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Mar 27, 2018

Western Rivers Conservancy: Spring 2018 Report

Blue Creek and Klamath River
Blue Creek and Klamath River

With backing from GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is permanently protecting land along outstanding rivers across the western United States. Your gift supports the core costs of purchasing and conserving land for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people. Your contribution is dedicated to such efforts as preserving salmon and wildlife habitat, and creating new hiking trails, boating access and recreational opportunities.                                      

Thanks to your support, Western Rivers Conservancy is:   

  • Successfully creating a salmon sanctuary on Blue Creek, and protecting a cold-water lifeline of the Klamath River

California’s Klamath River:   

The Yurok Tribe and Western Rivers Conservancy have succeeded in creating a major salmon sanctuary within the Yurok Reservation to protect Blue Creek, the most important source of cold water for the lower Klamath River and a lifeline for some of the largest runs of salmon and steelhead remaining on the West Coast.

The project is part of the Yurok Tribe’s and WRC’s larger effort to return over 47,000 acres of ancestral lands to the tribe by purchasing them from Green Diamond Resource Company, which owned all the land along Blue Creek between the Siskiyou Wilderness Area and the Klamath River. The land was controlled by the tribe until the late-1800s, when it was appropriated by the federal government. As a result, the tribe lost all but a small percentage of its reservation lands, including Blue Creek, the Yurok spiritual centerpiece since time immemorial.

“For the Yurok Tribe, Blue Creek is equally a salmon stronghold, a sacred place and an integral component of our cultural identity. Today, we are celebrating the completion of a vital piece of our long-term plan to restore the Klamath River from its headwaters to the Pacific, but tomorrow we will begin work on the next phase of this project because our people and our salmon depend on it. The salmon are a big part of who we are as Yurok people,” said Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “We would like to express our sincere appreciation to Western Rivers Conservancy for assisting us in the reacquisition of our ancestral homeland.”

The project is unprecedented and will create a salmon sanctuary unmatched by any in the United States. By conserving the lower 25 miles of Blue Creek and converting what was formerly a vast, industrial tree farm into a biologically robust forest preserve, it will provide new hope to salmon and to one of the most important river fisheries in the West.

“This is a historic and joyous moment,” said WRC President, Sue Doroff. “The Yurok Tribe has at last been reunited with its ancestral lands, and Western Rivers Conservancy has finally ensured that Blue Creek, the lifeline of the Klamath River, will always be a source of cold, clean water and a refuge for the fish and wildlife that depend on it.”

Now that the sanctuary exists, the tribe will be reunited with Blue Creek and can steward the forests for the sake of fish and wildlife and to keep Blue Creek clean and cold. Under a management plan approved by the State of California, the Yurok Tribe will manage the lands to heal decades of aggressive timber harvest, restore the richness of the forest and create tribal jobs in sustainable forestry and restoration.

Conservation of Blue Creek comes at a critical moment. Last year, the fall Chinook return was at a historic low. With plans in place to remove four dams on the upper Klamath River, extensive salmon habitat will be reopened in the upper basin. But if salmon are to reach the upper river, they must have the cold-water refuge that Blue Creek provides.

In 2008, WRC helped the Yurok Tribe acquire 22,237 acres of land in the first phase of the project. WRC then worked for a decade to raise the tens of millions of dollars needed to acquire the remaining 24,860 acres. The tribe also secured over $10 million to acquire the lands, including settlement money from the federal government. Last year, WRC purchased the last of the project lands from Green Diamond and has been working to transfer them in phases to the tribe.

In February, 2018, WRC moved the first major holdings along Blue Creek into Yurok ownership, finally making the salmon sanctuary a reality. Yurok acquisition of these lands was made possible through the federal New Markets Tax Credits program, which was designed to spur revitalization in low-income communities through private investment. Through the program, Opportunity Fund; U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation (a division of U.S. Bank); and the Yurok Tribe invested $16.25 million in this phase of the project.

“Helping to return these ancestral lands to the Yurok Tribe, including the beautiful Blue Creek, will create or retain over 500 jobs for Yurok Tribe members,” said Luz Urrutia, Opportunity Fund’s Chief Executive Officer. “Opportunity Fund seeks to advance the economic well-being of working people. The chance to do so on a project that also benefits our natural environment is a triple bottom-line win: the social, economic, and environment returns make this effort one our biggest New Markets investments to date.”

WRC is a pioneer in both conservation and New Markets Tax Credits and, working in partnership with Opportunity Fund and U.S. Bancorp, helped the Yurok secure more than $40 million in all for this project. New Markets Tax Credits were critical to the project’s success, allowing the partners to bring needed private capital to the table in the face of waning federal funding for land conservation. “We are delighted to be a trusted partner to help the Yurok Tribe reclaim its ancestral lands so that it can continue to nurture the Klamath River and the wildlife that depend on it,” said Maria Bustria-Glickman, vice president of U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation, a division of U.S. Bank.

In the coming decade, the Yurok and WRC will manage the lands together until WRC is able to transfer the remaining land to the Yurok for permanent stewardship.

