Sustainable Northwest’s water program comes to the John Day and Rogue Rivers

Posted by Hannah Meganck on November 10, 2014

Expanding collaboration in two of Oregon’s iconic river basins

Eastern Oregon's beautiful John Day River. Photo by: Bureau of Land Management

Healing our rivers is as much about restoring relationships as it is about restoring our watersheds. Oregon’s rivers traverse ecosystems, land uses, political boundaries, and cultures in their journey from the mountains to the sea. Rivers and streams are the circulatory system that has nourished the Oregon landscape and its people for millennia.

When environmental and community goals are not equally respected, relationships become polarized and we all suffer the consequences of this conflict. But at Sustainable Northwest, we know that protection of wildlife and natural resource-dependent jobs need not be mutually exclusive.

Now that we’re on the verge of ending a century of water conflict in the Klamath River Basin, we’re also bringing our collaborative approach to two more of Oregon’s iconic rivers: the John Day and the Rogue.

The John Day Basin is home to the third longest undammed river in the West and the longest free-flowing tributary of the Columbia River with wild runs of salmon and steelhead. It also supports millions of acres of working farms and forests that have been the lifeblood of the region for decades. Like many rural areas, these resources and the people that rely upon them are at risk. Threats include short clean water supplies, degraded river corridors and fish barriers, noxious weeds, improper grazing practices, and inadequate funding for necessary restoration.

We’re building on our forest work in John Day by creating a new John Day Basin Partnership of local stakeholders to more quickly realize healthier native species, watersheds, and water-dependent economies. The group will develop a comprehensive restoration plan and leverage it to secure new funding for projects and local groups. So far, we’ve had tremendous local interest in the effort. We expect to have an organizational structure and framework plan in place by mid-2015 that will set the stage for increased watershed restoration in 2016.

Rogue River, Oregon. Credit: Zachary Collier
Rogue River, Oregon. Photo by: Zachary Collier

Meanwhile, in southern Oregon, the Rogue River Basin supports more species of conifer than any other temperate forest in the world, five species of salmon, and many rare species, including the spotted owl. The river is the second largest salmon producer in Oregon and it supports a vibrant agriculture and forest economy. The region has also become a hub for outdoors recreation, hosting fishing, rafting, and related tourist activities. While the Rogue faces many of the same ecological and socioeconomic threats as the John Day, it faces additional challenges driven by historical controversy over the spotted owl and as well as urbanization along the I-5 corridor.

The newly formed Rogue Basin Partnership invited us to assist in their transition from a watershed coordinating council to a full blown 501(c)3 nonprofit with a broader mission and membership. Similar to the John Day Basin Partnership, this new group will focus on funding and implementing a coordinated action plan that drives more effective restoration work across the basin. Moving into 2015 we look forward to helping the partnership and its members.

The Water Program is honored to have been invited to come to the John Day and Rogue. In the coming year we look forward to applying our proven collaborative methods to increase watershed restoration and long-term sustainability in two of Oregon’s most important places.

Learn more about how our Water Program can help your community.