Hog Creek Ranch purchase paying dividends for Klamath Tribes’ wetland restoration efforts

Native American First Foods already making a comeback

Hog Creek Ranch purchase paying dividends for Klamath Tribes’ wetland restoration efforts

Last year, The Klamath Tribes purchased Hog Creek Ranch, northeast of Chiloquin, and a short drive through forests to Klamath Marsh’s southern boundary in an effort to restore historical watersheds feeding into the Williamson River, near Kirk Reef. The project is formally called The Hog Creek Palustrine Restoration Project. Serving as a ranch for decades, historic channels’ paths were manipulated into irrigation ditches to better serve livestock, with little regard for environmental integrity. Reclaiming the land for First Foods is also a strong motivating factor in acquiring the land, and hints of success are already presenting themselves with the discovery of the Tui chub – a native species of fish believed to no longer exist on the property until now.

According to The Klamath Tribes’ Ambodat Department, the property consists of 1,256 acres, primarily categorized as Palustrine – a wetland/marshy environment – defined as either emergent, scrub-shrub, or forested.

The Hog Creek property location is very unique in that it is almost entirely surrounded by USFS providing for an opportunity to address an entire watershed. “We had an opportunity so we talked about it, thought about it,” said Bradley Parrish, Ambodat Water Rights Specialist. “It was Planning Director Jared Hall and myself and our understanding of the area, which you’re not going to get from anybody else but a tribal member or somebody that’s been in this area for a long time. Eventually, the hope of the project is to add water to the currently dry Williamson River near Kirk Reef.” 

Parrish said the location is ideal, noting that the perimeter of the property is primarily bordered by Forest Service land. The grazing allotment associated with the property also compelled Parrish and Hall to vouch for a purchase. “So that was an added bonus,” said Parrish. “We knew that if we got that property, we would then have the grazing allotment and have some control over a wider area other than just that base property.”

Parrish described the property, in its original form before management, including cattle grazing and timber harvesting, affected the landscape, as broad, flat wetland. He speculated that small channels, nothing huge, may have originally crisscrossed the property.

“Prior landowners effectively drained the property with management actions in an attempt to control water. Ditches were dug and effectively drained all of those wetlands,” said Parrish, before adding that indigenous wetland-dominated plant species have been replaced by other species. Re-introducing wocus, a Klamath Tribes’ staple and First Food, is a component of the project along with many other first foods. 

On the property, Parrish pointed out what had been the irrigation ditch – which accelerated the expulsion of water from the system – and his eight-man crew’s successful attempts to plug it with dead trees and soils in an effort to slow the water and redirect it into its historical channels; but he acknowledged some structures will require adjustments.

Multiple methods and features were utilized to return water to its historic channel and elevation.   Groundwater elevations have increased throughout the project areas and wetland vegetation is re-establishing itself and transforming the landscape back to what it once was. 

Willow trees are being planted along the sides of the channel to help shore up the structural integrity of the channel. The roots of the tree act as a kind of binding mechanism, holding soils in place and preventing quick sediment runoff.

Parrish added that he would like to perform an elevation survey in the form of a longitudinal profile to better accommodate this reemerging wetland’s specifications and requirements.

There is no shortage of issues facing the Tribes when it comes to restoring and curating this newly acquired property, despite boundless optimism. Approaching the property, the vegetation becomes thick with young lodgepole trees, and Parrish duly noted this unfortunate circumstance. An overabundance of young trees today compared to the past – with aerial photography from the 1950s to substantiate this claim – perpetuates a major issue: trees absorbing massive amounts of water.

According to Ambodat, selective harvesting practices have effectively removed the majority of large Ponderosa pine from the landscape and resulted in stands of overstocked lodgepole pine. This change in species composition increases the loss of water via increased evapotranspiration.  These modifications and management practices have prohibited the landscape from functioning to its potential and allowed for conifer encroachment as well as the loss of emergent-type vegetation for the majority of the area. 

“Fire needs to be put back on the land, healthy fire,” said Parrish, adding that the issue cannot be addressed with logging alone. “The trees that we have – they’re all young, they’re all taking water. This needs to be addressed on our property and on the Forest Service property as well.”

A severe lack of fire on this landscape helps young trees proliferate. Absent an overstock of trees, the wetland and its small, sinuous channels would likely flourish, according to Parrish. Regardless, the efforts Parrish and his team have expended are already paying dividends.

A Tui chub, thought to be expatriated from the property, was recently discovered. (Courtesy of Klamath Tribes Ambodat Department)

The rediscovery of the Tui chub is a very encouraging development in the restoration of the Hog Creek system, which feeds into the Williamson River system. This is especially surprising considering the dry nature of the spring at ground level upon purchase of the property.

Parrish expressed astonishment at the re-emergence of this species. “It amazes me that that fish, or any fish, would have survived,” he said. “So, what we’re going to do is get a population estimate and then monitor that over time. If treated properly with restoration and exclusion of cattle, you could bring back a population of fish, including many other first foods.”

“I want to address the entirety of this watershed,” said Parrish, reflecting on the inspiration he hopes to instill in an increasingly environmentally-conscious populace, “and I want to get water flowing back in and say, ‘Hey guys, look if you treat this land right, this is what it can produce.’”