Protecting Land on the West's Outstanding Rivers

by Western Rivers Conservancy
Protecting Land on the West's Outstanding Rivers

Project Report | Apr 14, 2015
Western Rivers Conservancy: Spring 2015 Report

By David Wilkins | Development Director

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 has:  

  • Expanded a globally important salmon and wildlife sanctuary in northern California’s Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion.
  • Protected an assemblage of land that includes some of the most important fish and wildlife habitat in Oregon’s Willamette River basin, just to the east of Salem, Oregon.

California’s Klamath River and Blue Creek:

Western Rivers Conservancy pushed ahead in March 2015 in our effort to create a major cold-water salmon sanctuary in the heart of the Klamath-Siskiyou, one of the earth’s biodiversity hotspots. We successfully completed our third land acquisition on the Klamath River and Blue Creek, which brings us three-quarters of the way toward conserving 47,000 acres in partnership with the Yurok, California’s largest Native American tribe. The acquisition adds 6,479 acres of vital forest and riverland to the Blue Creek Salmon Sanctuary, as well as extensive forestland to the recently created Yurok Tribal Community Forest.

At the heart of this project is Blue Creek, the most important cold-water tributary on the lower Klamath River. Blue Creek flows cold and clear from remote headwaters protected high in the Siskiyou Wilderness and has been sacred to the Yurok since time immemorial. In summer, when the Klamath River can reach temperatures in the high seventies—lethal conditions for salmon and steelhead—Blue Creek remains significantly colder. Every migrating Chinook spawner holds in Blue Creek, lowering its body temperature by eight degrees Fahrenheit, before continuing upstream. Without the cold-water refuge Blue Creek provides, the Klamath’s summer- and fall-run fish would likely die before reaching their spawning beds in the upper river. In no small way, the health of the largest salmon stream in the Klamath-Siskiyou, and the survival of the region’s keystone species, hinge on the health of Blue Creek. Fortunately, we have the opportunity to protect this all-important stream.

WRC’s efforts on the Klamath will conserve the entire lower Blue Creek watershed and protect habitat for rare Klamath-Siskiyou wildlife like Humboldt marten, northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet. It will link important habitat within a globally significant ecoregion and return a sacred homeland to the Yurok, which have deep cultural and spiritual interests in keeping Blue Creek and the Klamath healthy.

WRC has been working on this project since 2008, and our most recent purchase puts us well into the home stretch. But there is still work to do. To date, 22,237 acres are in Yurok hands, while WRC owns 14,968 acres. WRC will own and manage these lands, as well as future acquisitions, until they can be conveyed to the Tribe. While WRC holds title to the land, the forests will be managed by the Yurok to enhance salmon recovery, improve old-growth habitat and revitalize the Yurok economy. Once we’ve conveyed all the land to the Tribe, it will continue to manage the properties in line with our shared conservation vision.

To fund a project of this scale, WRC has pioneered new ground in conservation finance, tapping nontraditional sources such as New Markets Tax Credits and carbon offsets sales. These and other private sources have provided more than half of the $54 million needed to purchase the land. Yet we still must raise over $16 million to complete the project.

Once our efforts at Blue Creek are finished, the Klamath-Siskiyou will be home to one of the most important salmon sanctuaries on the West Coast. Sixteen miles upstream from the Pacific, this refuge will help ensure that salmon, steelhead and the region’s remarkable wildlife have a safe haven forever.

Oregon’s North Santiam River:

In January 2015, Western Rivers Conservancy completed an assemblage of land that protects some of the most important fish and wildlife habitat in Oregon’s Willamette River basin, just to the east of Salem, Oregon. The effort, which conserves 429 acres along the lower North Santiam River, prevents a gravel mine and sets the stage for one of the most significant floodplain restoration projects in the valley.

Over the course of the project, which began in 2011, WRC acquired and held two key adjacent farms, identified a long-term steward, assembled over $5 million in funding and conveyed the lands to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. When the Tribe acquired the first property in 2013, it named the lands “Chahalpam,” meaning “Place of the Santiam Kalapuya People” in Kalapuyan. We conveyed the second farm to the Tribe in January 2015, completing the assemblage. The Tribe will now manage the area for the sake of the North Santiam’s fish and wildlife, especially the recovery of spring Chinook, winter steelhead, Oregon chub and Pacific lamprey.

The properties lie adjacent to a protected BLM parcel and have exceptional ecological values and restoration potential. They include a rich mix of bottomland forest, over 2.5 miles of North Santiam River frontage, two miles of side-channel habitat and nearly 30 acres of wetlands. Willamette Valley wetlands are one of the most endangered habitat types in Oregon, yet they are rarely managed for conservation. This project offers a unique opportunity to restore a small but important swath of this important ecosystem. It also ensures permanent protection of the largest tract of intact riparian forest along the entire lower North Santiam.


Blue Creek the North Santiam are two of our recent successes. WRC currently has dozens of active projects in seven 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 David Wilkins at 503-241-0151, ext. 214 (or for further information. Thank you.

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Jan 14, 2015
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Organization Information

Western Rivers Conservancy

Project Leader:
Anne Tattam
Administrative and Development Associate
Portland , OR United States

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