Efforts already under way this spring at the Berggren Watershed Conservation Area continue to improve habitats for fish and wildlife on the lower McKenzie River. They are also helping to protect the river’s water quality.
The McKenzie River Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization, purchased the 92-acre Berggren site in 2010 with $1.08 million provided by the Bonneville Power Administration ($777,000) and Eugene Water and Electric Board ($310,000). The area contains more than 50 acres of critical riparian habitat and approximately 30 acres of farmland. It features one of the most extensive and dynamic networks of side channels remaining on the lower McKenzie River, and includes nearly a mile of river frontage and an intact floodplain forest.
“The vision is to coordinate work in the area on a landscape scale,” says Liz Lawrence, operations manager for the McKenzie River Trust, “where farming and habitat conservation complement each other. The Berggren Watershed Conservation Area is a living laboratory for how a healthy floodplain and a working farm can be integrated on a single site and benefit one another.”
Three partner agencies manage the property: the McKenzie River Trust, EWEB and Cascade Pacific Resource Conservation and Development. The McKenzie River Trust is the landowner and manages the riparian and floodplain areas with the McKenzie Watershed Council. EWEB and Cascade Pacific RC&D share responsibilities for the farm.
With funds provided by EWEB and others, the farm is being designed to operate under EWEB’s McKenzie Watershed Healthy Farms Clean Water Program. When completed, the demonstration farm will showcase sustainable and economically viable farming techniques, provide educational opportunities, and exemplify how agricultural activities can coexist with and complement habitat conservation.
The area is already attracting student volunteers from the Springfield and Eugene area. This last week, according to Jared Weybright, projects coordinator with the McKenzie Watershed Council, approximately 65 students from two Springfield middle schools and an alternative Eugene-Springfield high school braved the stormy weather to plant 1,000 native trees and shrubs that will help convert a previously farmed floodplain area to a native riparian forest.
Last year local students helped remove blackberry and other invasive species from riparian and floodplain areas. This spring, college students from the University of Oregon’s Environmental Leadership Program will join the effort by planting trees and gathering data needed to monitor and evaluate the success of riparian vegetation plantings, Weybright said.
The 30-acre Berggren Demonstration Farm is also beginning to take shape. Cascade Pacific RC&D, with help from a recently hired farm coordinator, EWEB, local farmers and other experts, is designing plans for the farm. When in production, the farm will grow crops that can be sold to local markets, including school districts, and serve as an outdoor classroom for local students in grades K-12 as part of the farm-to-school program. It will also provide research and education opportunities for Oregon State University, Lane Community College, and University of Oregon.
The McKenzie River Trust is working with the McKenzie Watershed Council to improve riparian and floodplain habitats in ways that enhance biological diversity and floodplain hydrology, and protect water quality. They are improving side channel habitat on the property that will benefit juvenile salmon, as well as other species such as Oregon chub and the western pond turtle. They are also restoring a floodplain buffer where the farm and river intercept that will enhance fish and wildlife habitat and attract native pollinators to the area.
Other conservation lands are nearby, amplifying the benefits from efforts on the Berggren Watershed Conservation Area. The area lies across the McKenzie River from 108 acres of previously restored habitat on an area known as Big Island, which is also owned by the McKenzie River Trust. It also neighbors the Lane County-owned Vickery Park.
The Berggren property provides valuable potential habitat that will benefit the McKenzie River’s spring chinook salmon and Oregon chum populations, which are listed under the Endangered Species Act. The area also provides streamside habitat for river otters, mink, ermine, deer, elk, bear, cougar, beaver, waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds.
BPA and EWEB provided funds to purchase the property and acquire the conservation easement as partial mitigation for fish and wildlife habitat losses due to construction and operation of hydroelectric facilities in the Willamette River basin. The project also supports EWEB’s long-term strategy to protect water quality in the McKenzie River, which is the sole source of drinking water for the city of Eugene.
McKenzie River Trust: www.mckenzierivertrust.org/
Eugene Water and Electric Board: www.eweb.org/waterquality/farms/
McKenzie Watershed Council: www.mckenziewc.org