ALSEA, Ore. (AP) — On a cool Monday morning in the Coast Range an excavator lodged in what seemed an impossible spot deftly set down massive Douglas fir logs into a creek bed to preserve fish habitat.
It was a pretty impressive show.
Grahm Trask of Corvallis was at the controls of the excavator, which had crunched a half-mile or so up a trail from the parking lot at Clemens Park southwest of Corvallis near Alsea.
The best viewing point was from a nearby bridge over Seeley Creek. Trask was working with a pile of logs donated to the project by Oregon State University’s research forests, Weyerhaeuser, Benton County and Lincoln County.
Circling and pivoting and ducking the streamside alders with his bucket, Trask looked like he was playing a game of pick-up sticks. He started the pile with a log going straight across the bed, aligned others with an adroitly placed stump, tucked other logs underneath previously placed ones and produced a pile that looked like chaos.
“You made a mess. Good job, man,” said Paul Olmsted, an assistant fish biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Chaos, it turns out, is what you want for the coho salmon and other fish that use this tributary of the Alsea River.
“We’re trying to improve stream complexity,” Olmsted told the Corvallis Gazette-Times. “It’s a good coho stream already. It’s got good gravel, but there is a lack of large wood. We’ll be better off once the wood goes in. We want to force the water to move around, scour and make ponds, undercut a bank and add complexity.
“We want to create side channels and produce a lot more places for fish to rear and feed and hang out.”
“It’s a fun little puzzle that you are trying to put together,” said Trask once he had exited the cab. “Every structure is a little bit different. You are trying to make it stable so the logs won’t move … you don’t want it to blow the bridge out.”
The drop Monday was the first of what will be more than 20 such placements of logs on Seeley Creek. More than 200 Doug fir logs will be placed along about a mile of streambed.
Some of the logs were charred and blackened in last fall’s Echo Mountain Fire in Lincoln County, but Olmsted said they will still serve well for this work.
In addition to the stream drops, the project also will include riparian plantings on the creek banks of cedar, hemlock, willow and big leaf maple. More than 400 of the trees will be planted in January and February, Olmsted said, “so they can get established by spring.”
The project uses Douglas firs for the stream drops, said Adam Stebbins, national resources coordinator for Benton County Parks, because they “naturally degrade” over about a 25- to 30-year period.
“That’s how long it has been,” Olmsted said of the need for the restoration. “So we go back in and re-treat. The more wood we’re leaving the better.”