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Conserving a Lifeline for the John Day River

July 02, 2014

Great news for the John Day River! Western Rivers Conservancy recently embarked on a land acquisition that will revive the largest cold-water tributary to the lower river: Thirtymile Creek. Our effort at Thirtymile will improve some of the most important summer steelhead habitat in the John Day system and forever protect a public access point that is cherished by anglers, hunters and boaters from around the Pacific Northwest. Our acquisition of these lands will also improve habitat for spring Chinook and California bighorn sheep.

This exciting project became a reality earlier this month, when we signed an agreement to purchase the Rattray Ranch, a 14,148-acre ranch located approximately 44 miles upstream from Cottonwood Canyon State Park. The ranch includes an additional 10,530 acres of leased BLM lands. In all, purchase of these lands will conserve four miles of Thirtymile Creek and 12 miles of the main-stem John Day, as well as extensive tracts of inland sagebrush-steppe habitat.

Our work at Thirtymile is important from both in terms of conservation and access, but it’s especially important for steelhead. The John Day River is home to the healthiest runs of summer steelhead in the Columbia Basin, making it key to the recovery of steelhead throughout the Columbia. Given the importance of Thirtymile Creek to the John Day, the creek becomes a critical piece in the larger steelhead conservation puzzle. As the major source of cold water for the lower John Day, it is also critical to the health of spring Chinook within the main-stem.

Rattray Ranch is equally important from a wildlife perspective. It lies at the heart of the John Day’s best habitat for California bighorn sheep, supporting an estimated 600 to 650 head, the largest herd in Oregon. The ranch is also home to Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and mountain lion, as well as raptors, upland game birds and numerous sensitive bird species.

After creating Cottonwood Canyon State Park, which now protects 16 miles of the lower John Day, including Hay Creek, this effort is a crucial next step. For fish, wildlife and people—and especially summer steelhead—Thirtymile Creek is a creek worth saving.

Photo: Thirtymile Creek, by Dave Jensen.