A shared interest in Hood River steelhead habitat is inspiring a unique collaboration
After winding through a miles-long patchwork of orchards, an unassuming little creek empties into the lower Hood River, forming an intersection of ideal habitat for fish and terrestrial wildlife. Despite its size, Neal Creek supports roughly one in ten of the steelhead in the Hood River system, along with coho and Chinook salmon. For this reason, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have long made the mouth of Neal Creek a priority location for their fisheries work. In recent years, the Tribes began a study at the site to see if hatchery steelhead smolts introduced at Neal Creek (low in the Hood River Basin), would migrate back there and mingle less with the wild steelhead runs in the larger river system.
When the Tribes realized that the private landowner was looking to sell a 45-acre swath of land bisected by Neal Creek, they knew they risked losing access to the land and perhaps losing the habitat to private home development. With the funds to purchase the land, but no interest in owning it, the Tribes needed a partner.
“We knew the folks at the Land Trust were pretty good negotiators, so it seemed like a natural fit,” says Chris Brun, Hood River production program coordinator with the Tribes’ Branch of Natural Resources. The Land Trust was eager to help for several reasons. For one, the property represented a golden opportunity to build on its Powerdale corridor ﬂoodplain restoration project, which is taking place on 300 acres along 4 miles of the lower Hood River. In addition to vital aquatic habitat, the Neal Creek property’s quarter-mile of riverfront also features some of the region’s last remaining lowland groves of Oregon white oak. The Land Trust plans to leave the oak stand intact, where it will continue to benefit an array of species, from songbirds and woodpeckers to deer and osprey.
An East Cascades Conservation Priority
By conserving more land along Hood River, a high priority area outlined in our conservation agenda, the Land Trust is protecting one of the Columbia River’s most important—and most threatened—salmon and steelhead environments. Maintaining efforts to separate hatchery fish in Neal Creek from the larger Hood River system could benefit the Tribes, the river’s many recreational anglers, and the long-term health of wild steelhead runs.
The Land Trust anticipates acquiring the Neal Creel property in early 2018. We’re grateful to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs for choosing to collaborate with us, and to the Bonneville Power Administration for providing critical project funding. Lastly, we thank the Labbe family, who is selling this property with the expressed goal of seeing it conserved, and Greg Fullum, who donated valuable legal services towards the transaction.