For the first watershed assessment of the Community Planning Process, we focused on Upper Joseph Creek watershed. The upper section encompasses 174,000 acres of federal and private land. Crow, Elk and Chesnimnus Creek are the main drainages, which provide critical habitat to steelhead. The watershed is diverse and spectacular. Travelling through you will experience open prairies, dense forest, and lush creek sides. Opportunities abound to see elk grazing, to hear songbirds, to wonder at wildflowers, and see raptors soaring above.
It is also a working landscape with 100 year old ranches and livestock operations, small-scale logging and fuel reduction, and habitat work. This land has been used continuously for 8,000 years starting with the Nez Perce. Humans have long been part of this place.
The Benefits of Collaborating in Upper Joseph CreekOpened 32 miles of instream habitat for all life stages of steelhead28 culverts removed for fish passage and natural channel flow11.6 miles of road improvement to slow erosion and increase water infiltration3 bridges replaced on Peavine and O'Brien RoadRehabilitated 25 upland water sites14,312 acres of harvest, thining and burningLocal economic benefit exceeded $5 million
A diverse group of organizations and individuals worked together to develop a long-term plan for managing Upper Joseph Creek. They assessed the area on four aspects – riparian, rangeland, forest & fuels, and roads & recreation. This provided thorough and up-to-date information on condition and issues. Then, recommendations were made to improve the habitat conditions and natural functions. This laid the foundation for on-the-ground stewardship work, which created jobs and moved funds into the community.
Many past projects had unintended negative consequences to fish and their habitats. Steelhead and salmon traditionally accessed the creeks for spawning in the upper sections of the watershed. Poorly maintained roads and culverts, and flawed restoration projects from the 1980's combined to block access to upstream habitat. Wallowa Resources along with local partners implemented 32 miles of habitat and fish passage projects worked over Doe, Elk, and Chesnimnus creeks. This work removed fish barriers and restored natural channel flow to the creeks.
A majority of the watershed is working rangeland. The range group comprised of federal agencies, permittees, and private landowners worked to classify and assess range condition. The resulting maps created a valuable baseline of range types and conditions. Upland fences and water developments, or lack thereof, were identified and targeted for improvement and/or creation. Water developments improved animal production, distribution, and relieved livestock pressure on riparian areas. Invasive plants were mapped as they were found and targeted for treatment.
Our forests evolved with disturbance, primarily fire. Past management practices, such as overstory logging and fire suppression, altered the natural variation of species and stand structure. Historically, fires helped maintain diversity and favored trees like Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir and Western Larch. Today, dense stands of Grand Fir increase the risk of frequent and intense wildfire. A mix of thinning, prescribed burns, and tree harvesting were critical to improving our forest habitats. Returning fire to the forest poses a range of risks, including damage to old trees and snags—important habitat that the collaborative is trying to restore.
Over 815 miles of roads crisscross the Upper Joseph Creek Watershed. Road density is over 2.5 miles per square mile, exceeding the US Forest Service's standards. With declines in US Forest Service budgets, they are struggling to maintain this vast road network. Some roads are beginning to show signs of degradation. However, many of these roads are valuable to ranchers, recreationists, firewood cutters, loggers, and the Nez Perce due to the access they provide. The assessment inventoried all roads and identified project priorities. Initial restoration work repaired bridges and roads, and installed gates for seasonal road closures. More recently, 7 miles of marginal road was decommissioned. The biggest project removed 28 culverts, which improved road conditions and fish habitat.