2020 Stream Restoration Projects

by Karen Youngblood, Forest Conservation Specialist

Karen Youngblood, URFC Forest Conservation Specialist

The Redwood Forest Foundation (RFFI) is committed to bringing salmon and steelhead back to California rivers. Our Usal Redwood Forest staff, under the leadership of Karen Youngblood, is working with our restoration partners to identify, prioritize, and implement stream restoration projects as part of a regional effort to speed up recovery for declining populations of native salmonids (Coho, Chinook and Steelhead).
In summer of 2020, RFFI will begin two new stream restoration projects on Usal Redwood Forest, one in Anderson Creek (a tributary to Indian Creek located in the South Fork Eel River Watershed) and another in Julias Creek (a tributary to South Fork Usal Creek located in the Usal Creek Watershed). In Anderson Creek, 41 large wood structures (wood jams) will be installed throughout nearly two miles of the upper reaches of Coho spawning grounds. This year’s project in Anderson Creek is the fourth and final phase of an extensive restoration effort on an important Coho stream. In Julias Creek, 71 large wood structures will be installed over two miles of important Steelhead spawning grounds where Coho spawned historically. Today’s concept of beneficial wood structures is much different than the jams caused by large wood debris from logging activity 50 years ago that acted as total barriers to fish migration.

1970s: Unintentional logging debris wood damming Anderson Creek.

2018: Intentionally designed wood structure on Anderson Creek. Notice the trees on bank are used as anchors for the wood. In smaller mountain streams such as Anderson Creek, large wood structures generally consist of 2 to 5 pieces of large wood. Root wads attached to the wood are ideal and modify habitat most effectively.

It has been learned, that a carefully designed wood structure changes the stream hydraulics in a way that develops multiple beneficial habitat types for salmonids, like pools and side channels. Large wood structures in the stream channel are constructed to obstruct and divert water flow around the wood but not create a barrier to migrating fish. As a result of redirected water flow, pools are scoured around the jam which creates safe resting areas with cover for juvenile and adult fish. Stream substrate (gravel, cobble, and fines) are also sorted around the wood jam. Larger spawning-size substrate is often held Upstream of the jam and smaller substrate is deposited downstream which reconnects the floodplains to the channel allowing juveniles access to side channel refuges during high winter flows. Organic matter along with fines deposits on the floodplains creating nutrient rich islands suitable for regenerating riparian vegetation. These different habitat types created from strategic placement of large wood in the stream channel are essential for all life stages of salmonids.

RFFI will donate carefully selected trees from Usal Redwood Forest to be used for the construction of large wood structures in this year’s stream restoration projects. Our restoration partner Pacific Watershed Associates will work with heavy equipment operators and the California Conservation Corps to select and place trees in predetermined locations ensuring the development of habitat complexity in critical salmon habitat.

2018: Anderson Creek with multiple large wood structures.

In Julias Creek, in addition to large wood installation, five miles of streamside legacy road will be removed. Abandoned, failed crossings along the legacy roads will also be removed or replaced. These legacy logging roads and their stream crossings are no longer used or maintained and have over the years diverted flowing water from its natural channel resulting in significant erosion and hillslope failures. Removing streamside roads and failed crossings involves the use of heavy equipment to recontour the hillside to its natural shape. These road removals and site enhancements on Julias Creek will prevent about 14,445 cubic yards of sediment from entering into the stream. This restoration project will also continue the goal of reducing road densities on timberland by 10 percent over the next 20 years in high risk historical salmon habitats.

2018: Failed crossing on Moody Creek prior to road decommissioning. Notice how the road is sloughing off causing significant sedimentation.

2019: Soldier Creek road decommissioning and fixed crossing to reconnect hillside hydrology. Wood debris is used for erosion control.

Both, Anderson Creek and Julias Creek projects were developed with our partners Pacific Watershed Associates, Trout Unlimited, and Eel River Watershed Improvement Group. Pacific Watershed Associate’s talented staff, Joe Rice Construction and Wylatti heavy equipment operators, and a California Conservation Corp crew will carry out the two stream restoration projects this year.