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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow BEAR CREEK RESTORED

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BEAR CREEK RESTORED

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Looking north from the road, you see what appears to be a dug-out serpent winding through the meadow where berms of dirt are piled nearly as high as a small building.

The serpent is, in fact, the new bed for Bear Creek, restored by several agencies and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

"It's more than a crooked ditch," said Vance McGowan, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The new bed has been carefully dug to follow the depths and widths that create the ecology of a creek. McGowan and his fellow biologist Allen Childs of the Confederated Tribes and range conservationist Alan Bahn of the Natural Resources Conservation Service have taken great pains to emulate Mother Nature, using one short reach upstream of the meadow as a template for the three miles of creek that cross Longley Meadows en route to the Grande Ronde River. The scientists also referred to aerial photographs taken in the 1930s, but Childs said the photos were taken after the creek had already been ditched.

"We can't find the original meander," McGowan said.

The restoration of Bear Creek is one of several conservation projects on the Cuhna Ranch, owned by Shauna Mosgrove and Carla Cuhna, and lying along Highway 244 only a few miles from Hilgard State Park. Fish habitat improvement along the Grande Ronde River began several years ago, and next on the list of projects is the restoration of Jordan Creek.

When the conservation projects are finished, within the next few years, about 450 acres will have been improved, Childs said.

On a sunny Monday morning, about 16 workers were digging water plants — sedges and rushes — from the ditched Bear Creek that now flows in a nearly straight line across the meadow. Ten of the workers came from the Powder River Correctional Institution in Baker City to work in the soft muck left by several days of rain and snow.

The muck was so deep that at one point a truck and trailer carrying the plants from the old creek to the new bed bogged down, and workers had to move the plants onto a trailer towed by a construction tractor.

The transplanted sedges and rushes will stabilize the new stream bank, McGowan said. When the transplanting is finished, the workers will have moved 20,000 plants, about 3,000 a day.

Larger plants, such as willows, have been put along the edge of the new creek.

The new bed is dry now, but some time this summer, when flows are low and few fish are living in the water, the team will cut the final reach and change the path of the creek water. Before the berms of dirt are shoveled into the old Bear Creek ditch, any fish still unlucky enough to be living there will be moved into the new creek bed.

The cost of restoring the creek to its nearly original state is $15 a lineal foot, Childs said, and is supported by funds from the Bonneville Power Administration through the Grande Ronde Model Watershed. Another federal fund, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, is funding the property owners who have agreed not to use the restored meadow for grazing or the creek for irrigation for at least 15 years.

When the Bear Creek restoration has ended late this year, work on Jordan Creek is expected to begin, as slowly but surely, the upper Grande Ronde Watershed is restored to something close to Mother Nature's plan.

The Confederated Tribes and the model watershed program will sponsor a volunteer streamside planting party Saturday. volunteers are asked to meet at the model watershed office on Island Avenue before 8:30 a.m. The planting will end at noon and lunch will follow.

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