Fish-friendly project opens Colestin Valley

COLESTIN — The new and only bridge on the Oregon stretch of the Colestin Valley Road will open a large part of the Colestin Valley to wild steelhead and trout as part of a first step toward making this out-of-the-way valley more fish-friendly.

The next step in that journey comes Nov. 3, when members of the public are invited to help improve habitat at the bridge site by planting native vegetation along the reconstructed banks of East Cottonwood Creek.

The changes mark a major — yet relatively inexpensive — effort toward opening about 3 miles of spawning and rearing habitat for native steelhead and redband trout normally kept out by a culvert that's impassable to fish under most conditions.

Jackson County road crews recently finished the bridge's construction, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helped restore part of the stream channel with granite rocks native to this out-of-the-way drainage off the south side of Mount Ashland near the Oregon/California border.

Now it's time to curb winter erosion and add shade to the revitalized stream by restoring a riparian zone with volunteer green-thumbs.

"There's some bare ground there that needs stabilization," says Marko Bey of Lomakatsi Restoration Project, a private firm working with state and federal agencies on habitat-restoration projects on private lands in the Colestin Valley. "There's some pretty barren stream banks out there and we really need to get some willows and other native plants in there," Bey says.

The tree-planting, and ensuing guided tours of the drainage, are the first in a series of Lomakatsi's Ecological Restoration Information workshops planned each month through April.

The Cottonwood Creek drainage flows into the Klamath River near Hornbrook and represents the last major tributary to the Klamath River downstream of Iron Gate Dam, which blocks anadromous fish passage in the Klamath.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife surveys have shown wild steelhead and resident redband trout in the stream up to Colestin Road, where an exposed culvert blocks regular passage.

In 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted an assessment of the upstream habitat, and reduced erosion and silting in downstream spawning grounds, says Robes Parrish, a monitoring and restoration biologist for the service's Klamath Restoration Project. But improving the habitat required removal of the barrier and replacement with a bridge.

About $94,000 in state and federal grants, along with some donated engineering time by retired Bureau of Land Management engineer Charles Walker, generated the design and bought the bridge materials. The Jackson County Roads and Parks Department donated the time and equipment to build it, estimated at $127,500.

"From my standpoint, the cost-sharing and partnerships on this project were probably the biggest factors in getting this done," Parrish says. "We never could have conceived of building a bridge for near the money we had."

The county's road crews typically take on one bridge rebuilding project a year, and "this year we didn't have a bridge in the queue, so we were open," says Mike Kuntz, the county's road-maintenance engineer.

"They had the money for the hard costs," Kuntz says. "It was a good fit for us and a good fit for fish habitat."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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