Metolius River and Whychus Creek Conservation and Restoration
Approximately 45 minutes northwest of Bend, Oregon
This year's conservation tour will be centered on the beautiful and dynamic streams and rivers of the wild west of Central Oregon. We will start out tour with a scenic drive to the famous Metolius River. Lunch will be held in the Metolius drainage, as we explore restoration projects and outreach and advocacy efforts there. The second location is Whychus Creek and two large projects intended to dramatically enhance steelhead habitat for the basin. For the first time in 50 years, sockeye salmon, spring chinook salmon and summer steelhead are being introduced to the Upper Deschutes River basin.
A view into the spring fed Metolius River, which provides habitat for native sockeye and Chinook salmon, Bull trout, Redband trout and Summer steelhead.
Regarded as one of the most dynamic trout fisheries in central Oregon, the headwaters of the Metolius River trickle out of one massive spring at the base of Mt. JeffersonBlack Butte. The Metolius travels only 32 miles before it pours into Lake Billy Chinook Reservoir where it meets the Deschutes and Crooked rivers.
The Metolius maintains a constant cold and clear water flow throughout the year. The Metolius hosts a large population of resident bull trout that along with native redband trout and supports a year-round fishery. Historically, the Metolius provided the majority of spawning opportunity for spring chinook salmon in the Deschutes Basin. In addition, long before the Pelton hydroelectric dam was constructed on the Deschutes River, sockeye salmon were present in the upper reaches of the Metolius system. Suttle Lake, situated in the shadow of Mt. Jefferson, west of the Metolius River, existed as the preeminent spawning grounds for these sockeye salmon. Sockeye salmon historically pursued their epic journey leaving the ocean, following the Columbia River to the Deschutes River to the Metolius River through the tributary of Lake Creek and ultimately spawn in Suttle Lake. As Pelton Dam proved an obstacle for these sockeyes, the species adapted for survival by forming a population of landlocked salmon.
Kokanee reside in Lake Billy Chinook and Suttle Lake and now use the Metolius and its tributaries for spawning. Trout Unlimited has assisted in a variety of projects in the Metolius watershed- largely in an effort to recreate appropriate habitat for young fingerlings and juvenile fish to survive. Trout Unlimited (including the state council, regional chapters, and staff) has assisted other agencies in a variety of habitat restoration, fish monitoring and advocacy efforts on the Metolius.
Looking downstream into new channel construction and a TU riparian planting effort for the Camp Polk Meadow Preserve and Whychus Creek. Trout Unlimited volunteers have helped the local land trust, watershed council and others with this $2.0 million restoration project.
Whychus Creek tumbles out of the Sisters mountain range, west of the town of Sisters and intercepts the Middle Deschutes in the basalt canyon below Bend. Historically considered the premier spawning tributary for wild steelhead above what is now the Lake Billy Chinook reservoir on the Deschutes River, Whychus Creek has garnered much attention in recent years. With the enormous reintroduction project of wild salmon and steelhead to central Oregon's Upper Deschutes Basin, Whychus Creek has received a great deal of support to prioritize and implement restoration projects in an effort to accommodate wild steelhead spawning and rearing in these waters. Our tour of the drainage will allow us to connect with a network of local conservation partners and visit two large and key projects – restoration of the Camp Polk meadow and preserve and the Three Sisters Irrigation District habitat restoration effort. Whychus Creek is a local model for collaborative conservation as TU works with the local watershed council, land trust and river conservancy to bring resources together to achieve significant ecological results.
The Deschutes River once produced steelhead and salmon from humble headwaters to epic confluence with the mighty Columbia. But with the construction of the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Project in 1958, and the failure of downstream migrant collection facilities in the mid-1960s, historic runs bound for classic upper river tributaries like the Crooked, Middle Deschutesand Metolius were doomed. Missing anadromous fish in the Upper Basin left a gaping ecological, recreational, economic, and cultural hole and significantly reduced the ability of mid-Columbia steelhead and salmon to persist long into the future.
But times change, and advances in fish passage technology have enabled Portland General Electric (PGE) and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to design, fund, and construct new facilities and reintroduce steelhead and salmon in the Upper Basin. During the federal relicensing process for the Pelton-Round Butte Project, Trout Unlimited worked with PGE, Tribes, and numerous conservation groups to ensure the vision of anadromous fish migrating to natal streams and habitat in the Upper Basin was realized. Adult steelhead and salmon will return to critical Upper Basin spawning and rearing habitat for the first time in 50 years this year.