SYMP 23-6 - Community-based conservation of salmon habitat: Crisis, opportunity, and collaborative restoration

Friday, August 11, 2017: 10:40 AM
D135, Oregon Convention Center
Nils Christoffersen, Wallowa Resources, Enterprise, OR

The Imnaha and Grande Ronde subbasins, now within Wallowa County, Oregon, were important fisheries for the Nez Perce. By the end of the twentieth century the county’s historically abundant salmon runs had all but vanished as a result of habitat loss stemming from dam building on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, dredging and filling of the Columbia River estuary, and effects higher in the watershed related to timber harvesting, grazing, floodplain conversion, channel straightening, road construction, and the installation of associated fish passage barriers.

Ecological and social dynamics collided with the listing of Chinook salmon runs in 1992 under the Endangered Species Act, followed by summer steelhead runs in 1997 and bull trout in 1998. Impacts of the listings were sudden and dramatic, altering land uses in a county where agriculture and wood products accounted for nearly half of all employment. Prior to the anadromous fish protection, federal timber sales accounted for over 60 percent of the county’s annual harvest. The loss of supply led to closure of three sawmills, the county’s largest employers. Wallowa County’s unemployment rate trended at or near the state’s highest level for years following these changes.


Following the initial shock, the county organized a progressive response supported by a range of stakeholders. A multi-stakeholder salmon habitat restoration plan was developed and codified within the county’s land use plan and regulations. A new advisory committee, and a community-based non-profit, were created to support the County Commissioners in the implementation of the plan. Within this additional institutional capacity and leadership, rural community members responded to sudden changes in their ability to access and benefit from local lands by taking a lead role in gathering information about, and setting priorities for, ecological restoration needs. Doing so required extensive collaboration across traditional jurisdictional boundaries as well as across traditionally adversarial interests. The case of the Upper Joseph Creek Watershed Assessment demonstrates that national interests in ecological restoration can be constructively met through the active engagement of people at the local level. Aligning restoration goals with local benefits helped to foster community engagement, creative problem solving, and sustained interest and dedication in achieving restoration outcomes.