Join Us for Coho Salmon Creek Walks November and December
More than 4,000 wild Coho Salmon (including ~2,000 jacks) have already migrated through the Willamette Falls at Oregon City on their way to natal spawning grounds in the Upper Willamette Valley, including the Yamhill River Watershed.
Every Fall (Sep - Dec), wild runs of local Coho salmon make an incredible ~160+ river-mile journey from the Pacific Ocean, up the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, to spawn in their natal streams in the Yamhill River Watershed. Vying for a chance to continue their legacy, hens (females) dig into the gravels of the streambed to lay their redds (egg nests), while the bucks (males) compete for fertilization of the nests. With their final breaths, they stand guard over their redds before ultimately passing away. As their bodies decompose, they release ocean-borne nutrients into the freshwater system, completing an age-old cycle that provides sustenance for aquatic organisms and even the riverside forests that surround them.
Considered a non-native, but naturalized salmon species upstream of the Willamette Falls in Oregon City, the Upper Willamette River Coho salmon have become a plentiful fishery in the Yamhill River Watershed in recent decades. The run is large enough to support an open angling season August 1 – October 31 from the mouth to the confluence of North and South Forks of Yamhill River and the South Yamhill to the mouth of Rock Creek near the town of Grande Ronde. And radio-tagging studies have even shown that the Yamhill River Watershed can potentially receive up to a staggering 47% of the Coho salmon that migrate upstream of the Willamette Falls during the spawning season every year.
While we know that there is a large population of Coho salmon returning locally every year to the Yamhill River Watershed, unfortunately, there is only minimal field data showing where in our Watershed these Coho are spawning, or in what abundances. In an effort to fill this critical data gap, since 2012, the GYWC has taken groups of youth and adult volunteers out to hike local creeks across the North and South Yamhill Rivers to document observations of our Coho salmon during the spawning season. As we hike through the creeks and rivers in our chest waders, we collect GPS data where we find live fish, carcasses, and egg nests (aka "redds"). We also take GPS data and field notes about the quality of fish habitat in the creek, such as the presence of suitable gravels for spawning, as well as locations of side-channels that provide refuge from high flows and large trees in the channel (aka "large woody debris" or LWD) which influence the shape, flow, and overall health of the stream.
The information collected through our Coho Creek Walks helps us to develop a better understanding of our local Coho salmon populations, and where we may need to focus community efforts on stream habitat improvement and fish passage. In particular, we have documented that Coho salmon can be found spawning in nearly every major tributary across the Yamhill River Watershed, including Deer Creek, Mill Creek, Willamina Creek, the North Yamhill River and its feeder creeks (Baker, Haskins, Panther, Turner) and the Upper South Yamhill and its tributaries (Agency, Gold, Rock, Rogue, Rowell).
Equally as important, these Coho Creek Walks are an invaluable opportunity for community members to gain real-life connections with their local streams and rivers, and hopefully develop an even greater sense of pride and ownership for the Yamhill River Watershed and the wildlife that it supports.
If you would like to spend a morning or afternoon hiking a creek to look for Coho, please contact us today!
Or if you have seen Coho and would like to share your observations, we would love to hear from you! Contact Us @ Gabi Esparza GYWC Fall 2017 Linfield Intern & Coho Creek Walk Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org or Luke Westphal GYWC Executive Director email@example.com 503-474-1047
Thank You to all of our local landowners who have provided access to our creeks and rivers for Coho Creek Walks. We could not do this without your support!
Upcoming Cozine Creek Community Events Join Us! Weed Pull Work Parties with Duniway Middle School Monday November 13th Tuesday November 14th Wednesday November 15th 9am - 11am Behind Newby Hall on Cozine Way at Linfield College RSVP Required
State of Cozine Creek Wednesday November 29th 6pm - 7pm McMinnville Library, Carnegie Room Learn more about the status of Cozine Creek and ongoing efforts by the Greater Yamhill Watershed Council to partner with local community members and landowners to improve the health of this important urban creek
Introduction to Cozine Creek Habitat Restoration: Weed Control & Native Plants Tuesday December 5th 6pm - 7pm McMinnville Library, Carnegie Room Join us for an introduction to methods for improving habitat and water quality in and along Cozine Creek, including invasive weed and native plant ID, lessons learned on weed control techniques, and how to select and plant native vegetation.
Stay Informed About Cozine Creek Keep up-to-date about upcoming Cozine Creek outreach and volunteer opportunities, by signing up for our Friends of Cozine Newsletter online at www.gywc.org/cozineor contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or if you are an interested Cozine Creek landowner who would like to learn about funding and partnership opportunities for controlling weeds and planting natives, please contact Luke Westphal at 503-474-1047 or email@example.com.
Care for Cozine Creek
Check out our Viewpoint Article in the News-Register, or read the original text and pictures below! While walking the trickle of Cozine Creek at the end of the dry summer months, sinking boots into the silt and mud, and wrangling with canes of Himalayan blackberry, it can be difficult to envision that the stream coursing through the heart of McMinnville has supported much more than snails and hungry deer. But if you look in the right places, you’ll be surprised to discover how much you may have been missing: beaver, fish, crawdads, blue heron, bald eagles, and even fields of flowering camas lilies and ancient oak trees. Indeed, if only Cozine Creek could speak, it would tell us great tales of providing a hearth and home for communities of fish, wildlife, and people alike.
With the headwaters of its main branch coming down from the coastal foothills near SW Peavine Road, ~ 5 miles west of McMinnville, Cozine Creek courses its way through 7 miles of forests, farm fields, and urban development before joining the South Yamhill River near SE Dayton Avenue. Another 14 miles of named and unnamed tributaries enter the main branch from the north, south, and west.
