Central Oregon Daily▶️ The Great Outdoors: Restoration on Warm Springs riverbank 8 years after...

▶️ The Great Outdoors: Restoration on Warm Springs riverbank 8 years after fire

▶️ The Great Outdoors: Restoration on Warm Springs riverbank 8 years after fire

▶️ The Great Outdoors: Restoration on Warm Springs riverbank 8 years after fire

Eight years after the County Line 2 Fire scorched more than 50,000 acres on the Warm Springs Reservation, volunteers are beginning to restore the fire damaged banks of the Deschutes River.

It took Alysia Aguilar and Elk Littleleaf, a native American husband and wife fly fishing guide service, five years to find money and volunteers to begin the restoration project. 

“We used to steelhead fish a lot up in this section and catch quite a bit. And when they stopped coming up in this section because the trees weren’t here, we started saying ‘We need to get some trees up there. How are we going to do this?,’ said Alysia. “I mean, we are a fly fishing outfit. But we’ve got connections. Let’s see what we can get started.” 

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The COVID pandemic stopped the project cold for two years. But finally, this fall, a stretch of riverbank that was burned in the August 2015 fire is being replanted, beginning with a blessing by a tribal elder.

“The fire came down the hill, all the way to the water’s edge. There were some really beautiful alder trees that had nice shade for both folks on the riverbank and also fish in the river. We want to replace those,” said Darek Staab, volunteering on behalf of the Middle Deschutes Watershed Council. “Some of the plants were are planting are dogwood and alder down low. As you work your way up the bank, we’ve got a few other species that are more transition species so as the soil dries out a little bit, these are plants a little happier on the drier side.”

   

About three quarters of the Warm Springs side of the Deschutes River burned in recent years. Not much but blackened snags remain. 

Instead of waiting for the fire damaged areas to recover on their own, Elk and Alysia are spearheading what they hope are the first of many riverbank restoration projects.

How long before these trees that are being planted are big enough to throw shade on the water? 

“I’ll probably be gone by the time they are big. At least we are getting them started so our kids are going to have some shade,” said Elk. “It’s neat to have the opportunity to get them started because we probably aren’t going to see these trees grow to that size in our lifetime.” 

“We reached out to our branch of natural resources. At the time they said there were no funds available. They said to reach out to their partner, Portland General Electric. Same thing. No funds available. They said reach out to the Deschutes Watershed Council which is their other partner. We got a yes. We have funds available. Let’s see what we can do,” Alysia said. 

“We’ve got a pine here. We planted ponderosa pine and incense cedar up high on the riverbank. Hopefully that will grow up high into a nice 100-year-old tree to provide not only shade, but eventually get blown over by a windstorm and provide a nice log in the river for the fish,” Staab said.

 

Most of the volunteers in this initial restoration effort on the reservation side of the river are not tribal members, an irony not lost on organizers or participants.

“It’s going to take more than just me and my wife. We are getting it started,” Elk said. “Since we’ve been activists for our work, we’ve been seeing more non-tribal, other fishing guides. It’s really neat we are seeing a positive thing come out of this. Hopefully people follow our lead and do it as caretakers because we should all be caretakers in our own way.” 

“We are like minded understanding the importance of fish habitat. The importance of being careful when you come out and fish the river. It’s a great fit,” Staab said. “I’m lucky just to be out here on the reservation. Learn from them, work with them and just try and help this place out” 

Perhaps the biggest challenge is staying focused on the task at hand as steelhead roll a few feet offshore.

“We have rods. If we didn’t have to plant all these plants, over 115 plants, I would definitely be out there casting for that fish that keeps rolling behind us. It’s saying ‘Alicia, come get me. Release me really quick.’” 

Sign up to Littleleaf Guide Service social media accounts for notifications of future volunteer opportunities to restore the riverbanks.

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