Executive Summary

Executive Summary

Background

This plan describes the results of a partnership of local community groups, landowners, and public agencies who met to create a Conservation Action Plan that developed voluntary conservation strategies and actions for the Nehalem River Watershed. Various teams provided input into the plan. Over the course of five Stakeholder Team meetings, several Technical Team meetings and six months (December 2010 – June 2011), participants compiled information and data to profile the current condition of the area, defined the desired conditions that stakeholders envision for the basin, and began to identify voluntary concrete steps that citizens, conservation organizations and conservation partners can take to realize that vision. The over-arching goal for this plan is to work with willing landowners to increase healthy native biodiversity in the watershed.

This report outlines the work of the full planning team, describing the planning approach the team employed, key concepts and ideas generated by the team, as well as important goals the team set for the planning area. The report identifies general conservation strategies that the team determined to be significant for the planning area, thereby providing direction and a common vision for conservation partners in the area.

The details of how each of those strategies are implemented will be determined by project teams working with willing landowners on a case-by-case basis to identify approaches that best meet the dual goals of ecological benefit and landowner needs and desires. Diverse sources of information were used to help inform this plan. When available, relevant published documents are cited but the team also drew on the knowledge and expertise of the participants as well as raw data sets and GIS analysis. A second, less technical report is available for the general public.

The planning exercise described in this document is meant to be the starting point for expanded collaborative conservation projects in the Nehalem River watershed. As our knowledge and experience with the Nehalem River conservation targets grows, the plan will be revised and redirected to accommodate this new information. In this manner it is designed to be a working conservation plan, continually informing and informed by our work on the ground. Some members of the planning team have agreed to participate on an Implementation Team to help ensure this plan is turned into action. The team welcomes others who are interested in helping with this effort to contact us:

The planning assessment presented here reflects the views of a diverse group of partners representing a wide range of interests. Throughout the planning process, we strove to be inclusive of the full diversity of ideas brought by every partner, while aiming to come to common agreement on key parts of the plan. In the same manner, this document includes a full range of ideas and suggestions made by all partners in this dialogue. However, it must be acknowledged that not all of the material presented here had unanimous support from team members, and participation in this effort did not imply endorsement of all ideas, proposals and content contained in this report.

Funding support for this project was provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Columbia River Estuarine Coastal Fund and Portland General Electric’s Salmon Habitat Fund. However, the views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the planning team and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Summary Results

The Stakeholder group identified the following six systems to be the focus of this conservation plan (each of which is defined and detailed in separate sections of the plan):

  • Forests
  • Freshwater
  • Riparian
  • Estuary and Associated Ecosystems
  • Open Lands
  • Columbia Basaltic Ridge

The health of the Forests target was rated fair. This is primarily due to the percent of the watershed with old growth characteristics being well below the lowest value in the historic range of variability and the extent and severity of insects and diseases. Forests were considered to be highly impacted[1] primarily by the forestry approach utilizing even-aged, single species dominant, clear cutting on a less than 50 year rotation.

Goals for the Forests target are to ensure no net loss in area of forests in the watershed, maintain or increase carbon storage and sequestration, and that the forest composition and structure ensures ecologically functional landscapes across the watershed (see the Forests health assessment, for details).

Some strategies identified to help meet these goals include: creating Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) sub-regional rather than state-wide biodiversity measures, creating incentives for longer rotations, building diverse forest economies, providing values for forest ecological services other than exclusively timber production, encourage greater participation in forest certification programs, especially Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), increasing the area of forest managed for older forest structure, and improving construction & maintenance of roads to minimize ecological impacts.

The health of the Freshwater target was rated as fair overall. However, the water quality temperature indicator, miles of high quality/complex habitat, and the status of coho are in poor condition. The freshwater target was rated very highly impacted with the highest ranked impacts being: climate change, herbicides, nutrients, temperature, dissolved oxygen, hydrologic alteration and the forestry approach utilizing even-aged, single species dominant, clear cutting on a less than 50 year rotation.

Goals include having all Nehalem streams meet or exceed clean water act standards; correcting all undersized culverts and bridges to restore connectivity, hydrology, and natural sediment flow; restoring native fish (including lamprey) populations; and restoring 311 additional miles of high quality complex salmon habitat.

Strategies identified to help meet these goals (in addition to the strategies listed under the Riparian target) include: protecting special sites, replacing failing and undersized culverts and bridges, improving construction and maintenance of roads to minimize ecological impacts, working with the community to identify and restore priority wetlands, increasing the area of forest managed for older forest structure, rethinking future development in the floodplain, restoring beaver and their habitat, creating incentives for longer rotations, and providing values for ecological services.

The health of the Riparian target could not be rated at this time since less than half of the indicators of health currently have data available. These data gaps need to be filled before the health of this target can be assessed. The ecological attributes that were identified as key for the Riparian target are: Species Composition/Abundance, Sediment Dynamics, Landscape Patterns & Structure, and Connectivity among Communities & Ecosystems. Currently, four indicators have current status ratings (one is good, two are fair and one is poor). The target was rated as highly impacted by roads and the forestry approach utilizing even-aged, single species dominant, clear cutting on a less than 50 year rotation.

