By Lee Anna Sherman
If you had happened upon Lake Creek, a tributary of Central Oregon’s Metolius River, in the fall of 2007, you might have seen Matt Shinderman and his Ecological Field Methods students standing nearly knee-deep in the water with dip nets in hand, hovering over tic-tac-toe style grids. And you might have been puzzled when they emptied their nets into buckets and began to pick and sort through the contents.
The biologist at Oregon State University’s Cascades Campus and his students were surveying aquatic insects, or macro-invertebrates, to determine how the ecosystem was responding to the equivalent of major surgery.
“Stream macro-invertebrates are a key indicator of biological stability in systems like Lake Creek,” says Shinderman, who works closely with Matt Orr, OSU-Cascades and University of Oregon instructor of biology and ecological restoration. Collecting samples before and after the restoration efforts let Shinderman, Orr and the students know how well the insects bounced back after workers with backhoes and dump trucks restored the stream to its original shape.
Orr initiated the project in 2005 through his Restoration Field Course, and Shinderman became involved as a guest instructor. During the fall 2007 field season, Shinderman had OSU-Cascades students enrolled in another field course collect additional samples in Lake Creek. The project is a good example of UO and OSU collaboration that benefits students at the Cascades Campus and local organizations, Shinderman and Orr say.
Lake Creek was once an important spawning ground for chinook and sockeye salmon, but the construction of the Pelton Round Butte dam complex nearly 50 years ago effectively cut off all salmonid migration to it and other tributaries. In order to reintroduce native salmon and steelhead into the upper Deschutes Basin, Portland General Electric (PGE) and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, who operate the complex, determined that restoring historically important tributaries was key to their success. Lake Creek was a priority.
“The historic value was high at Lake Creek, and its status was pretty poor for habitat value,” says Shinderman, who is also a professional fly-fishing guide. Led by the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, Deschutes National Forest and the privately owned Lake Creek Lodge, the restoration project aimed to improve fish and wildlife habitat by removing concrete, rock retaining walls and a large pond that had been built in the 1930s.
Back in the lab, Orr and his students took the lead in counting and identifying insects. Their conclusion: Populations dropped dramatically right after restoration work, but within six months, they rebounded and even showed a slight increase. Although it’s too early to say how the stream manipulation will affect insects in the long term, the data clearly show that negative impacts are short-lived.
“We’re really going to need, as with most ecological data sets, probably 10 years’ worth of data to make any reliable comparisons in terms of before and after the project,” says Shinderman. “There are so many variables that impact macro-invertebrate populations.”
The Lake Creek project has already provided a useful model of landowner and agency collaboration. “We’ve definitely gained traction as a result of Lake Creek,” Shinderman adds. “The results here have generally been positive, and they provide a great opportunity to approach private landowners in the future.”
Next up in the Deschutes Basin: Camp Polk Meadow. The U.S. Forest Service, the Deschutes Basin Land Trust, the watershed council and a private landowner plan to restore this section off Whychus Creek, which runs through an old ranch. “This is a highly disturbed system and a significant restoration,” says Shinderman. “Lake Creek helped pave the way for this project.”
— CELENE CARILLO