Cottonwood Creek is the largest tributary to the North Fork John Day River, and is prime spawning and rearing habitat for Mid-Columbia steelhead. The Cottonwood Creek Basin is approximately 77,000 acres in size, with approximately 89% ( 68,462 acres) being private lands and 11% ( 8,542 acres) public lands. Cottonwood Creek actually begins as Fox Creek in the uplands above the focus area and becomes Cottonwood Creek shortly after it enters the Monument SWCD boundaries. The portion of the Cottonwood Creek Basin that will be included in the Focus Area will be the Middle Cottonwood Creek and the Lower Cottonwood Creek. Cottonwood Creek proper is approximately 22 miles long, and there are approximately 130 miles of perennial and seasonal tributaries to Cottonwood Creek. Predominant agricultural use of the basin is for livestock production, with the majority of acreage being used for grazing. The upper reaches of Cottonwood Creek Basin additionally produce merchantable timber. The lower 4 miles of the basin contain the majority of irrigated land, which is mainly used for hay production.
This basin was chosen to be the focus area primarily because of Cottonwood Creek's significance and importance for steelhead spawning and rearing habitat, but also because of the significant amount of private land in the basin where conservation practices are often allowed to be implemented. Many projects have been implemented in the basin, including a significant amount of riparian fencing and planting, irrigation efficiency improvements, upland spring developments, juniper control, and diversion modifications to improve fish passage. The Monument SWCD is currently working with several landowners to improve irrigation efficiencies, improve fish passage on irrigation diversions, and improve stream flows through juniper control.
Cottonwood Creek Steelhead and Stream Temperature Monitoring
High water temperatures and low summer time flows are primary limiting factors for ESA-listed Middle Columbia River summer steelhead populations in the John Day River Basin. The MSWCD is working with landowners along Cottonwood Creek to implement conservation measures with a “win-win” approach that help provide more favorable conditions for ESA-listed steelhead and also benefit landowners’ management objectives. This monitoring project will collect critical steelhead and water quality data to guide landowner coordination and the identification and implementation of future protection and restoration actions to ameliorate stream temperature and stream flow in Cottonwood Creek. The data will be used to develop a stream temperature forecasting model and assess the success of future restorations actions within the watershed. Partners for this project include Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon (CTWS), The Freshwater Trust (TFT), and Sustainable Northwest (SNW).
Cottonwood Creek Fish Passage Improvements
This is an OWEB funded Technical Assistance project that focuses on improving fish passage at an irrigation point of diversion on Cottonwood Creek where streambed erosion is degrading an existing diversion structure. The MSWCD is working with project partners the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation, USFWS Partners Program, Anderson Perry and Associates and landowners to develop design plans for a diversion control structure that will maintain fish passage and withstand a 100-year flood event. Once design plans are finished, the MSWCD plans to apply for implementation implementation funding to begin in the summer in-stream work in the summer of 2021. By improving and maintaining adequate passage conditions at this site, fish will have access to nearly 30 miles of critical spawning and rearing habitat in the middle and upper reaches of Cottonwood/Fox Creek.
Cavender Wetland Enhancment
This project is located on private property owned by the Jack E Cavender Trust in the southwest corner of Monument, Oregon within the Lower North Fork John Day watershed. A 9.7 acre wetland occupies an abandoned sawmill pond that last operated in 1959. The pond was originally formed by placing a levee across a large bend in the North Fork John Day River. Severe streambank erosion put the levee at risk of failure that would have resulted in loss of the wetland. A previous assessment of the wetland verified it has high values for habitat function and value, and is a locally rare habitat type. This restoration project included the installation of a Large Wood Habitat Structure and Bio-engineered Streambank Protection to protect against further erosion, lowering of the remainder of the levee to the 2-year water surface elevation of the river to increase floodplain connectivity, creation of oxbow-like side channels within the wetland to increase habitat values, and control of invasive plants to promote the health and vigor of desirable species. Match funds have been used to replant the site with native vegetation and to monitor habitat conditions for anadromous fish within the wetland. A second phase of the project is planned that will continue to treat weeds and improve desirable vegetation within the wetland.
To learn more about this project, check out the video link below put out by Oregon Lottery.
Boag Creek is a perennial, non-fish bearing tributary of Cottonwood Creek located in northwest Grant County approximately 13 miles south of the town of Monument, Oregon. Cottonwood Creek is a critical spawning and rearing habitat stream for ESA listed (Threatened) Middle-Columbia River steelhead that drains into the North Fork John Day River. This project will be implemented beginning in 2019 and see to hand cutting and piling of juniper across the entire 1,032-acre Boag Creek watershed. Water temperature and flow monitoring will occur prior to treatment and continue for two years following the juniper removal to evaluate the effectiveness of the watershed scale juniper removal. An additional 885-acres of juniper control will be conducted in adjacent drainages through matching funds provide by the Title II grant program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Recent studies have shown juniper removal to result in greater water quantity and quality while also benefiting wildlife habitat and rangeland health. Partners for the project include the USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service, Malheur National Forest, Monument SWCD, private landowners, and OWEB.
Top Ranch Integrated Resource Management
Top Ranch is located in northwest Grant County, Oregon approximately 7 miles north of the town of Monument. It is situated within the Fern Creek and Indian Creek watersheds, both of which are tributaries of Big Wall Creek. Big Wall Creek is a major tributary of the North Fork John Day River that provides critical spawning and rearing habitat for ESA listed (Threatened) Middle-Columbia River steelhead. Western portions of Top Ranch were overstocked with timber species, which negatively affected forest health, reduced water availability, and increased the risk of catastrophic wildfire. Western juniper is encroaching across other portions of the ranch negatively impacting the herbaceous understory and water quality/quantity. Fern Creek runs through Top Ranch and currently lacks any exclusion from livestock. The current manager of Top Ranch has implemented many integrated resource improvements over the last 5 years but wishes to accelerate the level of restoration across the ranch. This project will implement 194 acres of juniper cutting, install 1.5 miles of riparian fencing on both sides of Fern Creek (15,584 feet), install a 6,242-foot cross fence, and develop 3 upland water sources (i.e., springs). This will complement 437 acres of forest stand improvements that Top Ranch has conducting as match funding. Partners for the project include Top Ranch, Monument SWCD, and OWEB.
North Fork John Day Leafy Spurge - Phase III
Building on the success of the Phase II project conducted in 2017, this Phase III project has expanded leafy spurge treatments to the Cottonwood/Fox Creek drainage (38.5 stream miles). Cottonwood/Fox Creek is the initial leafy spurge infestation site on the John Day River system. The project was implemented during 2018 and continued to treat spurge from the town of Monument down the North Fork John Day River to the town of Kimberly (15.1 river miles), including using targeted grazing on the largest site. Licensed applicators with Monument SWCD surveyed and treated leafy spurge along a 400-ft riparian buffer following education and outreach to all 57 private landowners. Partners for the project include Monument SWCD, Grant Weed Control, North Fork John Day Watershed Council, and landowners. Participating private landowners contributed 25% of the cost for the leafy spurge treatments and may request additional noxious weed treatments at their own expense. This project aids maintaining a 7-year effort to control leafy spurge in the Cottonwood/Fox Creek system, while continuing to bridge the gap to other long-term treatments on the main stem John Day River. Future year efforts are planned pending available funding to keep reducing the presence of leafy spurge along the river.