South Fork Crooked River
Restore a dry, degraded and denuded landscape to one with abundant cool water and productive fish and wildlife habitat.
Project Start Year: 2008
Anticipated Completion: 2028
About the place
The South Fork Crooked River headwaters lie in the wide flats to the east of Hampton Buttes, east of Bend. The river gathers itself together on lands managed by the BLM and two large ranches. From there, it flows north through the canyons of the South Fork Wilderness Study Area, an Area of Critical Environmental Concern for redband trout, a privately held conservation property, and through undesignated BLM lands before joining a broader valley of private lands and ranches for the next twenty miles.
Historically, the South Fork Crooked was specifically described in Hudson’s Bay trappers’ journals as an area filled with thousands of beaver, as the trappers chronicled their intentional extirpation of the species. In the absence of beaver, and with the implementation of extremely heavy grazing that occurred with settlement immediately afterward, the delicate balance of natural ecosystem unraveled.
By partnering with the owner of this conservation parcel, protected by long-term easements that encompass nearly five miles of the river, we are able to undertake large-scale riparian restoration efforts. These efforts are critical for convincing neighboring land managers that it is possible to return this degraded, dry and denuded landscape to an area abounding with cool water and productive fish and wildlife habitat.
ONDA’s work here also has helped serve as a broader demonstration of the significant impact that a volunteer program can make in doing “professional grade” restoration work. In light of declining budgets and staff available to land managers, and the increasing impacts of global climate change, it is increasingly falling on organizations like ONDA to help fill the gap and take the lead in helping protect our natural resources. The volunteers’ successes on the South Fork have influenced many collaborators to expand their capacity by engaging with ONDA.
This project has a variety of financial supporters, including the Clabough Foundation.
ONDA has worked on the South Fork since 2008. During this time, volunteers have helped build and maintain boundary fencing to keep cattle out of the property and allow restoration work to begin.
Since then, we have worked diligently to reestablish large areas of riparian plant species which have been absent from the property for one hundred years. Tens of thousands of plants have been installed, in conjunction with several beaver dam analogues. ONDA intends to continue our work here for another ten years at which point we hope there will be enough suitable habitat for beavers to return.
As a keystone species and ecosystem engineers, beaver are well-suited for finishing the job of putting the final touches on recovering their river.
In 2019 ONDA volunteers planted 2,000 trees on the Crooked. As part of this effort, they used a tractor mounted auger to plant more than 200 of those trees deep down into the water table. The new technique resulted in 100% survival, and more than a foot of growth per month in their first summer. Volunteers also used recycled cardboard to protect thousands of the previous years' plantings from weeds and desiccation. This new technique increased plant survival to nearly 100% and plant growth by up 400%.