The Klamath was once the third largest producer of salmon on the West Coast. Its salmon are the keystone species of the Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion, one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth. They are central to both Yurok and regional economies and are the backbone of Yurok culture.

Conclusion

The Blue Creek project is just one of our recent successes. WRC currently has over two dozen active projects in six states. With the support of GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is expanding our efforts to protect riverlands for fish, wildlife and people.

We love to hear from our supporters. Please contact Anne Tattam at 503-241-0151, ext. 219 (or atattam@westernrivers.org) for further information. Thank you.

Dec 27, 2017

Western Rivers Conservancy: Winter 2017 Report

With backing from GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is permanently protecting land along outstanding rivers across the western United States. Your gift supports the core costs of purchasing and conserving land for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people. Your contribution is dedicated to such efforts as preserving salmon and wildlife habitat, and creating new hiking trails, boating access and recreational opportunities.                                  

Thanks to your support, Western Rivers Conservancy is:   

  • Completing a Preserve at the Mouth of Washington’s Chehalis River
  • Delivering More Riverland Conservation and Outdoor Adventure on Oregon’s Sandy River

Washington’s Chehalis River:   

The Chehalis River drains a massive area of western Washington, forming the largest river basin in the state, after the Columbia. Fed by rivers and streams that flow from the Cascade foot­hills, Willapa Hills and Olympic Mountains, the Chehalis eventually drains into Grays Harbor on the Pacific, where it forms the largest, highest-quality tidal surge plain in Washington. Here, where salt water from the Pacific surges inland with the tide to meet the freshwater of the Chehalis River, a diverse and highly productive wetland ecosystem is formed.

In the surge plain, sheltered sloughs provide crucial habitat for spring and fall Chinook, coho, chum, steelhead, river otter, beaver and the endemic Olympic mudminnow. Dense stands of Sitka spruce and western red cedar, draped with mosses and lichens, are home to bald eagle, osprey and other birdlife. And throughout the year, hikers and paddlers visit the area to explore the tidal channels by foot, canoe and kayak.

In 1989, Washington Department of Natural Resources created the Chehalis River Surge Plain Natural Area Preserve to protect this important ecosystem. Yet, for nearly 30 years, the preserve has been incomplete, with 1,500 acres at the heart of it privately owned and unprotected. Western Rivers Conservancy, in partnership with Weyerhaeuser, has taken the first steps toward completing the preserve and ensuring the lasting integrity of this extraordinary place. This summer, WRC signed an agreement to purchase 1,472 acres of Weyerhaeuser forestlands, which will be permanently protected when conveyed to WDNR to complete the Natural Area Preserve.

WRC’s efforts will benefit the river, its wildlife and the thousands of people who visit each year by completing the original vision for the preserve and eliminating the threats of development and timber harvest. The project will conserve more than six miles of river frontage, including exceptional water-trail systems through three separate sloughs. Canoe and water trails will be joined to upland parcels, and both scientific and educational activities will be enhanced. And once WDNR acquires these lands, the Chehalis River Surge Plain will be protected not in fragments, but in its entirety.

Oregon’s Sandy River:

Western Rivers Conservancy’s most recent victory on Oregon’s Sandy River has delivered more riverland conservation and outdoor ad­venture on the flanks of Mount Hood. Near the town of Brightwood, we preserved 186 acres along North Boulder Creek, including some of the most important habitat in the entire basin for coho salmon and winter steelhead. Both coho and steelhead are threatened species, and habitat preservation is vital to their long-term survival.

The property also features the only public access to the Sandy Ridge Trail System, one of the best mountain biking trail systems ever de­signed on public lands. The project will ensure upwards of 150,000 annual visitors can contin­ue to enjoy this “roller coaster in the woods,” which has become a model for ecosystem-com­patible mountain biking trail design.

WRC purchased the property and con­veyed it to the Bureau of Land Management in September 2017. The land adjoins other protected BLM lands, including WRC’s recent acquisition along Little Joe Creek, another important fish-bearing tributary. Together these two projects protect over 300 acres, more than a mile of critical salmon habitat, and significant portions of the expanding Sandy Ridge Trail System. The bike trails, located away from the river, feature innovative designs that limit erosion and sedimentation, reduce pooling and ruts and minimize impact on the ecosystem.

Protection of the North Boulder Creek property comes at a celebratory moment. This year marks a decade since the Sandy became wild and free once again, after Portland Gener­al Electric (PGE) blew Marmot Dam into a cloud of dust and rubble. In partnership with PGE, WRC committed to conserving 4,500 acres of habitat—a goal we have now exceeded. The re­sult is a conservation corridor tracing 14 miles of the Sandy and its tributaries, protecting salmon, steelhead and wildlife habitat and en­suring public access to one of the Northwest’s favorite wild river playgrounds.

Conclusion

The Chehalis and Sandy River projects are two of our recent successes. WRC currently has over two dozen active projects in six states. With the support of GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is expanding our efforts to protect riverlands for fish, wildlife and people.

We love to hear from our supporters. Please contact Anne Tattam at 503-241-0151, ext. 219 (or atattam@westernrivers.org) for further information. Thank you.


