If an old timer with a tackle box tells you to fish where they’re biting, he’s giving you good advice—start where the fish are known to be.
This advice doesn’t just apply to catching fish; it works equally well for preserving and restoring fish ecosystems. The Fivemile-Bell Restoration project began with a goal of preserving one of Oregon’s most productive Coho salmon habitats. While much of the state’s salmon streams now produce about 3-5% of their historic numbers, Fivemile and Bell Creeks still produce about 40% of Coho they produced historically. In fact, Fivemile and Bell Creeks have some of the healthiest wild salmon runs in Oregon, with hundreds of endangered Coho salmon spawning each year per mile of stream—a unique success well worth preserving and, through careful restoration, improving even further.
Despite the watershed’s comparative health, there is ample opportunity to leverage even greater gains for its salmon runs and riparian environments. Located about ten miles southeast of Florence, Oregon, the area has been adversely impacted by western settlers for more than a century. It was common practice to drain lakes and wetlands, clear valley bottoms, and channelize streams to increase the availability of farmland. Add cattle grazing and timber harvesting, and the situation for the area’s native fish, plants, and wildlife continually worsened over time.
Today a coalition of partner agencies, funded in part by grants from the Oregon Lottery and led by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, has come together to restore more than 5,000 acres of the watershed basin. Its activities include:
The team has already restored three miles of stream and established many native plant communities. This work has been accomplished in three phases over three years. Katie Duzik of the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board commented, “One of the neat things about this project is that you can start downstream and see what the site looks like after four years of growth. Traveling upstream, each mile segment of stream is a little newer until you reach the current phase—it’s like watching time lapse photography.”
With the environmental improvements, more than just the Coho benefit. New Creekside woodlands and preserved old-growth stands benefit many species, including endangered species such as the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet. Through the Fivemile-Bell restoration project, nature continues to regain its stronghold—and the fish are definitely biting!