Walking across Lobster Creek Bridge just outside of Gold Beach, Ore, the Wild and Scenic Rogue River flows steadily fifty feet below. The sun is out.
Fishermen float by with lines in tow, patiently awaiting the next catch.
It is not only fishermen that are soaking up the bountiful offerings of the 84-mile stretch of this Wild and Scenic river. The Rogue provides ranchers with water for their cattle; foresters gain access to timber via roads that run alongside, and it supplies the City of Gold Beach with its entire water supply.
People’s recreational activities and livelihoods rely on the health of the river.
The South Coast Watershed Council (SCWC) works not only with the Rogue River and the resources it provides to multiple community members, but also works closely with all of the ten rivers that flow between Bandon to Brookings on Oregon’s South Coast.
Beginning at the California border, the Winchuck River, Chetco River, Pistol River, Hunter Creek, the Rogue, Euchre Creek, Elk River, Sixes River, Floras Creek, and ending at New River — SCWC holding a mission broader than the rivers, works actively with these river communities to protect the areas’ farms, forests, and fish.
“If our farms are in tact, and are forests are in tact, then we can create some income — if our fish are intact, we can come here, and fish recreationally, and with restorative and conservation efforts, we can be a successful community,” Said Harry Hoogesteger, SCWC coordinator.
Thinking in terms of rivers – everyone in Gold Beach drinks Rogue water, everyone in Brookings drinks Chetcho water, and everybody in Langlois drinks Floras Creek water.
“If we care for the rivers that we depend upon for our basic cellular health, as our bodies are 70 percent water, we ultimately care for ourselves,” Hoogesteger said.
In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a lot of logging carried out within the areas of each of these ten rivers.
According to Hoogesteger, people were not careful. Roads were built into unstable hillsides. Culverts were placed and inserted without much thought.
Then the big flood arrived in 1964.
The logging roads washed out with the culverts. Excess sediment and dirt filled the rivers, which in turn, directly affected the water quality for livestock and humans — and also the salmon and their eggs.
Working to support the health and vitality of the ten rivers and their tributaries, SCWC’s upstream and in stream restoration projects include road restoration, culvert replacements, riparian restoration, and large wood placements.
According to Hoogesteger, ensuring that culverts are up to current standards — to actually working on roads to ensure that they do not slide into the river, benefits the entire river system.
“It’s a win-win,” Hoogesteger said. “If there’s a road, and foresters want to do a little bit of sustainable logging, this is a perfect place where a commodity sort of thought and a watershed thought can meet.”
SCWC has completed hundreds of projects where private landowners come together with public land. Many times, involved parties split the cost of these mutually beneficial projects.
“In the end, the private timber owners have safer roads, there is a better environment for the fish, new roads promote less erosion and sediment build up — and that’s kind of the goal, water unites everyone,” Hoogesteger said.
SCWC’s tree planting in riparian zones has resulted in 5,000-9,000 trees annually. In ten years, SCWC has planted more than 100,000 trees along the riverbanks.
Trees stabilize riverbanks, and shade and cool the water temperature, thus providing an ideal habitat for the fish. Riparian restoration is important from a fish point of view, but taking into consideration that landowners are losing productive land is equally important.
“If riparian areas are fenced off on agricultural land to protect the banks and support fish health, this keeps the cows and sheep out,” Hoogesteger said. “The problem that arises is that these livestock no longer have access to water.”
Strong partnerships with landowners are key to the success of riparian restoration efforts, stated Hoogesteger.
Another project implemented by SCWC is large wood placements. To date, more than 800 whole trees have been placed into the ten rivers and their tributaries.
Wood provides a place for small fish to hide.
At the arrival of seasonal floods, the fish are the size of a finger. These fish are unable able to hang-on and maintain their position in-stream, especially if the currents are strong. These fish will get carried out to the ocean and be eaten by predators.
According to Hoogesteger, for the fish, this hideaway is the difference upon their survival and death.
SCWC works from a triple bottom-line approach of economy, community and conservation.
In twenty years of working with SCWC, Hoogesteger had learned a phrase that resonated and has stuck with him throughout:
‘We all live in a community, we all live in an economy and we all live in a watershed.’
“You have to support yourself financially, you have to get along with the people that are around you, and you have to drink the water,” Hoogesteger said. “From a triple-bottom line approach, its makes incredible sense.”
With two full-time staff members’ solely focused on education, and with particular attention on youth education, SCWC has a salmon curriculum, teaching third, fourth and fifth grade students about coho, cutthroats, steelheads, learning about the ocean, hydrology, and geology.
SCWC coordinates clean-ups on all ten rivers, thus providing students with the opportunity to remove debris, engage with their home-environment and through this process, learn about the importance of water quality in their lives.
Students develop awareness of items such as personal care products pharmaceuticals, cattle and sheep run-off material and septic tanks, and how these items impact the water quality.
“Providing place-based ecological education to the upcoming generations deepens students’ connection to their home,” Hoogesteger said. “In the future, having this knowledge will hopefully encourage students toward becoming mindful stewards of their watersheds.”