CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers from Oregon State University and a variety of collaborators have been awarded more than $2.3 million in funding from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) to conduct seven separate studies involving Oregon streams and watersheds.
OWEB administers a statewide conservation grant program supported by dedicated lottery funds. The funds were distributed by OWEB at its recent board meeting in La Grande.
The OSU studies are aimed at evaluating and modeling stream, lake and wetland restoration; improving water quality in fish-bearing streams; and developing tools to better understand global climate change and its implications for ecosystems in Oregon.
“We are very fortunate that our state has such outstanding scientists in the area of conservation biology research,” said Tom Byler, OWEB executive director. “OWEB is please to fund research projects that scientists at OSU and other Oregon institutions will carry out to increase our understanding of important ecological issues.”
The journal Conservation Biology recently ranked OSU number one among 315 programs in conservation biology in the United States and Canada.
One major study will map the cold water “refuges” in the Willamette River between Eugene and Albany and test their effects on fish. During the low flow periods in the summer, the temperature of the main-stem Willamette River rises, potentially endangering resident and migratory fish. Yet there are numerous cold water sources created by the river’s floodplain that may provide relief for the fish, according to OSU’s Stan Gregory, a professor of fisheries and wildlife.
Gregory and colleague David Hulse, from the University of Oregon, will map these thermal refuges in the Willamette and conduct a study on the use of cold water refuges by native cold water species, such as cutthroat trout. Also planned are two to three on-ground restoration projects that may help the state meet its water temperature management challenges.
“These coldwater refuges can be used as stepping stones for fish for moving through warm reaches of the river,” Gregory said. “Two major goals of the study will be to discover areas that have the restoration potential for serving as cold water refuges for native fish, and to identify ways to create financial benefits for landowners who are willing to restore the river’s floodplain.
“Conservation and restoration of the Willamette River floodplain will be important for protecting our existing natural resources and providing cold water refuges in a period of warming climate trends,” Gregory added.
The OWEB award to fund the project is for $450,000.
Another major project will look at the effects of contemporary forest harvests on aquatic ecosystems in the Trask, Hinkle and Alsea watersheds. Among the goals is to determine what impacts logging near the headwaters of streams may have on the physical, chemical and biological characters of the water downstream in fish-bearing river systems.
OSU researchers Arne Skaugset, forest engineering, and Dave Wooster and Judith Li, fisheries and wildlife, will work with the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, Weyerhaeuser, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement on the $400,000 study.
Much of the knowledge about the impacts of forest harvests on watershed is based on decades-old research, Skaugset said, and may not be valid today.
"For decades there have been improvements in forest practices, scientific advances, new road construction techniques, a move toward logging of young or small diameter trees, and the use of harvesting equipment that has a much smaller environmental footprint," Skaugset said.
"Forest management and timber harvesting in today's second growth forest stands are quite different than in the past," Skaugset said. "However, many assumptions regarding their environmental impacts are still based on studies that were carried out in the 1960s."
The other five projects involving OSU researchers include:
• A $325,000 award to John Selker, an OSU professor of biological and ecological engineering, to test the use of a fiber optic sensing system for monitoring stream temperatures and creating temperature prediction models to help resource managers. Some 12 kilometers of the cable will be used in the Walla Walla River basin, complemented by several micro-meteorological stations installed on-ground to record air temperature, humidity, solar radiation, soil content and other characteristics.
• A $267,121 award to Guillermo Giannico, OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Coos Bay Watershed Association, to test the effects of tide gates on juvenile coho salmon movement in the estuaries of the Coos River basin. The project will help provide more information on how long juvenile coho remain in estuaries, as well as to study the effectiveness of “fish-friendly” tide gates.
• A $47,649 award to Bryan Black, of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, and the U.S. Geological Survey to apply techniques developed by tree ring scientists (dendrochronology) to the growth increments of long-lived freshwater mussels. The goal is to develop mussel chronologies that may help reveal information on stream temperature and environmental histories.
• A $640,000 award to the U.S. Forest Service and the Institute for Natural Resources at OSU to integrate maps of riparian zones in the Nehalem and Middle Fork John Day rivers with dynamic models evaluating the response of the riparian area, stream channels and salmon habitat to natural disturbances and land-use activities.
• A $240,000 award to Scott Heppell and colleagues in the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife to study the impact of temperature change on the physical characteristics of fish. The study, which will be in the John Day and Deschutes river basins, will look at temperature shock and the impact of temperature on the health, condition, growth and survival rates of fish. The researchers are seeking to develop physiological measures to assess habitat quality and restoration effectiveness in salmon- and trout-bearing streams.