POWERS — The only sound on Forest Road 33 on Thursday morning was the hum of a chainsaw as a timber cutting crew repurposed dangerously-positioned trees for an unusual beneficiary: salmon.
The work, undertaken in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service, Plum Creek Timber and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, is one of a series of projects coordinated by the Coquille Watershed Association intended to enhance salmon habitat in the Coquille River system.
On Thursday morning, the team was busy felling trees to create fish shelter spots on a side channel of the river’s south fork.
Dawn Weekly, program manager for the watershed association, said the log complexes are intended to provide salmon with shelter from rough water.
“Historically, there would be whole jams of big trees like this across the river along the mainstem,” said ODFW biologist Jeff Jackson.
But development of road systems along the waterways has slowed the process, and human recreation on the water makes it unsafe to lay the trees directly across the river.
“But working on the edges can be really effective, too,” he said.
The three trees felled Thursday were donated by Plum Creek, whose land intersects with U.S. Forest Service land at multiple points around the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
All three were considered hazardous because of their position above the roadway.
Doing the cutting was Mark Villers of Blue Ridge Timber, who brought a crew of workers along with some very specialized equipment.
Among that equipment was a converted logging yarders, mounted on a flatbed truck, that his crews use to pull trees out of the ground with their roots intact.
Jackson explained that the rootwads help anchor the trees in the river system, preventing them from being blown out by fast-moving water.
Wearing a dirty company T-shirt proclaiming “rootwads rule,” Villers — who has been logging since 1984 — said his work has been almost entirely focused on fish habitat restoration and enhancement projects for the past 19 years.
His specialized equipment also sometimes gets called into service for other projects, such as clearing landslides.
Jackson said each of the partnership’s enhancement projects is designed to benefit fish populations for years to come.
“We look at these projects kinda like planting an apple tree,” he said.