Map of the Cozine Creek drainage area, including named and unnamed tributaries and the City of McMinnville.
Prior to European settlement in the Willamette Valley in the early to mid 1800’s, the lands that encompass the more than 11 square-mile drainage area of Cozine Creek and its tributaries would have been dominated by wide open expanses of grass prairies, edible wildflowers, and scatterings of mature oak trees with majestic boughs stretching out limbs to form umbrella-shaped crowns. And along the active floodplains, dense woodlands would have shaded the waters of Cozine Creek with stands of oaks, ash, big leaf maple, and cottonwood.
These park-like landscapes, however, did not exist entirely of their own accord. For centuries, the Kalapuya tribe of the Willamette Valley, like many of the Native American tribes of the West, actively cultivated and sustained these oak and floodplain environments through the use of seasonal, low-intensity controlled burns. Guided by an incredible breadth of knowledge, honed horticulture skills, and prudent harvesting, the Kalapuya managed their surroundings to produce the natural resources that enabled their communities to thrive. In particular, the Oregon oak was truly a tree of life for local Native people. The highly nutritious acorns produced from mature oaks could keep indigenous families well fed for generations. While every other part of the oak tree had important uses as well – from medicine and tools, to basketry and firewood, to name only a few.
However, as settlers spread widely across the Willamette Valley in the 1840’s – 1870’s, these fields of prairie, dottings of old oaks, and shady wooded floodplains were eventually converted into land for farming, homesteads, ranches, and timber. Camps of Chinese immigrant laborers were often hired by landowners to complete the arduous task of clearing the lands of shrubs, trees, and stumps. At the same time, the Kalapuyan’s centuries-long legacy of controlled burning was discontinued and by the 1870’s the unmanaged lands became a denser mosaic of conifer trees, scrub-oaks, and brush. As the decades have marched on, these Willamette Valley prairies and oak woodland habitats have ultimately been reduced to less than 1% and 7% of their historic ranges, respectively.
The first local land claim in what would later become the northern part of the McMinnville area was filed in 1844 by John Baker for 635 acres, followed soon after by other early settlers, including Samuel Cozine and William Newby. Their farms primarily produced wheat, with some vegetables and ranching. In 1853, William Newby sought to build a grist mill adjacent to the North Branch of Cozine Creek at the west end of 3rd Street where McMinnville’s City Park now stands. Stream flow in the North Branch was not sufficient to power a mill year-round, and Newby reached out to his neighbors with the idea of digging a ditch from Baker Creek to the proposed mill. With the signatures of the affected neighbors in hand, a petition was approved by the Oregon Territorial Legislature to alter flow of Baker and Cozine Creeks for the purpose of running a mill. The original ditch was likely dug by Chinese immigrant laborers, and ran close to what is now NW Wallace Road.
Construction of the grist mill in 1853 is considered to be the genesis of McMinnville’s economic growth and community development. The nearest grist mill prior to Newby’s was in Oregon City, and harvested wheat had to be sacked and carried by wagon to Lafayette, then floated down the Yamhill River to the Willamette River, and then downstream to Oregon City. As soon as Newby’s mill on Cozine was constructed, it began to draw in local growers and new settlers. By 1866, the population of McMinnville reached 300, and by 1899 McMinnville had succeeded Lafayette as the seat of Yamhill County and the primary hub of commerce in the area.
Over the next 118 years, the area around Cozine Creek was the site of intense urbanization as the population of McMinnville grew to 3,700 by 1940 and then 34,000 in 2016. Urban development drastically modified the Cozine Creek area, as roads and buildings were erected in the wooded floodplains, and a network of underground stormwater sewer pipes were installed to quickly convey rainfall directly to the channels of Cozine Creek and other local waterways.
As a result of these and other historic and current land use practices, the biological, physical, chemical, and social characteristics of Cozine Creek have been altered and even degraded. State-funded water quality monitoring projects conducted by the Greater Yamhill Watershed Council (GYWC) have identified that Cozine Creek is water quality impaired by multiple pollutants, including stream temperatures that are too hot for fish, dissolved oxygen levels that are too low for general aquatic life, and summertime E. Coli concentrations that have exceeded limits for human recreational water contact. Yet despite these concerns, life can be surprisingly resilient in Cozine Creek, and a range of fish, wildlife, and native plants continue to call it home.
At the end of the day, the good news to share is how we have abundant opportunities to improve the health and beauty of Cozine Creek. The time to care for Cozine is now. In the coming months, with funding and support from the City of McMinnville, Linfield College, and the Yamhill Soil & Water Conservation District, the GYWC will be conducting a number of outreach activities to help lift Cozine Creek back into our community awareness, including habitat project tours, social potlucks, weed control and native planting workshops, as well as opportunities for volunteering for trash cleanups and habitat restoration work parties.
The GYWC will also be reaching out to landowners and stakeholders to find those who are interested in weed control and native planting projects along their properties. Since 2002, the GYWC and our partners have secured more than $45,000 in state funding and local matching dollars for projects to enhance habitat along Cozine Creek. With the support of our community and Cozine Creek landowners, we are working to accelerate the pace of these efforts, and to meet our goal of securing another $45,000 for projects by June 2019.
Local community members and students from Linfield College and Chemeketa Community College pose with a pile of invasive weeds removed from along Cozine Creek on Linfield Campus. Linfield is working with the Greater Yamhill Watershed Council to secure grant funding to enhance the habitat on Cozine Creek on campus, and to engage the community in service learning activities.