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Lower East Fork tops habitat restoration list

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

March 3, 2007

A Forest Service study lists the lower portion of the East Fork of the Hood River as the number one priority for restoring aquatic habitat.

The study encompassed 340 square miles in the Hood River Basin, which covers 12 individual watersheds.

The Hood River Watershed Group heard the details Tuesday night during their monthly meeting from Gary Asbridge, a fisheries biologist for the Mt. Hood National Forest. He was one of several contributors to the Hood River Basin Aquatic Habitat Restoration Strategy.

Fourteen groups pitched in money and resources as well. Among them were the East Fork, Middle Fork, and Farmer’s irrigation districts, the watershed group, the Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

The rankings were based on a model combining important river and stream reaches for fish, the quality and quantity of water for flow and impairment, and the relative condition of each watershed.

Their work looked at what needed to be done, how to do it and in what order to get the most “bang for the buck.”

“The Forest Service is using restoration plans in priority watersheds to focus limited dollars,” Asbridge said.

A priority watershed responds well to a variety of restoration approaches and supports listed or important fish species. The collaborative effort resulted in the Hood River watershed being rated higher by the agency for the group’s efforts.

“We get things done so it makes good sense to allocate funds and resources to the Hood River watershed (from the Forest Service),” Asbridge said.

The rating not only ranks one watershed against another in the Hood River Basin but across the Pacific Northwest. That is important in a time of limited dollars for such projects.

The completion of the strategy also coincides with the biennial revision of another plan for the area.

“The thing that is significant is it really plays into the update that is happening right now,” said Anne Saxby, SWCD’s director.

Every two years the group updates the Agricultural Water Quality Management area plan and rules. This report meets a state requirement with the Oregon Department of Agriculture through the work of a Local Area committee.

The final version has just been sent in to the state. This year the agriculture committee has included the Forest Service’s restoration strategy in its plan.

“It is different than anything we’ve done before,” Saxby said.

The immediate effect is that the watershed group will give more points to projects coming from the higher priority watersheds.

“We’ll actually apply a weighting based on that strategy,” Saxby said.

Project proposals must be submitted by March 31. Each year the group works with public and private landowners on projects that improve watershed health.

Because much of the land in the number one watershed lies in private ownership, the group wants landowners to know they can apply for project monies. It is not just limited to special districts or public agencies.

“That number one priority, the East Fork, is basically the whole upper valley,” Saxby said. “This (strategy) is predicated on the cooperation of landowners. We need to get the word out.”

For more information on applying for projects, contact the Hood River Watershed Group at 386-6063. For a look at the entire Forest Service strategy report, go to www.fs.fed.ur/r6/mthood/publications.

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