Jessica Cejnar
The Del Norte Triplicate

The Mid-Klamath Watershed Council is partnering with Six Rivers National Forest to come up with an action plan for fisheries restoration projects in national forest watersheds, including the Klamath and Smith rivers.

These projects could include creating log jams and using hand crews to place woody debris in National Forest streams as well as take steps to encourage rivers to “activate their floodplains again,” said Will Harling, director of the Watershed Council’s fisheries program.

The Mid-Klamath Watershed Council is also preparing the programmatic environmental review document, which will make it easier for other entities such as the Yurok Tribe or the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation to obtain grant funding for restoration projects of their own.

The Mid-Klamath Watershed Council received a $413,080 grant from the California Coastal Conservancy last month to prepare the programmatic environmental document and Aquatic Restoration Action Plan. These projects aim to improve habitat for coho salmon and other anadromous fish in the Six Rivers National Forest.

“When we’re talking about restoration, a lot of restoration I feel like we’ve done in California, (are) opportunistic places where we can squeeze in some fish habitat, weaving between the constraints of roads and homes and other existing infrastructure,” Harling said. “There’s a lot of places where we can restore stream processes through a variety of means and that means encouraging the streams to be able to meander and to be able to activate their historic floodplains where feasible and to be able to provide off-channel habitats.”

The Six Rivers National Forest began reaching out to the public about two years ago to get their input on streamlining the process for getting fisheries restoration projects funded and permitted, said Natural Resources Staff Officer Carolyn Cook.

Forest officials were hoping to use the programmatic environmental document to facilitate future partnerships with tribes and non-profit organizations that help restore fisheries habitat on federal land. The endeavor received broad support from those entities, Cook said.

But because of limited staff, stretched thin due to the 2015 wildfires, Cook said the National Forest hasn’t been able to move forward on the project. Working with the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council will enable the project to gain some traction.

“With this grant, after talking to the forest supervisor, we’re hoping we can get this completed within the next year,” Cook said. “If we do the legal clearinghouse for environmental assessments then they can apply for grants to be the one implementing (the project).”

The Mid-Klamath Watershed Council has been creating off-channel habitat for coho salmon due to the fish’s status as an endangered species, said Luna Latimer, the organization’s director. Historically log jams would allow streams to meander, Harling said. They would leave an old channel for a new channel, providing slack water perfect for juvenile coho salmon to become strong enough for the journey to the ocean.

But after the 1964 flood, people thought the log jams needed to be removed, Harling said. This denuded those streams of logs that were hundreds of years old.

“All those areas that had a mixed conifer hardwood forest came up in these stands of alders that just gets knocked down in every subsequent 10- to 30-year flood event,” Harling said. “The small wood of the alder is not long lasting. It can’t make the complex habitat the more resilient conifers like Douglas fir could.”

The environmental document will analyze a variety of restoration methods including bringing in whole logs with helicopters, using chainsaws to fell trees into rivers or pushing them over with an excavator and thinning out alder species to allow conifers to re-grow, Harling said.

According to Latimer, the grant the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council received from the Coastal Commission will also enable the organization to hire archeology technicians to reduce the impacts the restoration projects would have to any culturally sensitive areas.

Latimer said the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council has been involved with the design of the projects for some time, along with the Karuk and Yurok tribes. She noted that the Watershed Council got involved to help make it a “prioritized project.”

“Forestry work is also very important to fisheries too,” Latimer said. “I think a lot of times people think about forest service as managing forests, but having the name Six Rivers, really there are rivers to be managed as well.”

The California Coastal Conservancy also awarded a $65,582 grant to the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council to prepare a restoration plan for floodplain habitat along a 70-mile stretch of the Klamath River in Siskiyou County heavily impacted by historic mining.

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