News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Locals raising funds for Link Creek

Link Creek, which connects Suttle Lake with Blue Lake, needs restoration to repair damage from dams and logging. The waterway meanders through property purchased for the Caldera Arts Center, an environmental and arts education nonprofit serving children from Portland’s inner city and Central Oregon.

Over the years Caldera Arts staff have been restoring Link Creek but knew they needed help from government and private agencies to get the job done right. That’s where local retired ecologist Maret Pajutee came in. She’s part of the Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund (OCRF) Advisory Committee that recommended approval of eight grants for projects throughout Oregon.

One of those will be a Link Creek restoration project.

Through private and public partnerships, OCRF approved $120,456 in funding. Recipients will focus on a variety of wildlife and habitats as well as recreation and education for seasoned nature lovers and folks who’ve never spent time in wild places.

Pajutee admits 2020 is a tough time to raise money.

“We don’t want to compete with so many other important efforts, but want to complement them with money quickly to the ground for wildlife and recreation projects to support partners doing good work,” said Pajutee.

To raise money for projects, OCRF created a crowd-sourcing campaign looking for 100,000 Oregonians to contribute $10 to OregonIsAlive.org.

Link Creek Restoration Project received grant approval in September. It’s the first round of grant funding available from OCRF since it was established in 2019 by the state legislature in House Bill 2829.

“Now more than ever, the people of Oregon are recognizing our connections to Oregon’s natural places,” said Dr. Karl Wenner, Chairperson, Conservation and Recreation Advisory Committee. “This first round of projects is a momentous opportunity to demonstrate the diversity of great organizations working to ensure that all Oregonians have opportunities to enjoy our state’s fish, wildlife and outdoor recreational areas across the state.”

Funding for the project also came from Portland General Electric through their Pelton Dam Fund which supports conservation, water quality and promotes fish passage and improved habitats for fish above the dam. Because Link Creek runs through public and private land, funding was split between Trout Unlimited and the Forest Service, who will be involved in the restoration work.

Nate Dachtler, a fisheries biologist with Deschutes National Forest’s Sisters Ranger District, will focus on a large wood restoration project. Trees provide cover and slow-water rearing areas for fish. He’ll be working with Trout Unlimited’s Pacific Northwest Education Coordinator Darek Staab, and Caldera Arts’ Youth Program Director Karena Salmond.

“It’s nice to have all these different people from so many agencies working together. That’s really great,” said Dachtler.

Work on Link Creek began in 1997 when a survey was done and data was collected.

“We found there was little wood on Link Creek back then,” said Dachtler. “You could tell the previous owners had logged along the creek and cut the bigger trees. When a tree died they took it for firewood so trees couldn’t fall in and serve as habitat for fish. I began talking to Caldera folks and told them what we found and we’d like to do a project to increase the wood and stream for fish habitat. They’ve been great partners on the project.”

With forest fires devastating areas and taking away team members who would have been working on Link Creek restoration, the timeline for the project has been pushed back to next year. In the meantime, Staab and Salmond have been working on online virtual field trips for students. It’s their hope that students unable to attend Caldera Arts’ summer programs and local students who’ve been learning from home will still be able to learn from the restoration plan and eventually walk along Link Creek and help with projects now slated for next spring and summer.

“I’m excited given that Caldera has an environmental and arts focus. We’re finding more ways to promote integration through the project and connecting creativity and art,” said Salmond. “There’s so many possibilities. I’m looking forward to doing things in person to fulfill the project’s potential.”

Staab was able to do one fieldtrip to the site with students from Black Butte School in Camp Sherman. Students toured Link Creek to see areas that haven’t had wood placed in them yet, and then saw a site where wood had been placed.

“They saw what the log structures looked like and observed kokanee salmon using the habitat,” said Staab.

Working for Trout Unlimited, Staab’s emphasis is on education and the restoration of cold-water fisheries. Staab created two virtual experiences that inspire and engage students.

“We wanted kids to feel like they were there in person,” said Staab.

Along with students, the other big winners from the project are the fish. Suttle Lake has one of only two populations of sockeye salmon in the state of Oregon. It is the only run considered recoverable. They went extinct in the 1930s and ’40s due to dams. Sockeye salmon are being reintroduced. Chinook salmon used to be in Link Creek and will benefit as well as kokanee which are a landlocked sockeye. According to Dachtler, there’s a potential for bull trout to benefit too.

“They’ve been documented in Suttle Lake but not in Link Creek,” he said. “In the last 15 years we’ve been working on fish passage up to Suttle Lake by removing dams and building natural streams simulation over the dams. Now fish can get up there from the Metolius.”

Pajutee is hoping people will participate in the fundraising campaign and donate $10 each.

“It’s a great chance for all of us including hikers, bikers, bird watchers, and nature lovers to demonstrate we care about our natural places and creatures and are willing to help support improvements so we can all enjoy being outside more often,” said Pajutee.

With funding diminishing for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the effort can show state legislators that Oregonians are willing to invest in habitats and access to nature that can provide comfort during difficult times.

 

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