LOSTINE – When a river is allowed free rein to move where it wishes, the benefits abound. A restoration project in the Wallowa River mid-valley completed this summer is already attracting an increase in fish, birds, deer, and other wetland-loving animals.

The Wilson-Haun Restoration project outside of Lostine runs along a three-quarter of a mile stretch of the Wallowa River from river mile 31 to 31.7. The project was sponsored by Grande Ronde Model Watershed and Trout Unlimited and funded by Bonneville Power Administration for $1,253,915.

Ian Wilson owns the Wilson-Haun property with his wife, Heidi, and is the Grande Ronde Model Watershed Wallowa County project coordinator. He said, “The broad project goals were to restore floodplain hydrology and function and encourage the recovery of natural processes.”

Excavation during the summer in-water work window (mid-July to mid-August, ahead of Chinook spawning season) gave the river a wider channel and room to move laterally, improving its connection to the floodplain and natural groundwater storage, as well as increasing hyporheic flow –the water moving through the porous space beneath and alongside the stream bed. (Hyporheic flow mixes shallow groundwater and surface water, important for surface water/groundwater interactions as well as fish spawning, improvements in water quality and riparian habitat.)

Along with in-stream large, woody debris (logs) secured along the banks of the river, natural “wood recruitment” (streamside trees that will eventually fall into the river) will help recreate a more natural flowing river – with eddies and pools that slow the flow and provide good resting habitat for fish.

Wilson said the river restoration project will also improve sediment transport, storage and sorting – by slowing the flow and widening the channel less sediment will be flushed downstream during high flows, reducing streambank erosion, and providing cobble for redds, or fish nests, during spawning season.

According to Wilson the desired end result will be, “A resilient riparian vegetation community for adult and juvenile spring Chinook, summer steelhead, bull trout, Pacific lamprey, and other aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna.” 

River restoration is an evolving science. Monitoring the project area in the years to come will determine its efficacy and whether or not other restoration work is needed. In the meantime, Wilson said he’s seen more fish in the stretch outside his home this fall than he has in the last 20 years.

Wilson and Project Manager Levi Old of Trout Unlimited lead several tours this fall, including one for the Wallowa County Natural Resources Technical Advisory Committee. Signs of increased fish and wildlife activity were apparent, as well as seeding to reduce the invasion of noxious weeds in the disturbed area along the river.