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Sep 27, 2017

Western Rivers Conservancy: Fall 2017 Report

With backing from GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is permanently protecting land along outstanding rivers across the western United States. Your gift supports the core costs of purchasing and conserving land for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people. Your contribution is dedicated to such efforts as preserving salmon and wildlife habitat, and creating new hiking trails, boating access and recreational opportunities.                                  

Thanks to your support, Western Rivers Conservancy is:   

  • Protecting more habitat for fish and wildlife on Oregon’s John Day River
  • Creating new access to a hidden gem in southern Colorado

Oregon’s John Day River:   

Forty-four miles upstream from Cotton­wood Canyon State Park, Thirtymile Creek enters the John Day River at the heart of a spectacular river canyon. As the larg­est tributary to the lower river, the creek provides reliable, cold water and crucial spawning and rearing habitat for wild sum­mer steelhead, producing more of these threatened fish than all other tributaries to the lower river combined. Simply put, without Thirtymile Creek, lower John Day steelhead—a unique Columbia Basin run— would be hard pressed to survive.

Thirtymile Creek is a key component of Western Rivers Conservancy’s long-term commitment to the John Day River. In 2014, we acquired the creek’s lower four miles when we purchased the Rattray Ranch. We are now working with the BLM to conserve this reach of the stream and secure a rare public access road to the spectacular and largely inaccessible river canyon. Last month, we expanded our efforts when we signed a contract to acquire 3,093 acres of the Campbell Ranch, which spans five additional miles of the creek, immediately upstream.

Like the Rattray Ranch, this property will be the site of extensive habitat resto­ration to benefit the John Day’s imperiled fish and wildlife, and it includes riparian stands, native grasslands and excellent sagebrush steppe habitat. More than 2,000 acres of upland agricultural lands will remain with the Campbell family, who will continue to work the land.

Together, the Rattray and Campbell properties will allow for meaningful protec­tion and restoration of the lower nine miles of Thirtymile Creek—a big win not just for the John Day’s steelhead, but for everyone.

Colorado’s Rio de los Piños:

Nestled in the eastern foothills of the South San Juan Mountains, just a dozen miles from Chama, New Mexico, the Rio de los Piños is often overshadowed by the nearby Conejos River when it comes to fishing. This is partially due to the fact that accessing the river’s most attractive fly water is a challenge along most of its length. That changed this summer when Western Rivers Conservancy acquired 368 acres along the Los Piños, just off Highway 17, near Cumbres Pass. WRC then conveyed the land to the Rio Grande National Forest, creating new access to an angler’s paradise and ensuring perma­nent protection of this important stretch of the Los Piños River.

Born at 10,000 feet in a series of pristine, alpine lakes near the Continental Divide, the Rio de Los Piños tumbles several thousand feet over a stretch of 40 miles, crossing the Colorado-New Mexico Border twice before meeting the Rio Grande in the scenic San Luis Valley. Below Cumbres Pass, the river’s rapid decent slows to a meander across the valley floor, hemmed by lush, open meadows and forests of spruce and fir. A historic narrow-gauge steam train trundles along the river, offering passengers picture-perfect views and adding to the valley’s charm.

Like many near-pristine slices of the West, portions of the valley have been subdivided for second home development. However, the majority of Los Piños frontage remains undeveloped. WRC is buying this land to preserve the remainder of the valley’s unbroken, natural beauty while ensuring that its tremendous recreational opportunities remain a public resource for all.

WRC purchased the 368-acre property from a family with deep, multi-generational ties to the San Luis Valley who wished to see their former summer pasture lands permanently preserved as open space. The family found a solution working with WRC, which will ensure the lands are protected in perpetuity. Directly to the north, WRC is also negotiating purchase of a second parcel from the family. Together, these holdings will protect nearly 650 acres and more than a mile of the Rio de los Piños, including one of the most accessible reaches of the river. The properties include high-altitude wetlands and a natural pond, which host migratory waterfowl in the spring and fall. The land is also home to Rocky Mountain elk, black bear, mule deer and mountain lion.

While some anglers know the Los Piños for its abundant brown and rainbow trout, the river also has excellent habitat for native Rio Grande cutthroat, which once thrived here. Several of the Los Piños’ remote tributaries serve as refuges for populations of these native fish. Conservation efforts provide new hope that this endemic cold-water species may once again inhabit the Rio de los Piños.

Our work on the Los Piños is part of WRC’s larger strategy in the San Luis Valley, where we are preserving thousands of acres of meadows, oxbows, riparian corridors and prime habitat for several imperiled fish species and more than 200 species of birds. Taken together, these efforts will preserve important tributaries to the Rio Grande in areas where precious little riverfront is accessible to the public.

Conclusion

The John Day River and the Rio de los Piños projects are two of our recent successes. WRC currently has two dozen active projects in six states. With the support of GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is expanding our efforts to protect riverlands for fish, wildlife and people.

We love to hear from our supporters. Please contact Anne Tattam at 503-241-0151, ext. 219 (or atattam@westernrivers.org) for further information. Thank you.


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