September 08, 2015

Effort Begins to Save a Stretch of a Legendary Oregon Stream

Photography | WRC is working to protect a mile of the North Umpqua River and a key trailhead at the head of the North Umpqua National Recreation Trail. Photo by Loren Irving.

The North Umpqua River is one of Oregon’s great recreational treasures and one of the finest rivers in the Pacific Northwest. Flanked by the North Umpqua National Recreational Trail for most of its length, the river is accessible by foot or mountain bike for 79 miles, making it a haven for anglers, mountain bikers, hikers, backpackers and boaters. But what really sets the North Umpqua apart is its clean, cold water and its extraordinary fishery.   

The North Umpqua is a legendary steelhead stream, steeped in fly fishing lore and revered by anglers from around the world. Thirty-three miles of the river are designated fly-fishing-only, and a long tradition of local conservation has helped ensure this remarkable stream stays healthy for fish. Today, the North Umpqua is one of the few designated Salmon Strongholds in Oregon, with healthy runs of spring Chinook, coho salmon and summer steelhead.

Thanks to efforts by anglers and other conservationists, the North Umpqua River is protected along much of its length by a number of designations, including the North Umpqua Wild and Scenic River corridor, the Rogue-Umpqua National Scenic Byway, the North Umpqua Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA), the North Umpqua Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), the Oregon State Scenic Waterway and the North Umpqua National Recreation Trail. Yet, despite this multitude of designations, parts of the North Umpqua remain at risk.

This summer, Western Rivers Conservancy committed to purchase 211 acres of forest and a mile of North Umpqua riverfront at the head of the North Umpqua Trail and the gateway to the fly-fishing-only section. The need arose when Douglas County, Oregon, concluded it had to sell Swiftwater County Park, a beautiful park with prime access to the river, an important trailhead and a largely unbroken stand of old-growth forest. Rather than let the parcel be logged or developed, WRC acted to acquire and conserve the property. Our goal is to convey the lands to the BLM for inclusion and protection within the Wild and Scenic River corridor.  

WRC’s acquisition, our first on the North Umpqua, will prevent timber harvest and development within the SRMA and ACEC, and keep a key reach of the National Recreation Trail in public ownership. The project will conserve large stands of old-growth Douglas fir, as well as sugar pine, incense cedar, western red cedar, white fir and western hemlock. In addition to the important role the forest plays in keeping water temperatures low, it harbors diverse wildlife species, including northern spotted owl, bald eagle, Roosevelt elk, black bear, river otter and many others. The project will also protect high-quality gravel beds within the property that provide crucial spawning habitat for anadromous fish, including nearly a mile of designated Critical Habitat for Oregon coast coho, a threatened species.

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