Recreating habitat Water board, ODFW work together to restore spawning beds for cutthroat trout
Kyle Feger and Jerry Winger, of Coos Bay's Blueridge Timber Cutting, prepare to set logs in a tributary of Pony Creek behind Bay Area hospital. The log placement is part of a fish habitat enhancement program developed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. - World Photo by Oleh Lysiak

Why does it take expertise, finesse, sophisticated equipment, tons of logs and five strong men to fix up fish habitat?

Because even a cutthroat trout needs a decent place to spawn.

A fish habitat enhancement program, developed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, was completed recently in a tributary to Pony Creek that flows through a ravine behind Bay Area Hospital.

The project is being implemented by the Coos Bay-North Bend Water Board to repair cutthroat habitat affected by raising the water level at Upper Pony Creek Dam.

"Raising Upper Pony Creek Dam affected the spawning beds of natural cutthroat trout in the tributary," said Howard Crombie, ODFW fish habitat biologist. "Part of the job of the ODFW is replacing lost habitat with like habitat in proximity to the lost habitat."

"If we lost cutthroat spawning habitat in the Pony Creek watershed," he said, "we want to improve spawning habitat in that same watershed."

Mark Villers, Trent Fisher, Jerry Winger and Kyle Feger of Blue Ridge Timber Cutting in Coos Bay, put the finishing touches on the project by rigging a cable across the ravine, then carefully maneuvering logs 2- and 3-feet in diameter and 16-feet-long 50 feet in the air through the trees .

Winger operated the controls of the huge winch on the Blue Ridge truck, assisting Villers, Fisher and Feger, who rigged and positioned logs in the ravine. The crew worked a skyline cable through the trees, and moved logs attached to a carriage by a choker, back and forth with a haywire, a cable about one-third of the diameter of the skyline, which guides the carriage. The carriage is on rollers on the skyline. A guyline, which is a long piece of rope manipulated by a crew member on the ground, stabilizes and controls the movement of the log.

Once the logs were in position, the three loggers lowered them, muscling the guyline and log above the creek bed, as Crombie gave directions and advice as to the precise placement.

"Doing technically difficult projects is interesting," said Villers, president of Blue Ridge. "Rigging technology with block, tackle and cable, to accomplish projects like this, was developed in the sailing days of the clipper ships. This takes a lot more finesse than present-day logging, although old-time loggers knew how to make big things move. It's low impact."

Two weeks ago, the crew placed 100 cubic yards of spawning gravel in the creek bed under Crombie's direction. Then they placed 18 logs at six sites to create pools, cover and shelter from predators. The logs help maintain a more stable water supply, create a holding space for cutthroat adults before they spawn and retain and stabilize spawning gravel and nutrients, said Crombie.

The 16-foot-long logs are twice the length of the stream channel for stability so they don't blow out, he said.

"Wood in riparian areas provides habitat for salamanders, newts, frogs," said Crombie. "As it decomposes it may turn into a "nurse log", which provides a valuable, nurturing habitat for juvenile fish."

"I remember fishing as a kid." said Villers, "There always were fish around log jams. Then they started to clean the log jams out and the fish were gone."

"Everybody who works in salmonid habitat management has made mistakes," said Crombie. "The ODFW is no exception. Old loggers complain that we made them take the logs out and now we make them put them back. We all learn from our mistakes.This is reverse logging. "

According to Crombie, Oregon is the world leader in stream restoration and habitat improvement. Oregon loggers have helped with the state's restoration effort in recent years, said Crombie.

Villers devotes approximately half his time to timber cutting, and half to restoration projects. He figures he's moved over 1,200 large pieces of wood in 25 projects during six years.

"I got bored with just logging," he said, "and I have a passion for fish. Putting large wood into streams was a natural."