Oregon North Coast Salmon Conservation Assessment Final Report

Northwest Oregon’s coastal salmon runs have been historically strong, and a recent assessment by the North American Salmon Stronghold Partnership identified the Tillamook and Nehalem basins as producers of some of the strongest and most diverse wild runs in Oregon. Wild Salmon Center thus undertook this project to complete a more detailed analysis of areas with the strongest runs and best ecosystem condition, and to examine the degree to which the forested areas with salmon habitat are protected by land management that puts a high emphasis on natural resource conservation.

This project employed a watershed model that integrated numerous indicators of salmon ecosystem condition, such as the water quality, sedimentation, vegetation, and the abundance of large wood in streams. These various indicators were aggregated into an overall score for all coastal catchments (HUC 7 scale). Also analyzed was the intrinsic potential of streams to support salmon and data from counts of juvenile and spawning salmon. This report is the result of collaboration with several agencies including the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), US Forest Service, Ecotrust, and the Nature Conservancy.

Because of a pending policy decision regarding the management of state forests in Northwest Oregon, special analytical attention was given to areas important for salmon on state-owned forestlands.

Key Conclusions of the Study

  1. Only 8% of the forest of the North Coast is managed with a high emphasis on natural resource conservation, mostly on federally-owned late successional reserve areas in the Nestucca watershed. Approximately 40% of the forest area is in moderate conservation areas, including state forests. Over 50% of the forest area is dominated by industrial forestry.
    Few watersheds (3%) on the north coast received high scores for watershed condition. The main reasons for low scores were the lack of mature conifers and hardwoods in riparian areas, high floodplain road density, the lack of large wood in streams, and excessive fine sediment.
  2. Areas in state and federal ownership are generally in better condition than catchments in private ownership. Areas on private agricultural land and industrial forestland in the Tillamook lowlands and upper Nehalem scored particularly low.
  3. Areas currently designated as Salmon Anchor Habitat on State forestlands are providing protection for some of the best areas for fish in the region. Several areas are identified as excellent candidates for the increased protections through Salmon Wild Salmon Center Oregon North Coast Salmon Conservation Assessment 6 Anchor Habitat designation. These were identified based upon watershed condition, recent fish survey data, intrinsic potential, and expert opinion.
  4. Four emphasis zones are described that deserve the highest conservation focus for salmon at the catchment level: the Miami and Kilchis Rivers, the Little North Fork of the Wilson River, and the Salmonberry River.

Key Recommendations of the Study

  1. Protect watersheds that are currently in the best condition.
  2. Maintain and enhance the current Salmon Anchor Habitats to provide good watershed condition for salmon across the North Coast.
  3. Provide a high conservation/low-risk approach to areas with the strongest, most diverse and/or unique salmon runs in the region. In particular, the Miami, Kilchis, Little North Fork of the Wilson, and the Salmonberry Rivers.

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