Strategic milestone for John Day fish restoration

The John Day River is the third longest free-flowing river in the Lower 48, and there is no fish hatchery on this river, so nearly all of the fish are wild.

This means the John Day is ideal for fish restoration, said Brian Cochran, restoration ecologist with the Branch of Natural Resources. “If we can’t restore fish here, then where?” he says.

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs take the lead role in fish restoration in the John Day, the eastern edge of the Ceded Lands.

Over the past several years, many agencies and districts have been involved in hundreds of John Day restoration projects.

But in the basin, the tribes are involved, to some degree or another, in all of them. By way of analogy: “The tribes are like the quarterback, with their hand on the ball on every play,” said Scott Turo, Natural Resources fish biologist.

The tribes own restoration lands along the river. They started with Pine Creek Ranch near Clarno in 1998. Then came the Oxbow Ranch on the Middle Fork in 2001; and the Forrest Ranch parcels in 2002.

These conservation areas are now models of land management for salmon habitat recovery. The tribes work with the Bonneville Power Administration on these and other mitigation projects in the John Day.

Natural Resources is nearly finished with the document—the John Day River Watershed Restoration Strategy—that will guide, and help fund the future restoration work in the John Day.

The 95-page strategy—two-years in the making—is ready for review by the Fish and Wildlife Committee, and then will go to Tribal Council for final review and approval.

The document will help with obtaining millions more in funding for future projects, Cochran said.

The tribes approach the John Day as four separate sub-basins: The Lower John Day, the North Fork, the Middle Fork, and the Upper John Day.

The restoration strategy addresses each sub-basin in its own chapter, describing the geography and geology, land-use, the creeks, and the use by the fish of each sub-basin.

The strategy examines the biggest obstacles to healthy fish populations in each of the sub-basins; and how particular restoration actions could address these obstacles. As summarized in the document:

“The John Day Watershed Restoration Strategy is written for John Day basin landowners, tribal partners, and potential funders to proactively identify and fund projects that protect, manage and restore fish habitat. This habitat supports culturally significant fish populations, ensuring harvest opportunities for the tribal membership forever.”