon Coast coho, fall Chinook, winter steelhead, coastal cutthroat trout, and Pacific lamprey. Partners in this project include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, Weyerhaeuser, the Coquille Indian Tribe and OWEB.

About the Coquille Watershed Association (CoqWA)

A small group of local citizens concerned about the health of the watershed and our natural resources started CoqWA in 1994. Our mission is to work collaboratively with communities and landowners on voluntary watershed restoration, watershed enhancement, and community engagement projects that promote healthy and resilient ecosystems and economies in the Coquille watershed. Approximately 90% of the funding we receive from state, regional, and federal partners is invested in Coos County in the form of jobs or contracts for on-the-ground projects and locally purchased supplies & materials.

About the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB)

OWEB is a state agency that provides grants to help Oregonians take care of local streams, rivers, wetlands, and natural areas. Community members and landowners use scientific criteria to decide jointly what needs to be done to conserve and improve rivers and natural habitat in the places where they live. OWEB grants are funded from the Oregon Lottery, federal dollars, and salmon license plate revenue. The agency is led by a 17-member citizen board drawn from the public at large, tribes, and federal and state natural resource agency boards and commissions.

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