South Fork Crooked River

Aaron Tani

anted

success

Central Oregon’s “Backyard Wilderness”

Central Oregon’s “Backyard Wilderness”

Our quest to protect the Oregon Badlands

Located just 15 miles east of Bend, Oregon Badlands is a 30,000-acre wilderness area filled with fascinating lava flows and ancient juniper trees Arriving in the Badlands, so named for its rugged and harsh terrain, can feel like stepping

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voices

Cregg Large, member since 2009

Cregg Large, member since 2009

“I came to Oregon 12 years ago from Texas. Texas, for all its size, has very little public land. Coming to Oregon has made me realize the special gift we as Americans have in our public lands. Volunteering with an organization like ONDA is my way of reciprocating for this gift. Through restoration efforts, I feel we are helping leave a better place than we found it. Through advocating for protection for public lands, we safeguard migration routes for animals and keep the land where it belongs: with the public.”

fact

Young Horny Toad Lizard

Young Horny Toad Lizard

In the summer these lizards begin foraging for food as soon as their body temperature rises as the heat of the day increases. They feed on slow-moving, ground-dwelling insects. In the fall they hibernate by burying themselves in the sand.

Latin name: Phrysonoma platyrhinos

Goal

Restore a dry, degraded and denuded landscape to one with abundant cool water and productive fish and wildlife habitat.

Timeline

Project Start Year: 2008
Anticipated Completion: 2028

Acreage

1,200 acres

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.

Our efforts

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.

Project history

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%.