Goals for the Riparian target are: restoring stream conditions such that >50% of stream reaches meet NW Forest Plan benchmarks for riparian condition and restoring 90% of natural habitat in 80% of the Nehalem River riparian zone. In addition to a number of strategies that were identified for both the Riparian and Freshwater targets,

Riparian strategies include: identifying ways for riparian management to more effectively achieve large wood recruitment, species & structural diversity, and water quality protection; working with the community to identify and restore suitable riparian areas; increasing Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program[2] (CREP) dollars; managing for desirable species as a way to deal with invasives; improving construction and maintenance of roads to minimize ecological impacts; decommissioning abandoned legacy roads; increasing incentives for longer rotations and for leaving riparian areas intact; encouraging development of NRCS conservation plans on non-CAFO farms; and encouraging voluntary adoption of riparian standards across all land-uses.

The Estuary and Associated Ecosystems target was rated as being of fair health. This target is now or will be very highly impacted by loss of habitat, sea level rise due to climate change, large wood removal, invasive plants and animals, dikes/levees, and shoreline development.

The long-term goals are to work with willing landowners to conserve all of the remaining unaltered wetlands, restore 75% of high priority wetland areas, and restore 225 acres of sand dunes on the Nehalem River spit. One aspect of balancing the goals for this target with the goals for the Open Lands target is to focus wetland restoration efforts on areas outside of the Sunset Drainage District.

Some strategies to help achieve those goals include: developing and implementing an education, communication, marketing plan; working with the agriculture community to identify less productive areas that may be suitable for restoration and to restore priority wetlands; provide incentives for restoration; identify areas at risk from sea level rise for potential restoration areas; assess the vulnerability of lower river and bay infrastructure to sea level rise and explore possible solutions; and remove invasives from the spit and restore the sand dunes.

The Open Lands target will need data gathered on most of the indicators of health and appropriate thresholds need to be set in order to assess its current status. Only one indicator has a current status rating (of fair), which is based on expert opinion. The ecological attributes that were identified as key for the Open Lands target are: Disturbance Regime, Animal and Plant Composition, Soil Productivity, and Connectivity. Since this target includes both agricultural lands and native plant dominated grasslands, some indicators are only applicable to one type or the other. The target was considered highly impacted from invasive plants and conversion from open lands into other land uses (mainly converting pastures into forest plantations for economic reasons).

Goals for this target are to increase the percentage of agricultural lands that support healthy agricultural operations and healthy sustainable wildlife populations concurrently to 60%, identify and maintain/restore at least half of the remaining native-dominated open lands with characteristic species and disturbance regimes, and reduce the loss of open lands in the upper watershed to less than 5% per decade.

Strategies to meet these goals focused on: developing and implementing an education/communication/marketing plan, providing values for ecological services, increasing CREP dollars, protecting special sites (including productive farmland), clarifying conflicting government guidelines, providing incentives for restoration, building diverse agricultural economies, working with the community to identify and restore priority wetlands (including ash swales in the upper watershed), and managing for desirable species as an approach to invasive plants.

The Columbia Basaltic Ridge system has not been well studied so the planning team’s ability to assess the health of this target was very limited. The ecological attributes that were identified as key for this target are: Species Composition/ Abundance, Isolation, and Surrounding Forest Matrix. Overall the team felt that this target is highly impacted primarily from invasive plants, herbicides from adjacent forest management, forest roads, and recreational activities.

Goals for this target are to conserve all of the remaining basalt meadows and endemic plant species through acquisitions, forest certification programs, State Forest designations, removing invasives, improving construction and maintenance of roads, increasing awareness of the uniqueness of these habitats, and planning and posting for appropriate recreational use.

Overall, the health assessment for the Nehalem watershed was rated as Fair, which indicates that it is outside of the acceptable range of variation and requires intervention. Parts of the watershed that have been the focus of conservation efforts in the past, such as the Freshwater system, have a lot of data available to define appropriate threshold levels and current status ratings. However, others such as the Columbia Basaltic Ridge do not, so additional monitoring will be needed to fill in key gaps in the health assessment in future iterations of this plan. Once data gaps in the health assessment are filled, the overall perspective on the health of the watershed might change.

The planning team recognized that actions taken to benefit one of these targets could have undesirable effects on another. They acknowledged that each of the targets provides benefits that enhance the biodiversity of the watershed and contribute to the quality of life of its inhabitants. Team members believe that there is an opportunity here to have conservation and viable resource-based economies. Those implementing this plan will continue to work to find an appropriate balance of actions that result in the best ecosystem possible for the Nehalem watershed.

A number of participants in this process have agreed to continue their involvement by participating on an Implementation Team. This team will develop a more detailed work plan for some of the strategies identified here that breaks out the individual activities and tasks that will be needed to implement the strategy. The work plan will also identify lead entities for the activities as well as cost estimates and needs assessments to define where additional capacity will be needed to put this plan into action.

The Implementation Team will also develop a monitoring plan that identifies key components of the Nehalem watershed that should be tracked to assess the health of the watershed based on the information in each target’s health assessment. Both of these will be available as a supplement to this plan. The team welcomes others who are interested in helping with this effort to contact us through the project website: http://cap.nehalem.org/


 


[1] The timeframe for Impact Assessment ratings is what is anticipated over the next ten years as well as current conditions.

[2] CREP is a State-Federal partnership that provides a modest rental payment and substantial cost share to encourage protection of riparian areas on agricultural lands.