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Habitat restoration gets $10 million
Project to help endangered suckers on Williamson River
By STEVE KADEL H&N Staff Writer March 31, 2006
  State and federal agencies plan to restore nearly 6,000 acres of former Klamath County marshland as habitat for endangered suckers.

  Cost for the six-year project is estimated at $10 million, much of which will be spent locally.

  The project will result in “profound changes” for the Williamson River delta, according to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, which approved $2 million for the effort. 

   In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is allocating $1 million over two years for what fisheries biologist Mark Buettner calls the highest priority sucker restoration program in the Klamath Basin. 

   The work involves removing or flattening sections of dikes along the river and lake. 

   That will help restore marshland and river bank vegetation, which officials believe will boost populations of suckers while benefiting other native fish and wildlife. 

   Improved water quality and wetland habitat also will be good for flocks of waterfowl and other birds that migrate through the county along the Pacific flyway, according to the Nature Conservancy. 

   That nonprofit group entered 2,155 acres at its Williamson River Delta Preserve into the federal Wetland Reserve Program this month. The program provides incentives for private landowners to preserve wetlands on their property. 

   An additional $2 million is being sought from the conservation service for habitat work. 
   “Our research shows that wetland restoration is providing important rearing habitat for the endangered fish,” said Mark Stein, the Conservancy’s Klamath area conservation director. “We’re really excited to work with our partners across the Basin on full-scale restoration. 

   “We’ll be hiring local contractors to do considerable earth work and we see this as a good opportunity for the community as a whole.” 

   In allocating its part of funding for restoration, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board noted that $2 million is significantly more than its usual grants. However, board members said the potential benefits justify the expense. 

   “We evaluate requests critically,” said Roger Wood, OWEB’s grant program manager. “This one floated right to the top because of the scope and our perception of the value. It’s a lake-water quality thing.” 

   The water enhancement board supports the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds, which was created in 1997. Money from the Oregon Lottery, sales of salmon license plates and other sources pays for grants from the board. 

   The National Academy of Sciences has identified restoration of lake-fringe wetlands on the Williamson River delta as a critical step in recovering Lost River and shortnose suckers. Both are listed as endangered and are a key part of water allocation debates in the Klamath Basin. 

   Three pilot restoration projects at the Williamson River Delta Preserve have proved successful. Parts of dikes constructed in the 1940s to drain wetlands for agriculture were removed in 2002-2004, bringing water onto areas as large as 300 acres. 

   The resulting shallow marshland habitat drew thousands of larval and juvenile suckers, according to the Nature Conservancy. 

   “Dredging the historic oxbow on the Goose Bay side of the delta (will) allow constant, year-round flow,” according to the project’s Environmental Impact Statement. “Dredging the oxbow would significantly increase the amount of suitable habitat available to larval suckers within the delta.” 

   The plan calls for grading the levee along the Williamson River to develop a riparian fringe. Riprap from the remaining lakeshore levees also will be removed. 

   Klamath County commissioners have signed a letter supporting the project.

   Submitted map
This map shows the area where state and federal agencies plan to restore nearly 6,000 acres of habitat for endangered suckers.



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