It’s been a busy season for the Instream Wood Bank Network. We have a lot of plans in the works and a few big movements of wood now under our belt.
THE INSTREAM WOOD BANK NETWORK
Across the Pacific Northwest, many fish populations are struggling due to compounding challenges, including degraded habitats lacking in complexity. Streamside logging and efforts to straighten channels and clear obstacles resulted in a massive reduction of instream wood—a habitat feature that helps support fish throughout their life cycles by slowing flows, creating shallow gravel beds and deep pools, and cooling water temperatures.
In response, many agencies, Tribes, and restoration professionals are reintroducing woody debris and logjams into aquatic systems. Aquatic ecosystems are healthier—and more resilient to the impacts of climate change—when these habitat features are restored. However, some of our partners often face difficulties sourcing the wood needed for restoration projects due to expense or availability.
These are the problems the Instream Wood Bank Network was created to address.
The innovative project is a highly collaborative program that functions as a set of partnerships to supply wood for restoration projects and create a better use for trees that would otherwise become wood chips, cut for firewood, or burned on-site. We work with a wide variety of landowners, local contractors and haulers, and agencies to source and haul materials. Wood is then provided to complement and advance the instream wood placement projects being managed by various restoration partners, including the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group, Friends of East Fork Lewis River, the U.S. Forest Service, and others. Having extra or less expensive wood materials for their projects allows these groups to expand their impact. In short, the Wood Bank allows our restoration partners to do more work for less money and represents an encouraging win-win for rural economies and communities, conservationists, and (of course) fish.
AN EXPANDING IMPACT
The Instream Wood Bank Network is still a relatively new endeavor, but it’s already producing major results. So far this year, we’ve moved approximately 360 trees and delivered them to partner organizations who will be using them to restore habitat for salmon and a variety of other wildlife. We are also using some of these trees for one of our own habitat improvement projects later this year, on a tributary of the South Fork Toutle River where we will be employing low-tech, process based methods to restore aquatic and riparian health along a waterway that flows through degraded timberlands.
Earlier this spring, we facilitated the transfer of 50 Douglas firs that were laying on the ground in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic area that had been pushed over as part of a road realignment project and were slated to become firewood. These trees had root wads attached and would make perfect instream habitat trees for fish. We contacted the Forest Service just in time and instead arranged for the transfer of these trees to support the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s upcoming instream work on Wildboy Creek.
The logistics of transferring wood, especially salvaged wood of this sort, are complex and require working through a number of agency steps and with a number of different contractors in the stacking and hauling of logs. The end results will be worth the effort. The Tribe will be removing a dam and installing instream wood. The project will dramatically improve habitat potential and restore fish passage to upstream reaches of this currently fragmented waterway. The addition of instream wood will also benefit the area as it recovers from the ground and waterway disturbance caused by the removal work, helping restore health to the waterway.
Recently, the Wood Bank also successfully sourced 284 logs for our partners at Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group. These were sourced from a Department of Natural Resources location where trees are grown for seed production. Due to their growth patterns, these trees are not able to be sold as lumber and were going to be chipped up for pulp. We thought a better use for these trees would be building fish habitat in the Coweeman River and various tributaries of the South Fork Toutle. So we worked with the logger and the landowner and coordinated this movement of wood. Not only are these salvaged logs finding a new home where they are able to serve as habitat, but we were also able to supply them to our partner for around half of what they would have otherwise paid to acquire trees from an intact forest.
As the impact of the Wood Bank Network grows, we are looking ahead and creating new opportunities to make downed trees available for river restoration projects. In addition to ongoing conversations with timberland owners, such as Port Blakely and Weyerhaeuser, we are looking across the region for trees being cut for urban development.
As one can imagine, the logistics involved in building new partnerships and coordinating successful wood movements are demanding. This is a complex endeavor that is bringing people together from across a wide range of interests and ideologies. It seems to be that a project designed to restore rivers through cooperation, partnership, and the creation of economic opportunities, is something we can all get behind.