As John Wesley Powell encouraged us all, I think in watersheds and where they start. Three years ago when I came into this country, I went to the top of the watersheds and began looking down. Actually, I stared out in a driving fog induced rain, into what may have been a clearcut.
What I quickly learned, it is really wet in the high peaks of the Coast Range. Not surprising, moisture tends to accumulate in the high country. But the change in moisture is alarming. It dawned on me that this rain created the culture and economy of this landscape; from the food we eat, the beer and wine we drink, the timber in our homes and our passion for anadromous fish.
Arguably the wettest place in Oregon is Laurel Mountain, an obscure beast of cut timber and winding logging roads west of Dallas and east of Lincoln City. Annually, 120 inches of rain runs off this 3,589 ft industrial jungle into the Little Luckiamute, the Siletz, Rickreall Creek, and the South Yamill. A huge spine stretches for miles to the west, consistently peaks pop up over 3,000 ft with names like Condenser Peak, Saddle Bag Mountain, Rocky Point, and Hog Mountain, feeding the South Yamhill, North Siletz, and the Salmon River. It then curves south, where Drift Creek drops off into a canyon before finding Siletz Bay. The system of ridges curves back southeast, ending in a huge 3,133 ft ridge called Stott Mountain. This ridge separates the Siletz tributary Gravel Creek and the North Fork of the Siletz. This is the big cut ridge you can see on the horizon when driving to Moonshine Park from Logsden.
Why does this matter? Laurel Mountain and its series of ridges capture a lot of water, which makes a bunch of fish habitat. How this country is managed for fish, should matter to all. Taking a closer look, this country is about half and half private timber company land and BLM sections. No matter your feelings on how the it is managed, without argument, these drainages provide natural resources for a large economic engine.
Laurel Mountain is as much a part of the region as Steelhead, hops and timber; it is part of the culture of the region. City water supplies for Lincoln City, Fall City, Monmouth, Siletz, and Dallas all have a tie to these drainages. The fishermen dollars alone are a huge economic engine that stretches to many tackle and fly shops throughout the coast and valley. I personally spend $200 on beer each winter at the Logsden store, and nearly that on shuttles. I have not a clue the millions of dollars in timber that have been removed from this country over the past century, but I am sure it is mind blowing. Not as mind blowing as the amount of people fed from its fish for the past 10,000 years.
It is safe to say, although Laurel Mountain has and does produce its share of wild fish, it is a straight up working landscape. This is the canvas we are working with when we think about conservation of fish in the coast range. The landscape is the same as the people; they have grown together to create what exist today. And will continue to grow together. This relationship with a watershed takes generations of give and take.
The Willamette Valley will continue to grow, placing more demand for water storage. A new reservoir is currently proposed for the Siletz. Timber will be cut at smaller diameters changing how the land handles run-off. Homes will be built in the estuaries. Agriculture needs will grow. And yes ODFW will be asked to keep fishermen happy – from both the wild and hatchery camps.
As all of these demands are placed on the rains of Laurel Mountain, this is not just the challenges fish conservationist face, but also everyone who lives and works in the watershed. We all have a Laurel Mountain, whether we fish the Trask or the Rogue. And sometimes we can use our voice to change how public land is managed and rivers are run. Like clicking here and getting involved – or here. All that BLM land is in the process of writing new management plans; Let’s work on how we can best conserve the rains of Laurel Mountain for all they provide. Please join in on the conversation.